What is Organization Development?

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Posted by David Marshall - 18 August, 2017

Organization development (OD) is an interdisciplinary and primarily behavioral science approach that draws from such fields as organization behavior, management, business, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, education, counseling, and public administration. A primary, though not exclusive, goal of OD is to improve organizational effectiveness.

  • The target of the change effort is the whole organization, departments, work groups, or individuals within the organization and, as mentioned earlier, may extend to include a community, nation, or region.
  • OD recognizes the importance of top management's commitment, support, and involvement. It also affirms a bottom-up approach when the culture of the organization supports such efforts to improve an organization.
  • It is a planned and long-range strategy for managing change, while also recognizing that the dynamic environment in which we live requires the ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances.
  • The major focus of OD is on the total system and its interdependent parts.
  • OD uses a collaborative approach that involves those affected by the change in the change process.
  • It is an education-based program designed to develop values, attitudes, norms, and management practices that result in a healthy organization climate that rewards healthy behavior. OD is driven by humanistic values.
  • It is a data-based approach to understanding and diagnosing organizations.
  • It is guided by a change agent, change team, or line management whose primary role is that of facilitator, teacher, and coach rather than subject matter expert.
  • It recognizes the need for planned follow-up to maintain changes.
  • It involves planned interventions and improvements in an organization's processes and structures and requires skills in working with individuals, groups, and whole organizations.

Is Organization Development the Same as Change Management?

In an effort to simplify an explanation of what OD is, some have suggested that OD and change management are the same. I disagree. There are times in the life of an organization where dramatic change is needed—change that does not and cannot rely on the use of OD. The marketplace sometimes requires that an organization take swift and unplanned actions in order to survive. It may require outsourcing domestically or to another country, downsizing, reductions in salaries, and increasing health care costs. Although all of these changes may be absolutely necessary for the survival of the organization, they do not necessarily follow the OD processes, principles, or values. 

The business benefits when both types of change are affirmed within an organization. While long-term, systemwide planning that results in change (the OD model) can be very beneficial for an organization and its bottom line, failure to act quickly and to make immediate decisions, even when those processes violate OD principles, may well result in the demise of the organization.

Click here to read more about when and why an organization should use organization development.


This article is an adapted excerpt from Organization Development by Gary McLean

Topics: Your Organization, Leadership, Organizational Development, Servant Leadership


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