What is OD and what is not?

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28 / 11 / 2014 12.02pm

By AnneClare Gillon

It might not surprise you to learn that many academics say that OD has blurred boundaries in literature and in practice. For me it came as a comfort to read that, it meant that if I was confused (and I was) then that was quite right!

For some time now, I have wondered what the difference is between organisation and organisationAL development, whether human resource development (HRD) and management development are in fact OD or are they not. Part of my own research into what OD is, involved analysing job advertisements in OD over a forty year period. It was clear from that exercise that there is a lot of confusion about what OD is and what is not.

So in reading through large piles of academic books and journals, to find that the boundaries of OD were indeed fuzzy came as something of a relief, I didn’t need to search so hard for the definitive answer as to what was and what was not OD. In fact many of the academics say that since the global environment is constantly and rapidly changing, it is essential for OD to be flexible and change form with the times, so fuzzy is good! However I’ve had a chance to delve deeper, there are not many, but there are a few who comment explicitly on the points I had been particularly puzzled by.

Is it more correct to say ‘organisation development’ or ‘organisationAL development’?

In the job advertisements research, it was clear that people used organisation and organisational development as though there is no difference. In the academic world, the term organisation development is the term practically always used, but Professor Helen Francis explains that she uses the terms organisation and organisational development relatively interchangeably.  

There is one book though in which the authors differentiate. In Rothwell, Sullivan, and McLean’s 1995 edited book (Practicing Organization Development – A Guide for Consultants) they explain that ‘Not to be confused with OD – organisational development refers to any effort to improve an organisation. Unlike OD, it does not imply assumptions about people, organisations, or the change process’. So if we want to be absolutely correct: organisational development is a much more open term and organisation development has more specific meaning.

And is organisation design part of organisation development or is it not?

The next area where I found confusion was on whether there is a difference between organisation development and organisation design. At the moment the CIPDdifferentiates between these in its professional map model, although when I interviewed the professional map manager last year, she said that whether they were considered as one or as two separate areas was a much debated topic.

Dr Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge and Dr Linda Holbeche (2011) shed light on the difference between them. They describe organisation design as being the driver for structural change which in turn impacts on the need to address cultural change. The role of organisation development is to build healthy and effective organisations. It does this by improving the ways people work together and uses techniques based on behavioural science and process facilitation. The goal of organisation design is organisation alignment and the goal of organisation development is sustained organisational effectiveness. With this in mind, it is easy to see why Dr Cheung-Judge and Dr Holbeche say that they are ‘entirely complementary and increasingly recognised as core capabilities required for the design and delivery of a really strategic agenda’.          

Dr. Naomi Stanford (2012) also explains the difference and describes organisation development as relating to ‘...to elements of the organisation that are implicit and cannot be so easily codified or explained: culture, behaviours, relationships, interactions, the way a written process operates in practice...’, whereas organisation design includes what is explicit and visible ‘focussing on aligning the non-people (hard) parts of the organisation.’  Her perspective accords with that of Professor Michael Beer and Professor Edgar Huse (given as early as 1972) that ‘Structural and interpersonal systems changes must reinforce and legitimate each other’.

So whether you see organisation design and organisation development as separate or not, what seems sure is that they must be applied in a hand in hand process.

Is organisation development actually just the same as human resource development?

An area where there is much confusion is that in the relationship of OD and human resource development (HRD). In 1971, Professor Warner Burke explained that organisation wide training programmes were often referred to as OD efforts. He explained though that the difference ‘between these and a genuine OD effort ... is that they are not specifically related to the organisation’s mission; they are not action-oriented in the sense of providing a connecting link between the training activity and the action planning which follows it’. So HRD can absolutely be part of an OD effort, but not all HRD initiatives/programmes are necessarily part of OD initiatives/programmes.

Well – what about management development?

Professor Burke also explains that ‘OD is confused more with management development than with any other concept or practice.’ In 1969, Professor Richard Beckhard clarified that the customer is what differentiates management development from OD. He explains that in management development the customer are the managers and that management development is restricted to the development of the managers. Nevertheless Professor Burke says that, though the strategies are different they can be compatible and that management development is one of the techniques which can be used as an intervention in an OD process.

OD and HR?

...We have not even touched on how OD relates to HR in this blog...that is such a huge area of discussion in its own right. It would have to have a blog of its very own!

In the meantime, hopefully the above blog has made you, like me, just a little but less confused about what OD is and is not.

Additional References

Beckhard, R. (2006) ‘The OD Field, Setting the Context, Understanding the Legacy’ in Gallos, J., (ed) Organization Development – A Jossey-Bass Reader John Wiley & Sons: San Francisco. Pp 3 - 12
Beer, M., Huse, E. (1972) 'A Systems Approach to Organization Development' Journal of Applied Behavioural Science 8 (1) 79 - 101
Burke, W. (2006) ‘Where Did OD Come From’ in Gallos, J. (ed) Organization Development – A Jossey-Bass Reader John Wiley & Sons: San Francisco. Pp 13 - 37

Anne Clare Gillon is a Lecturer at The University of The West of Scotland. She is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In 2015 Anne Clare has been elected to be a Vice Chair of The British Academy of Management (BAM). She is a former Chair of BAM's Organisation Transformation, Change and Development Special Interest Group. Anne Clare is a novice Twitter user @UWSACG, but she is best contacted at anneclare.gillon@uws.ac.uk

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