Organisational development promotes the notion that a successful change is a planned change and monitoring the internal and external influences needs to be conducted on a continual basis (Warmer and Litwin, 1992). Organisational development is an organisational wide effort that is planned and managed by top management with the objective of increasing organisational effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organisation’s processes with the help of behavioural science knowledge (Beckard, 1969). It includes making changes in job description, decision making processes and arena; shape; size, and nature of groups and developments; managerial style; work organisation; quality programmes; mechanisms for reporting and exercising accountability and human resource management practices (Dawson et al., 1995). Organisational development is a field of application that seeks to develop the principles and practice of managing change and improving effectiveness in organisations (Beckard and Prichard, 1992).
According to some commentators:
“It can be argued that organizational development (OD) is a series of humanistic techniques that have not developed into a coherent approach to strategic change. Further that the accepted OD processes predispose interventions along given paths and cause inefficiency”.
The objective of this paper is to critically evaluate the above statement. The paper focuses on understanding the specific strategies, methodologies, and intervention techniques that have been developed to improve total organisational performance and to facilitate the progress of development and change. The paper also aims at refining the critical judgment of those who may have the responsibility of advising on, or committing organisations to change. the next section focuses on the methods, strategies and intervention techniques; while the next section provides recommendations for improvement.
- Strategies, Methods and Intervention Techniques
The business environment is constantly changing. This change is driven mainly by changing customer needs and preferences; increasing competition, globalisation; changes in management techniques, methods and applications; globalisation; and technology. For an organisation to survive in such an ever-changing environment, it must continually adopt strategies, methodologies, and intervention techniques that will ensure long-term sustainability, profitability and shared success. It should be noted that an organisation is characterised by a number of stakeholders. Although most organisations tend to focus on satisfying only shareholders, there is greater pressure to meet the needs of all stakeholders such as customers, employees, environmental agencies, NGOs. Thus, by ‘shared success’, we mean satisfying the needs of all the stakeholders rather than just those of the shareholders. Organisational development is one of the intervention methodologies that have been suggested as a means for implementing organisational change. OD is a well-established ‘soft’ methodology employed to extensively engineer change in organisations (Yolles and Guo and Guo, 2003). OD depends on an open system to function properly. Inputs to the OD model occur from the external environment, which are later transformed into outputs to the same environment (Yolles and Guo, 2003). Candidate interventions are triggered by the requirements for change. There are a number of barriers to systematic change (Garside, 1998; Yolles and Guo, 2003). These include resistance by members of the organisation, control for change and power (Yolles and Guo, 2003).
OD was developed based on the work of Lewin (1947). OD provides and approach to organisational learning that aims at achieving a balance between organisational forces and those of its environment. According to Coghlan (1993: 117) the intended use of OD was “to articulate a mode of organisational consultancy that paralleled the client-centred approach in counselling and contrasted with consultancy models that were centred on expertise”. Pritchard (1993) suggests that OD is broadly concerned with the boundaries and relationships at various hierarchies between organisations, stakeholders, and the manner in which these relationships vary with time.
Despite its importance as a change management methodology, OD is weak in a number of respects. OD often assumes that organisations are most effective when the gap between corporate executives and low level managers and employees is reduced (Yolles and Guo, 2003; Harrison, 1994). That is, when there is equal and easy flow of information from top to bottom and from bottom to top (Harrison, 1994). This assumption indicates that unless the power distance between low level managers and executive management is reduced, it will be difficult for OD to be effective. There is considerable evidence that the gap between executive management and subordinates in most organisations across the globe tends to be very wide. This therefore calls into question the ability of OD to successfully implement change in such organisations. Yolles and Guo (2003) argues that OD is unlikely to function properly in organisations that place a lot of emphasis on status and authority differences, as well as in countries that do not share the values of underlying development. Moreover, Harrison (1994) argues that even where there is a balance of power OD interventions tend to provide limited incremental improvements in organisational functioning as oppose to other change strategies such as radical transformations necessary for recovery from crisis and decline.
