The purpose of this piece is to articulate my thoughts on the differences, and similarities between OD and L&D and discuss which discipline is most appropriate for different types of work in organizations. I’ve found that many people confuse the two. For example, there are trainers who feel they are doing OD. OD practitioners who do training, and HR people who do both + HR. In truth, there is a lot of overlap, but in my opinion, they are different disciplines with different purposes.
It is helpful to know what things were like in the U.S. when the field of organization development began. Valerie Garrow provides a good description. The following comes from the first two sections of her article: OD: past, present, and future. http://tinyurl.com/jw6e7ls).
World War II ended in September 1945. The dominating management theory of the time was “scientific management.” Workers were considered small cogs in the machinery of organizational bureaucracies. Workers had no autonomy and easily dismissed if there was any dissent. OD was a post-war response to the dehumanizing practices of that theory. It desired to replace the machine metaphor with a more humanistic approach with new, value-driven concepts such as respect for human dignity; integrity; freedom; justice and responsibility. OD practitioners suggested that people, systems, and technology needed to be more effectively and humanely organized. Rising post‐war social aspirations provided fertile ground for these new values as well as OD’s second important legacy: training and development.
The early approaches to OD centered primarily on the implementation of humanistic ideals at work. Emphasis was on personal development, interpersonal competency, participation, commitment, satisfaction, and work democracy. (John R. Austin and Jean M. Bartunek, Theories and Practices of Organizational Development, Handbook of Psychology, Vol. 12 Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Ch 13, pp310-332). Change was about improving people’s lives and capacity building within organizations.
The Founding Father of OD: Kurt Lewin is, generally acknowledged as, the father of OD. He originated the ideas of group dynamics, leadership styles, force field theory, 3-Step Change Model, T-groups, action research and other key underpinnings of the field. But, he was not alone in founding the discipline of OD. Chris Argyris, Richard Beckhard, Edgar Schein, Warren Bennis all played important roles in its development.
In the mid-40s, Lewin, John Collier, and William Whyte contended that research had to be closely linked to actions if organizations were to become more effective through change programs. Argyris and others also stressed the importance of using research to solve practical problems. He coined the concept of action science. Today, several variations of action research are still applied.
Rensis Likert was a contemporary of Lewin. Lewin and his team of researchers formed the Survey Research Center which later became the Institute for Social Research. Likert’s contributions to OD are significant. The two most noted are Likert Scales which allowed psychometricians to systematically collect research data on “soft skills” and attitudes. His scales proved to be a boon to practitioners of action research. His scales made it possible to quantify the results of all the work various theorists had been doing with group dynamics and later, the effectiveness of OD interventions through to use of periodically repeated organization assessments. His second contribution to OD and social sciences was developing “open-ended interviewing” and “funneling” techniques. These are still in use today.
Lewin, with colleagues from MIT, founded the National Training Laboratories (NTL) which led to T-groups and group-based OD in 1947. 1951 saw the emergence of the Tavistock Institute, in the UK, and socio-technical systems thinking. “Socio-tech” addresses the connection between social factors and technological issues (such as organization structure, organization design, job families, etc.) and how their interactions influence organization effectiveness, efficiency, and morale. Tavistock’s contributions to OD focus on the study of social/psychological interactions between groups and individuals. Among the people influencing OD at the Tavistock Institute were: Eric Trist, Fred Emery, Wilford Bion, John Rawlings Rees and Mary Luff among many others.
In the mid-fifties, Douglas McGregor and Richard Beckhard, while consulting to General Mills, coined the term “organization development” to describe the bottoms-up change effort they were doing that didn’t fit within traditional consulting categories of the time.
“The 1960s were heady times for organizational behavior [and OD]”, according to L. David Brown (Research Actions in Many Worlds, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science on “Autobiography, Organizations, and the Research Process. 1989). The “Human Potential Movement,” had fully emerged. There was “widespread enthusiasm for ‘encounter groups’ and ‘personal growth laboratories.’
In 1969, the classic definition of organization development was put forth by Richard Beckhard in his book, Organization Development: Strategies and Models (Addison-Wesley, 1969, p. 9). The definition is still popular today and is the definition used by OD Network. It is:
“Organization Development is an effort planned, organization-wide, and managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes,’ using behavioral-science knowledge.”
As you can see, Beckhard’s definition changed from a “bottom-up” effort he espoused in the mid-50s to an effort “managed from the top,” in 1969. That’s because it became obvious that top management support was essential to the success of most change efforts. Even so, there are still those who try to lead “bottom-up” change within organizations.
