Organisation Development

by Rosie Stevens

Developing an OD strategy

If you are reading this, it is likely that you will have some interest in OD, either because your organisation is in the process of developing an OD strategy or has already done so, or because you are or have been asked to be in some way involved in the development of a strategy or to be a participant in the diagnostic stage.

The cost

There is inevitably a cost to the significant investment of time, resources and development (of both the strategies and people) that is involved and this is often used as a reason or an excuse not to start developing an OD strategy. However, research shows that this investment does pay off for organisations, provided that

  • The leaders of the organisation are totally committed to it and are clear what they want it to achieve
  • It is communicated well and people at all levels are consulted throughout the process and have the opportunity to participate and be involved
  • The resource is made available (and is not suddenly withdrawn)
  • The organisation employs a good OD specialist (either internal or external)
  • A highly effective diagnosis is conducted
  • The strategy that is subsequently developed is delivered over a realistic timescale (in other words, not overnight but over a period of months and years)
  • Its impact is reviewed and evaluated periodically against the agreed expected achievements and outcomes and within agreed timescales.

Getting started

The development of an OD strategy should always start first and foremost with the appointment of an expert in OD – either someone appointed internally, normally as Head or Director of OD, or an external OD consultant. See Employing OD Consultants.

The Organisation Development Strategy should then begin with a very thorough organisational diagnosis. This is a long-term, sustained change effort. It should not be rushed through, nor should people’s expectations be raised by the experience of a widespread diagnosis, involving a wide range of stakeholders, only to be dashed when the project is abandoned because it might all take too long or it seems too difficult. The very act of involving people in the diagnosis will raise expectations and hopes that things are going to be different and that people will themselves be involved in getting there.

Once you have started, you are in it for the long haul! This is not to say that nothing will change quickly: some significant short-term gains can be made by focusing efforts on priority areas and by delivering highly effective interventions. The more people you are able to involve, the more momentum will be gained and the higher the commitment and motivation levels.

The diagnosis

An OD strategy should focus primarily on helping the organisation to meet and deliver its stated purpose, vision and values. These are thus the starting point of the diagnosis. Many organisational change efforts or development activities are aimed mainly at affecting behavioural change, but unless those leading the change consider what the organisation is ultimately trying to achieve and what values are important in delivering that, the behavioural changes are likely to be short-lived.

Suggested headings and a number of question areas under which to conduct a diagnosis are given in this list of diagnosis questions. The list of questions and areas to address is very extensive and you may not need to include all of these by any means. Many organisations are acutely aware of their strengths and shortcomings and know on which areas they need to focus immediate attention. It is fairly critical, however, to revisit (or develop) Vision, Mission and Purpose and Values in the first instance, so that you can then make sure that everything below supports their delivery.

It is also advisable to beware of falling into the ‘assumptions trap’: while an organisation may be well aware of the areas it needs to address, you may be missing a wealth of data and information if you take it for granted that what you are being told is the whole story. It won’t be. It will be the perspective of maybe just one or very many people, but it will mainly be that – a perspective or perspectives – and people easily influence each other’s perspectives until these come to be seen as fact.

You should involve as many people as you can in the diagnostic phase, through conducting individual sessions, collective sessions (including time with the top team and various management and staff groups throughout the organisation) and through large-scale conferences and/or large group interventions, which aim to bring as much of the whole system as possible together at one time.

Note

Although the diagnosis is placed in the context of a whole organisation, the headline areas and many of the questions themselves are equally legitimate if you have just taken over a whole department, or even a team. In these cases, you need to ensure that the purpose of the team, vision, values and so on fit within the framework of the organisation’s purpose, vision and values.

After the diagnosis

Once you or the person conducting the diagnosis has all the information, it should be pulled together, analysed and key themes highlighted. Inevitably, there are always some things that come out in various guises again and again, but it is still useful to do a thorough quantitative as well as qualitative summary. For an OD strategy to be effective and have credibility, it is also wise to share the findings from the diagnosis as widely as possible and, essentially, with the organisation’s leaders and managers, as they will play a vital role in helping to develop the OD strategy and ensuring that people are developed accordingly. It may very well be that the person leading on OD will need to involve the organisation’s managers in some further prioritisation of key areas to address first and favoured options in terms of approach and interventions.

There may be recommendations around a whole range of systems and processes that do not strictly come under the banner of OD, but it must be remembered that Organisation Development is about developing the capacity, capability and potential of the organisation and the people within it, so a watchful eye needs to be kept on other areas that need to develop alongside the OD strategy.

Note

If what transpires from the diagnosis is that there are no clear organisational Vision, Mission and Purpose or Values, then these must be the starting point, as any interventions developed without this clarity will not work in the long run.