Change management or organization development

Sparked by a conversation this week on change managers v organisation development practitioners, and fanned into flames by my starting to write something on this topic for the revised edition of my book (see my Ship of Theseus blog) I thought I'd rough out my thinking here and seek feedback from readers.

What seems have happened is that 'change management' is now the territory of tech and project people, while 'organisation development' is getting further linked to behavioural sciences, neuro-stuff and the field of individual and group dynamics.

This view has some evidence. Take a look at a jobs vacancy site. Vacancies related to 'change management' are almost all in the tech and project management space. Here's a fairly typical one that mentions both projects and IT:

  • Purchasing are in the process of a significant transformation throughout the function on a global basis, and this transformation requires strong change management across several key projects. As the Change Coordinator, you'll be responsible for planning and managing business change projects into key Purchasing business groups, ensuring process and IT projects land successfully in the business.

Several of the roles I looked at require the ability to implement OCM. This is an acronym I had to look up. It turns out to be Organizational Change Management. The Californian Government IT Leadership Academy has a good set of resources around it although at a first glance they look pretty prescriptive as they are aimed to align the OCM lifecycle with the project lifecycle.

Prosci (a consulting company) explains the change/project management alignment link like this:

  • 'When an organization introduces a change with a project or initiative, that change needs to be effectively managed on both the technical side and the people side. A technical side focus ensures that the change is developed, designed and delivered effectively. The discipline of project management provides the structure, processes and tools to make this happen. A people side focus ensures that the change is embraced, adopted and utilized by the employees who have to do their jobs differently as a result of the project. The discipline of change management provides the structure, processes and tools to make this happen.' (You can download free a whitepaper explaining further).

This form of change management isn't the realm of typical organization development practice in my experience and I was reinforced in this view when I saw that the Change Activation Toolkit – also a comprehensive set of resources but you have to pay for it – says that it 'supports organizational development'.

So what do jobs for organization development practitioners look like? Here's an extract from one vacancy again fairly typical.

  • To assist in building the organisation's ability to perform and thrive in a fast-paced and unpredictable environment. Specific OD activities include: Organisational diagnosis, using Systems Theory and theories of organisational culture and strategy. Design and facilitate OD processes with teams at all levels in the organisation, relating to: organisational change, strategy, team development; conflict resolution, leader development, organisational culture and values.
  • This role requires undergraduate Organisational, Social or Clinical Psychology qualification (with in-depth knowledge of organisation behaviour, group dynamics, unconscious processes in organisational systems); Psychometric testing and 'quantitative 'tool kits' will not be used.

My hypothesis is that 'change management' is about supporting planned change that is delivered through a formal project – often a technology based one – so it has a defined scope while 'organisation development' is about 'the activities engaged in by stakeholders in order to build and maintain the health of an organization as a total system. It is characterized by a focus on behavioural processes and humanistic values. It seeks to develop problem solving ability and explore opportunities for growth'. (Finney and Jefkins, 2009). As such, OD's scope is much broader than that of change management. It is much more closely aligned with learning theories and behavioural/neuro sciences (as in the role description requirements above) and is much less formal and 'frameworked' in its techniques and delivery.

Mapping the difference between the two shows that they are distinct but overlapping. They are both people focused but beyond that:

  • OD scope is whole system v CM scope is defined by specific project/programme
  • OD based in behavioural sciences and learning theories v CM based on popular change models (e.g. Kotter, ADKAR, Lewin, Bridges, Kubler-Ross)
  • OD practitioners require process consulting skills v CM practitioners require project management skills
  • OD underpinned by humanistic values v CM underpinned by efficiency/effectiveness criteria
  • OD Practitioners developed against OD practice framework v CM practitioners developed against Change Manager competency model

What's your view on OD v change management? Let me know.

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