OD interventions in the ‘70s were characterized by organization diagnoses and assessments and planned change interventions designed to improve organization effectiveness. Assessment-based interventions, of this type, are considered “Diagnostic OD.” Among the interventions were T-groups, unstructured group laboratories, and improved action learning processes. These advances helped practitioners better understand leadership effectiveness, group dynamics, and other factors influencing the organization, team, and individual effectiveness.
As the popularity of T-Groups grew, trainers and consultants started using T-Group facilitative methodologies to conduct experiential learning activities. Trainers adopted these activities, and they morphed into “games trainers play.” Most contemporary facilitation techniques evolved from the techniques and practices involved in leading T-groups.
In 1974, diagnosis and planning became more important, as practitioners felt pressure to provide demonstrable, quantifiable results of their organizational change efforts. This methodology, spearheaded by Frank Friedlander and L. Dave Brown led to two types of OD “target interventions”: 1) people interventions (having to do with organizational processes), and 2) technology interventions (having to do with structures, organization design, job design, etc.). They also began articulating the influence of environment as it impacts organizations and the people in them.
Organizational Diagnosis became the starting point of OD and organizational effectiveness interventions. Two of the more well-known are:
Marvin Weisbord’s “Six-Box Model.” It is a tool for expanding his diagnostic framework from interpersonal and group issues to the more complicated contexts in which organizations are managed. (“Organizational Diagnosis: Six Places to Look for Trouble with or without a Theory,” Group & Organization Studies 1, 4 (December 1976): 430-447.)
Tom Peters and Robert Waterman of McKinsey & Company, published their book, In Search of Excellence in 1982. The book featured the 7-S Framework. It is a well-known diagnostic tool. Its purpose was to look at seven key internal elements: strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style, staff, and skills to determine if they were aligned effectively. The tool is still used by many consultants today.
In 1980, a David Cooperrider, a Ph.D. student at Case Western Reserve University, questioned the prevailing OD practice of focusing on problems. He introduced the concept of “appreciative inquiry” based on an analysis of the factors contributing to the highly effective functioning of an organization when it was at its best. Everything else is ignored. It was a paradigm-changing theory. Instead of focusing on what was wrong and fixing it. Cooperrider proposed focusing on the “the true, the good, the better and the possible in human systems.” (Jane Magruder Watkins and Bernard Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination, Jossey-Bass, 2001). His work and that of others continued through the ‘80s through today. Richard Beckhard said: “appreciative inquiry is creating a powerful and enduring change in the way OD will be conceptualized and practiced now and in the future…it is changing the way we think about change itself.” (Watkins and Mohr, 2001). An appreciative inquiry OD intervention typically included:
(from BJ Seminars International (http://bjseminars.com.au/our-approach/appreciative-inquiry/the-4-d-cycle/)
The ‘80s, also saw the rise of general systems theory, organization effectiveness, and complexity theory make their contributions to the practice of OD. An article in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science (“Organization Development Practitioner’s Activities and Interventions in Organizations during the 1980s,” 26(3):285-297. August) revealed that OD practitioners engaged in management style enhancement, strategy development, culture change, technology integration, and employee development. An OD Code of Ethics was published in 1983. Information Technology was beginning to exert its influence within organizations. Game theory was just emerging.
A major theme in the 1990s was “reengineering.” Michael Hammer, a professor at MIT, wrote an article in Harvard Business Review (Reengineering Work: Don’t automate, obliterate. July-August Issue, 1990) stating that U.S. companies were… “unprepared to operate in the 1990s.” He suggested companies should reengineer their businesses, using the power of IT, to “radically redesign” business processes to improve performance. Organizations were seen as machines, with systems that could be fixed if the problems were diagnosed, identified, and replaced with more functional ones.
Dialogic OD, in the minds of many practitioners, is considered the next evolutionary step of organizational change theory. Its premise is that organizations emerge from conversations where individuals’, groups’, and organizational actions are a product of self-organizing, socially constructed realities which are created and sustained by the prevailing narratives, stories, and conversations. It is through these conversations that people make meaning about their experiences. Marshak and Bushe envision change as always happening at varying rates of speed. The contend that Dialogic OD works by creating new conversations that:
The following list includes 40 Dialogic OD interventions (with authors).
