If I asked you, “What is organization development (OD)?” would you be able to tell me? In most cases, people have no idea what OD is all about so let me see if I can shed some light on this critical, but unknown, area of expertise.
In short, discovery is at the heart of organization development – the practice of helping organizations solve problems and reach their goals. Organization development has a foundation in a number of behavioral and social sciences and is an interdisciplinary field with contributions from business, industrial and organizational psychology, human resources management, communication, sociology, and many other disciplines.
Let me further offer a basic definition: Organization development is the process of increasing organizational effectiveness and facilitating personal and organizational change through the use of interventions driven by social and behavioral science knowledge.
Creating and managing change in order to create higher performing organizations in which individuals can grow and develop is a central theme of the field of OD. When we speak of organization development, we are referring to the management of certain kinds of these changes, especially how people implement and are affected by them.
By now you are probably asking, “What the heck does this all mean?” and “Why should I care?”
Stay with me. I’m going to explain what this means and why you should care.
Organization Development Is… many things, but ultimately it is all about improving the effectiveness and performance of the organization for sustainable, profitable growth and that is why you should care.
OD is distinguished from, yet applicable to, specific functional areas such as finance, marketing, business strategy, information technology, or supply chain management. When organizations attempt conscious changes, whether it involves implementing a new IT system; changes in strategy, goals, or direction; or adapting to a new team leader, OD offers relevant processes and techniques to make the change function effectively. This happens through several specific specialized areas of expertise. Let’s explore these:
Strategic Planning is an organizational development activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment.
It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful (and that is why you should care).
An organizational assessment is a systematic process for obtaining valid information about the performance of an organization and the factors that affect performance. It differs from other types of evaluations because the assessment focuses on the organization as the primary unit of analysis.
Organizations are constantly trying to adapt, survive, perform and influence. However, they are not always successful. To better understand what they can or should change to improve their ability to perform, organizations can conduct organizational assessments. This diagnostic tool can help organizations obtain useful data on their performance, identify important factors that aid or impede their achievement of results, and situate themselves with respect to competitors (and that is why you should care).
Leadership and Employee Development
For an organization to grow and develop, its workforce must evolve as well. One means of doing that is by providing executives and employees with opportunities for development.
While individual and organization learning is a part of OD and a key value, OD work is not confined to training and development activities. OD is not generally the context in situations in which learning is the sole objective, such as learning a new skill, system, or procedure. OD deals with organizational change efforts that may or may not involve members of the organization needing to learn specific new skills or systems. While some OD interventions do incorporate training and development programs, OD is more centrally concerned with the context that would make a training and development program successful, meaning it has a positive impact on organizational effectiveness and performance (and that is why you should care).
HR organizations have been transforming themselves for years, making significant progress in reducing costs and improving operating effectiveness through HR system and process improvements and outsourcing and employee self-service and that’s just part of the value that HR Transformation can deliver. The next big step for HR is to help the business achieve its strategic objectives for overall organizational performance and growth. (And that is why you should care.)
OD is all about change
OD is intended to address long-term change. Even in cases in which the intervention is carried out over a short period (such as a several-day workshops conducted on-site) the change is intended to be a long-term or permanent one. OD efforts are intended to develop systemic changes that are long lasting. In the contemporary environment in which changes are constantly being made, this can be particularly challenging.
Today’s organizations are experiencing an incredible amount of change. Changes that OD practitioners address are diverse as well, addressing organizational structures and strategies, team effectiveness, and much more. OD is a practice that can be used in any organizations from education to health care, from government to small and large businesses. And OD initiatives can include many kinds of people for whom organizational change is a priority, such as managers and executives, project managers, and organizational members in a variety of roles.