Position and Role of Organization Development

Organization Development is typically thought of as part of the HR bundle of work. In my view this is a mistake – organization development is closely related to the business strategy as a strategy cannot be delivered in the most efficient and effective way without the requisite organizational capability. Organizational capability is much more than the capability of the employees to do the work – it is about deploying capable tools, systems, processes, performance measures and so on that together with the people comprise organizational capability.

Establishing an Organizational Development Center of Excellence, or consulting unit staffed by consultants qualified in both process consulting and expert consulting in a range of business disciplines allows for a whole systems approach to organization development. It does not need to be a big unit – particularly if the aim is to work collaboratively with the client on the presenting issue, opportunity, etc with the goal of transferring OD capability to him/her. But it does have to have a clear brief, support from senior business leaders, and a mandate to operate at various levels in the organization (strategic to operational, and organizational, management, group, and individual)

An internal consulting function with this brief also acts as a bridge and control point between any external consultants employed by the organization – ensuring that they are operating in consistent way considering the benefit of the whole organization. (External consultants are often employed in a piecemeal, haphazard way which is both costly and risky).

A good OD function will be able to develop an organization's capability in the following:

  • Becoming customer focused: Enabling sets of people working together to produce and deliver products and services that meet customer requirements in the context of changing environments. This means helping client groups build their flexibility and adaptability to meet changing customer needs.
  • Empowering autonomous units: Designing units around whole pieces of work – complete products, services or processes. The goal is to maximize interdependence within the work unit and minimize interdependence among work units. Taking this approach supports team based working that motivates staff and tends to minimize overlap and duplication. The danger here is that 'silo' thinking springs up and people lose sight of the whole picture.
  • Setting and maintaining clear direction and goals: Describing for each unit a very clear purpose, defined output requirements, and agreed on performance measures. People must know where they are going, why they are going there, what they have to do to, and how you will evaluate them.
  • Organizing and controlling work flows so they operate efficiently and effectively: Designing work processes so you are able to detect and control things going wrong (and right). This is a basic quality requirement implying that you provide the work unit with the information and tools to detect and prevent error before it gets anywhere down the line.
  • Managing people and technology integration: Thinking of the whole system and not the individual parts. Work must link the social and technical systems. Technical systems include workflow, movement of information, work processes in discreet organizational sub-systems as well as in pan-organizational processes. The whole organization has to be able to work in concert. With this in mind, OD consultants find ways to influence change in the wider system.
  • Establishing and sustaining a reliable and accessible information flow: Orchestrating the flows of information carefully. Work unit members must be able to create, receive, and transmit information as needed. Without good formal and informal flows of information up, down, and across the organization the potential for conflict and misunderstanding arises.

  • Providing rich jobs: Giving people broad jobs. Parceling up the work in a way that allows increased autonomy, learning, and individual motivation. Narrow jobs stifle people's creativity and lead to boredom. Broader jobs develop people. Beware, however, of giving people large parcels without thinking carefully enough about the content. More must also be better.
  • Demonstrating good people management practices: Fostering good people management practices. This means thinking through the performance appraisal processes, the reward and recognition systems, and the career development opportunities.
  • Building management structures, processes, and cultures that support high performance: Achieving high performance by helping clients design open and flexible management systems where they are concerned with achieving alignment and 'good fit'. Typical high performance structures are matrix or team based.

  • Ensuring capacity to reconfigure: Increasing organizational flexibility and adaptability. In an environment that is changing at an increasing pace there is advantage for those who can anticipate and respond to market forces quickly.

(Adapted from: Images of Organization, Morgan (1997)