Organization development (OD) is more than 50 years old. In response to prevailing organizational values-in-operation that were partially a function of the

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títuloOrganization development (OD) is more than 50 years old. In response to prevailing organizational values-in-operation that were partially a function of the
fecha de publicación19.02.2016
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Dr. David W. Jamieson
Organization development (OD) is more than 50 years old. In response to prevailing organizational values-in-operation that were partially a function of the times, OD offered a more holistic view of people and organizations, with an emphasis on humanistic and democratic values, and the belief that this different perspective was not only better for people, but also for organization performance. Prior to World War II, organizations typically operated on principles of mechanistic and bureaucratic systems, including authority-obedience, division of labor, hierarchical supervision, formalized procedures and rules, and impersonality (and many still do!). But following the war, increasing interest in social change, attitudes about democracy, and self-actualization, brought forward distinctly different values that were a counter-force to extant organizational perspectives. French and Bell’s (1999) history of OD stated, “We think most organization development practitioners held these humanistic and democratic values with their implications for different and ‘better’ ways to run organizations and deal with people.” [italics added]
As a social and organization change movement, OD was closely associated with practice, from its beginnings. For example, the action research methodology (as created by Lewin (1948) was associated with real-world problems and the application of group process knowledge to address contemporary issues. The earliest values, philosophy, and methods of practice were influenced by findings from the behavioral sciences and leading management researchers. For example, OD change methodologies were clearly influenced by

  • early leadership work that brought legitimacy to participative and democratic methods (Follett 1941, Lewin and Lippitt, 1938; Likert, 1961, Tannenbaum and Schmidt, 1973)

  • early human relations work that highlighted the primacy of social factors attitudes, and feelings in organization behavior, influencing productivity and morale (Maya, 1945, Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939; Homans, 1950)

  • early work on group dynamics and laboratory training bringing attention to group behavior, interpersonal relations, and self-awareness (Bradford, Gibb, and Benne, 1964; Cartwright and Zander, 1954; Bennis and Shepard, 1956, Schein and Bennis; 1965)

  • changing views of the person, motivation, and interpersonal communication (Rogers, 1961; Maslow, 1954; Argyris, 1965; McGregor, 1960)

  • early work on environments, structures, and systems helping to bring design and process into the picture (Trist and Bamforth, 1951; Burns and Stalker, 1961, Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967; Katz and Kahn, 1966)

* Much of this paper is drawn from Jamieson and Worley, The Practice of OD in Cummings, T. The Handbook of Organization Development, Sage (2006).

Over the years, OD has had many different definitions and conceptualizations (Jamieson and Worley, 2006), yet most share the same commonalities and only seem to differ on the scope of change targets and the ultimate intention of change.
For example most highlight:

  • a planned process intended to bring about change

  • through the use of various interventions

  • using behavioral science knowledge (theory, research, technology)

  • having an organization or system-wide focus

  • typically involving a third-party change agent

And most assume a certain value base, often without specifying the values. Ironically, most lists of OD values captured over the past 50 years have a high degree of commonality (Jamieson and Gellermann, 2005).
The only differences occur in: a) the language used around the breadth of targets (behavioral and social processes, group and intergroup, organization processes, alignment among strategy, structure, culture, systems and people, etc) and b) the change intention (improved organization performance, effectiveness, capacity, learning/development or all of these).
The commonalities reflect the shared worldview of founders and early pioneers. The differences reflect the evolution of the field. It has tended to broaden in scope, dealing with the complexities of organizations and their environments, the wholeness of organizations and the growth of systems understanding. This has created tensions between strict adherence to early views and practical implications of contemporary organization issues. The field started where the then current need was the greatest (person, interpersonal, group) and has necessarily evolved, through experience and research, to encapsulate a larger playing field that takes into account systems learning and environmental complexity and speed. What’s important, however, is that OD still has minimum distinguishing characteristics and intended ideals that set it apart from other approaches to change.
What is OD?
This question has plagued the field for decades, In order to move on, we need to put some questions behind us. Chris Worley and I attempted to do this in a recent chapter (Jamieson and Worley, 2OD6). In one section we reviewed and analyzed many OD definitions and ended up with: OD is a process of planned intervention(s) utilizing behavioral science principles to change a system and improve its effectiveness, conducted in accordance with values of humanism, participation, choice and development so that the organization and its members learn and develop. Our hope is that this definition capitalizes on the old commonalities, clarifies the value base and ultimate outcomes and enlarges the scope of change interest
We also addressed the age-old question of whether OD was a “discipline”, “field” or “profession” and concluded that: OD is a “field of practice” from the perspective of education and a “community of practice” when describing the practitioners, researchers, and professors who affiliate with OD.
There are a number of characteristics we can use to distinguish OD work from other types of consultation and change work:

