Organisational development: Making it work

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CPCR, a European leader in organisational and leadership development, explains the differences between strategic HR management and organisational development; and reveals how it can achieve business results.

Organisation development (OD) is one of the newer HR buzzwords, driven by a variety of business needs such as leadership development, change management, internal communication and manpower planning. Text book definitions of OD make it sound as if it should be a lot more systematic and methodical than it is in practice.

While OD writers such as Warner Burke, Richard Beckhard and Ed Schein define specific phases of organisation development, the reality within an organisation is different, with the HR or OD practitioner having to work more opportunistically.

OD is different from strategic HR management as HR focuses mainly on the people-related issues such as recruitment, employee relations and benefits. OD takes a view of everything across the whole organisation, giving a holistic view of how systems, cultures and people impact upon each other.

"OD aims to increase organisational effectiveness and is the only approach that considers both quantifiable and qualitative factors across the entire organisation to improve performance."

OD may not be officially labelled as such but is probably already happening in different guises. OD is in fact being carried out by a variety of people unwittingly knowing they are ‘doing’ OD. Development experts may not have OD in their title, but may be using OD approaches none the less through the creation of initiatives that enable the organisation to become more effective through planned change and monitoring its impact.

OD must support and work within the organisation’s overall business strategy. To make it happen effectively, OD needs a champion who has a vested interest in the organisation as a whole. It can, therefore, be a very powerful catalyst for change when supported and reinforced by the chief executive. Most efforts to improve the whole organisation’s effectiveness must be led from the top, and the HR Director is often in a position to facilitate the right initiatives to support this.

However, change should not be implemented in an autocratic style as staff will be put off by this approach. The organisation needs the buy-in of everyone to make the change work. A top-down approach is less likely to succeed as the entire organisation must be engaged.

It is the OD professional’s role to challenge what they see as the ‘wrong’ approach and help to create the right conditions, culture and leadership for positive change.

Change challenge

The organisation should also consider getting the support of a competent OD professional who can run an independent and objective diagnosis of the organisation. OD goes beyond simply creating the right strategy, as you must also ensure that the organisation is in shape to capably deliver against it.

OD is measurable, which means you can monitor its value to the business, though these measures may not always be quantitative. For example, specific staff training programmes can be measured against turnover, diversity and promotions against those managers not included in the programme. Evaluation should be about moving from inputs to outputs and monitoring how things have changed.

"Many organisations make the mistake of implementing change in a haphazard and departmentalised manner or through focusing on changing the structure. There is often no consideration for the impact the different parts of the business have on the whole. It is OD’s role with its ‘umbrella’ view of the organisation to go about change with a clear direction that engages the entire organisation."
However, it is also important to recognise that despite the best laid plans, unintended things will happen. Change can be unpredictable as an implementation from the ‘top-down’ will cause ripples and a ‘bottom-up’ reaction.

OD can cause a lot of pain as different issues are confronted within an entrenched organisation where conflicts may arise. In the long term it will create a much stronger organisation, creating a competitive advantage in the way the organisation does business both externally and internally.

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