Organization development (OD) can be defined as a systematic process, a planned effort, a set of precise interventions implemented by organizations to (a) increase organizational effectiveness and well-being, (b) enhance organizational performance and employees’ development, and (c) improve corporate ability to achieve strategic aims by implementing and managing successful and effective organizational changes through people.
OD also constitutes a field of research—theoretical and practical—relevant to corporate reputation practitioners claiming their contribution to organizational success and their strategic role in managing organizational critical processes such as developing a strong relationship network or strengthening corporate reputation.
This entry first explores the historical development of OD by highlighting the different approaches of analysis and by exploring its main characteristics; then, it discusses a specific area of application by examining the link between OD and organizational change management; and, finally, it explores the theoretical and practical implications of OD for organizational reputation.
Starting from the 1950s, the term organization development has been explored in diverse disciplinary areas, and it has been an object of discussion for theorists and practitioners who gave definitions for the term with different nuances. Two main approaches used to define OD have emerged: (1) a functionalist perspective, from one side, and (2) a more humanistic approach, from the other one.
The first formal definition of OD was provided by Richard Beckhard in the 1960s. Beckhard adopted a functionalist and behavioral viewpoint and described OD as a planned, organization-wide effort based on systematic interventions, managed by the C-suite with the aim of improving organizational effectiveness by way of knowledge of behavioral science. This perspective denotes a mechanistic view of organizing that was typical of the first period of OD history and its conceptual development.
A second approach to OD is linked to a gradual dismissal of Fordism, the system of standardized mass production named after industrialist Henry Ford, and its positivistic view of organizing to make space for a more humanistic approach. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Wendell French and Cecil Bell posited an emphasis on a collaborative view of OD, considered as a long-term and all-embracing effort increasingly based on an organizational cooperative culture, necessary to improve organizational problem solving and renewal processes. This definition mirrors the second phase of OD history beginning in the 1980s, during which theorists developed a values-driven approach to OD, focused more on the relevant role of organizational members in accomplishing successful organizational initiatives and managing changes. New concepts such as organizational culture, corporate values, team building, and individual development have been introduced within the OD field.
Both perspectives are useful for analyzing OD development and implementation within modern organizations. The functionalist viewpoint according to which OD can be considered as a recursive and systematic approach, based on a continuous-diagnosis, action-planning, implementation, and evaluation process, provides organizations with useful insights to manage OD programs effectively in order to solve problems linked to organizational changes.
At the same time, OD programs need to adopt a more humanistic approach that can facilitate the acceptance of changes by organizational members. Organizations should take into account personal needs and expectations, individual cultures, and employees’ abilities and potentialities to address systematic processes and initiatives to (a) favor the sharing of knowledge among employees, (b) stimulate the development of their personal and professional skills, and (c) enable the internalizations of organizational culture and renewed values, with the final aim being to encourage collaboration and cooperation during OD initiatives.
Once the OD concept has been defined, it is possible to synthesize its main characteristics as follows: result orientation, multilevel target, line management responsibility, organizational background development, twofold strategy, and collaborative approach.
The most important aim of OD is to improve the organizational effectiveness level by focusing on those procedures that synchronize whole systems or interconnected parts of an organization. More specifically, in this regard, Michael Beer assesses that OD programs are implemented when organizations need to achieve specific results such as (a) improving connections and coherence between organizational structure, strategic process, and operational decisions, and employees, cultures, and values; (b) detecting and developing innovative solutions to organizational problems; and (c) increasing the organization’s capability to renew itself.
Organizations could decide to address an OD plan and procedure to different target groups identified at diverse levels of organizational structure and hierarchy. OD can involve the whole organization, distinct departments, cross-functional teams, or single individuals within organizations.
Line Management Responsibility.
Line managers, who play the role of facilitators and coaches during the implementation process, should manage OD programs.
Organizational Background Development.
To implement successful OD programs, organizations need to develop a suitable organizational background by focusing on two main elements characterizing the context where an OD process can run: organizational climate and culture. Organizational climate includes attitudes and beliefs about organizational practices that could affect employees’ behaviors. Organizational culture is made up of those assumptions, values, and behavioral norms and patterns spread by the organization and shared by its members.
Twofold Strategy and Collaborative Approach
To achieve OD aims, a twofold strategy could be implemented: (1) a long-range strategy for managing those programs that require time to implement the necessary and planned changes within organizations and (2) a quick-response strategy that allows organizations to adapt themselves to the dynamic and changing environment where they operate. Furthermore, those who manage OD programs usually adopt a collaborative approach, based on the development of shared and common values, attitudes, norms, and management practices.
Organization Development and Change Management
The disciplinary area of change and innovation management represents one of the major theoretical applications of OD. OD principles and methods have experienced a revitalization process, thanks to the development of the change management field. OD can be considered the framework for a change process that is planned to generate suitable and positive results for organizations, stakeholders, and the environment. OD can support organizations in managing relationships effectively between and among different working groups and unit levels, and it also helps those individuals and groups involved in initiating and managing organizational change.
By implementing OD programs to stimulate and facilitate change initiatives, organizations could face different problems, such as the organizational inertia phenomenon linked to the resistance to change enacted by employees who do not understand the causes for the change and who do not accept the change and the organizational intentions. In such a situation, organizations should set clear and measurable objectives. They also need to identify professionals with competencies and abilities suitable to play the role of facilitators and motivators of organizational employees, who could facilitate the acceptance and understanding of changing processes and favor the achievement of developmental targets.
Implications for Corporate Reputation
Although OD theory and adoption have received limited attention in corporate reputation research, it is possible to identify areas of common interest between the two disciplinary areas, which can also be relevant for corporate reputation.
Based on a review of the OD concept and characteristics, there are three main OD research areas concerning which corporate reputation managers could strategically contribute to improve OD programs’ efficiency and efficacy and to accomplish the success of organizational initiatives. These areas are also linked to the development and management of corporate reputation. The three areas are (1) organizational relationships management, (2) value definition and sharing, and (3) change and innovation management.
Organizational Relationships Management
Relationships between individuals and organizations are considered a key element within an OD program. In this case, the contribution of communication professionals consists of managing and cultivating such relationships by conducting a continuous listening activity to include stakeholders’ needs and expectations in corporate decisions and to involve them by creating a long-lasting system of interconnected partnerships. By developing continuous and strong interactions with their stakeholders, organizations can exploit the opportunity to build trusted relationships that possibly represent a form of guarantee against reputational risk.
Values Definition and Sharing
OD programs are increasingly based on humanistic values that should be shared by individuals. With regard to this process, the contribution of communication professionals consists of spreading organizations’ values and organizational mission and positioning them and their significance within the minds of internal stakeholders with the aim of obtaining legitimacy to operate and getting stakeholders’ support in achieving organizational goals. Communication plays its strategic role in shaping organizational reputation and enabling the implementation of strategic corporate decisions.
Change and Innovation Management
Concerning the implementation of organizational changes linked to OD programs, the role of communication is twofold. From one side, communication professionals help organizations in interpreting internal and external contextual trends and dynamics, in detecting strategic opportunities and favorable contingencies, and in providing new strategic suggestions for the organization. From the other side, communication professionals support management in stimulating organizational members’ and partners’ creative and innovative potential to encourage their collaboration and their ability to actively support the organization’s changing patterns and processes by providing personal opinions. In this way, organizational members are more oriented to comprehend, accept, and endorse organizational change and development and to contribute in improving organizational reputation.
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