OD: The Field of Organization Development Defined

Org Development and Change textbook

What is OD? How is it defined, and is there one correct definition? I have been asked this several times over the years from various places including my family (my mom still isn’t quite sure what I do for a living), to clients and the random person on the airplane. So I decided to do some research and come up with the best definition of OD. In my opinion, the best one comes from Cummings and Worley in the 6th Edition of their book “Organization Development & Change” and is as follows:

“Organization Development is a systemwide application of behavioral science knowledge to the planned development and reinforcement of organizational strategies, structures, and processes for improving an organization’s effectiveness”

This definition is a blending of the various facets of organization development and, in my opinion, is a great hybrid of Burke, French, Beckhard, and Bennis. But don’t take my word for it; here’s what these four men had to say about OD:

“Organization Development is a planned process of change in an organization’s culture through the utilization of behavioral science technology, research, and theory.” – Warner Burke

“Organization Development refers to a long-range effort to improve an organization’s problem-solving capabilities and its ability to cope with changes in its external environment with the help of external or internal behavioral-scientist consultants, or change agents, as they are sometimes called.” – Wendell French

“Organization Development is an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, and (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s “processes”, using behavioral science knowledge.” – Richard Beckhard

“Organization Development is a response to change, a complex educational strategy intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values, and structure of organizations so that they can better adapt to new technologies, markets, and challenges, and the dizzying rate of change itself.” – Warren Bennis

So there you have it! Next time you are on an airplane or at a family reunion, you are now equipped with a solid definition of Organization Development!
P.S. and for those of you out there wondering…it is organization development – not organizational development. Our field’s founders will thank you!

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One comment on “OD: The Field of Organization Development Defined
  1. Nice find. It’s interesting how times have changed. Some old-time OD folks decry how change management has turned OD from a values-driven profession that cared most about the fulfillment of the workers and then about profits to a scientific, top-down force to conform workers to the needs of technology-driven processes.

    Of course, we know that most of our consulting is top-down, whether it comes from the top of an organization or the top of a department. But isn’t it refreshing when we learn about little revolutions from the middle, such as the infusion of a results-oriented workp environment led by two HR professionals at Best Buy! (See the cover article in Businessweek on December 11, 2006 for a nice telling of that story.)

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