What is OD Anyway?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - 1:31pm

Organizational Development 101

You've probably heard of Organizational Development (OD), but do you really know what it is?  You may be thinking of quirky team building activities, maybe some training for managers and executives, or even the notion that someone from HR comes in and sits in on your business meetings to offer up some fluffy HR guidance to make your people happy.  If you've never worked with an OD Consultant or are new to the various ways in which OD can transform your business, then this article is for you.

Why is OD Important?

Organizations are increasingly challenged by change. The world is moving faster and faster, competitive pressures are becoming more and more demanding, and rapid technological change and the globalizing economy both confuse us and open new doors.  In the midst of this, employees seek more satisfaction and meaning from their work lives, and more balance in their lives as a whole.  

Whether your organization is private, public or non-profit, you must adapt to this new world if you are to survive and thrive. You need to become more nimble, more customer-driven, more innovative, more effective. You need to attract and retain competent and committed employees. This will require more flexible organizational structures, new types of leadership, and new ways of managing.  Organizational Development (OD) can help organizations navigate this difficult terrain.  

What is OD?

Let’s start with a definition: "Organization Development is a system-wide application of behavioral science knowledge to the planned development and reinforcement of organizational strategies, structures, and processes for improving an organization’s effectiveness." (Cummings T.G. and Worley C, th1997. Organization Development and Change, 6 ed., p 2. South-Western College Publishing)

  This definition has several key elements.  

  • The overall goal of OD is to improve an organization’s effectiveness.  
  • It involves the application of behavioral science knowledge,
  • in a planned and system-wide manner, and
  • it addresses an organization’s strategies, structures and/or processes.  

Another good definition of OD comes from Organizational Behavior (Robbins, S.P., 1998.Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall.)  "A collection of planned change interventions, built on humanistic-democratic values, that seeks to improve organizational effectiveness and employee well-being."  

OD is sometimes thought of as the "soft side" of change as opposed to the hard side of technology or business systems.  It is concerned with how people react to change, and how their needs have to be considered if change efforts are to be effective.  One of the common issues is to understand and work with the resistance to change that usually occurs in organizations undergoing change.  "Change management" is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with OD.

Although OD is considered a distinct field or profession by many, there is not unanimity as to exactly what specific methods or practices comprise the field.  And, like most professions, OD is evolving.  The field now known as OD began in the 1940s and 1950s with "T-group" or sensitivity training, moved into such practices as survey research and feedback, and action research, and in the 1980’s and 1990’s into quality of work life issues and more strategic and large-scale change efforts.

What Are the Values of OD?

Values often tell us a lot about someone or something.  In the case of OD, there are certain values usually associated with the profession.  Since the beginning, OD values have generally been described as humanistic and democratic. They have to do with how people treat each other, and how decisions are made. A key concern is how satisfied employees are in the workplace.  Employee participation and collaboration are key concepts associated with OD.  More recently OD has also become concerned with productivity and organizational effectiveness.  There is more of an explicit focus on business issues and bottom-line results.  (This shift has been reinforced by several recent research findings that employee satisfaction has a clear impact on customer satisfaction and therefore on revenue and profits.)

What Do OD Practitioners Do?

OD practitioners are frequently called upon to address a variety of organizational issues or problems. These might include how to:

  • create an organizational vision and mission
  • set goals and make decisions
  • lead attract and retain good employees
  • improve employee morale
  • reduce turnover and absenteeism
  • improve productivity
  • resolve conflict
  • assign labor
  • design work
  • coordinate departments and share information
  • determine core competencies
  • develop or change core values
  • more effectively develop and implement change strategies
  • change the organizational culture
  • relate to the external environment
  • anticipate and prepare for the future

In order to address these types of issues, the practitioner might employ a variety of interventions or methods.  According to Cummings and Worley, there are four basic categories of OD interventions:

  1. Human Process (e.g., sensitivity training, team building and conflict resolution)
  2. Techno-structural (e.g., quality circles or total quality management, and work process design)
  3. Human Resource Management (e.g., job design, performance appraisal, reward systems and multicultural training)
  4. Strategic (e.g., strategic planning/management, future search conferences, and corporate culture change)

Of course, these are not distinct or exclusive methods and they are often used in conjunction with each other.  Following is a representative list of specific services or techniques that might be offered or used by OD practitioners:

  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Career management or counseling
  • Change management
  • Coaching
  • Collaborative solutions
  • Conflict resolution
  • Creative problem solving
  • Future search conferences
  • Goal setting
  • Group (or meeting) facilitation
  • High-involvement work teams
  • Human resource management
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Large-scale system change
  • Large-group interventions
  • Leadership development
  • Managing workforce diversity
  • Organizational restructuring
  • Socio-technical systems design
  • Strategic planning
  • Team building
  • Total quality management
  • Vision and mission development
  • Work process improvement

If you would like more information about how Ultimate HR can assist you with Strategic HR Planning or Organizational Development, contact Melody Edwards by clicking here.