Organization Development Research Paper

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Organization development (OD) features prominently in organizational change management theory and practice. Early forms of OD emanated from the United States approximately 50 years ago and since then OD has been widely applied in organizational settings across the world including in Asia (Rao & Vijayalakshmi, 2000), Africa (James, 2004) and Eastern Europe (Perlaki, 1994).

The content of the research-paper is structured as follows. The introductory sections examine the nature of OD and the philosophy that has traditionally underpinned it. Later sections of the research-paper pursue these themes in more depth by exploring (a) a variety of techniques that have traditionally been closely associated with OD, (b) ways in which OD has evolved over recent years, and (c) challenges that currently face those working in the field.

What is OD?

“Organization development” (OD) is an ambiguous phrase associated with the theory and practice of change management in organizations. For reasons explained in this research-paper, OD is difficult to define. The phrase OD certainly means different things to different people. This lack of a standard definition can be particularly confusing to those who are new to the subject. However, early in this introduction, it may be helpful to highlight that, in recent years, the practice of OD has become more closely associated with disciplines such as human resource management (HRM) and human resource development (HRD). One indication of these links between OD, HRM, and HRD is that in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom organizations regularly advertise for full-time OD practitioners in HR professional journals.

At the outset, it should be noted that the origins of the phrase OD are difficult to isolate. French and Bell (1999) suggested that the term OD probably emerged simultaneously in two or three places. This absence of a clearly identifiable founding theorist of OD may help to explain why there is no standard or universal definition. Similarly, it is impossible to pinpoint the date on which OD was introduced to the world, though the work of influential OD theorists such as Lewin, Likert, Lippitt, and Beckhard tended to emerge in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. However, while the origins of the term OD are rather unclear, there appears to be a consensus surrounding its general aims; that is, as the label suggests, OD is about developing organizations and individuals through the use of carefully planned change-management interventions.

Despite the lack of a universally accepted definition of OD, readers may find it helpful to be provided with two often-quoted definitions. Beckhard (1969) defined OD as an effort planned, organizationwide, and managed from the top to increase organization effectiveness and health, through planned interventions in the organization’s processes using behavioral science knowledge. Burke (1994) defined OD as a planned process of change in an organization’s culture through the utilization of behavioral science technologies, research, and theory. When viewed side by side, we can glean various insights into traditional OD from these two definitions.

First, both definitions draw attention to the fact that OD is about planned change within organizations. OD theorists propose that OD processes and interventions should proceed in identifiable stages. Thus, to some extent, OD is prescriptive in that proponents argue that OD should be planned and implemented in a sequential manner. As Massarick (1990) pointed out, the very term development, whatever its context, implies a succession of changing sets of conditions, presumably in some knowable and possibly ordered sequence. This ordered sequence often involves (a) a preliminary stage of embarking on the OD process by, for example, isolating an organizational issue that needs to be addressed and then contacting an OD practitioner to facilitate an OD intervention; (b) undertaking diagnostic activities and using interviews, questionnaires, and observations in order to identify key issues that need to be addressed; (c) feeding back the information gathered via the diagnostic process to people within the organization; (d) designing and implementing interventions; (e) evaluating the OD interventions. The OD sequence should not be seen as a one-time event but rather as a continual process.

Second, both definitions identify the behavioral sciences as providing the theoretical backbone of traditional OD. The phrase “behavioral sciences” highlights that OD is multidisciplinary; it draws on knowledge from fields such as psychology, sociology, management, and anthropology. This knowledge relates to subjects such as motivation, goals, attitudes, leadership, values, psychological development, teamwork, and culture. Further, the word “behavioral” provides a clear indication that traditional OD is principally focused on people in organizations. For example, a work system may well attract the attention of an OD practitioner in a particular setting primarily because this system is having an impact on people’s behavior.