Little or no use is made of OD in most organisations today, despite its importance for successful organisational learning and development (Bradford and Burke, 2005). Most often than not, OD is utilised only at the lower levels of the organisational hierarchy. It is more often employed only in situations where the organisation finds itself in problems (Bradford and Burke, 2005). Given their higher levels of involvement and interaction with customers, low level managers and employees at times possess more valuable information than top executives. In addition, low-level employees may possess skills and capabilities that are not available to top management (Bradford and Burke, 2005). The large power gap between top management and subordinates raises questions with regards to the validity of OD. OD is weakened by the fact that low-level employees are not allowed to take part in the decisions that directly affect them (Bradford and Burke, 2005). Organisational development lacks a close link with organisational strategy. Bradford and Burke (2005) argue that OD practitioners do not partake in governance neither do they work in close collaboration with corporate executives during planning, strategy formulation and implementation (Bradford and Burke, 2005). Despite the importance of OD for successful implementation of strategy, there is little or no link between OD and organisational strategy. Survey research by Wirtenberg et al. (2004) suggests that the weaknesses of OD arise from within the profession itself. Two main weaknesses are prominent among the numerous weaknesses identified by the study: (i) lack of definitions of the field; and (ii) lack of distinction of the field (Wirtenberg et al., 2004). Practitioners lack quality control, lack business acumen, and lack attention to customer needs (Wirtenberg et al., 2004). In addition, there is uncertainty with regards to the return on investment in OD (Wirtenberg et al., 2004).
The foregoing discussion provides considerable evidence that OD techniques are yet to develop into a coherent approach to strategic change. In addition, the discussion suggests that OD processes predispose interventions along given paths thereby leading to inefficiencies. For example, OD is more often implemented only at low levels of management as identified earlier above. This means that high ranking managers are less likely affected by the implementation of OD in organisations.
- Recommended procedures for Improvement
Having identified the problems associated with OD, this section of the paper provides a discussion on the improvements that can be made to OD so as to enable it develop into a coherent approach to strategic change and enable its implementation across all sections of an organisation. A number of issues need to be addressed for successful OD implementation. For example, Huntington et al. (2000) citing American Research on quality improvement in health care notes that three areas of organisational development are of particular importance. Firstly, cultural changes need to be incorporated into organisational development so as to ensure that the underlying beliefs and values of the organisation support open and constructive reflection required for clinical governance. Cultural issues are not relevant only to health care organisations. This means that other organisations including profit making ventures must also incorporate cultural change into their OD implementation strategies. Secondly, people need to develop their technical skills to ensure that they can undertake the tasks that come along with organisational change; thirdly, structural development of committees and systems is required for successful monitoring and coordination of quality improvement work in organisations (Huntington et al., 2000). Successful implementation of OD requires knowledge. Dawson (2000) suggests that knowledge capabilities are central to the effectiveness of organisations. Considering the rapidly changing market and competitive environment, the value of existing capabilities is also declining thus leading to declining competitive advantage (Dawson, 2000). It is therefore imperative for organisations to focus on developing their knowledge capabilities on a continual basis so as to avoid being extinct from the business environment as a whole (Dawson, 2000). Organisations must focus organisational development on the continual improvement of knowledge capabilities as a the foundation of organisational effectiveness (Dawson, 2000). OD practitioners need to increase their level of involvement in business process reengineering. The focus of change in any reengineering process should be the roles and responsibilities, organisational structure, measurements and incentives, shared values, skills, and information technology (Burke, 1997). OD practitioners should contribute significantly to these focal points. The effectiveness of organisations depends on the interactions and interrelationships among employees at all levels of the organisation. The OD practitioner can be of great importance in facilitating these interrelationships and interactions among people in the organisation. The OD practitioner can be very instrumental in this respect in that he/she can initiate meetings, rather than just facilitate them. The OD practitioner should promote cross-functional collaboration among different team players and enable self-directed groups to actually self-direct (Burke, 1997).
Yolles and Guos and Guo (2003) notes that traditional OD sees the open system as a space that is capable of transforming inputs into outputs. However, Yolles and Guos and Guo (2003) notes that using this approach, traditional OD fails to explore many of the facets of an organisation than can be of great importance to change. consequently, Yolles and Guos and Guo (2003) suggest that for the organisation to be more operationally effective and thus enhance its outputs, it is essential to modify the system and cultural base that defines it. Thus, Yolles and Guos and Guo (2003) provide a modififed OD which adopts a terminology consistent with Viable Systems Theory (VST) rather than on open systems theory as suggested by the traditional OD paradigm. The Viable Systems Methodology operates through a system and a matasystem with implicit transformation that couples the two.
Finally, the OD profession needs to enhance a number of critical areas. The profession needs to specify minimum skill requirements for OD professionals and ensure that these skills are more clearly demonstrated in terms of what business leaders recognise and value (Wirtenberg et al., 2004). OD professionals need to place more emphasis productivity, profitability, return on investment (ROI), and business acumen. In addition, the OD profession needs to be clearly distinguished from the Human Resource management profession (Wirtenberg et al., 2004). Wirtenberg et al. (2004) also observe the need for practical application of OD, development of new models, research, and theory for OD practitioners. Finally, there is also an increase need for Academicians and practitioners to work in partnership so as to ensure that theories are put into practice.
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