  • OD relies most heavily (but not exclusively) on behavioral science knowledge and technology

  • OD incorporates a value-base of humanism, participation, choice and development into its means (design, intervention, behaviors) and outcomes (improvements, behaviors, way of operating)

  • OD includes a planned and designed process that is comprised of a series of interventions that are client-centric, data-driven, cyclical and value-based

  • OD involves the active management of deviations from and changes to the process path (dealing with inertia, resistance and support; emerging issues; environmental shifts, etc)

  • OD uses the client-consultant relationship as a tool of change and learning and therefore requires the use of “self’ as an instrument and the on-going management of behaviors to include trust, openness, honesty, authenticity, collaboration and inquiry

  • OD’s desired outcomes include improved organization performance (organization improvement), improved organization capacity for future change (transfer of knowledge) and individual development (skills, knowledge, potential)

ODs Distinguishing Characteristics

Behavior Science Knowledge and Technology: In designing OD processes and interventions and in intervening for change, practitioners rely heavily on the knowledge and methodologies of the behavioral sciences. We deal regularly with aspects of individual motivation, personality, dimensions of interpersonal behavior, group dynamics, social processes, cultural formation and function microeconomics and adult learning in choosing what to do and designing how to do it.
Values-base: Humanism, Participation, Choice and Development: An OD process is differentiated by the values determining the choices made arid built into methods, activities, behaviors, desired outcomes, and relationships. The value sets that form the core of OD practice are choice, participation, humanism, and development. In OD there is a bias that will always show up in what’s done and how it’s done that will favor people having choice; being able to participate in decisions that affect their life; norms of interaction that promote authenticity, honesty, openness, respect, and dignity; and opportunities for people to grow and develop their potential.
Process of Client-centric Interventions: An OD Process is planned and designed based on a continuous flow of diagnostic and evaluative data about the client, the desired future or problem being addressed, the execution and emerging/unanticipated issues. Design work needs to always take into account:

  • client capacity (their ability to understand and take action on what’s happening in the present state)

  • client readiness (their motivation to change)

  • type, level, and complexity of problem(s), opportunities, or the breadth and depth of a desired future state or vision (including considerations such as size, scope, levels, human system targets, and numbers of people)

  • system complexity (number of moving parts, interacting players relationships)

In this regard, OD is always a customized process to be able to effectively work with a specific client and their characteristics and to focus on the client’s learning and development.
Active Process Management: Managing the OD process is a major undertaking and area of competence. As a series of interventions is designed, they form an intended path. However, as a series of interventions is executed, an actual change path emerges that rarely follows a straight line or stays on the intended path. Thus, an important part of OD work is managing the process by:

  • monitoring and managing the process path (corralling deviations, making mid-course corrections, building in adaptations to unanticipated forces, and/or changing the path completely, if the change purposes shift significantly)

  • ensuring execution (intention, quality, timing)

  • evaluating intended effects (impacts) and monitoring unintended consequences

  • incorporating emerging conditions/environmental influences/erratic client behavior (“stuff” happens)

  • managing client/consultant behaviors and relationships (boundaries, power, roles, qualities of interaction)

