Organizational Development (OD) - Training and Development

When is organizational development a useful solution to performance problems? Why would the T&D manager, or a staff member serving as consultant to a performance problem, suggest OD? Organizations have an overall mission. As they grow, they add to the structure subsections with which they carry out that mission. These subsections develop missions of their own. On occasion, the missions of the subsections may be in conflict. They may even become counter productive to the mission of the parent organization. Sometimes,individuals within an organization are more motivated toward their personal goals than toward organizational goals. They then begin to invest their energy and influence in activities that are destructive to the goals of the larger organization.

When such conditions exist, it's quite possible that changing the behavior of individuals will not overcome the problems. And "problems" is the right word!

There are apt to be so many of them that one can truly say that it is the organization that needs fixing—not the individual behaviors or the jobs themselves. Organizational development may be required when trust levels are low or nonexistent. It can be needed where gossip is prevalent—or worse, where gossip is used as the basis for decisions. Other symptoms may be decisions that are slow to come or missing altogether; personal frictions that are high and pervasive; and persistent progress reports that are misleading, ambiguous, or downright falsified. All these are symptoms of organizational illness. In short, when the environment of the organization prohibits or seriously deters the proper performance of individual tasks, then OD may be the solution.

Let's examine one of the standard definitions: Organizational development is a change effort within an organization, managed from the top, and uses planned interventions to reallocate resources to improve processes and attain organization goals with maximum effectiveness, satisfaction, and efficiency. That last part("attaining organization goals with maximum effectiveness, satisfaction,and efficiency") may sound a little like a testimonial to motherhood and Pollyanna—but it is, after all, a description of what most organizations would like to be. The other elements of the definition merit individual analysis.

"A Change effort." This is essential. There is no point to developmental efforts that merely maintain the status quo. By definition,"development" implies change in mission, structures, policies, and/or relationships. Unless the management of a distressed organization is open to change, there is no reason for the T&D staff to invest energy. Consultants in OD efforts are often heard to say, "We're testing to see whether there is energy here." They say that during all phases, but especially for early activities.

The phrase is often completed with words such as "if there is energy to change communications channels, or reporting relationships"—and even "the way we relate to one another"; or, more often, "to change our mission statement."

"Within an organization." The organization need not be the entire organization. It might be the accounting department, one plant within the manufacturing department, or even one office within that plant. But it must be a unit, and the person at the top of that unit must be involved. Thus the next item. "Managed from the top" If the person at the"top" of whatever unit is being developed is absent from the activity, there will be no sanction for change from the power structure. Active involvement and assent for the effort to change is vital. It is equally vital as each change is analyzed and adopted. Consensus with the consultant about what will and what will not be permitted during the developmental activity is essential, too.

A Written "contract" usually specifies constraints. For example, if no participant can lose a job due to disclosures made during the OD process, that fact is specified. If there may be no changes in reporting relationships or salary reductions, that, too, is specified—though if such constraints are applied, one must wonder whether the change manager at the top has any real energy for changing anything.

The contract may also detail whether changes may be made in the span of control, in the distribution of responsibilities, or in the communications channels.

These things must be specified at the very beginning, since the active involvement of all managers (perhaps of all employees) is required if the organization is truly to redevelop itself. If peoples' positions and powers and accountabilities are going to be altered, they are entitled to know the rules of the game.

"Using planned interventions." Based on a set of behavioral science theories, the strategies and techniques used in OD efforts must be carefully planned and systematically carried out. The planning and systematic implementations are vitally important.

"To reallocate resources." This is an apt way of explaining what goes on during typical OD interventions. The human resources in particular maybe fulfilled in many ways; and OD process considers reallocation in ways that individuals find fulfilling and that are more effective, pleasant, and efficient in reaching the organization's mission.

One objective of an OD effort is for the organization to identify and solve existing problems. An equally important objective is to develop a mechanism for identifying future problems and for solving them before they once more paralyze the organization. Thus the third-party consultant seeks to eliminate the need for similar services just as soon as that mechanism is designed and ready to function. The sooner the consultant can depart the OD intervention, the more effective the consultancy.

Definitions don't always say much about the process. The definition we have just analyzed does reveal quite a bit about what happens during an organizational development effort. For an activity so shaking to the organization, no one formula can be developed. Even if OD practitioners (a term they like to use when referring to themselves) have a standard approach, they will need to vary it so that it fits the initial contract with the "change manager."

