The contribution of every profession and craft is grounded in some vision, method or value – or all of these; for organization development consultants, that stance is our relationship to our clients and the benefit we bring to their work world. In addition to our specific areas of knowledge and our skills in organization design, facilitating and coaching (for examples), gifted OD consultants embody a unique and powerful approach to the work and to our client relationships – our Use of the Self in action.


USE OF SELF, OD’s core Theory of Practice, expresses our guiding principle as we work to affect individual, organizational, or societal change. To be of use to our clients, we need more than good intentions; we need to have something to use, which is the SELF. So our Theory of Practice begins with defining that SELF; it expresses two important dimensions that we make available to our engagements — our VALUES as consultants and our PRESENCE as human beings.

Underlying our USE OF SELF are our VALUES that guide all our work. These include the Hippocratic Oath to “first do no harm,” which originated as the core of the early medical profession. Understanding the client’s challenges and opportunities clarifies when to say “no” to a request that is not in their best interest and always to monitor our own possible over-commitment to a particular model or method that is unlikely to serve them. Our attention is first on the client’s well-being.

Second is our VALUE to Foster Participation in all we do; OD’s beginnings in the mid-20th century emerged from social psychologists’ concern for the threat to democratic principles and from their efforts to engage people in both understanding their organizational circumstances and shaping their culture and practices for greater participation.

Third, USE of SELF challenges OD practitioners to create genuine Partnership With Clients, not be aloof experts who tell leaders what to do, but participants with them in designing and implementing change efforts.

While there are other important VALUES that guide our work, these three (Hippocratic Oath, Foster Participation, and Partnership with Clients) form the foundation. Using these, we offer to clients our PRESENCE, that hard-to describe, but readily recognized, expression of SELF. It includes Compassion and Respect for self and others, regardless of what is done or said – a realization that all people, and especially leaders, are trying their best to deal with complex and shifting challenges.

Our PRESENCE includes Curiosity, which makes it possible to find solutions to complex problems and to pursue potential opportunities that will contribute to clients’ success.

We maintain Calm Confidence so that we can access helpful resources and so that our clients are willing to take risks and try new approaches.

All these dimensions of PRESENCE need to be cultivated through the regular and conscientious pursuit of Personal Development Practices, such as meditation, yoga, prayer, therapy, being mentored, healthy life style practices, etc.

Drawing on these resources of SELF, the OD practitioner can be useful, that is, can USE oneself effectively on behalf of the client. First, we have the challenge to develop Our ROLE as Trusted Advisor & Coach in service to the success of our client. We need to make a difference in practical ways to help clients make important decisions, establish useful relations with others, and generally fulfill the challenges of their leadership role.

Second, we need to guide and facilitate the process of change through meetings and trainings that assist clients to focus on the dilemmas of their jobs and to create useful outcomes. We provide understanding of group process, decision-making methods, leadership strategies and conflict resolution – to name a few of the applications of Process Facilitator.

Finally, in the role of Boundary Manager, we pay attention to organization structures and leader role definitions that often are unclear and that impede progress. Of particular importance is tending to the boundary of our own relationship with our clients; this is especially vexing if we are in the position of internal OD consultants having to juggle the role of organization member, as well as consultant to other members and leaders.

The final category of USE involves our EXPERTISE, including our skill to guide Continuous Contracting with clients, when the work commences and while it progresses. These contracts are usually understandings, not legal documents, although it is helpful to have them in writing. If contracts are vague or rigidly held, even as circumstances change, the work and our relationships are likely compromised. So being able to create clear contracts, monitor their continuing relevance over time, and modify them as needed is an important skill set of our EXPERTISE as consultants.

Second, we must develop and engage deep understanding about the uniquely challenging Helper – Helped Dynamics.  In his ground-breaking book, Helping. How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help, Ed Schein has clearly articulated this unique and complicated role. The vulnerability of both partners in the consulting relationship requires great humility on the part of the Helper and great courage on the part of the Helped.

Third, the success of our interventions is based also on our expert Knowledge of Change & Leadership. Happily, there is a rich literature of information to guide us, so we need to be proactive life-long learners. If, in addition, we ourselves have occupied the role of leader, we have the benefit of “walking in the shoes” of the client.

Finally, our resources include the many Models, Tools & Cases that have been developed since the mid-20th century — some of which are useful in any type of organization and some of which are specialized to the unique challenges of the tech world, the finance environment, health care, government, etc.

Overall, our USE of our SELF as OD Practitioner is focused on four areas of our clients’ worlds:
• Organization’s Vision & Culture – that forms the bedrock of any organization’s life!
• Pursuit of Goals – that provides guidance for OD projects.
• Whole Systems and Interdependence of Parts – the often-overlooked organic dimension of all organizations and the way a change in one area of the organization affects other areas.
• Predictable Resistance to Change – the often maligned, but essential, normal and stabilizing dynamic that needs to be understood and managed if progress is to be made.

Based on our many years of experience, we know OD consultants to be of genuine value. We need to pursue deep development of ourselves, as well as our role and our EXPERTISE. We do not suggest that this is an easy undertaking; however, it surely does guide us to a challenging professional life and an opportunity to know that our PRESENCE in the life of leaders and organizations can make a difference.