|1. Art of Convening (Neal and Neal)
2. Art of Hosting (artofhosting.org)
3. Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider)
4. Charrettes (Lennertz)
5. Community Learning (Fulton)
6. Complex Responsive Processes of Relating (Shaw)
7. Conference Model (Axelrod)
8. Coordinated Management of Meaning (Pearce & Cronen)
9. Cycle of Resolution (Levine)
10. Dynamic Facilitation (Rough)
11. Engaging Emergence (Holman)
12. Future Search (Weisbord)
13. Intergroup Dialogue (Nagada, Gurin)
14. Moments of Impact (Ertel & Solomon)
15. Narrative Mediation (Winslade & Monk)
16. Open Space Technology (Owen)
17. Organizational Learning Conversations (Bushe)
18. Participative Design (M. Emery)
19. PeerSpirit Circles (Baldwin)
20. Polarity Management (Johnson)
|21. Preferred Futuring (Lippitt)
22. Reflexive Inquiry (Oliver)
23. REAL model (Wasserman & Gallegos)
24. Real Time Strategic Change (Jacobs)
25. Re-Description (Storch)
26. Search Conference (Emery & Emery)
27. Six Conversations (Block)
28. SOAR (Stavros)
29. Social Labs (Hassan)
30. Solution Focused Dialogue (Jackson & McKergow)
31. Sustained Dialogue (Saunders)
32. Syntegration (Beer)
33. Systemic Sustainability (Amodeo & Cox)
34. Talking stick (preindustrial)
35. Technology of Participation (Spencer)
36. Theory U (Scharmer)
37. Visual Explorer (Palus & Horth)
38. Whole Scale Change (Dannemiller)
39. Work Out (Ashkenas)
40. World Café (Brown & Issacs)
In 2005, David Bradford and Warner Burke came up with a new definition of OD that was more consistent with the need to cope with rapidly changing environments in the new century and the impact of rapid change on organizations.
Based on (1) a set of values, largely humanistic; (2) application of the behavioral sciences; and (3) open systems theory, organization development is a systemwide process of planned change aimed toward improving organization effectiveness by way of enhanced congruence of such key organizational dimensions as external environment, mission, strategy, leadership, culture, structure, information and reward systems, and work policies and procedures.
More recently, Donald Anderson (Organization Development: The process of leading organizational change, 2015, Sage Publications, P3) offered a less complicated definition:
Organization Development is the process of increasing organizational effectiveness and facilitating personal and organizational change through the use of interventions driven by social and behavioral science knowledge.
Neither definition includes the concepts of Dialogic OD, but Anderson’s is generic enough for its inclusion. If neither of these definitions suits you, please read this article by T. Marshall Egan, Organization Development: An Examination of Definitions and Dependent Variables (2001 Conference Proceedings of the Academy of Human Resource Development, pp 396-402) (http://tinyurl.com/lbk69fd). He studied 27 definitions of OD which included some 60 different variables. I’m sure there will be one that you may like.
Four early central themes emerged in the practice of OD over the years: 1) concern for social development and social justice, 2) the combination of research and action which provided new ways of understanding social systems, 3) working at the “social and technical interfaces” of different groups, organizations, and cultures, and 4) the advancement of social analysis techniques and processes. (L. David Brown, 1989)
By 1989, when I began doing OD consulting independently, I had been doing work in the fields of training and OD for 11 years, the last 5 of which were primarily involved with doing OD. The themes had coalesced. I had personally experienced the emergence and growth of many of these movements.
The picture on the right represents the OD family tree in 1989. These are the interventions with which I was familiar. I focused mainly on large-scale change in the areas of self-direction and empowerment.
About the same time, two additional movements surfaced in in the U.S. The aforementioned “reengineering movement” and total quality management. The Malcolm Baldridge Award had a significant impact on measurement and effectiveness. Organizations sought “continuous process improvement,” using six-sigma quality techniques and tools. Sustainability and employee empowerment surfaced as major goals within large organizations.
The concept of continuous business process improvement also influenced the field of learning and development. In 1990, Peter Senge published The Fifth Discipline and the concept of a “learning organization.” It became popular as organizations sought to facilitate learning among their employees to better cope with continuous change and transformations.
A “learning organization” has five characteristics: 1) systems thinking, 2) personal mastery, 3) mental models, 4) a shared vision, and 5) team learning. By implementing these practices organizations would be more connected through employee communities and thus, be more committed to each other and organizational goals.
