Who owns OD, where does it sit and what is its relationship to HR?

Do OD logo

18 / 3 / 2015 10am

By Anne Clare Gillon

In my last blog on OD I looked at ‘what it is not’, in this one I move on to look at what the academics say about who owns OD, where it should sit and what is its relationship to HR.

What about OD as a consultancy role?

OD often takes the form of consultancy, whether this is in an internal or external role. Beer and Walton (1987) advocate moving away from a consultant centred approach to practice where OD resides within the remit of the general manager.  Their view is that OD practitioners would be better employed in concerning themselves with the selection and development of organisation leaders. They also recommend that OD practitioners must adopt the perspective of the general manager and always work with the organisational context at the forefront of their minds. Beer and Walton (1987) argue for OD practitioners to strengthen their understanding of the context of the organisation and to adapt their practices in response.

Are OD the Change Leaders or are they the Change Agents?

If Beer and Walton (1987) present their views on OD in relation to the general manager, that then begs the question of the level of the organisation at which OD should sit. Beckhard (1969) advises that OD practitioners are not those responsible for leading change and that the term 'change manager' should be applied to senior managers such as those in chief executive or head (of part of the organisation) roles. OD practitioners are best entitled as 'change agents', i.e. those who provide the specialist, technical, or consulting assistance in the management of a change effort.  Cheung-Judge and Holbeche (2011: 11) also reflect this in saying that ‘The primary practitioners of OD are the organization’s managers, not HR/OD professionals.’ They also suggest that the OD practitioner is not the person who should be in charge, but instead they are the third party 'change agent' assisting the person in charge.

.......  yes, but please answer the question - should OD be in HR or should HR be in OD?

From a functional point of view, with HR’s focus on the management of the people of the organisation, OD’s links with HR are the subject of debate amongst academics. Beer (1976) questions whether OD should fall within the HR function or not. It might be fairly old advice, but it still holds its wisdom, i.e. that whether OD practitioners should align with HR or not depends on whether the HR function in the organisation has power. He recommends that if the HR Function does not have power, then the OD function should seek to be placed elsewhere.

From a more recent source, Burke (2004) is more specific in the relationship (or not) between OD and the HR function. He provides five options for how OD might sit within an organisation:

  1. A traditional model: sitting within the HR function.
  2. An internal model : not sitting within HR, but reporting to another function e.g. senior management in strategy / administration.
  3. A decentralised model: reporting within business units to either a business unit head or the HR Director.
  4. A fully integrated model: integrated directly within all aspects of the HR function.
  5. Integral to CEO level model: strategy setting, reporting in a strategy function that reports direct to the CEO.

So the answer on where does OD sit and how does it best to relate to HR is – it depends. Of the 5 options provided by Burke (2004) it is very possible that this reflects the range of where OD sits in the NHS. So, there is no right answer, in the end it is all down to contingency and context.


Bechard, R. (1969) Organization Development: Strategies and Models. Addison-Wesley, London

Beer, M. (1976) ‘On Gaining Influence and Power for OD’ Journal of Applied Behavioural Science 12 (1) 44 - 51

Beer, M., Walton, A. E. (1987) 'Organization Change and Development' Annual Review Psychology 38 339 – 367

Burke, W. (2004) 'Internal Organization Development Practitioners: Where Do They Belong?' Journal of Applied Behavioural Science 40 (4) 423 – 431

Cheung-Judge, M.Y., Holbeche, L. (2011). Organization Development - A practitioner’s guide for OD and HR. Kogan Page, London

Latest Tweets

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Employers

  • A personalised website
    Manage your profile and select topics of interest to you
  • Access your dashboard
    Bookmark useful content to help you quickly find what you're looking for
  • Get involved
    Contribute to our Talking Points discussions, comment on and rate our webpages
  • Keep up to date
    Receive the latest newsletters and media summaries

Sounds great, what next?

Register Now

Not now, I will register later

Log In