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The Organizational Development Process

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

To understand the organizational development process, we first need to know what organizational development is. As Gary McLean writes in his book “Organization Development: Principles, Processes, Performance,” determining what it is presents a problem:

There is no standard definition of organizational development. What may be considered as legitimate organizational development practice by some may equally be perceived by others, legitimately, as being outside the scope of organizational development. How does the field continue exist and thrive when we cannot agree on its definition?

After examining several definitions proposed by others, he proposed the following definition of contemporary organizational development:

Organization development is any process or activity, based on the behavior sciences, that, either initially or over the long term, has the potential to develop in an organization setting enhanced knowledge, expertise, productivity, satisfaction, income, interpersonal relationships, and other desired outcomes, whether for personal or group/team gain, or for the benefit of an organization, community, nation, region, or, ultimately, the whole of humanity.

The Objective of Organizational Development Process

The objective of the organizational development process is to:

  • identify and address problems instead of neglecting them.
  • focus on human, social, relational, and structural changes.
  • have a planned, proactive change in an organization, that addresses an identified problem.
  • have a holistic approach to change, instead of  an uncoordinated piecemeal approach.
  • establish measurable goals for organizational change.
  • manage conflict, and increase trust and cooperation among employees.
  • improve the organization's ability to solve problems.
  • establish a process and culture of continuous improvement.

It achieves these goals through a structured approach to change that incorporates measurable goals and multiple feedback loops that ensure the correct solution is being applied in an effective manner.

Organizational Development Process – The Action Research Model

The principles of the Action Research Model are commonly used to guide the organizational development process. They involve exactly what the name implies—researching the problem and taking action. But, it is much more than that. Action Research includes multiple feedback loops that make it highly responsive to situations that are constantly evolving and changing.

Using the Action Research Model results in a systematic approach to improving conditions through planned change in an organization. It typically involves six major steps. These are defined as:

  1. Diagnosing the Problem – The process starts by identifying the problem. Diagnosis typically involves data collection, root cause analysis, and an initial evaluation to clarify various theories and options.

  2. Assessment and Feedback – an assessment, involving a thorough investigation of the problem, is used to get an in-depth understanding of the situation. Tools that might be used include focus groups, a review of documents, employee or customer surveys, interviewing individual employees, or hiring an outside consultant to collect data and do further research. Information collected in this step may be used to go back to step one and re-evaluate the problem definition.

  3. Planning – once the problem is defined and the situation understood, an action plan is developed. The plan determines the types of interventions to be used to address the diagnosed problems. This may include workshops, training seminars, team building activities, structural changes, on-the-job-training, or the use of change teams.

    In addition, measurable goals, defining the desired results, are an important part of the plan. In most cases the goals start with the data collected in the first two steps, and establish how those metrics should change in a measurable way.

  4. Implementation / Intervention – with a plan in place implementation begins. In addition to those mentioned above, tools used to implement change include:

    • Skill development seminars
    • Career development
    • E-learning
    • Coaching
    • Leadership development
    • Talent management

      It is important to understand that the organizational development process is dynamic. As implementation proceeds, data collection and analysis will continue. For example, if training classes are being used, then test scores may be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the training. The objective is to ensure the implementation is resulting in the desired changes. If not, the feedback is used to make adjustments in the problem definition, assessment, plan, and/or implementation.

  5. Evaluation / Feedback – as the plan is completed, the overall effect on the organization is evaluated. Was the desired change achieved?

    If the desired change is not seen, the evaluation looks for the root cause. Were there unintended consequences that caused undesired results? Did the plan take into account all possible variables? Did the implementation use the correct tools and were they used effectively? Was the problem correctly defined? The answers to questions such as these provide feedback to steps one and two. As a result, in some cases the entire process is may need to be repeated.

  6. Success – the desired change is achieved.  Standards are created and a plan developed to ensure the changes are sustained.

Organizational Development Process – It's About People

The organization development process involves changing behavior. While there is some predictability, the unexpected can be expected, making the organizational development process a dynamic process.  Applying the principles of the Action Research Model to the organizational development process provides an approach to change that is adaptable, with constant feedback that allows the process to adjust to real-life situations.