Third, the definitions of OD incorporate the phrases “organizational culture” and “organizationwide.” These phrases draw attention to the long-term holistic nature of OD. OD interventions are intended to bring about changes to the all-pervading cultures that exist within organizations through the development of individuals and work processes. OD is intended to affect all aspects of organizations and the people who work within them. For this reason, OD theorists see the involvement and support of top management as an essential element of the OD process. The holistic nature of OD is also reflected not just in terms of people and processes within the organization, but also in terms of the wide-ranging scope of OD theory and practice. For example, one recent analysis of OD research literature (Piotrowski & Armstrong, 2005) identified the top 25 topical areas of research into OD, which were extremely diverse. They included leadership, international/cultural issues, organizational theories/models, technology, ethics, strategic planning, employee productivity, diversity, organizational conflict, partnerships, team building, total quality management, and downsizing.

Fourth, Beckhard’s definition proposes that the overall aim of OD is to increase organization effectiveness and health. These terms should be considered carefully for they reveal more of the inherent nature of traditional OD. The term effectiveness when used in this context is not synonymous with, for example, profitability in business organizations or key performance indicators in service organizations. Similarly, “organization health” is not necessarily referring to physical work surroundings or sales figures. Organizational effectiveness and health in this context refer to something more subtle than output measures (e.g., sales and profit) and physically safe environments. Rather, these terms provide an indication that traditional OD is about creating organizations in which people can work together, develop, grow, and obtain a sense of fulfillment. Using the language of OD, an effective and healthy organization is likely to be characterized by features such as a supportive culture that allows members to communicate openly and without fear, shared values among the members including commitment to the mission and goals of the organization, and flexibility and a willingness to learn and change.

This underlying philosophy and value system that focuses on the development of organizations and people is arguably the hallmark of traditional OD. For example, Schein, a leading author in the field of OD, stated that he does not see OD as a set of techniques, but as a philosophy toward one can utilize to best work with organizations (Schein, 1990). When discussing definitions of OD, Egan (2002, p. 61) made a particularly helpful contribution when he points out that OD is frequently described as a field that is based on values and ethics. Egan also recognizes that that the defining feature of OD practitioners, as compared to other management consultants, is often seen as their emphasis on values. The subject of the values of traditional OD is discussed further in the next section.

OD Values

In order to understand the nature of traditional OD, it is essential to recognize that OD was built upon the philosophy, values, and assumptions of humanistic psychology: as Grieves (2000, p. 399) argued so succinctly, OD actually promotes humanistic values. Rees and Sharifi (2002) summarized this humanistic approach by pointing out that a fundamental tenet of humanistic psychology, as found in the writings of organizational theorists, surrounds the belief that employees will flourish and reach their true potential providing that their work environment is conducive to personal growth. Proponents of this humanistic approach such as Rogers (1969) and Maslow (1954) point to higher order needs such as the need for positive self-regard, the need to achieve, the need for status and recognition, and ultimately, the need for a person to fulfill his or her potential. The humanistic position emphasizes the person’s search for self-knowledge, self-development, and the answers to the meaning of life. From a humanistic perspective, the key to fulfillment and happiness lies within the person. This assumption is not universally endorsed, with alternative standpoints adopted by others including those who believe that the quest for true fulfillment should be externally directed toward God.

As just noted, a key condition for self-development and fulfillment is an environment that is conducive to psychological growth. Clearly, when used in this context, the term “environment” refers to far more than the physical surroundings that ensure physiological needs (such as safety and warmth) can be met. OD interventions based on humanistic philosophy aim to provide employees with an environment in which employees can, for example, find meaning in their work, take responsibility for tasks, and be given freedom and autonomy in the workplace. Such interventions often focus on empowering workers by giving them responsibility for their work.

The Organization Development Institute, which was established in 1968 to promote understanding of the field of OD, published a code of ethics in 1991. This code, which remains in place, includes 10 values that the Organization Development Institute proposes should be fundamentally important to OD professionals. It is not within the scope of this research-paper to cite, in full, all of these values. However, even a cursory glance at this code reveals the extent to which humanistic philosophy pervades these values. The values contain words and phrases such as “quality of life, health, potential, empowerment, freedom, responsibility, dignity, integrity, openness, participation, and democratic decision making.” Interestingly, while two of the stated values refer to effectiveness, efficiency, and stakeholder orientation, taken overall there are no direct references in these stated values to subjects such as corporate strategy, organizational objectives, and financial considerations.

