The relationship between organization development, change management and organization design

Chapter 1 of the book I’m revising to be a third edition discussed ‘what is organization design?’ Ploughing on with writing chapter 2 and helped by the comments to my blog last week on Change Management or Organization Development (many thanks to those who commented) has reinforced my view that the three disciplines organization development (ODV), change management (CM) and organization design (ODS) are neither mutually exclusive, nor collectively exhaustive in their approach to organizational design, change and development. They are not a good example of the MECE principle.

However, to leave practitioners adrift in the reality of the messy confusion of the three is not particularly helpful. So, I’ve now reached the point of discussing the nature of the relationship between them aiming to steer a tricky course between over-simplification and what a colleague dismissed as ‘existentialism’. (I think I’d strayed into either jargon or academic theorizing in the meeting where he called that out).

To simplify it a bit, consider a Venn diagram with three sets: ODV, CM, ODS. They intersect as follows: CM + ODV, ODV + ODS, ODS + CM, ODS + CM + ODV (See graphic).

This representation suggests that there is both overlap and distinction in elements of each of the sets. This makes it easier to talk about the three fields from numerous different angles e.g. discussing which theories intersect, where the same tool can be used by all three sets, what is only in one set. I can imagine a three-way discussion with a ‘true believer’ representing each one of the three sets debating with the two other ‘true believers’ on what belongs – theories, tools, approaches – in one set over another and where the common ground amongst the three sets is.

Thus, the Venn diagram representation both clarifies the scope of the three fields and brings some risks that commenters on the blog bring up (I’ve edited some of them a bit – I hope that’s ok).

Client risks

  • ‘The paradox in this debate is that the highlighting of differences between the fields helps each to understand better the other, but also raises the risk of each claiming supremacy over the other in a competition for the client’s affections.’ (Tony Nicholls)
  • A consultant may have deep expertise in only one of the sets but will be working with consultants with deep expertise in one or more of the other sets: ‘Can they explain their approaches to each other, can they accommodate differences – some of which might be quite fundamental in terms of values and even ethics – and can they present a combined account of themselves to the client which doesn’t feel self-involved but doesn’t gloss over important and potentially fertile differences?’ (Jonathan Potts)

Consultant risks

  • Unless leaders/catalysts/facilitators of change understand the philosophical differences – modernist vs post-modernist – that underpin ODV (particularly dialogic ODV) vs OCM v ODS, they can become tangled in these potentially complementary methods by combining them in incompatible ways: e.g. project planning an entire change journey at the outset, rather than using PM/OCM methods to help manage resources of highly emergent processes. (Tom Kenward)

Organisational risks

  • More often than not, ODV, CM, ODS fail to take seriously the underlying (complex social) dynamics of organization. So, for example, managers and practitioners often work on the basis that change and/or development only happens when ‘management’ says that it should; that, however defined, these are within the gift of managers/specialists to manage in planned and predictable ways; that, success can be assured, provided that people do the prescribed things ‘better’ and ‘get them right; and that, in determining what actually happens in relation to change and performance, it is the ‘big things’ that matter most (i.e. the plans, programmes and other structured interventions) rather than the everyday, self-organizing conversations and interactions through which organization is enacted moment to moment and ‘outcomes’ emerge in practice. (Chris Rodgers)
  • An either or reductionist approach only skates across the surface of what is happening in organisations (Emma Taylor).

If the Venn diagram works to explain to people that there are three distinct fields and that there are specialists in any one of them then it becomes easier to suggest that someone could be drawn to one of them over the others and could also make choices about whether their consulting would be ‘better’ if they were also familiar with the others.

This approach is supported by several people commenting on the blog. (I’m assuming their view on connecting ODV and CM would accommodate the integration of ODS with these two. If I’m wrong let me know).

  • ‘Maybe we should aspire to adopt an equally integrated OD people and CM systems [+ODS] approach rather than one being more dominant. (Sue Duncan)
  • I’ve worked closely with OCM professionals and when exposed to OD theory and practice the result is a coming together of the benefits of both fields that adds immeasurably to the overall effectiveness of change activities and general org health. (Tony Nicholls)
  • It is unfortunate that CM has become more tech focused and ODV more psych focused – I think it undervalues both fields. A skilled CMer must appreciate the human dynamics involved in change and be comfortable working with it. A skilled ODVer must be equally appreciative of and comfortable with the technical project delivery arena. (Glenn Jacob)

If you are wondering whether to develop or deepen skills in one of the three fields then Fred Nickols questions could help you think this through:

  • What kind of ODV/CM/ODS work do you do most of the time?
  • What kind is called for by the current situation?
  • What kind of ODV/CM/ODS work are you asked to do?
  • What kind of ODV/CM/ODS work are you really good at?
  • What kind of ODV/CM/ODS work do you want to do?
  • What kind of ODV/CM/ODS work do you get paid to do?
  • Which of the ODV/CM/ODS capabilities are you most comfortable applying?
  • Which of the ODV/CM/ODS capabilities are you the least comfortable applying?

NOTE: The Venn diagram distinctions and overlaps still may not sufficiently address Chris Rodgers point about the underlying social dynamics.

Do you think the Venn diagram is a helpful way of illustrating the ODV/CM/ODS fields? Let me know.


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