All of this history had a profound impact on how I practiced OD. Two of the most influential mentors in my career were Bill Pfeiffer, co-founder of University Associates, and Larry Porter, one of the founders of NTL. They taught me how to plan and implement OD interventions and design and facilitate experiential learning. Like most practitioners at the time, ideas and concepts presented by Peter Block, John Kotter, William Bridges, Jon Katzenbach, Douglas Smith, Jim Collins, Ricardo Semler, Marvin Weisbord, Tom Peters, and Robert Waterman heavily influenced my work.
Weisbord’s Six-Box Model served as the overarching process map guiding the intervention while Peters’ and Waterman’s 7-S Framework was the model I used to diagnose the organization. I created an original process model (shown to the right) that I used in my work. An important part of initial contracting was the establishment of overarching goals and specific goals. A team comprised of managers and leaders from a diagonal slice of the organization became the Planning & Implementation Team (PIT) responsible for goal setting and managing the project. The PIT formed project teams that focused on specific issues.
After establishing a PIT and training them on what was going to happen and their individual and group roles and responsibilities, we conducted assessments. They type of assessment depending on the scope and intent of the project. If the purpose was the resolution of overarching issues, such as communication, collaboration, cross-functional cooperation, diversity, cultural issues, etc. We took a big-picture approach to analysis. This approach often started with a custom-designed questionnaire. A psychometrician was brought on board to ensure appropriate scientific rigor in designing the questionnaire and analyzing the data. Information from the questionnaire results allowed us to focus our efforts when conducting sensing interviews, observations of people doing their jobs, reviews of records and performance data.
If we were looking at specific performance issues rather than overarching organizational issues we used a different kind of assessment or diagnosis. Some of the things done in an assessment of this sort included: conducting job-task analyses, assessment of the performance management system, selection and retention strategies, assessment of leadership styles, observation of team processes and interactions, decision-making, etc., and development of competency maps and competency assessments.
If the goal was process improvement, we’d also look at workflow and work processes to see if there were opportunities to increase efficiencies and reduce wastage. Analysis of workflow and work processes were done in a large group format to ensure everyone involved in the process had a voice.
When we had a deep understanding of the factors creating the issues that the organization wanted to be resolved, the PIT developed identified goals and key performance measures used in determining overall success. That led to creating a change management or implementation plan. Interventions addressed a single issue or several. It was a PIT decision. I strongly recommended focusing on a single issue, explaining that others would surface as the project proceeded.
An early step in any intervention I led was establishing a communication plan. The first step in that plan was to bring people together to explain what was happening, why it was happening, how they would be involved, and to express their thoughts and opinions. A member of the PIT was made responsible for informing the organization of progress and ensuring feedback from the organization reached the PIT. It was a typical diagnostic OD approach.
One of the major goals of all my OD work was the transfer of knowledge and skills to my client, typically via the PIT. It was to ensure the organization would be able to continue the work on their own, without me.
The ‘90s also saw the rise of employee empowerment and self-direction. I specialized in this type of work for over ten years. One of my typical OD consulting interventions lasted 12-months to 18-months. I knew that organizational change was happening much faster than before and that it would continue. The PIT was responsible for leading ongoing change within the organization.
In my mind, this was OD work, until 2005. That’s when I first heard of Dialogic OD and started researching the theories and practices involved in it. I am still learning about it and do not consider myself highly knowledgeable of its processes.
Parts 1 and 2 are long. The goal was to present the historical background and evolution of OD so what it is, is clear in the minds of those who call themselves OD practitioners, but are peripheral to the discipline. A similar history and evolution of the practice of training and learning and development would make this document more complete. But, I leave that to someone else.
Where the Confusion Emerged. The process for helping people become better communicators, problem-solvers, and more collaborative, etc., typically involved “people skills” or “soft-skills” training that took place in T-groups or workshop settings. (You can find a list of 87 soft skills at www.training.simplicable .com/training/new/87-soft-skills.) OD practitioners learned how to design and deliver these courses, eventually becoming skilled facilitator-trainers.
Don Van Eynde, Jeanne Maes, Dixie Van Eynde, and Austen Untzeitg list 30-31 topics included in the titles of articles on OD in professional OD journals. (Journal of Organization Development Journal, OD Research and Practice in the Early 21st Century: Reflections in the literature, Spring 2013 Vol. 31, Number 1, pp69-78). The number one topic was Leadership/Leadership Development (included in 22% of all OD-related article titles from the years 2000-2012). As you have read, leadership development was an early emphasis of OD practitioners since leaders exert such a large influence on organizations.