In one attempt to summarize the values of OD (Deaner, 1994, pp. 437—139), it is proposed that three principal values can be used to describe the variety of values found in OD. The first of these values is participation. OD literature proposes that all people who are affected by change should have the opportunity to be involved in the change process, regardless of whether they choose to partake in this opportunity. It is argued that participation in the change process will create a sense of belonging and increase both individual satisfaction and the output of the organization. The second of these principal values of OD is shared power. This value extends the value of participation by stating that individuals who are affected by change should not just participate in the process but have a share in the decision making. The third value is truth. This value states that all people involved in the change process should tell each other the truth about their own feelings, as well as in relation to more objective information relating to, for example, resources.

A stark contrast can be made between the OD practices associated with these values and the management practices recommended by influential theorists such as Taylor. Taylor believed that work did not have to provide fulfillment per se but rather, work should provide the financial means to enable workers to obtain fulfillment and happiness outside the workplace. Taylor’s scientific management approach placed great emphasis on factors such as planning, management control, supervision, discipline, task analysis, payment by results, efficiency, and output. In a nutshell, managers scientifically calculate the one best way to perform a task, select the people best suited to carry out the task, train these people in the one best method, and then pay them according to the output they achieve.

OD theorists and practitioners, on other the hand, emphasized the need for workers to obtain a sense of fulfillment directly from their work. Thus, unlike the scientific management approach, proponents of OD recommended giving workers more responsibility and freedom in the workplace, giving workers the opportunity to take decisions, and increasing the variety of work associated with a job role. Further proponents of OD encouraged people to work in teams and to communicate openly with each other and their managers. The next sections of this research-paper highlight the role of OD practitioners in more detail and explore some of the techniques OD practitioners have traditionally used as part of their change-management intervention strategies.

OD Techniques And Applications

The employment status of OD professionals working within organizations varies tremendously. Some large organizations, particularly in the public sector, may have a discrete OD department comprised of a group of employees who consider themselves OD professionals. Other organizations employ OD professionals and locate them within the human resource function. Rather than employ OD professionals, some organizations contract external OD professionals to undertake interventions on a project or consultancy basis. The fact that these different types of arrangements exist indicates that there are advantages and disadvantages attached to both internal and external arrangements of this nature.

Regardless of whether they work as employees of the organization or as external consultants, the work of OD practitioners can be summarized as follows. Working in collaboration with key people within the client organization, OD practitioners typically facilitate a process whereby information about people and systems is gathered and analyzed in order to identify underlying issues that impact the effectiveness and health of the organization. Having gathered this information, the OD practitioner then encourages and assists the appropriate people within the organization to design and evaluate intervention strategies aimed at increasing organizational effectiveness. It is important to note that the OD practitioner does not design the interventions and then instruct clients about how best to proceed. Rather, the role of the OD practitioner is to help clients identify ways forward. In this sense, OD is collaborative and non-directive; that is, OD practitioners do not tell clients how to

proceed but provide enabling mechanisms via which clients identify issues, problems, and alternative solutions. Part of the thinking behind this nondirective approach is that, for an OD intervention to be successful, clients have to take ownership of OD interventions by involving themselves fully in the process. OD consultancy has been described by Schein as “process consultation” as opposed to other forms of consultancy in which the consultant is expected to provide expert opinions about issues and problems and then make recommendations about how the client should proceed.

OD practitioners use a range of diagnostic techniques to help clients identify issues and design and monitor intervention strategies. Some of the most well-known techniques that have traditionally been associated with OD are highlighted and discussed next.

