And what do you do?

By Paul Taylor, Assistant Director at NHS Employers

Have you ever had that moment in a taxi when the driver asks "... and what do you do?"

Those conversations send shivers down my spine. I brace myself, put a wonky smile on and say "I work in Organisational Development". 

Two seconds of silence. Awkwardness fills the air.  Sweat prickles on my forehead. "What's that?" comes the confused reply. And off we go, explaining that OD is about people and change and improvement and yes while it sounds quite grand when you say it like that it's not actually about world domination but just making workplaces better and more successful.

Exit taxi. Next time I'll say I'm a chef.

Through the course of my career I've had titles like Learning & Development or Workforce Development or Education and Training. People sort of understood those.  When I moved into Organisational Development the conversations about my job became more difficult. Less frequent.  At a point in my life when I became a Head of HR and OD my other half said "well at least now I can tell people you work in HR and they'll get it. Even I don't know what you actually do".

In the company of HR and L&D peers, OD sometimes stands out like a whacked thumb. People often don't appreciate the 'science' of it, or they hold preconceived ideas about it. And that's a shame. The practice of Organisational Development is key to achieving the goals of an organisation. OD sits alongside HR and L&D in a triumvirate of people people. If we were a group of superheroes we'd do amazing things and wear fab costumes. There'd be a series of films about us saving the world.

As a rule, people on this planet are generally quite sociable. We enjoy belonging to a group of like minded folk who see things in similar ways. We love to network. We join clubs. Identity is really important to us human beings.  Our professional identity is a big part of that. Maybe that's why I get upset when nobody really understands what I do. It creates a barrier to conversation. People don't really ask questions about it. Some of my wisdom and stories never get shared.

So how about we take some time to really get to know each other. Maybe go for a drink, or have dinner or, hey... how about coming to the CIPD Annual Conference (Session G2 at 1:30 on November 6) where you can find out all you need to know about OD in just five minutes.

Together, we can rule the universe! Oh no, sorry, I meant change the world. Yes, that's definitely what I meant.


As part of the CIPD Leaders in Learning Network, Paul will deliver one of the four Ignite presentations at the CIPD Annual Conference 2014 innovative Session G2 Open Space "Leaders in Learning: exploring new tools and skills in people development."

You can follow Paul on Twitter at  

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