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This chapter is from the book

Definitions

In the consultation, I used OD methodology and approached the situation from an OD perspective. The methodological model for OD is action research; data on the nature of certain problems are systematically collected and then action is taken as a function of what the analyzed data indicate. The specific techniques used within this methodological model (few of which are unique to OD) were as follows:

  1. Diagnosis. Interview both individuals and groups, observe the situation, then analyze and organize the data collected.
  2. Feedback. Report back to those from whom the data were obtained on the organization’s collective sense of the organizational problems.
  3. Discussion. Analyze what the data mean and then plan the steps to be taken as a consequence.
  4. Action. Take those steps.

In OD language, taking a step is making an intervention into the routine way in which the organization operates. In the consultation case, there were three primary interventions: team building with the division general manager and the five functional heads who reported directly to him, intergroup conflict resolution between the engineering and manufacturing groups, and team building with the top team of the manufacturing group.

The case does not qualify as an effort in OD because it meets only two of the three criteria for OD as they have been defined (Burke & Hornstein, 1972, p. xviii). For change in an organization to be OD, it must (1) respond to an actual and perceived need for change on the part of the client, (2) involve the client in the planning and implementation of the change, and (3) lead to change in the organization’s culture.

As a consultant, I was able to meet the first two criteria, but not the third. For cultural change to have taken place in this case, the reward system would have to have been modified. The bias presented in this book is that organization development is a process of fundamental change in an organization’s culture. By fundamental change, as opposed to fixing a problem or improving a procedure, we mean that some significant aspect of an organization’s culture will never be the same. In the case described, it was the reward system. In another case, it might be a change in the organization’s management style, requiring new forms of exercising authority, which in turn would lead to different conformity patterns because new norms would be established, especially in decision making.

Now that we have jumped from a specific case to more general concepts, perhaps we should slow down and define some terms. Any organization, like any society, has its own unique culture. A given culture consists of many elements, but the primary element is the unique pattern of norms, standards, or rules of conduct to which members conform. Other significant elements of an organization’s culture are its authority structure and way of exercising power, values, rewards and way of dispensing them, and communication patterns.

Our definition of culture emphasizes norms and values because doing so gives us an operational understanding of culture: conforming patterns of behavior. Norms can be changed. The changed behavior is a different conformity. This position, albeit perhaps limited, is nevertheless consistent with Kurt Lewin’s thinking concerning change in a social system (Lewin, 1958; see Chapter 3, “Where Did Organization Development Come From?,” of this book).

Edgar Schein (1985) defines culture at a deeper (emphasis added) level, as

  • basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously, and that define in a basic “taken-for-granted” fashion an organization’s view of itself and its environment. These assumptions and beliefs are learned responses to a group’s problems of internal integration. They come to be taken for granted because they solve those problems repeatedly and reliably. This deeper level of assumptions is to be distinguished from the “artifacts” and “values” that are manifestations or surface levels of the culture but not the essence of the culture (pp. 6–7).

According to Schein’s definition, I—as the consultant in the manufacturing case—was dealing with surface levels. And this is true—almost. The OD practitioner’s job is to elicit from the client implicit norms, those conforming patterns that are ubiquitous but are just below the surface, not salient. These behaviors are manifestations of basic assumptions and beliefs as Schein notes, and may not be the essence but constitute more operational means for dealing with organizational change. These issues concerning covert data are addressed in Chapter 8, “Understanding Organizations: Covert Processes.”

At the outset of an organization consultation, it is practically impossible for an OD practitioner to deal with data other than fairly superficial behavior. To discover the essence of organizational culture, the practitioner must establish not only good rapport with members of the client organization, but also a sound basis for trust. If organization members are reluctant or even unwilling to talk openly, the OD practitioner may never discover the true culture. To find out why its members behave the way they do, the OD practitioner must therefore truly engage the client organization’s members. This is done by asking discerning and helpful questions and by showing genuine interest in the members as people and in what they do, what they are responsible for, what their problems are, and what helps or hinders them from making the kind of contribution they want to make as well as what will be beneficial to the organization. Engaging people in this way is an intervention into the organization, not simply observation.

Schein (1991) terms this form of organizational consultation and research clinical research. He maintains that one cannot understand the culture of an organization via the traditional scientific model; that is, making observations and gathering data without disturbing the situation. It is practically impossible to collect data without disturbing the situation. The classic Hawthorne studies, as Schein appropriately points out, demonstrated rather clearly that changes observed were due more to the researcher’s presence than to any of the other modifications in the workers’ environment; for example, change in lighting.

Schein’s point, therefore, is this: To discover the essence of culture, the practitioner must interact with the client—ask questions, test hypotheses, and provide helpful suggestions. He states that “once the helping relationship exists, the possibilities for learning what really goes on in organizations are enormous if we learn to take advantage of them and if we learn to be good and reliable observers of what is going on” (p. 5).

In summary, the OD practitioner begins with asking about and observing norms and values in the client organization. Inherent in this process is building rapport and trust with the client organization as well as testing the values and norms presented and observed. Gradually, then, the OD practitioner becomes clearer about the essence of the culture and can sort out what needs to be maintained, if not strengthened, and what needs to change.

For an organization to develop (see definitions of development in the opening paragraph of this chapter), then, change must occur, but this does not mean that any change will do. Using the term development to mean change does not, for example, mean growth. Russell Ackoff’s distinction is quite useful and relevant to our understanding of what the D in OD means:

  • Growth can take place with or without development (and vice versa). For example, a cemetery can grow without developing; so can a rubbish heap. A nation, corporation, or an individual can develop without growing.... [Development] is an increase in capacity and potential, not an increase in attainment.... It has less to do with how much one has than with how much one can do with whatever one has (Ackoff, 1981: 34–35).

OD, therefore, is a process of bringing to the surface those implicit behavioral patterns that are helping and hindering development. Bringing these patterns of conformity to organization members’ conscious awareness puts them in a position to reinforce the behaviors that help development and change those that hinder. OD practitioners help clients to help themselves.

More specifically, OD practitioners are concerned with change that integrates individual needs with organizational goals more fully; change that improves an organization’s effectiveness through better utilization of resources, especially human resources; and change that involves organization members more in the decisions that directly affect them and their working conditions.

At least by implication and occasionally directly, we shall define OD several times throughout this book. The following general definition provides a starting point: Organization development is a planned process of change in an organization’s culture through the utilization of behavioral science technologies, research, and theory.

What if an organization’s culture does not need any change? Then OD is neither relevant nor appropriate. Organization development is not all things to all organizations. It is useful only when some fundamental change is needed. Then how does one recognize when fundamental change is needed? Perhaps the clearest sign is when the same kinds of problems keep occurring. No sooner does one problem get solved than another just like it surfaces. Another sign is when a variety of techniques is used to increase productivity, for example, and none seems to work. Yet another is when morale among employees is low and the cause can be attributed to no single factor. These are but a few signs. The point is that OD ultimately is a process of getting at organizational root causes, not just treating symptoms.

To be clear: Much of what is called OD is the use of OD techniques—off-site team building, training, facilitation of ad hoc meetings; providing private and individual feedback to managers and executives; and so on—but not in our purist definition. According to our definition, organization development provides fundamental change in the way things are done, modifying the essence of organizational culture. Many, perhaps most, practitioners, therefore, are conducting sessions and processes that rely on OD technology—and that’s fine. But using OD techniques is not necessarily providing organization development.

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