Force-Field Analysis

Lewin and his associates developed a number of well-known OD techniques and applications (sometimes referred to as “OD technologies”). One of the best known of these is a model called “force-field analysis.” As part of this model, Lewin proposed that the position of an organization is maintained by a field of forces that act upon one another until a state of equilibrium is obtained. In order to bring about planned change, the forces in operation have to be identified and changed in certain respects. These changes may involve increasing the strength of the driving forces (possibly by adding additional drivers) or, preferably, weakening the restraining forces to bring about the desired state or position. Lewin referred to the alteration of the forces in a field as “unfreezing.” He stated that altering forces leads to the “moving”‘ step of the planned change. Moving is associated with changes to organizational systems and structures, as well as to behavior. Once the desired state has been achieved, further action may be required to “refreeze” the position and achieve equilibrium. This three-component model of planned change has been developed, with various writers such as Schein offering adaptations to it.

The main criticism that has emerged of the force-field technique stems from its portrayal of the change process as a snapshot in time rather than as an ongoing fluid process in which, for example, today’s driving forces may be tomorrow’s resisting forces. This criticism incorporates Lewin’s terminology, with critics questioning whether organizational systems and the attitudes and behaviors of people within an organization can ever be frozen. They argue that the change process is far more complex than the process represented by force-field analysis, with factors such as covert power struggles and selfish irrational behavior exerting major influences on change processes. Nevertheless, force-field analysis remains widely used by OD practitioners. The model is easily understood; basically, it requires participants to identify a desired outcome for an organizational change program and then to explore the impact of factors that are driving the change process and factors that are preventing the achievement of the desired outcome.

T-Group Training

The humanistic underpinnings of OD just noted are clearly reflected in other methods developed by Lewin and his contemporaries. For example, “T- group training,” sometimes referred to as “encounter-group training” or “sensitivity training,” traditionally took the form of closed-door intensive and unstructured events away from the workplace. T-group training involved participants sharing information about themselves and each other with a view to learning more about themselves, other group members, and the dynamics of the group. It was thought by proponents of this training that the feedback that individuals received during these sessions could be used to increase levels of self-awareness and ultimately lead to psychological growth, development, and personal fulfillment. Further, the increased levels of awareness of self and the group would subsequently lead to greater group effectiveness and the development of the organization. When writing about T-groups, Burke (1994) states that the feedback participants receive from one another regarding their behavior becomes a source of personal insight and development; participants also learn about group behavior and intergroup relationships.

T-group training was designed to provide an environment where feedback and self-disclosure could be offered and accepted and, as a result, provide a means whereby people could obtain positive self-regard, fulfillment, and happiness. Unfortunately, not everyone appeared to benefit from T-group training. The open and direct feedback that is an integral element of this form of training exposed some participants to feelings and experiences that they simply could not handle. Further, the direct relevance to the work-place (or face validity) of this training, which, as previously noted, was sometimes facilitated in a highly unstructured manner outside of the workplace, was not always obvious to the participants. So although T-group training represents a well-known aspect of OD practice, its use has tended to subside over the years. As Cummings and Worley (2005) note, the use of T-groups has declined as an OD intervention and have mainly been replaced with less touchy-feely team-building activities.

Attitude Survey Techniques

It will be recalled from the previous discussion that OD processes involve a diagnostic element; that is, detailed information about the organization and its members is needed to inform decision making surrounding change interventions. Early OD theorists sought to develop techniques that allowed them to examine the views and attitudes of people working at all levels of the organization. One major technique that was developed in the 1940s and 1950s by Likert and his team was the use of fixed-response attitude questionnaires. These questionnaires remain widely used by OD practitioners as a means of obtaining what they see as objective data from organizational members. In devising these fixed-response attitude questionnaires that include, for example, five-category “strongly agree to strongly disagree” response scales, Likert and his team found that they were able to gauge employees’ attitudes about a wide range of change-management related issues. Then, these attitudes could be monitored on a longitudinal basis to assess the impact of change-management interventions. For Likert and his team, the fixed-response survey technique had particular merit for it allowed individuals to participate in change-management processes by expressing views about issues that they might not have been willing to comment on in, for example, an interview setting. The quantitative information generated also allowed OD professionals to provide objective, concise, and comparative feedback to the top management about employees’ attitudes toward issues such as leadership styles, reward systems, communication, teamwork, and the general climate of the organization.