These management tasks are crucial to success because human systems are continuously changing entities with both predictable and unpredictable actions. In addition, each intervention produces system reactions that again change the landscape one is working with. Therefore, while design is an important part of the front end of an CD process, on-going designing and management in response to new data and changing conditions will make or break an OD practitioner’s work.
Client-Consultant Relationship Management: There are certain core behaviors needed in OD that differentiate it from other forms of consultation. This is true in both the intended role of the consultant and the intended role of the client. The ideal client-consultant relationship does not just happen naturally. It requires continual management, reflection, and intervention to get or stay on course. In the ideal relationship, the client and consultant operate in partnership (Old, 1995); each modeling the humanism, participation, choice, and developmental orientations and each joining in the designing, managing, and process decisions. However, most clients don’t start where they need to end up and most OD consultants have difficulty with one or more aspects of their role! As a result, the desired behaviors need to be thought out, discussed, and managed along the way.
The use of “self” as an instrument in change (Jamieson, 2003) should be a critical aspect of any helping role, but is usually only considered a key competency in OD work. Who you are, your strengths and blind-sides, your character and style, how you “filter” and execute are all relevant to what you will see and be able to do. As an instrument, you are another force intervening into a human psycho-social system and will create actions and reactions (intended and unintended) that will effect movement of the system.
The core behaviors the consultant needs to master in an OD process include: influence, model, and educate; action flexibility; social sensitivity; collaborate/partner; authentic, open, trustworthy; systemic and strategic thinking; design and execute processes and interventions; inquire/diagnose; facilitate (structure, frame, question, support, confront).
The core behaviors the client needs in an OD process include: lead and make decisions; be committed (engaged/active) and own the change work (act responsibly); be open to learning; authentic, open, trustworthy; collaborate/partner; systemic and strategic thinking.
Multiple Desired Outcomes: An OD effort can also be distinguished by always including at least two classes of intended outcomes along with any other project-specific outcomes. Outcomes occur primarily towards the end of the OD process path, after the interaction of the learning, initial changes and support/inertia/resistance are encountered and worked through. The first important class of outcome is individual development. OD methods, interactions, interventions, and processes are intended to help individuals grow and reach their potential. Part of the learning that is occurring involves improving people’s capacity to lead and manage change in the future and their personal development of potential to do what they can do best. These outcomes usually show up in knowledge, skills, behavior, and mindsets.
The second important class of outcome is organization improvement. OD efforts specifically target three types of improvement: performance, capacity, and culture.
While “performance” and “improvement” are often in the eye of the beholder and can be viewed through a wide variety of measures, OD efforts always expect to help the organization get better at what they exist to do. Performance involves a variety of mission-related results and can be viewed through various metrics that could include revenues, profit, customer service, production, clients served, environmental or social impact, market share, firm valuation, costs, cycle time, and quality. Often, other internal factors become metrics used as precursors or intermediate indicators of performance and include employee satisfaction, quality of work life, alignment, and various operational measures. Part of client-consultant contracting should include clarification of what specific performance improvement outcomes are being sought.
OD efforts also differ from many other forms of consultation and change in that the clients’ learning, or the capacity to manage change in the future, is an important part of the work. Increasing their collective capability to successfully lead, manage, design, operate, and change their own organization has always been central to the planning, orientation, and methodology of OD consultation. This outcome differs from the individual development outcome in that it is focused on a critical mass of people in the organization now working together differently in their efforts at managing change. This is sometimes described as “transfer of knowledge” or “working yourself out of a job”.
Finally, OD operates according to a specific set of values, and these values guide process design, methods, and behavior as well as intended ways of life in the organization. Therefore, each engagement (and the contracting with clients) attempts to create workplaces where choice, participation, humanism, and development are characteristic of the culture. When early pioneers talked about OD as “culture change” (eg, Beckhard, Bennis), their vision was one where all organizations would internalize basic OD values into their way of operating (culture). Culture was an appropriate target for OD since it is a reflection of the values operating to guide and shape the behavior of organization members.
How is OD Different?
OD differs from change management, management consulting, operations research, reengineering, quality circles, industrial engineering and other approaches to consultation, change and organization improvement:

  • First, the inclusion of increased capacity and individual development in the desired outcomes sets OD apart

  • Second, the value-.base of humanism, participation, choice and development are unique to OD

  • Third, the application of knowledge and methods from behavioral sciences to organization systems produces a different set of interventions and targets for change

  • Fourth, the use of the client-consultant relationship as a tool for change puts more emphasis on its management than in other approaches

  • Fifth, the combined use of on-going data, client characteristics and capabilities, specific values and a cyclical orientation in design and execution is inherent to OD

  • Sixth, the active management and re-design of processes around an intended path always creates customized processes and allows little room for any prepackaged approaches

There is much to be done in improving both research and practice in OD. The field has grown and developed in many ways, yet OD can never be fixed in one place since organizations and their environments will keep changing. However, OD does have an essence and that’s what we can continue to strengthen, for it’s needed even more to deal with today’s issues and create sustainable change.
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Bradford, L., J. Gibb and K. Benne (Eds.). (1964). T-group theory and laboratory method: Innovation in re-education. New York: Wiley.
Burns, T. and G. Stalker. (1961). The management of innovation. London: Tavistock.
Cartwright, D. and A. Zander. (1954). Group Dynamics. Evanston, IL: Row Peterson.
Follet, M. (1941). In Metcalf H.S. and Urwick, L. (eds.) Dynamic administration: The collected papers of Mary Parker Follett. New York: Harper and Row.
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Homans, G. (1950). The Human Group. New York: Harcourt Brace.
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Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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