What Is Organization Development? (Article 2)

Training & Development
, August 2000

Info-line is ASTD's how-to reference for training and performance professionals, with practical, concise information in an easy-to-read format that gets readers up-to-speed on training topics in a matter of minutes.

The following excerpt has been adapted from "Principles of Organization Development," a revised issue by Rima Shaffer, Info-line No. 8812.

It is both sad and ironic that we have treated organizations like machines; acting as though they were dead when all this time they've been living, open systems capable of self-renewal.

Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science

Paradoxically, the one constant in organizational life is change. Today's organizations must change frequently to keep up with rapid changes in the world around them and the people within them. Any change carries risk, especially if it is haphazard. That is why the keys to organizational change are attention to process and focus on goals and organizational values. And that is what organization development is all about: planned change.

* Organization development is the planned process of developing an organization to be more effective in accomplishing its desired goals. It is distinguished from human resource development in that HRD focuses on the personal growth of individuals within organizations, while OD focuses on developing the structures, systems, and processes within the organization to improve organizational effectiveness.

A successful OD process can result in the following.

* Effective strategic and operational plans

* Team development and effectiveness

* Leadership development

* Added value, quality, competitive products, or services.

Change is the intended goal. Development--increased capacity and potential for effectiveness--is the purpose.

Warner Burke, in Organization Development, points out that OD is concerned with change that will "more fully integrate individual needs with organizational goals; lead to greater organizational effectiveness through better utilization of resources, especially human resources; and provide more involvement of organization members in the decisions that directly affect them and their working conditions."

Not all change is organization development. Burke goes on to say that organization development:

* Responds to an actual and perceived need for change on the part of the client

* Involves the client in the planning and implementation of the change

* Leads to changes in the organization's culture or systems.

While no panacea, OD functions as an enabler, establishing systems or removing obstacles to increase the organization's potential for effectiveness and success in achieving its desired outcomes.

Training and OD

So, what does OD have to do with training? Plenty. Because organization development is an education-based process, it relies heavily on training to enhance the organization's awareness and knowledge required for a successful change process.

Stephen Wehrenberg points out in his Personnel Journal article, "The Vicious Circle of Training and Organizational Development," that as trainers become more experienced. They begin to see that many of their organizations' problems cannot be resolved simply by training. Trainers see problems as part of a total system--problems such as poor communication between managers and staff, poor quality control, and low productivity.

Once a trainer starts to take a holistic view, he or she begins to move from trainer to problem identifier, to evaluator, to system developer, to system integrator, to problem solver. The trainer, then, needs to understand the OD process in order to position training in the total system, and to learn how training can support OD processes as well as become an OD intervention itself.

Source: Copyright 2000 American Society for Training & Development, Inc. in association with The Gale Group and Look Smart.