Inevitably, the true objectivity of the survey technique has been questioned, in part because the fixed-response method relies on the constructors of the questionnaire taking decisions about what key issues should be included and excluded in the content of the questionnaire. Further, technical questions arise, such as how many response categories a response scale should possess, whether the scale should have an odd or even number of response categories, and what middle response-categories should be named—if at all. Nevertheless, the fixed-response attitude questionnaire technique that was developed by early OD theorists remains highly popular within OD. Further, it has been widely applied within the social sciences more generally, with applications covering diverse subjects such as personality testing and market research. Indeed, fixed “strongly agree to strongly disagree” response scales used across the social sciences are commonly referred to as Likert-type scales.

Action Research

Another well-known technique that emerged from OD is action research. The phrase action research has been attributed to John Collier, a British politician who worked in India between 1933 and 1945 (see Burke, 1994, pp. 54-55). In the action-research model, change is seen as an ongoing activity. Information gathered through research is used to inform the action that is taken in the change setting. The results of the action are then evaluated and this evaluation process is used to plan further actions. It is important to note that research in this context may involve accessing “academic literature” in libraries. However, it is much more likely to involve OD practitioners gathering information from organizational members using techniques such as interviews, questionnaires, and group discussions, as well as using nonobtrusive methods such as observing workers and analyzing organizational documents. It should be highlighted that the originators of action research saw the technique as means of not just addressing immediate organizational issues and problems, but as a mechanism for providing knowledge and facilitating learning about the wider social system.

Senior describes action research as a collaborative effort of data gathering, data discussion, action planning, and action between the leaders and facilitators of any change and those who have to enact it. Therefore, action research is, as its name suggests, a combination of research and action. This means collecting data relevant to the situation of interest, feeding back the results to those who must take action, collaboratively discussing the data to formulate an action plan, and finally, taking the necessary action (Senior, 1997). In this helpful explanation, Senior attempts to identify a number of distinguishing features of action research. First, she states that action research is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. Second, she argues that action research is an iterative or cyclical process that should continue as part of everyday organizational life. Third, the model assumes that all who are or might be involved in any change should be part of the decision-making process to decide what that change might be and how to bring it about. This third feature is particularly consistent with the traditional values of OD previously discussed.

One important feature of action research is that it can be applied directly to issues that arise within organizations. As such, action research has not suffered from the face-validity concerns that surrounded T-group training. A specific organizational issue can be investigated and discussed; then an action plan formulated, implemented, and evaluated. Interestingly, criticism of the technique has arisen from within the field of OD. Some OD professionals have argued that action research has focused too much on immediate problems facing the organization and its members. These critics have argued that it is not achieving its potential for advancing social knowledge and human development (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). It seems that the main strength of the technique in the eyes of managers, that is, the focus it placed on solving immediately apparent organizational problems, has become its weaknesses in the eyes of some OD practitioners who want to see action research contribute more fully to a wider social agenda. In more recent years, these criticisms have led to the development of new forms of action research such as action learning and appreciative inquiry. These new forms of action research retain its essential elements but encourage participants to explore more fully the organizational system as a whole, rather than focusing entirely on specific issues within that system.

Grid OD

Another important landmark in the evolution of OD was the development of what is termed “Grid OD” (Blake et al., 1964). Grid OD was popularized by the development of the Managerial Grid (Blake & Mouton, 1985). It was again based upon the early work of Lewin and his colleagues and presented a direct challenge to the overarching emphasis placed by classical theorists such as Taylor, Fayol, and Brech on nonpersonal production processes. Although key academic studies that emphasized the importance of social systems within organizations had emerged, they lacked an associated and credible management technique. Grid OD was revolutionary in that it provided a practical approach to managerial training that espoused the critical nature of factors such as organizational culture, job satisfaction, quality of working life, teamwork, and personal growth (Harvey & Brown, 2001). In this way, Grid OD took mainstream humanistic philosophy and concepts and applied them to organizational life in a more direct manner than T-group training was ever likely to do. At the same time, Grid OD acknowledged organizational performance and output as key variables, thus providing the technique with face validity among managers. In fact, a cornerstone of Grid OD is that team management, which has a high concern for people and a high concern for production, is the superior one best style of leadership (Rollinson, Broadfield, & Edwards, 1998).

