5 min read | 3 February, 2021 By Sarah Benstead
You might be wondering what on earth organisational development is, and you’d be in good company – it can seem like a rather abstract concept and as a result, it isn’t always implemented effectively.
But, as a business owner or manager, you want your organisation to run as well and efficiently as possible. If you don’t take a strategic approach to it and leave it up to chance, your business will not be as productive or effective. Worse still, it could flounder and fail.
Organisational development (OD) is therefore something that is important to ensure effective growth and longevity. It is essentially the process used to improve the overall effectiveness of an organisation through managing the behaviours of people within that organisation. But it is important to have the systems in place to allow change to be implemented and planned effectively and that analyse real data, which can then be used to implement further change.
There’s a good chance you’re already doing some OD without even realising it by creating great teams and giving them the conditions in which to thrive, and tweaking your systems to improve their effectiveness or resolve problems you have come across. But it’s equally important that your managers are aware of OD too – by explaining to them why OD is important and getting them on board with changes you wish to make, you’ll get reduced resistance to any changes, they’ll be advocates for what you want to do and it will make any changes occur more smoothly.
There are various definitions of OD and it will mean different things to different businesses. For example, in an accountancy firm the purpose of OD might be to improve efficiency of processes and quality of client contact.
HR has an important role to play in OD and it’s functions integrate well with it. It’s important for your HR professional or department so see OD not as a one-off intervention but as a constant process of evaluation and evolution.
HR can collect and analyse the data which will allow OD to take place through its regular functions of people management, target monitoring and assessment. For example, HR might decide to implement a new performance management system but in order for this to be considered OD it needs to be aligned with other parts of the business in an ordered and comprehensive way. It’s not just a case of implementing something new and that’s it. For it to be OD it needs to bring about a change in behaviour and sometimes attitude within your organisation.
In the context of the performance management scheme, this might be a case of not just launching the scheme out of the blue, which might be met with resistance from existing staff who don’t buy into it but by getting them on side first. HR in partnership with other departments might explain why they intend to bring one in, how it will benefit employees, how it will help the company, what rewards or recognition they might get as a result of the new system, and ask for the feedback and input on implementing such a system.
With such data, HR would gain insight into how staff feel about it and collect data on what would be effective or otherwise. It would also soften them up, prepare them for the future changes and make them more receptive to them.
Once the system was up and running, it would be HR’s job to monitor the system to see how it is performing and gather further feedback from staff. That data could then further tweak the system and make improvements.
It’s important to remember there is no one-size-fits-all model for implementing change. A model can help people see things anew, reinvigorate a team and improve organisational practice for one business but be a complete failure for another.
Plus, models are not static and will change over time – by solving one set of problems you create another down the line, you’ll rely on rules until they no longer become workable and efficient relationships will eventually become inefficient.
With OD it’s vital to remember it’s not about finding the Holy Grail. There is no one finite answer but rather a series of small wins over a period of time. However, there are three defined models that are useful to look at:
This model is based on the idea that before you introduce a change your organisation must be prepared for change and motivated to change. Lewin has defined it as unfreezing, changing and refreezing.
Unfreezing - In order to change, old behaviours must be unlearned and individuals within your organisation should be encouraged to shake things up. Lewin calls this unfreezing – motivating and preparing people for change while at the same time minimising resistance to change.
Changing – Having unlearned old behaviours and becoming receptive to new behaviours individuals are now ready to substitute new attitudes and methods of working for old ones.
Refreezing - New attitudes and behaviours are established as the new status quo. Those new ways of operating are stabilised and reinforced.
In this model change occurs when management is stimulated by outside pressures. This motivates management to introduce change and then it follows a sequential course of action: pressure on top management, diagnosis of the problem, invention of a solution and reinforcement of new habits through positive results.
Leavitt’s model is based on the premise that all systems – structure, people, technology and tasks - interact with one another so if there is pressure or change in one system it will have an effect on all the others. In essence, it means you can’t introduce change in one area without considering what the implications are for all other areas.
Different models will suit different businesses and at different times. What works for one challenge you’re facing may not be suitable for another. For example, if you’re facing a technical problem this can be dealt with by a top-down approach – the use of analytical models and expertise will help resolve a technical issue and it has a definitive answer. The problem is identified, it is analysed, the solutions are found and they are implemented, much like Griener’s model.
Complex issues aren’t dealt with well with this analytical approach because there isn’t a single right or wrong answer. Instead, Lewin’s model which works to increase the adaptive capacity of an organisation would be better – an adaptive challenge may require a sea change in your staff thinking or culture before it can be dealt with, there might be multiple solutions which could apply and even if you resolve that issue, it will eventually lead to another problem, which is then solved and then leads onto another problem.
Even with all that explanation, OD might still seem like an abstract concept for a small business, particularly when you have a million other things to deal with every single day, but it’s not as difficult as you think to implement. It is ultimately about preparing a strategic plan for your business.
Rather than working on your business, take time out from it to consider the following:
Once you’ve answered those questions you can start to develop an OD plan. In it, you can include your objectives, activities or changes that need to occur in order to achieve them, staffing and resource requirements, timetables for implementation, methods for monitoring progress and outcomes and standards to be achieved.
You’re probably already doing a lot of this stuff without even thinking about but if you’re not, then you should be. You’ll be surprised at the positive difference it makes putting some time into strategic planning. And your business will thank you too!