Organisation Development

by Rosie Stevens

Introduction

Why does OD exist?

How did it come to be important to today’s organisations?

Organisations today are increasingly faced with significant, substantial and constant change, which seems to come at them from all directions. In fact, within our lives generally, we cannot escape the pace of change nor the challenges and uncertainties that it inevitably brings.

The trick, both for individuals and organisations, is to equip ourselves far enough in advance not only to cope with changes, but to ensure that we literally thrive on and from them. If we don’t, we are unable to keep up and are likely to lose out to those who do, both in business and as individuals.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, and again in the 1990s, particular – and significant – industries and businesses found themselves ill-equipped to keep up with the level of global, economic and technological change and many found themselves in the unenviable position of not being able to survive at all. The words ‘redundancy’, ‘downsizing’ and ‘rationalisation’, to name but a few, became dreaded but commonplace.

The concept of ‘a job for life’ disappeared alarmingly quickly and many experienced at first hand the devastating impact of seeing people who had trained for and worked in one job and industry alone for 20 to 30 years losing their jobs, their trade and their life as they knew it, along with their pride and self respect, in the toll of increasing redundancies, reorganisations and ‘re-engineering’. They were totally lost and shattered and found themselves having to undergo significant re-training and/or drops in salary and wages.

Organisational leaders had often not seen change coming or, if they had, had found themselves ill–equipped to deal with it. They felt helpless, as the tide turned so very quickly, the waves of change coming from every direction as the invasion of technology swept them away.

‘Whole systems thinking’, ‘transformational leadership’ and ‘transformational change’ had not been heard widely throughout the world, but some of the more enlightened organisations and leaders had started to explore different and new ways of leading and of planning through engaging ‘the whole system’ in change. They came to know and understand the importance and value of genuinely involving their people, of doing things differently and of developing their people more broadly, as well as recognising the role that inspirational and motivational leadership plays in the ultimate bottom line of delivering improved performance.

Human Resources, Human Resources Management and Human Resources Development had emerged as disciplines and specialisms in their own right, but something else was needed that could help pull together the strategic, synchronised and holistic development of the whole organisation, its leaders and people. This new approach would

  • Help organisations to design and deliver transformational change
  • Enable leaders to develop strategies that would ensure that their organisation and its people would be flexible enough to face, plan, adapt to, deliver and positively thrive on change and new ways of working in the future
  • Prepare them to deliver continually improving, competitive and innovative products, services and performance.

Organisation Development had started to emerge as a discipline and a professional specialism to facilitate the delivery of those things.