Leadership development has long been within the scope of training and certainly within contemporary L&D. Do OD Practitioners, Coaches, and Trainers employ the same methodologies? Yes. Do they share the same philosophical/theoretical backgrounds? Probably not. Who can do it best? That depends on what the organization thinks will work best. If the organization thinks it is essential that whoever does the work must “know the business” well, then, a mentor or coach with many years of experience is probably the wisest choice. Is it from a skills perspective? Communication, goal setting, problem-solving, decision-making, etc. Then, maybe a trainer would be best suited for the job. If it has to do with understanding teams, people, group/team/organizational dynamics, motivation, etc., then maybe an OD expert is the best choice. There are people who possess expertise in all three domains, but they are rare.
Leadership is only one area of overlap between OD and Training. What about strategic planning? Financial planning? Business Process Improvement, Productivity Improvement? Who is best suited to work in these areas? An experienced business mentor, OD consultant, or Trainer? There are consultants who specialize in these and other disciplines. What kind of a theoretical and practicum background should they have?
Eynde, Maes, et al. cite a discussion with an HR Director in which the Director said: “OD is all about Talent Management.” Really? Talent management? What has become obvious from the Eynde, Maes, et al. study is that more and more topics outside the traditional OD umbrella are now included in it. And I haven’t touched on HR and its sojourn into the realms of OD.
Most trainers haven’t studied organizational theories, group theories, action research, appreciative inquiry, diagnostic OD, systems theory, social theories, etc. They have a solid background in L&D theories, but OD theories are typically outside of their educational background. On the other hand, I doubt many OD practitioners understand eLearning theories. ADDIE, SAM, Learner-Centered Design, Multimodality, Game-Reward Systems, eLearning theories, etc. The intricacies of learning management systems, SCORM, xAPI, and microlearning are beyond their expertise as well. The point is that these are two distinct disciplines. Practitioners of both may know a bit about the other but, typically, are not experts outside their domains.
It’s important to realize that OD, Training, HR, all have the same objective, improvement. However, their scopes, processes, and philosophies are very different.
|Organization Development||Learning & Development|
Improve Organizational Processes
Improve Organizational Structures
Improve Organizational Culture
Improve Organizational Collaboration
Improve Organizational Design
Restore/Improve Group Harmony
Establish Group Norms
|Increase Individual Job Knowledge
Increase Individual Job Skills
Hard skills and soft skills
Manage Training Activities
Create Learning Culture
Create Learning Organization
Delivery and Tracking Technology
This table stresses the differences between the types of interventions done by L&D professionals and OD professionals. Even so, L&D professionals will say they do some of the items listed on the OD side, and OD practitioners will say the same about the L&D side.
Just as training is not the answer to all problems, neither is OD. Ensure you gather data before attempting anything. Here are some common data gathering methodologies that will work for OD or Training:
Once you have a really good idea of what the situation is, look for root causes. Then use group processes to develop options. Perhaps you choose to implement a change intervention. Maybe it’s a training solution. Maybe you let the people in the organization itself surface actions. Understand that whatever you choose to do, there will be consequences, intended and unintended.
The following table lists some common situations found in organizations and suggests which approach to use to resolve the root causes. The list is far from comprehensive.
|Try OD First||Try Training First|
|Employee engagement is low, attitudes and morale are poor, productivity is low, turnover is high||High error rates, unacceptable scrap, wastage, rework, poor or uneven quality|
|Missed deadlines, confusion regarding responsibilities, lack of accountability||Newer employees aren’t performing to standard|
|Little trust, organization fiefdoms, bickering, blame, excuse making||Need to improve or develop job competencies/skills|
|Significant internal, unhealthy competition, cross-function dysfunction||Implementation of new system or process within team or entire organization|
|Poor product quality, inefficient processes, excessive costs, lack of innovation/creativity||Ineffective people skills: communication, problem-solving, delegation|
|Ineffective teams, lack of cohesion, poor or no cooperation, inconsistent collaboration||Specific team skills: team problem solving, team decision making, consensus building|
|Combination of OD and Training|
|Leadership Development, Supervisory Skills, Team Leadership|
|Teambuilding: OD to discuss effective team processes Training to teach them|
When trying to decide what to do, remember Benjamin Bloom’s learning domains: psychomotor (skills), cognitive (knowledge), and affective (attitudes and beliefs). Training is great for the first two. OD is more effective for the latter.
Both OD & L&D seek to improve core competencies and attain competitive advantage for their organizations. They approach things differently, applying different expertise, but may use some of the processes of the other. I firmly believe that unless one is a learned and skilled practitioner of both disciplines, a person should not attempt to do what the other does.