Despite early promise, the use of Grid OD, rather like T-groups, has tended to fall away in the face of criticism from both theorists and practitioners. As just noted, the main tenet of Grid OD is that it is possible for managers to adopt an ideal “high concern for both people and production” leadership style that is superior to other styles of leadership that attribute preeminence to either people and production or a low concern for people and production. In summarizing the criticisms of Grid OD, McKenna (2000) highlights various concerns relating to Grid OD methodology, including a perceived lack of behavioral change following Grid OD interventions and the rise of situational leadership as a counterargument to the one best style approach advocated by Grid OD. Fredericks and Stewart (1996) summarize these criticisms of Grid OD from a personal perspective. They state that they do not believe that managers either can or do ignore either task or people and, as such, they reject the either/or school of thought. Neither do they accept that managers demonstrating concern for both task and people will be necessarily successful; thus they also reject both schools of thought.

The decline in the application of both T-groups and Grid OD as just noted are symptomatic of the manner in which OD has evolved over the last 50 years. Other examples of the emergence and decline of OD methods and techniques could be discussed, such as the Job Enrichment and Autonomous Working Teams approaches that grew out of the work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. These changes and developments within the sphere of OD practice lead us to consider ways in which OD developed over recent years.

The Changing Nature Of OD

The Changing Context

In the preceding sections of this research-paper, readers may have noted the use of the phrase “traditional OD.” The use of this phrase represents an acknowledgement that, over recent years, there have been many debates about the extent to which the theory and practice of OD today differ from the humanistically based OD that emerged from the 1940s to the 1960s. At the center of this debate are questions surrounding the values of modern-day OD.

Before considering the ways in which OD has changed in recent years, it should be highlighted that OD emerged during and following World War II. One excellent review of Lewin’s background and work emphasizes that the events of his era dominated Lewin’s thinking and his input into OD. For example, as a German Jew, Lewin was dedicated to replacing Germany’s authoritarian and racist culture with one that was enshrined in democratic and humanitarian values (Burnes, 2004). In view of this, Lewin’s whole-hearted commitment to empowerment and democracy in the workplace become more easily understood.

The point made here is that contextual considerations have impacted, and will continue to impact, on the development of OD over time. Just as their experiences and the contexts in which they were working influenced Lewin and his contemporaries, OD theorists and practitioners today are likely to be influenced by the different contexts in which they work. In fact, there is clear evidence that those working within the field of OD in recent years have sought to identify the contextual and environmental conditions that affect organizations and hence affect the development of OD values, theories, and strategies in today’s world. For example, Mozenter (2002) has highlighted five macro forces that he argues have a major impact upon organizational strategies and future survivability. These forces are changing technology, constant change, domestic and international alliances and partnerships, changing work structures, and increasing workforce diversity.

Similarly, Cummings, and Worley (2005) propose that there are four main contextual trends likely to affect the application of OD in the future. These are transitions in the world economy, the trend toward more diverse, educated, and contingent workforces, the increasing use of ICT, and the trend toward more networked knowledge and learning-based innovation-based organizations. It can be seen that the contextual environment of OD is fluid. Globalization, sustainable development, ecology, education, family life, the role of women, and social protection are all examples of factors that impact upon modern-day organizations and hence upon the practice of OD. In view of these contextual changes, it would be surprising if today’s OD was the same as the OD of the 1950s. Taking the example of globalization, it is reasonable to question whether techniques such as T-group training, even if they were shown to be effective in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, could be used in the same way in countries such as India, Nigeria, and Russia. In the following sections of this research-paper, certain aspects of the way in which OD has developed are considered further.