"Change manager." Change manager is an excellent name for the person at the top of the organization. This person manages the developmental change process and takes responsibility for it. The initial plan,made with the active involvement of the consultant and the change manager, may need amending when data emerges from early activities. The original plan may even be dropped in favor of a new plan and a new contract. Thus flexibility if a key attribute for the consultant and for the program.

Nevertheless,some similar and inevitable phases tend to occur in all organizational development interventions. First comes the problem identification phase. The principal members of the organization get together to try to identify the problem and its causes—or their perceptions of the problems and what is causing them. Because this identification may be more difficult than one would think, most consultants use structured devices to stimulate and maintain honest communication.

Small teams may postulate their ideas about problems and causes and then compare these in reports to the total group. There may be "More and Less"exercises when subunits or individuals make lists of "I wish you'd do more"and "I wish you'd do less" for every other unit or every other person. These exercises relate closely to "Role Identification"exercises in which members define their own roles and then hear what other people think their roles should be.

There are also "polling" activities in which members fill out a blank form with information about work partners with whom they most—and least—enjoy working.Such data are later shared as part of the problem definition and in action plans for personal change.

Polling can take the form of "Physical Representations" in which group members position themselves along a wall to express personal concepts of how they behave or make an impact. For example, on an "Influence Axis," those who see themselves as the most powerful, stand at one end; those who feel ineffectual stand at the other end. Not until everyone is placed so that each person accepts his or her position is the exercise complete. To attain the final representation, each person must do a bit of influencing, even if that means doing a bit of influencing to prove one's lack of influence.

Another type of physical representation tells members to stand very near those with whom they enjoy comfortable working relations—but far away from those whom they find difficult. The participants keep moving until everyone is happy with his or her position in relation to everybody else. This maneuver may require some deep conversations. And those deep conversations have been known to result in changed relationships—at least in changed perceptions. It's easy to envision the potential emotion generated by such "hot" data-gathering techniques. Quite clearly, OD assumes that feelings are facts in organizational behavior;these facts must be identified, examined, and managed if human resources are to work together toward effective organizational processes.

Second-step activities involve generating optional solutions to the identified problems.This is feasible when participants have agreed upon the nature and the cause of the problems. Note, however, that when the entire group is dynamically doing this analysis, the analytic and communicative process itself solves some of the problems.

The OD specialist will probably urge the group to a literal translation of the word"options." If they have choices about solutions, they will find greater satisfaction in their involvement in planning and carrying out the action. These action plans are, of course, another facet of this second phase.In addition, this is the point at which many consultants start to work with the group in developing a mechanism to identify and solve future problems before they become serious. Perhaps "mechanism" is an unfortunate word;avoiding future crises may merely depend on patterns of responsibility,communication, and accountability that permit individuals to spend their energies constructively. The open communication of the facts of feeling is inherent in nearly all the activities— and assuredly implied as a part of the"mechanisms" of the future. When an action plan and a mechanism for evaluating the organizational health are adopted, the consultant is ready to exit. Note that the second phase is not regarded as complete until all the participating parties have agreed to the evaluation criteria and mechanisms.

Evaluation constitutes the final phase—but of course this was started near the beginning when the group agreed upon a vision of "how it will look and how it will feel around here when we are working together to achieve our departmental and personal goals." Such group visions offer a rich exercise in participative goal setting; revisiting it from time to time is a potent way to measure progress toward becoming a nice organization in which to work and live.

In addition to data gathering to measure results and satisfaction levels, to agreement that old problems have been eliminated or alleviated, and to the processing of new problems as they arise, the final evaluation also requires agreement that the developmental process has given the group a skill (or an enduring mechanism) that it can use in dealing with future problems before they again paralyze the organization so badly that it needs OD. When that agreement happens, the organization may be presumed sound and, indeed, "developed."

The organization now offers an environment in which behaviors acquired in training can persevere on the job. Above all, the energy of "human resources" is being expended in ways that contribute to organizational goals and pleasantly reinforce the contributors.

Quite clearly, organizational development is a comprehensive program. It is appropriate to profound and widespread distress within an organization.

Astute T&D managers will know through the accurate analysis of performance problems within the organization when OD is necessary. Proficiency in OD interventions involves a vast technology—a great many skills not in the inventory of all T&D managers. Yet large numbers of T&D specialists know that many performance problems cannot be solved with anything less than OD. They are therefore busy acquiring the necessary skills—or actively recruiting staff members or consultants who can help solve the problem of a sick organization.

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