What is Organization Development (OD) and How Does it Differ from Other Change Management Models

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Organization Development (OD) uses a whole systems approach to improving organizational effectiveness and health through planned change initiatives. OD utilizes a unique change management model known as the Action Research Model – a seven-phase model for leading change. I’ll attempt to explain how OD contributes to organizational change and review the Action Research Model, and highlight how it differs from other change models like Lewin, Kotter, Bridges, and Prosci.

What is Organization Development (OD)? Organization Development is a systematic application of scientific behavioral techniques and processes that provide a way to plan, develop, and align an organization’s strategies, structures, and processes to enhance effectiveness. OD also focuses on how individual behaviors impact organization behavior and influence changing beliefs, attitudes, values, and structures within organizations to overcome resistance to change and increase an individual’s ability to adapt to new skills, systems, processes, technologies, and challenges.

OD’s Change Management Model: Action Research Model 

The Action Research Model is known as OD’s change management process. It involves a systematic and cyclical approach to planned change, consisting of the following seven phases:

  1. Entry and Contracting: This involves entering the client organization, building relationships, asking questions to identify needs, and developing an agreement on how the client and consultant will work together. 
  2. Diagnosis: This step involves creating data collection tools, planning the process, collecting the data, and analyzing the current state of the organization. This helps identify areas for improvement and sets the stage for change. This process also contributes to creating a culture that accepts feedback from others and values what others believe about the need for change.
  3. Planning: Based on the feedback from the diagnosis, the OD consultant collaborates with the organization’s leaders, stakeholders, and subject matter experts to develop an action plan. This plan outlines specific interventions, goals, timelines, and desired outcomes.
  4. Interventions: In this phase, the project teams led by the consultant create an implementation plan and identify planned interventions that will help the organization implement the change. The OD consultant works closely with leaders and employees to facilitate the change process, often utilizing various techniques such as team-building, training, process redesign, and communication strategies.
  5. Evaluation: Throughout the intervention phase, data is collected and analyzed to assess the effectiveness of the implemented changes. Evaluation helps determine if the desired outcomes have been achieved and provide insights for further adjustments if needed.
  6. Reflection and Learning: The final stage involves reflecting on the entire change process and learning from the experience. Lessons learned are documented to inform future change efforts and continuous improvement.

 How does the Action Research Model compare to other change models such as Lewin’s Three-Step Model, Kotter’s Eight-Step Model, Bridges’ Transition Model, and Prosci’s ADKAR Model? Here are some key distinctions:

  1. Emphasis on Collaboration and Participation: OD’s Action Research Model emphasizes involving all stakeholders in the change process. Unlike some other models that are more directive, OD promotes participation, empowerment, and engagement of employees at all levels.
  2. Systems Thinking and Holistic Approach: OD considers the entire organizational system and its interdependencies. It looks beyond isolated changes and focuses on creating alignment and coherence across various elements of the organization.
  3. Continuous Learning and Reflection: OD emphasizes ongoing learning, reflection, and adaptation. It recognizes that change is a dynamic process and encourages continuous improvement based on feedback and evaluation.
  4. Integration of Technical and Human Aspects: OD recognizes the importance of addressing both technical and human aspects of change. It goes beyond solely focusing on structural or procedural changes and considers the human dynamics, relationships, and cultural elements within the organization.
Let’s look at the other models and compare to Action Research Model:
  1. Lewin’s Three-Step Model:
    • Lewin’s model emphasizes the concept of unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.
    • Unfreezing involves creating a sense of urgency and preparing individuals for change by challenging existing beliefs and behaviors.
    • Changing refers to the implementation of the desired change.
    • Refreezing aims to reinforce and stabilize the new behaviors, making them the new norm.
    • This model focuses on managing the psychological and social aspects of change.
  1. Kotter’s Eight-Step Model:
    • Kotter’s model provides a structured approach to leading organizational change.
    • It starts with establishing a sense of urgency and creating a guiding coalition to drive change.
    • The model emphasizes the importance of clear communication, empowerment, and building momentum through short-term wins.
    • It also addresses the need for continuous improvement and anchoring the change in the organization’s culture.
    • Kotter’s model focuses on mobilizing leadership and engaging stakeholders at all levels.
  1. Bridges’ Transition Model:
    • Bridges’ model focuses on managing the emotional and psychological transitions that individuals go through during change.
    • It identifies three stages: endings, neutral zone, and new beginnings.
    • Endings involve letting go of the old ways and acknowledging the loss associated with change.
    • The neutral zone is a period of uncertainty and exploration where individuals navigate between the old and new.
    • New beginnings involve embracing the change and building a sense of commitment and ownership.
    • This model highlights the importance of addressing people’s emotional responses to change.
  1. Prosci’s ADKAR Model:
    • Prosci’s model provides a framework for managing individual change.
    • ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.
    • It outlines a sequence of steps individuals go through during change: becoming aware of the need for change, developing a desire to support it, acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary, having the ability to implement the change, and receiving reinforcement to sustain it.
    • The model emphasizes the role of individual change management and focuses on the human side of change.

While these models share common elements, such as the importance of communication, stakeholder involvement, and addressing resistance, they differ in their specific focus, stages, and approaches. Some models prioritize the social and psychological aspects of change, while others focus on leadership, individual transitions, or a combination of factors. The choice of model depends on the context, nature of the change, and the preferences of the organization or change practitioner.

Organization Development provides us with a consistent approach to planned change, utilizing the Action Research Model as its change management framework. This model distinguishes OD from other change models by emphasizing collaboration, systems thinking, continuous learning, and the integration of technical and human aspects. By adopting the Action Research Model, OD practitioners can facilitate meaningful and sustainable change in organizations while engaging stakeholders and promoting a culture of continuous improvement.  Consultants should select the change model to meet the needs of the client, however, offering them a consistent approach to lead change is ideal.

About the Author

Dr. Nancy Zentis, Ph.D.,
CEO and Founder of the Institute of Organization Development. Contact: nancy.zentis@instituteod.com. The Institute of Organization Development offers online Certification Programs on Organization Development, OD Process Consulting, Talent Management, Executive Coaching

 IOD also sponsors GIODN.org, a global OD Professional Membership Organization, offering member benefits such as a Professional Directory, OD Tools, Monthly Events, a Job Board, and Member Connect.  If you are interested in joining, click here.

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