What is OD?
"Organisation Development is a systemwide application of behavioural science knowledge to the planned development and reinforcement of organisational strategies, structure, and processes for improving organisational effectiveness." - Cummings & Worley (1997)
A tree is a symbol of life. Without foundational roots that absorb nutrients, it cannot survive, let alone grow. An organisation is likened to be a tree that needs firm foundation for its development and growth. The people, process, system and structure are the elements that form the firm foundation of organisations. Its firmness is subject to its responsiveness to the environmental factors, anticipating and adapting to the required changes to keep them vibrant and alive.
Organisation Development (OD) has a history of close to six decades, after first gaining popularity in the mid-1950s. With mega trends such as globalisation and information technology impacting the workplace, it is clear that OD has an increasingly important role to play in ensuring organisational survival and renewal. The timeline below features some of the milestones throughout the history of OD.
Lewin's Force Field Theory suggested that individuals are subject to a number of forces, be it personal, psychological or physical, which are mutually interactive and influential in leading to a changed behavioural state. This provided the basis for OD and sparked off greater research in the field of planned organisational change.(Lewin, 1947)
The Hawthorne effect was described as a productivity gain due to increased motivation from the workers as a result of interest being shown in them.(Landsberger, 1950)
Up to the 1970s
There was a strong focus on group dynamic issues in organisations with a drive to spread the values espoused by ‘Lewin’s humanistic and democratic approach to changes’.(Conner, 1977; Gellerman, Frankel, & Ladenson R, 1990; Warwick & Thompson, 1980)
Emergence of a movement towards organisation-wide issues, such as sociotechnical systems, organisational culture, organisational learning and transformational change.(Cummings & Worley, 2009; Jones, Jimmieson, & Griffiths, 2005; Schein, 2004; Allen & Hartman, 2008; Chapman, 2002; Kotter, 1995)
A major broadening of scope within the field of OD began to align with organisations’ efforts to keep up with their perceived changing needs.(French and Bell, 1990)
Critical global events such as the oil shocks of the 1970s, the rise of corporate Japan and the severe economic downturn in the West resulted in criticism of Lewin’s ‘quaintly linear and static’ model as inappropriate and not reflecting the dynamism of the business world.(Burnes, 2004b)
The Culture-Excellence approach, which was prescriptive in nature, became increasingly popular as it aimed to create an organisation culture that was strong enough to promote organisational success. Instead of the traditional ‘top-down’ style of hierarchical management, the Culture-Excellence school emphasised the ‘complex’ and ‘integrated’ nature of organisations.(Peters & Waterman, 1982; Kanter, 1989; Collings, 1998; Burke, Lake, & Paine, 2008)
Schein further developed the concept of organisation culture and broke it down into ‘artifacts’, ‘values’ and ‘assumptions’. His work paved the way for more studies about organisational culture.(Schein, 1990)
The processual approach emerged as an alternative to the prescriptive approach to change. Processualists view change as a complex process that requires analysing the inter-connectedness of individuals, groups, organisations and the society.(Pettigrew, 1979; Dawson, 1994; Burnes, 2004a)
There was an increased emphasis on organisational change as a continuous process that is heavily influenced by culture, power and politics. Armenakis and Bedeian’s theoretical framework—the three factor dimensions of content, context and process—emerged as an overarching view of change management.(Brown & Harvey, 2006; Rothwell et al., 1995; Burnes, 2004b; Cummings & Worley, 2009; Kanter, 1989; Armenakis and Bedeian, 1999)
Strategic change management emerged as a way for organisations to adapt to the volatile and dynamic business landscape.(Cummings & Worley, 2009; Kotter, 1995; Kotter & Cohen, 2002; Cascio, 2010)
OD practices have extended to become applicable in large-scale interventions such as mergers and acquisitions, and strategic alliances. Cheng’s research paper has built on Armenakis and Bedeian’s framework with the identification of nine enablers of organisational change and the suggestion of interplay between the factors across different dimensions.(Cascio, 2010; Dixon et al., 2010; Hatum, Pettigrew, & Michelini, 2010; Cheng, 2013)