Approach and types of OD activities

Many of the approaches to planned change are appropriate for solving immediate specific problems. Organizational development (OD) in contrast, is a longer term, more encompassing more complex and more costly approach to change that aims to move the entire organization to a higher level of functioning while greatly improving its members’ performance and satisfaction. Although OD frequently includes structural and technological changes its primary focus is on changing people and the nature and quality of their working relationships.

Finally, OD has been defined as,

A top management supported long range effort to improve an organization’s problem-solving and renewal process, particularly through a more effective and collaborative diagnosis and management of organization culture with special emphasis on formal work team, temporary team, and inter-group culture with the assistance of a consultant –facilitator and the use of the theory and technology of applied behavioral science, including action research.

This definition includes a number of important phrases. Problem solving process refers to the organization’s methods of dealing with the threats and opportunities in its environment, while renewal process refers to the way managers adapt their problem solving processes to the environment. One aim of OD is to improve an organization’s self renewal process so that managers can quickly adapt their management style to new problems and opportunities.

For Allan Willett, chairman and sole proprietor of Willett International organizational development involved bringing in outside help. In ten years he built the company into a significant contender in the fast paced product marking and coding business with an annual turnover near £ 50 million and a workforce of 600 employees around the world. He then recognized that the company had become more than he could handle alone. He therefore hired a group manager and organized a team of experienced professionals. He had to let them be managers. To do that he had physically to depart from the scene. Now he spends nine months of the year visiting overseas subsidiaries and distributors and concentrated on ‘the vision thing’. The company nevertheless continues to thrive and expanding the product base is an option currently under consideration.

Another aim of OD is the sharing of management power with employees, a goal indicated by the phrase collaborative management. Collaborative management means that managers put aside the hierarchical authority structure and let employees play a greater role in decision making. To carry out this change managers must consciously change the organizational culture – the members’ shared attitudes beliefs ad activities.

The development of teams and the empowerment of employees, both elements of quality programs often result in a more collaborative approach. But when employees at Milwaukee’s Gossen Corp, first began working in teams, they had trouble understanding their importance. Part of the explanation for their resistance is the US culture which values individualism rather than collective, collaborative behavior. The company improved communication and provided training with the goal of focusing employees on the company’s mission of satisfying the customer. Now, empowered employees strive to identify customer requirements and develop processes that will fill those requirements. Rather than worrying about pleasing their boss, employees can focus entirely on the customer.

A final key phrase, action research refers to the way OD change agents go about learning what aspects of the organization need to be improved and how the organization can be helped to make these improvements. Briefly, action research involves (1) a preliminary diagnosis of the problems by OD change agents, (2) data gathering to support (or disprove) the diagnosis, (3) feedback of the data to organization members, (4) exploration of the data by organization members , (5) planning of appropriate action, and (6) taking appropriate action.