What is Organizational Development?

Organizational Development is a business strategy.

Using ‘OD talk’, it is the appreciation, development and integration of organizational aspects and elements, such as people, business processes, strategies, organizational design, systems (IT/IS), relevant environments, business models and culture (to name a few), into a systemic, integral whole in order to achieve desired goals.

Organizational Development is the process of:

1. Building organizational capacity to become more adaptive and effective with its changing environments… .

2. Mastering strategic and operational capabilities to overcome the challenges in accomplishing its desired goals…

3. Enhancing an organization’s ability to create and sustain its organizational and business vitality and viability…

4. Creating a ‘Living Vision’ (Trottier, 1995) so people experience, and are engaged in the ongoing development and evolution of the organization as well as experiencing congruency between stated ‘values’ and day-to-day experiences.

5. Creating an ‘Emergent Living Culture’ that fluidly adapts to changes , opportunities and challenges in its internal and external environments.

On Culture: A key consideration in developing an organization’s culture is to embed its mission, vision and values into the development of people, its structures, job designs, its technologies, processes and systems… as well as its business model, strategic focus and its organizational design. ( see: Culture As A Core Business Strategy – an Emergent Approach To A Living Culture; https://globaltransforming.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/culture-as-a-core-business-strategy-an-emergent-approach-to-a-living-culture/ )

Simply, ‘culture’ is what people (internal and external) ‘experience’ as patterns on a continuous basis when interacting with the aspects of an organization.

For the sake of a common understanding, let’s define culture as:

‘Influencing patterns’ that people consistently and congruently experience over time which emerge as the norms, beliefs, values and practices that guide people in their perspectives, attitudes, decisions and behaviors’. (Trottier, 1996)

An ‘influencing pattern’ is a contingency of interdependent patterns that begin to emerge and form into something which has an inherent capacity to influence persons and events.

OD focuses on developing the organization as an integrated, ‘whole system’ to create both organizational capacity and social capital (also known as ‘reputational capital’).

From a ‘whole systems perspective’ a change in one part can have a dramatic ripple effect on the whole organization. To appreciate such, one then has to ‘see’ the organization ‘as a whole’ – which may also include its community, supply partners, stakeholders and customers.

Thus, OD takes a ‘whole system’ perspective in order to understand how the parts (both inside and outside the formal organization) work together to enhance systemic integration of its functions aligned to its mission, vision, values, and goals.

OD sees an organization’s mission, vision and values as acting as a foundation to its strategies, decisions and actions.

On Customization: I believe an OD approach needs to be fully customized because every organization is unique based on its history, values, culture, issues, strategies, goals, performance levels, and where the organization is at in its stage of development as an organization.

The OD ‘steps’ mentioned below allows for such customized OD designs to ‘fit’ that organization.

Three Levels Of Change and Development

I view three levels of change and development in an OD approach:

1. Incremental Change and Development – To improve effectiveness, efficiency and continuous improvement aligned to current critical success factors and strategic focus. (Stay the course, increase performance to achieve business results)

2. Transitional Change and Development – Organizational alignment. To enhance adaptability and alignment of the organization to changing environments, strategic directions and business goals.  (embeds 1.)

3. Transformational Change and Development – Cultural transformation within an adaptive, emergent paradigm – designed to  evolve and embed the values, attitudes and beliefs (VABs) of your organization within your structures, systems, processes, decisions and behaviors to support your long term business strategies. (embeds 1., 2.)


‘Action Research’ serves as an overall ‘framework’ for most OD designs.

OD is like a ‘recipe’ with different designs and ingredients to achieve on-going development specific to THAT particular organization – with its history, culture, issues, strategies and goals.

Fully customized approaches are called for to be effective to achieve goals – as well as creating the necessary degree of ‘readiness’, ‘ownership’, ‘effective engagement’ and a shift in ‘mental frameworks’ for effective change and development to take place.

OD integrates concepts, tools and applications of behavioral science and applies relevant methods for the overall development of an organization.

The steps in a dynamic OD approach are predominately:

1. Entry – Exploratory Interviews – Contracting (How we are going to work together).*
2. Form A Powerful Guiding, Supportive Coalition, Leadership Support, Coherent Mission, Vision, Values Statements and Strategic Business Focus.*
3. Design An Initial ‘Draft’ Change and Development Process Model with the client organization*.
4. Create Understanding and Effective Engagement (a felt need) Throughout The Organization*.
5. Assessment, Feedback and Diagnosis*.
6. Strategy, Design and Action Planning*.
7. Interventions – Implementation on different levels to form a gestalt*.
8. Evaluation – Continuous Feedback For Continuous Change and Development*.
9. Reinforcement  – Shaping – Adoption / Internalization (new norms)*.
10. Continuous Maturation / Adaptation / Evolution.*

* Every aspect of this approach mirrors the mission, vision, values and strategic focus as well as the desired culture giving people a different experience than the ‘status quo’ in its OD approach to change and development. Simply, the approach mirrors that which you want to create in the organization.

*Again, a main attribute of the above OD process is the emphasis on creating the necessary degree of readiness, ownership, a shift in ‘mental framework(s), and effective engagement throughout the OD process. The value of such is to ‘make it real’, to reduce the 70% change and development failure rate while at the same time to lower resistance to the changes desired.

The following ‘FIT’ model illustrates the degree of certain individual and organizational dynamics appropriate to and needed based on the type of change and development desired.

Summary Model

A write-up on the four basic consultation models in the diagram (expert, medical, process, emergent) can read at: https://globaltransforming.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/approaches-to-consultation-the-four-basic-models/

I hope this gives you some idea on how I view and approach the practice of fundamental Organizational Development.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

All comments are appreciated.

4 Responses to What is Organizational Development?

  1. Angelique v. Rensburg says:

    Love the work you do Patrick!

  2. Thank you Patrick… most insightful and helpful!

  3. Glen Fahs says:

    This will be useful for a series on “Fundamentals of OD” that Cascade Employers Association and the Oregon Organization Development Network are offering for a second time this fall. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s