What Is Organisation Development?



Organisation Development (OD) is a specialist field of business psychology focused on understanding and improving the factors that need to exist to make an ‘effective organisation’. It approaches the subject in a systemic and empirical way which means that any interventions are based on observable data and high level understanding of what makes organisation tick.

Organisation Excellence is the standard achieved by the very best of organisations, measured from the perspectives of all of the stakeholders in the enterprise – not just the financial indices.

Academic Study

Psychology is a social science which aims to understand what people do and why they do it.

Originally studied by philosophers as early as the Fourth Century BC it has evolved to be a mainstream social science over the last 150 years and the first university psychology department was set up at Harvard in 1905.

Today, psychologists explore a wide range of behaviour and mental processes, including perception, cognition, attention, emotion, intelligence, motivation, brain functioning, personality and interaction between people, all using empirical techniques.

Organisation Development (OD) is just one of the many specialist fields of psychology which have emerged in the last fifty years – not unlike the radical emergence of IT from the developing science of electronics.

The first serious studies of OD in the 1960’s by Jay Galbraith were an attempt to answer the question ‘what do people do to create effective organisations?’ His studies looked at the human enablers of success and his 5-Star model was the first modern framework in this field.

Others followed – Marvin Weisbord examined the same question and developed a 6-Box model in the 1970’s that offered a more detailed framework whereas Nadler and Tushman looked to simplify the approach in their Congruence Model of the early 1980’s.

Practitioner Adoption

But whilst many academics were working in this field, the first heavyweight study based on successful companies was conducted by emerging OD practitioners Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, who were business consultants working for McKinsey and Company in the US.

Their 7-S model moved OD onto a business footing and it was no surprise when their book ‘In Search of Excellence’ published in 1982 became an international best seller.

The academic pursuit of the ‘perfect answer’ continues today although for many academics the summit was achieved by Warner Burke and George Litwin in 1992 with their 12-Factor model. Over the last 25 years this model has been subjected to extensive testing, validation and statistical analyses and continues to represent ‘best understanding’ as far as many academics are concerned today.

Modern Developments

Since their findings were published in 1992, their thinking is clearly visible in most of the highly rated academic and business writings today.

Many writers have focused on elements within the model – for example gurus such as Michael Porter on Strategy, John Kotter on Change, Michael Hammer and James Champy on Processes, Daniel Goleman on Leadership and People.

By way of contrast, a few others notably Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Balanced Scorecard) and Jim Collins (Good to Great) have proposed more holistic approaches to the achievement of organisational effectiveness.

What is perhaps most interesting is that most of the modern writers above in addition to their academic interests also run their own very successful business consultancies. By doing that they are able to work with all of the major companies of the world on organisational effectiveness and change projects, implementing and refining their concepts in the process.

The OD consultancy client list of today now reads like a who’s who of enterprises – GEC, Apple, Samsung, BP, United Health, Toyota and Amazon all engage high profile (and expensive) OD gurus and all of them provide references and testimonials about the impact that OD has had on their businesses.

And if you want confirmation just look at any published league table of consultancy revenues and you will see that it is a high growth industry – OD has come a long way!

Copyright: © Clive Weston, The Hartwell Consultancy, 2020

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