Organization development (OD) is a deliberately planned effort to increase an organization's relevance and viability. Vasudevan has referred to OD as a systemic learning and development strategy intended to change the basics of beliefs, attitudes, and relevance of an organization's values and structure. This process helps the organization to better absorb disruptive technologies, market opportunities, and ensuing challenges and chaos. Essentially, organizational development is the framework for a change process that is designed to produce desirable and positive results for all stakeholders and the environment.
The Nature of Organizational Development
Organizational development is a lifelong, built-in mechanism to improve an organization internally. This is often done with the assistance of a "change agent" or "catalyst" who enables appropriate theories and techniques from applied behavioral sciences, anthropology, sociology, and phenomenology. The terms "change agent" and "catalyst" suggest a leader who is engaged in transformation leadership as opposed to management (management being a more incremental or efficiency-based change methodology).
Although behavioral science provided the basic foundation for the study and practice of OD, new and emerging fields of study have made their presence felt. Experts in systems thinking and organizational learning have also emerged as OD catalysts. These emergent perspectives view the organization as the holistic interplay of a number of systems, all of which impact the processes and outputs of the entire organization.
Applications of Organizational Development
The purpose of OD is to address the evolving needs of successful organizations. It represents a concerted collaboration of internal and external experts in the field to discover the processes an organization can use to become more effective.
Organizational development aims to improve an organization's capacity to handle its internal and external functioning and relationships. This includes improving interpersonal and group processes; communication; the organization's ability to cope with problems; decision-making processes; leadership styles; conflict and trust; and cooperation among organizational members.
Weisbord presents a six-box model for understanding—and thereby changing and improving—an organization:
- Purposes: Are employees clear about the organization's mission, purpose, and goals? Do they support the organization's purpose?
- Structure: How is the organization's work divided? Is there an adequate fit between the purpose and the internal structure?
- Relationships: What are the relationships between individuals, units, or departments that perform different tasks? What are the relationships between the people and the requirements of their jobs?
- Rewards: For what actions does the organization formally reward or punish its members?
- Leadership: Does leadership watch for "blips" among the other areas and maintain balance among them?
- Helpful mechanisms: Do planning, control, budgeting, and other information systems help organization members accomplish their goal?
Lewin's description of the process of change involves three steps:
- Unfreezing: Faced with a dilemma or issue, the individual or group becomes aware of a need to change.
- Changing: The situation is diagnosed and new models of behavior are explored and tested.
- Refreezing: Application of new behavior is evaluated, and if it proves to be reinforcing, the behavior is adopted.
Effectiveness of Organizational Development
The efficacy of organizational development is predicated on the adaptability of the organization and the overall successful integration of new ideas and strategies within an existing framework. Resistance to change is a fundamental organizational problem as all organizations have a degree of general inertia. This is further complicated by the difficulty in quantitatively measuring changes in areas that are generally intangible (i.e., culture).
To remedy this, organizations pursuing OD must set clear and measurable objectives prior to committing to a change initiative. An important role of the leader is to analyze and assess the effectiveness of this developmental process and motivate the organization to achieve developmental targets.