The Changing Values and Practice of OD Practitioners

In the early 1990s, a group of researchers set out to discover “what OD practitioners believe” (Van Eynde et al., 1992). One of the main conclusions that they drew from the results of their survey of 290 OD practitioners was that modern-day OD practitioners have tended to add a degree of bottom-line pragmatism (e.g., profit-related considerations) to their activities. The explanations offered by these authors for this shift in focus are highly relevant to this discussion. Van Eynde et al. suggest that some early OD practitioners may have cared little about an organization’s well-being as long as they were helping the employees. Further, many of these early OD practitioners struggled to convince managers that human factors, such as quality of working life, were impacting on the profitability of organizations. As the years went by, this apparent lack of relevance of OD to business practices became increasingly cited as OD’s major deficiency. Further, the introduction of private-sector business practices relating to accountability and value for money in public-sector organizations merely exacerbated the problem. OD theorists and practitioners were called upon to justify the relevance of their work to business objectives. Worren, Ruddle, and Moore (1999) observe that OD practitioners, who had thought about people all along, had to concede that they had forgotten about markets, strategies, and computers. As a result, there was a move within OD circles to become more business focused.

While there undoubtedly remain influential proponents of traditional OD who continue to promote the humanistic values associated with early writers in the field, others have sought to introduce a more output-driven business-centered focus to OD partly in response to criticisms that traditional OD lacks a strategic business focus. For example, the author of one recent textbook on OD cites the American Society for Training and Development’s definition of OD that now proposes that the practice of OD must be in alignment with organization and business objectives (McLean, 2007).

This reference to organization and business objectives is complementary to approaches have recently been advocated in some OD literature. For example, in the latest edition of their textbook on organization change and development, Cummings and Worley (2005) point out that the research-paper previously entitled “Strategic Change” has been thoroughly revised and renamed as “Competitive and Collaborative Strategies.” It is the view of these authors that effective OD, from this newer performance perspective, relies as much on knowledge about organization theory and economics as it does on the behavioral sciences. This acknowledgement is supported by the fact that mainstream business and management processes and techniques such as total quality management, business process reenginnering and outsourcing are now presented in some OD literature as potentially useful technologies that can be applied within organizations by OD professionals (McLean, 2007).

Despite falling under the label of OD interventions, however, the goals of a business-focused OD intervention are likely to be different from the goals of a humanistically driven OD intervention. This raises serious issues about who is the client in an OD intervention. If an OD intervention is undertaken primarily for social reasons, the OD practitioner is likely to take a multistakeholder perspective and the clients of the intervention will include everyone within the organization and perhaps extend further to, for example, members of the local community in which the organization operates. If, on the other hand, an OD intervention is primarily business focused, OD practitioners may well perceive themselves to be agents of the management of the organization and will, as such, actively and chiefly promote the interests and values of management. It can be seen that the issue of who is the client becomes of vital importance when OD interventions are evaluated. For example, the top management of an organization may expect an OD intervention to be evaluated against one set of criteria while more junior employees may prefer to use an entirely different set of criteria against which to measure the merits or otherwise of the same intervention. Hubbell (2004) notes that there is currently no consensus among those writers in the field of OD who address this issue, with some arguing that the leader of the organization is the client and others identifying the entire organization as the client.

The evolving nature of OD previously discussed has created implications for those involved in the field. Perhaps most fundamentally, it raises the question of whether or not OD now has a distinct identity. Schifo (2004) concludes his paper on the specific subject of defining today’s OD by stating that although there have been numerous attempts to accurately define OD, few have done so with just enough precision to create a pattern recognizable as OD. Traditionally, at least, OD was seen as a distinct approach to change management that was based on humanistic values. Now the position is unclear. For example, Beitler (2005) has gone as far as to declare that humanistically based OD is dead. While this is an extreme position, the long-term evolutionary process through which OD is passing raises serious ambiguities about its current nature and, as a result, how it can be defined or characterized accurately. This ambiguity and concern is recognized within the field itself with writers suggesting that OD as a brand is in dire straits (Weidner, 2004).

