Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Organizational development (OD) interventions: Managing systematic change in organizations
To effectively adapt and thrive in today’s business world, organizations need to implement effective OD interventions aimed at improving performance at organizational, group and individual levels. OD interventions involve respect for people, a climate of trust and support, shared power, open confrontation of issues, and the active participation of stakeholders. OD interventions are broader in scope, usually affecting the whole organization (socio-technical systems). OD interventions are sponsored by the CEO and supported and “owned” by staff at the different levels of the organization.
OD professionals must have a solid understanding of the different OD interventions to choose the most appropriate, or “mix and match” them -based on the expected results and a solid analysis of the organization and its environment.
This blog presents a brief analysis of OD interventions using a classification proposed by M. Kormanik.
Major OD Interventions
OD interventions aim at improving organizational performance and employees’ well being. According to Robbins (1994), OD integrates a collection of planned change interventions that relies on humanistic and democratic values, aimed at improving organizational effectiveness, and employees’ well being. OD interventions rely on the following values: respect for people, trust and support, power equalization, confrontation and participation. Kormanik (2005) proposes a classification of OD interventions in 6 groups: large scale, strategic, technostructural, management and leadership development, team development and group processes, and individual and interpersonal processes.
Large scale interventions typically involve a full-size group of stakeholders, working toward the definition of a future state. These interventions start from top levels of the organization, to analyze, plan, and define the intervention’s outcomes, then, people are involved in the solution, creating with this a shared commitment, and a “contagious of effect” effort, which will support the implementation of defined actions in the long term. Some examples include the following: appreciative inquiry summit, future search, open space and real time strategic change. Large scale interventions are highly structured; each activity is carefully planned beforehand –this is particularly important since the whole system participates simultaneously, in the same room, at the same time. Cummings and Worley (2001) describe the three step process involved in any large scale intervention: 1) the preparation of the large group meeting, 2) Conducting the meeting, and 3) Following on meeting outcomes. Large-scale interventions are quicker, build organizational confidence, give immediate and broad based information, promote a total organization mindset, inspire action, and sustained commitment.
Strategic interventions contribute to align the organization with its environment. Cummings and Worley (2001) state that these interventions “link the internal functioning of the organization to the larger environment; transforming the organization to keep pace with changing conditions” (p. 105). Strategic intervention help organizations to gain a better understanding of their current state, and their environment, that allow them to better target strategies for competing or collaborating with other organizations. Kormanik (2005) includes under the umbrella of strategic interventions, the following: mission / vision / purpose, strategic planning and goal setting, visioning / scenario planning, benchmarking, SWOT, communication audit / strategy, values clarification and commitment, climate survey, and culture change.
Technostructural interventions focus on improving the organizational effectiveness and human development by focusing on technology and structure. These interventions are rooted in the fields of engineering, sociology, and psychology, combined with socio-technical systems and job analysis and design. These types of interventions rely on a deficit based approach; the idea is to find problems to solve. According to Cummings and Worley (2001) technostructural approaches focus on improving an organization’s technology (for example, task methods and job design) and structure (for example division of labor and hierarchy)” (p. 104). Kormanik (2005) includes as technostructural interventions the following: organizational structure, organization systems, business process redesign, space and physical settings, socio-technical systems, change management, job design / enrichment, competency-based management, knowledge management and organizational learning.
Management and Leadership Development Interventions
These types of OD interventions aim to improve organizational performance by increasing effectiveness of formal and informal leaders. Their use is wide spread, and almost all organizations have programs in place to identify, measure, and improve the quality of their leaders. Kormanik (2005) includes the following examples: executive and professional development, mentoring, coaching, action learning, action science, MBO, succession planning, 360 degree feedback, participative management, technical / skills training. A research study conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council (2001) revealed that organizations are focusing on the following five actions to increase their leadership bench strenght: 1) redefining the leadership profiles to better respond to current business needs, 2) targeting future leadership needs, 3) ensuring top management accountability for leadership development, 4) creating a continuous development culture, and 5) customizing the development opportunities to the leaders needs (pgs. x-xi)
Team Development and Group Processes Interventions
Team development and group processes interventions aim at improving different aspects of a group performance, such as goal setting, development of interpersonal relations among team members, role clarification and analysis, decision making, problem solving, and communities of practice, among other. One of the most important objective of team building interventions relies on improving interdependency of team members. The underlying premise is that the aggregated value of the team is much greater than any individual. According to Robbins (1994), Team building is applicable where group activities are interdependent. The objective is to improve the coordination efforts of members, which will result in increasing the team’s performance” (p. 275)
Individual / Interpersonal Process
Individual / interpersonal process interventions aim at improving organizational performance by developing specific skills of individuals. Given its nature, these OD interventions are the most personalized of all, and probably the most widely used by organizations. The most common examples of this type of interventions are learning strategies, life transitions, mentoring, and interpersonal communications, among other.
Measuring their impact on organizational effectiveness and employees’ well being
OD interventions encompass other change initiatives, that is why it is difficult to identify their impact and effectiveness in isolation, nevertheless, the 2008 ASTD State of the Industry Report revealed that organizations achieved important benefits for their investment in learning activities “Almost all BEST organizations reported improvements in employee and customer satisfaction, quality of products and services, cycle time, productivity, retention, revenue, and overall profitability. BEST organizations had clearly defined processes to link learning strategies and initiatives to increases in both individual and organizational performance".
OD interventions require visionary and participative leadership
OD interventions are initiated at the top and require employee participation and commitment, therefore, visionary leaders that work as change agents, developing a vision, and providing continuous and sustained support is paramount. Kanter, Stein & Jick (1992) consider that OD interventions require a strong leader role. “An organization should not undertake something as challenging as large-scale change without a leader to guide, drive and inspire it. These change advocates, play a critical role in creating a company vision, motivating company employees to embrace that vision, and crafting an organizational structure that consistently rewards those who strive toward the realization of the vision” (p. 384)
Questions for reflection
What is your favorite type of OD intervention?
Which one(s) may be more appropriate for today’s business environment / type of industry / country?
Do you have any success story to share?
I am interested to know your key insights, lessons learned, or any other question you may have.
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Corporate Leadership Council. (2001). The Leadership Imperative: Strategies for Increasing Leadership Bench Strength. Washington, DC. Corporate Executive Board.
Cummings, T. & Worley, C. (2001). Organization Development and Change, Mason, OH: South Western.
Dubois, D. & Rothwell, W. (2004). Competency-Based Human Resources Management. Palo Alto, CA: Davies Black Publishing.
Green, P. (1999). Building Robust Competencies: Linking human resource systems to organizational strategies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kotter, J. & Cohen, D. (2002), The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change their Organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Moss Kanter, R, Stein B. & Jick T. (1992). The Challenge of Organizational Change: How Companies Experience it and Leaders Guide It. New York: Free Press.
McLagan, P. (2001, 2002), Change is Everybody’s Business. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publiser Inc.
Robbins, S. P. (1994). Essentials of Organizational Behavior (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Schein, E. (1992), Organizational Culture and Leadership (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Senge P, Kleiner A., Roberts C., Ross R., & Smith B. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.
Paradise A. (2008), State of the Industry: ASTD’s Annual Review of Trends in Workplace Learning and Performance. Alexandria, VA: ASTD.