Organization development is business growth

Toby Elwin Blog, Organization Behavior 4 Comments

Organization development has yet to earn a role in all organizations.  Only the most progressive companies even have an organization development role, staff, department, or group.  The challenge to organization development success is that it is hard to find a linear trajectory for success.  Organization development may have clear goals, but the reality, there is rarely a linear path.

What is organization development and why does it seem organization development is an after-thought or only found at bigger Fortune 500 firms or identifiably progressive organizations?  Is organization development really a business luxury?

The Massachusetts Bay Organization Development Learning Group [update 2015: now Boston Facilitators Roundtable] writes:

Organization development (OD) is a professional discipline with focus on improving and enhancing capabilities within organizations to meet strategic and tactical goals. That focus is directed at the performance of people:  individuals, groups and teams distinct from capital or other assets at the disposal of the organization.

Unlike sales, finance, or accounting OD is not part of the playbook for organization DNA like sales, accounting, or finance.  To date OD is thought of as a nice-to-have, instead of essential to operations.  OD is not discussed or staffed from a firms inception and is not perceived as a critical organization function, as important as the finance office; never mind a case made that an organization development office should be placed next to the finance office.

OD professionals pay particular attention to motivation, behavior, group dynamics, skills and values development and
performance measurement.

Some people think this focus is “soft”. Historically, there may be some truth to this assessment, but as the discipline of OD emerges and matures, attention is increasingly paid to measurement to determine value and effectiveness.

Not dissimilar to the evaluation of an income statement or balance sheet, such measurement is increasingly essential for organizations to evaluate their most valuable and cost-rich asset: their employees.  Charley Matera

There is little discussion at business schools that drill into their class anything close to:  “sales, finance, accounting, and organization development are vital to any organization’s success; you can’t have an organization without the four.

In clear terms what is OD?  Well OD includes:

  • strategic planning,
  • organization design,
  • leadership development,
  • change management,
  • learning,
  • innovation,
  • succession planning,
  • performance management,
  • coaching,
  • visioning,
  • diversity, and
  • talent management

All essential for a healthy, sustainable organization.  Perhaps there are too many looking for OD to provide steady, linear impact.  Unlike a sales trend or accounts payable records, there is little in an OD intervention, that shows linear growth.

Like joining a gym, the results of an OD effort are not obvious or evident in the first visit or the first week.  However continued dedication and focus on the correct form begin to show results.  Subtle at first, but dramatic in time.

OD involves people and people rarely act in predictable fashion, OD charts new discussions, new interactions, and conversations, and new innovations – this is change.  Change is hard.  Change is not linear.

So, don’t expect an OD intervention to immediately deliver.  Like a doctor office visit, OD starts with a diagnosis and then a design or plan – like a prescription.  There is rarely an immediate result or an immediate change, but change comes in increments, sometimes small, sometimes larger, and sometimes there is a backslide.  The goal is that change becomes progressively iterative:  the new skills built; the new competencies are reliable; the new behaviors obvious.

Why look for OD to chart improvement then?  Because lack of motivation, disengagement, poor performance, and high turnover, to name a few, are symptoms.  A good OD practitioner will address the disease and design an intervention to mitigate the disease.  This takes a commitment.  This commitment relies on performance measures and constant review.  Yes, like any patient undergoing treatment or rehabilitation.

The great news:  anyone, in any function, can add organization development skills to their current capability, as an individual, as a manager, within a team, or as a leader of an organization.  OD, like “management” and “leadership”, is a competency, a skill, a profession, with a deep knowledge base to learn from.  As a behavioral competency most effective people, not just organizations, adopt.

There are a host of people who feel seeing is believing, but more often, the reality is when you believe, you will see.  Some people don’t see organization development, some see organization development in every aspect of what they do.

A great source to start your inquiry is the OD Network’s regional network search where you can find a local chapter:

These above groups usually include speakers series, networking, collaborative learning opportunities, and webinars.

No doubt I got some things wrong, or left out some important ideas. Please let me know what you think and suggestions you have for me to add value.

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Comments 4

    1. That organization development or organizational development a credo in the world has not proven it is accepted, understood, adopted, and valued. Just as Requisite Organization may reach international audiences does not provide evidence it is generally accepted.

      The reality is few people care or are aware of organization development and that is our problem: to make it relevant for people's needs, not for our own.

      Of course if you study and practice project management, you look at most things with a project management perspective, sadly only other project management people see it as you.

      We suffer from the: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

      In OD, from the perspective of too many, it is even more troubling: if you have a challenge, everything is “Kumbaya”.

      I believe organization development principles transcend the profession of an OD expert, as OD can be practiced and adopted by anyone: at the individual, manager, and leader level. It is similar to time management: everyone can practice it.

      OD does not need to be a department or housed in HR, it can, and should be a business competency as important as reading financial statements.

      Thanks, again Ernest. I am with you, but increasingly trying to find relevance in the non-believers, not the believers.

      I would value your thoughts on Requisite Organization, which I discovered about 5 years ago and just think is the greatest view of organization effectiveness/strategic development. I blogged about in All hail the solution to the micromanager.

  1. Many times, what happens is that the OD initiatives come solely from HR because the guidelines are passed by HQ or because they are trends imposed by the market; but are not based in an assertive diagnostic built jointly among the parties involved. In some cases, the Line finds little meaning or does not relate to these initiatives, and thus, do not commit or support them.

    Since Organization Development initiatives always imply some type of change or learning, and the first requisite for this to happen is that the protagonists feel that need to learn or the urgency to change, these initiatives tend to fail.

    I think that support from the Line must be sought before anything else in an instance of joint construction and diagnostic of a solution.

    1. John,

      I not only agree with you, I advocate how you say it.

      I do not feel organization development should be an office or a department or a function of any group. Organizations develop only when people develop. Line managers are the first line of people’s development.

      That HR advocates Organization Development (OD) principles is a failure of leaders, managers, and supervisors at every level of the organization.

      Last week I had a conversation within IT. They were explaining to me what change management was. According to IT change management was the change, switch, or transfer of hardware or software. IT’s fatal flaw is that at no time is there an account for hardware/software adoption and the utility of that tool by people.

      Change management is all about end-user adoption, but not according to IT. [Generalization, I realize, but just for this conversation, please]

      Change management, for too many people who call themselves professionals, has nothing to do with people. Does it take HR to account for the enterprise to include people adoption in any resource allocation or capital expenditure to account for the cost of any IT change – people, process, technology, hardware, strategy included?

      To your point: the line are the stakeholders. The are the target recipient and target audience. Their adoption and utility provide real success metrics. Any project should start with an impact assessment or stakeholder analysis. Scope is how to really manage organization success. Without scope from stakeholders and the impact the change has on them then expectations are not aligned. Any project moving forward without either deserves failure.

      Do we need project managers to get us to understand scope? I guess. But then we involve the project management office (PMO) too. It looks burdensome: HR, the line, PMO.

      I, again, agree completely with you. If the business does not find value, it is the role of each job to clearly articulate their need. Not as a function, but as a value add to either revenue or margin.

      We don’t need an organization development assignment, we should account for organization development principles.

      What are you thoughts to help the line or the business take on the ownership?

      Next we need to solve why IT does not account for people in change management.

      Thanks so much for the comment. I appreciate you insight and look forward to learn more from you.

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