As is the case for many professions, the practice of OD is dynamic and evolves over time as it matures and responds to the changing nature of the disciplines within which it operates and the changing demands of the marketplace.
However, OD’s focus on improving the health and effectiveness of organizations remains constant. Using a system lens, the OD practice concentrates on developing organizations’ capabilities through the alignment of strategies, structure, management processes, people, rewards and metrics by supporting people and strengthening the alignment of strategies, organizational structures, management processes, rewards and metrics.
One classic definition of OD comes from Richard Beckhard’s 1969 Organizational Development: Strategies and Models. According to Beckhard (1969), “Organizational Development is an effort that is:
- Managed from the top
- Increases an organization’s effectiveness and health
- Executed through planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes’ using behavioral-science knowledge.”
This definition describes a diagnostic model of OD. Many practitioners would suggest that it is no longer viable or the preferred approach to sustainable changes in organizations. The complexity of contemporary organizations and rapid change challenge the ability to plan and manage from the top. Increasingly, OD practitioners are using approaches that create opportunities for the system, within which they practice, to examine itself and opportunities for change to emerge, rather than working towards defined outcomes. This is reflected in the dialogic form of OD. Gervase Bushe & Robert Marshak’s 2015 Dialogic Organizational Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change identify similarities between the Diagnostic and Dialogic Forms of OD:
- Both have strong humanistic and democratic values
- Both encourage and facilitate greater system awareness
- Consultants for both focus on process, not content
- Both encourage capacity-building and the development of the system.