Organization development (OD) is a long-range effort to improve an organization's problem-solving and renewal processes. OD involves the application of behavior science knowledge to the problems of the workplace. OD consultants tend to look at the organization as a symptom and diagnose not only obvious symptoms, but deeper, more systemic problems. The OD process comprises multiple steps, tends to be long-term, and often includes multiple iterations of the diagnosis, planning, action, and stabilization/evaluation steps. OD interventions are typically more successful if carried out by an external consultant as change agent.
Each generation brings with it new technologies and new challenges. From a business perspective, this means that the organization needs to adapt and change to meet the changing needs and demands of the marketplace, or fail. Organization development (OD) is a long-range effort to improve the organization's problem-solving and renewal processes. OD involves the application of behavior science knowledge to the problems of the workplace.
Sometimes the changes that need to be made in an organization are relatively simple, even obvious. For example, most modern businesses need to have a presence on the web in order to be taken seriously by potential customers. Other changes are less simple to implement. For example, although it may be obvious to most observers that an organization needs to computerize its inventory, the ramifications of this change may be widespread and complex. The organization will have to hire someone to install the system and input the inventory data into the new system. The human resources department will need to develop or contract training for the people using the new inventory system. Old procedures will need to be updated to take into account the new procedures and their requirements. This illustrates the nature of the organization as a system: changes in one part of the system result in changes in the other parts of the system as well.
Organizational Culture: The Informal Organization
Although the installation of a new inventory database system can be a complex task involving most (if not all) of the organization, other changes can be even more complex, such as those that attempt to change the organization's culture or norms. French and Bell (1973) use the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the nature of an organization (see Figure 1). According to this theory, an organization comprises both a formal organization and an informal organization. When a symptom arises in an organization, it may be due to problems in the formal organization, the informal organization, or both. Like an iceberg, the formal organization -- that part of the organization that is easily observable (and more easily fixable) -- represents only a small portion of the organization as a whole. The formal organization comprises the goals of the organization, the structure of the organization (i.e., the design of an organization including its division of labor, delegation of authority, and span of control), the skills of its employees, the technology it employs, and the resources it has to accomplish its tasks. The example of the need to install a computerized inventory system is an example of an intervention within the formal organization.
However, as illustrated in Figure 1, like an iceberg, the majority of the organization is harder to see and diagnose. The informal organization comprises such things as attitudes, values, feelings, interactions, and group norms. These are much more difficult to deal with than the aspects of the formal organization. Often, problems that appear to be part of the formal organization may in fact be related to the informal organization or may be a combination of problems in both the formal and the informal organization. Therefore, it is important for the organization's OD practitioner to separate the symptoms the organization is experiencing from the underlying problems. Although some organizational problems (such as the example of the need to implement a new inventory database) are obvious and relatively straightforward to fix, others are more systemic and thus more difficult to diagnose.
There are many symptoms for which an organization requires an OD intervention. For example, communication or intra- or inter-team conflict is frequently cited as a problem in many organizations. Similarly, managerial strategies are often found to be ineffective or onerous by those who must live under them. Other obvious symptoms of organizational problems include:
- Lack of motivation on the part of the worker,
- Lack of clear or functional structure or roles within the organization,
- Problems with the organizational climate, or
- Problems stemming from cultural norms.
There are some situations where OD interventions should be considered, such as the need to perform strategic planning or cope with a merger. However, for the most part, these are only symptoms. The problems underlying these symptoms are often not the same. Communication problems, for example, might occur because the organization has set two or more groups in competition with each other, and they need to compete for scarce resources. Apparent lack of motivation may be the result of inadequate control, lack of training, or unfair or inadequate rewards. Part of the job of the OD consultant is to determine what underlying problems are responsible for the symptoms being experienced by the organization.
The OD Consultant/Change Agent
Although for the most part, organizations employ their own OD staff, for OD to be effective it requires an outside change agent. This is a person external to the organization who guides an organization through a change effort. To be effective, change agents need to have knowledge of how to conduct a change effort, an understanding of the organization, and sufficient power to be able to implement the change.
There are a number of reasons why an external change agent is more likely to successfully accomplish change within an organization than an internal change agent with the same credentials. External consultants typically have a more clear-cut role than do internal consultants. When an external consultant is hired to do OD for an organization, it is typically with the understanding that his or her purview comprises the activities associated with OD and not with other organizational tasks or objectives. If the external change agent is properly introduced into the organization, everyone will know what purpose this individual serves. An internal consultant, on the other hand, typically has more difficulty articulating his or her role within the organization. Although OD may be part of the internal consultant's role, she or he will often be called upon to perform other human resources activities as well. This makes it more difficult for the organization to see an internal consultant as an expert. It also makes it less likely...
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