Another implication of the current ambiguity surrounding OD and its values is that it allows the phrase “OD consultant” to be used permissively and with impunity by any change-management consultant. Thus, there are those who, rather than espousing the humanistic values previoulsy outlined, see the phrase OD as a useful hook from which to hang their more general approaches to change management. As Weidner (2004) points out, there is no certification

system whereby the credentials of OD practitioners can be validated. In fact, people can say that they practice OD no matter what their levels of knowledge or personal values. The nontraditional use of the phrase OD by general change-management practitioners has implications in terms of the application of OD techniques and the organization of OD practitioners within applied settings. For example, the convergence that has recently been reported between activities and processes of OD, HRM, and HRD (Ruona & Gibson, 2004) noted previously could be explained partly by the nontraditional use of the phrase OD by change-management practitioners. It seems reasonable to hypothesize that many of today’s internal OD practitioners have become buried within the HR function (Burke, 2004), because they are really HR consultants rather than OD consultants with a distinct set of beliefs and practices that distinguish them from HR practitioners. In belief and practice, many of these OD practitioners may be more sympathetic toward the philosophy and values of the free market that underpins HRM, than toward the philosophy and values which underpin traditional OD.


This research-paper has explored the nature, history, and development of OD. Further, specific challenges currently facing those in the field of OD have been highlighted with a view to assessing how OD specialists themselves are seeking to address these challenges. It would be inaccurate to conclude that this analysis is overly pessimistic as to the future viability of OD. However, the analysis does lead to the conclusion that the implications of OD’s current identity crisis are serious and will have to be addressed if the term OD is not to fall further from grace (Varney, 2005).

A key point emerging from this discussion is whether traditional OD is compatible with the goals of market-driven business organizations. One hypothesis is that the lack of long-term impact of techniques such as T-group training and Grid OD is attributable to incongruity between organizational activities intended to maximize financial returns and OD interventions designed to promote humanistic philosophy and practices. There is little evidence to suggest that this question is attracting serious consideration within the field of OD. There is a also viewpoint which suggests that, at the point OD became more performance and profit orientated (Church, Burke, & Van Eynde, 1994), OD ceased to be OD in the traditional sense. The wide-scale acceptance and adoption of Grid OD and Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid by OD practitioners may partly explain OD’s current identity crisis.

At a practical level, there appears to be a general acceptance that the phrase OD is being used by a wide variety of change-management consultants. Many of these consultants may be unaware of the roots and traditions of traditional OD. As noted previously, this has led to calls for an accreditation system for OD practitioners. Nevertheless, the establishment of a credible accreditation system for OD practitioners would require those in the field to agree upon the values, goals, technologies, and competencies that together make OD distinct from other approaches to change management. In order to be effective, it would also require publicity among potential clients and perhaps, uncomfortably for some within the field, sanction mechanisms that operate in cases where the behavior of an OD consultant is shown to be at odds with, for example, the accredited values of OD.

Finally, this research-paper has highlighted and discussed some implications of the ambiguities that currently surround OD. Whatever its current state, OD was founded upon a philosophy that espoused certain moral values. The word “moral” has been deliberately introduced at the close of the research-paper to make a wider point; that is, the contextual trends that have been highlighted in this research-paper point to changes occurring at societal levels about morality. In the Western world, these changes are clearly evident in various domains such as legislation and attitudes toward family life, personal relationships, and religion. Over time, these changing views about morality would inevitably present a challenge to movements and philosophies that had adopted a stated value-based position about people and the way that they should interact. The ultimate challenge for those in the field of OD is to decide whether these original values are negotiable and relative to the contexts in which practitioners find themselves or whether these values are absolute, universal and time resistant. If the former stance is adopted, questions about the ambiguous nature and values of OD will remain though its various manifestations may become widely embraced in a wide variety of organizations and international settings. The evolution of OD from Lewin’s humanistic perspective to a new more general change-management profession (Worren, Ruddle, & Moore, 1999) will have been achieved. If the latter stance is adopted, the identity crisis facing OD will have been addressed though the popularity of OD may rise and wane, as its values complement or challenge the dominant values prevalent in certain but not necessarily all contexts in which it is practiced.


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