Much Ado about Organizational Development

Shawnee Love   •  
March 10, 2014

There must be something in the water lately, because I am hearing more and more people talk about Organizational Development. What is it, how do you do it, what is the secret?

The field of HR counts Organizational Development (OD) as its own function (although that isn’t strictly true).  From my perspective, no matter who owns it, OD is always a great challenge because of the many opportunities involved to have a huge impact on the business.

By the layperson, OD is often assumed to be training people or reorganizing the structure, but that is just scratching the surface.

Wikipedia defines OD as “a deliberately planned, organization-wide effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and/or efficiency and/or to enable the organization to achieve its strategic goals.”

In practice, the activities that are involved in OD are complex and diverse.  While you are simply getting your ducks in the right formation so you can get where you want to go, how you do it is where the meaningful impacts will be created.

The OD process like any strategic or change initiative involves:

  • Knowing where you are going or what you want to be/do,
  • Understanding where you are today,
  • Determining the appropriate methods to bridge the gaps between where you want to be and where you are,
  • Implementing the plan,
  • Monitoring, measuring and recalibrating as required.

While it is my job to make these things sound easy, OD in particular is deceivingly complex because there are no limits on the types of changes that may be required.  In any given OD initiative you could be affecting structure, teams, positions, people, systems, processes, operating and employment policies and procedures, reporting relationships, values and culture, communication flow, and work flow as well as any number of other HR functions and activities including compensation, incentive and recognition programs, training & development activities, recruiting methods, etc.

In my experience, OD doesn’t stick if the efforts are not done with the entire organization in mind which is why OD touches so much.  That’s the not so skinny on organizational development from my perspective.

What do you think?