Organizational development is an ongoing, systematic process to implement effective change in an organization. Organizational development is known as both a field of applied behavioral science focused on understanding and managing organizational change and as a field of scientific study and inquiry. It is interdisciplinary in nature and draws on sociology, psychology, and theories of motivation, learning, and personality.
In the late 1960s organizational development was implemented in organizations via consultants, but was relatively unknown as a theory of practice and had no common definition among its practitioners. Richard Beckhard, an authority on organizational development and change management, defined organizational development as "an effort, planned, organization-wide, and managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organization's processes, using behavioral-science knowledge" (Beckhard 1969).
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s organizational development became a more established field with courses and programs being offered in business, education, and administration curricula. In the 1990s and 2000s organizational development continued to grow and evolve and its influences could be seen in theories and strategies such as total quality management (TQM), team building, job enrichment, and reengineering.
Organizational development takes into consideration how the organization and its constituents or employees function together. Does the organization meet the needs of its employees? Do the employees work effectively to make the organization a success? How can the symbiotic relationship between employee satisfaction and organizational success be optimized? Organizational development places emphasis on the human factors and data inherent in the organization-employee relationship. Organizational development strategies can be used to help employees become more committed and more adaptable, which ultimately improves the organization as a whole.
The organizational development process is initiated when there is a need, gap, or dissatisfaction within the organization, either at the upper management level or within the employee body. Ideally, the process involves the organization in its entirety, with evidenced support from upper management and engagement in the effort by all members from each level of the organization.
To launch the process, consultants with experience in organizational development and change management are often utilized. These consultants may be internal to the company or external, with the cautionary understanding that internal consultants might be too entrenched in the existing company environment to effectively coordinate and enforce the action plans and solutions required for successful change.
Data analysis through task forces, interviews, and questionnaires can illuminate likely causes for disconnects throughout an organization. These gaps can then be analyzed, an action plan formed, and solutions employed. This is by no means a linear process, nor is it a brief one. Feedback from all constituents should be elicited throughout the process and used to make adjustments to the action plan as necessary. Constant monitoring during the entire implementation effort is important for its success and acceptance.
There are contradictory opinions about the status and future prospects of organizational development. Is it a theory whose time has come and gone? Does its basis in behavioral science, a "soft" science, make it unappealing? What are the challenges for the future?
An article by Bunker, Alban, and Lewicki proposes six areas that could revitalize the field of organizational development in the future: virtual teams, conflict resolution, work group effectiveness, social network analysis, trust, and intractable conflict. These authors suggest that focusing on these areas will help bridge the gap between research theory (i.e., academics) and practice (i.e., consultants). Getting these two groups to communicate with each other will benefit both groups and promote organizational development efforts.
In a survey conducted by Church, Waclawski, and Berr, twenty individuals involved in the study and practice of organizational development were questioned about their perspectives and predictions on the future of the field. The most in-demand services, according to those polled, are:
They list the daily challenges in the field as the need for speed, resistance to change, interpersonal skills and awareness, and differentiating organizational development, which refers to the variety of definitions of organizational development among practitioners and how this impacts consultants, clients, and the clients' needs.
The opinions on the future direction of the field vary among its practitioners. Nevertheless, the continuing interest in and value of optimizing an organization's needs and goals with the needs, wants, and personal satisfaction of its employees indicate that organizational development will continue to be relevant to and vital for organizational reform in the future, either in its present form or through evolution into other theories and practices.
Monica C. Turner
Beckhard, Richard. Organization Development: Strategies and Models. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1969.
Brown, D.R., and D.F. Harvey. An Experiential Approach to Organization Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.
Bunker, B.B., B.T. Alban, and R.J. Lewicki. "Ideas in Currency and OD Practice: Has the Well Gone Dry?" Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 40, no. 4 (December 2004): 403–22.
Burke, W.W. "Internal Organization Development Practitioners: Where Do They Belong?" Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 40, no. 4 (December 2004): 423–31.
Cummings, T.G., and C.G. Worley. Organization Development and Change. 8th ed. Mason, OH: Thomson/South-Western, 2005.
French, W.L., C. Bell, and R.A. Zawacki. Organization Development and Transformation: Managing Effective Change. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005.
Massarik, F., and M. Pei-Carpenter. Organization Development and Consulting: Perspectives and Foundations. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2002.
Shifo, R. "OD in Ten Words or Less: Adding Lightness to the Definitions of Organizational Development." Organizational Development Journal 22, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 74–85.
Waclawski, J., and A.H. Church. Organization Development: A Data-driven Approach to Organizational Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Wheatley, M., R. Tannenbaum, P.Y. Griffin, and K. Quade. Organization Development at Work: Conversations on the Values, Applications, and Future of OD. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2003.