What is Organization Development and How Does it Work?


Author: Dr. Nancy Zentis

As today’s organizations struggle to keep up with constant change, uncertainty, and competitive advantage, Organization Development (OD) is more important than ever.  OD is primarily concerned with helping senior leaders implement change using a systems-wide collaborative approach, involving members of the organization to share their thoughts and experiences to identify the root cause and need for change.  Using a systems approach and action planning to find sustainable solutions, these OD competencies will aid success in planning, implementing and evaluating interventions, sustaining the change by transferring the newly learned knowledge to increase the ability to solve problems and deal with continuous change.

Organization Development can be defined as “an effort that is planned, organization-wide, managed from the top to increase effectiveness and health, through planned interventions in the organization’s processes, using behavioral science approaches.” (Richard Beckhard, 1969.)  It is, therefore, a systematic and holistic approach to aligning strategy, people, and processes towards attaining organization goals and objectives.

The primary concern of OD is the health and well-being of people.  OD leads to organization effectiveness, using a democratic and collaborative approach to identify problems and solutions to implement change.  OD is concerned with the ethical practices, positive regard, appreciative approaches, collaboration, employee engagement and participation within the organization.

Organization Development is a strategic function that influences the entire organization and addresses issues such as: strategic change, culture change, strategic planning, implementing new systems or changes, addressing talent management and leadership development strategies, employee engagement, conflicts and employee morale, strategies for growing the business or redesigning organization structures, addressing skills gaps, performance issues, improving team interaction, increasing job satisfaction, improving processes and quality, etc.

Organization Development addresses the human element within organizations by working with people and developing relationships to achieve goals to improve processes.  Using a behavioral science approach, OD attempts to understand how an organization’s behavior, individuals, leadership, social systems, and political systems impact organization culture.  OD provides research-based interventions to deal with both the technical and behavioral challenges in the organization.

What are the core requirements for Organization Development to be successful?

  • Top management support – the success of OD interventions requires the support and approval of senior leaders. This is because of the strategic thinking and strategic leadership role of top management. The problem must be owned by two or more senior leaders.
  • Organization alignment with other core systems such as culture, strategy, structure, systems, leadership style, HR systems, and skills.
  • Employee Involvement, feedback, dialogue, and trust
  • Support from stakeholders and managers
  • Commitment from senior leaders
  • Flexibility and customized strategies to meet the needs of the organization

There are several core applications that support the Organization Development Process used today:

The Action Research Model (ARM):  A scientific approach to implementing change, ARM involves gaining buy-in and commitment from senior leaders and the senior leadership team, contracting for roles, responsibility, and outcomes, conducting interviews and focus groups to collect data, presenting the data to senior leaders, facilitating an action planning meeting to identify priorities, creating an implementation plan to implement the changes, conducting feedback to evaluate the change, and creating a plan to maintain and sustain the change, and transfer learning.

Human Interaction: Developing skills to gain effectiveness in the key areas of personal and leadership effectiveness: self-awareness, interpersonal skills, influence skills, listening, emotional intelligence and managing group dynamics, giving feedback, developing relationships, and communicating more effectively.


Appreciative Inquiry: Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organization change that focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses.  Often used in the organization development field for a large-scale change, it uses an affirmative approach for addressing issues, challenges, and concerns of an organization in ways that build on the successful, effective and energizing experiences of its members.


Dialogic OD: Dialogic OD involves both structured interventions (Action Research) and experiential interventions (Process Consultation).  Structured Dialogic OD involves one or more planned events that are designed to develop relationships to create effective interpersonal communication, creativity, and engagement.  OD Practitioners partner with leaders to observe behaviors and help them learn and cultivate ideas that lead the organization to achieve their desired direction.


Whole Systems Change: Whole systems organizational change takes a holistic view of what is happening in an organization by involving the whole organization to participate in the change process.  The Senior Leader Team, led by an external OD Practitioner and an internal OD professional, will plan and facilitate the event.  All members of the organization attend to participate.  Whole systems approaches can be used in a variety of change efforts, such as strategic planning, visioning, values and principles clarification, culture transformation or strategic initiatives, organizational redesign, process improvement, and customer or supplier relations partnering.  The benefits of whole systems change include: greater interconnectedness, gaining a systems perspective, appreciation of self and others, sharing and learning collectively, working together collaboratively to achieve results, creating a shared, desired future, creating an implementation plan and gaining involvement.


As OD consultants and providers of OD Certification Programs, we recognize the value of having a structured approach to work with organizations and senior leaders to help them solve problems or implement change.  With this knowledge of OD applications, OD practitioners can have greater confidence to help senior leaders plan and implement change.

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development Skills for ongoing learning.  As a consultant in the field of OD for many years, she has developed Talent Management and Leadership Development Strategies for many leading organizations.  She can be reached at info@instituteod.com.

Institute of OD offers online OD Certification Programs for those interested in advancing in the field of Organization Development.  Check out our programs and schedules at https://instituteod.com/online-certification-programs/.


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