Organization Development (OD) Interventions

OD is the most talked about HR stuffs lately. What is OD? It is Organization Development. It’s very popular in the western corporations 20-25 years ago and currently making strong momentum to this part of the world. What is OD really? Here’s the classic definition that I gathered from OD Network website:


“Organization Development is an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, and (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organizations “processes,” using behavioral-science knowledge.”

Mouthful? Let me offer you the gist of it. OD’s end game is to make the organization stay relevant and sustainable. When you read up about OD, you can’t help but notice that all the interventions are indeed very good for any company, however it will involve one major theme; change. Who doesn’t need change? We all need to change right? This is where a careful selection and prioritization of the interventions are very crucial.

Why OD is popular lately? I personally think many have realized that to make big change one cannot do incremental improvement or simply tweaking here and there. Big change requires big change. I also feel that OD is not just for business, it’s approach and concept can be applied to countries. Take for example OD-like programmes; Malaysian Vision 2020 and recent Government Transformation Programme (GTP). It’s a matter of scale and of course budget. It’s just a tool or thinking structure. Just like Porter’s Five Forces, where it was first used for industry competitiveness tool now being use for nation’s competitiveness tool. They are brilliant tools – you should try.

I am fortunate to have involved in several OD interventions and programs. Because there aren’t many projects around, being in a few considered very lucky! Change in OD can be likened to a “make-over” or “overhauling” the engine of a car. And in OD case – while doing that the engine is still running! You don’t want to break the company in the name of intellectual ideals and you shouldn’t conform to legacies and leakages that is dragging the organization. Balance is key.

In any OD program, it usually covers process, people and technology; I hope I don’t oversimplify. What I found missing is on the people side in OD. It’s sad, because OD suppose to see that people is the enabler and primary driver. This got to change. While OD interventions should be humanistic ideally, the people interventions somehow get trimmed during implementation. Often organizations resort OD interventions to business process improvement and allow me to use reengineering exercise. I think a lot of businesses now realize that to keep staffs happy and performing cost a lot of resources. At the same time, innovation and edge is also achieved through people; so you need people to “be in your organization”. I think organizations should start retaining staffs, really retaining them on board.

I know that many organizations have retaining and retention plans in their management closet. Yes, pun intended. We talked about retaining, we did detailed analyses and competitiveness reports, rounds of debates on strategies but as we know many of us are bad finishers. There is a dire need to change. OD should be the starting point to start over – and you should get everyone on board to support it.

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved”

Here how OD interventions and programs can benefit you and your organization:

1. Productive and Effective

> OD starts with situation analysis and assessment of where you are. At the reporting stage, you will realize what you are good at and what you are not good doing. It’s always good to make productiveness and effectiveness as the overarching goals; some use excellence. It means whatever you think of and change has to contribute one way or the other to that goals. Ask a lot of questions on how to make things better; regardless who is holding the fort. No organization can depend on one person or a genius. Find ways to make integrative-collaboration across the board.


2. Realizing Potentials

> Because your goals are productiveness and effectiveness, you are very likely to optimize your resources. Potentials here mean your people, business units and market. Like I said earlier, some OD programs end up resort to cost cutting and lay-offs; this isn’t OD. OD should see the gaps as opportunities to build new capabilities through re-skilling, rotating, training, building leaders and rethinking the whole thing. You got to set new benchmark and tear off all the artificial boundaries. Innovation should be part of the total equation. Look in all areas; HR, finance, systems, supply chain, marketing, production and etc..


3. Relevant and Sustainable

> The payoff of OD is a handsomely relevant and sustainable business. One of the projects I was in was with a family-owned plantation. The owners feel the organization should go beyond them and with the current economy, there’s a need to relook at everything. The thinking starts from, what is our business and what we want to be in 15-20 years from now. The good thing is the owners themselves are visionary so it’s a lot easier for us to visualize success and get feedbacks. Not to mention support when things come to shove or resistance from ground.


Whilst OD programs can last up to 5-8 years, I personally feel we should start small. Perhaps have a 3 years plan. Always have that OD mindset at the back of your mind; seeing things in totality and try to understand how each part of the organization works; together. It’s pointless to have a nice plan that failed to launch. Next, we have to start making that change immediate. We should keep doing things that we are good at, and find ways to cut on things that drag us down – no matter how difficult it can be; there’s always a way out.

I also must caution that OD program is a tedious, administrative and provocative in nature. I suggest top management to embrace that change and bite the bullet for the sake of the people and organization that you lead. You have the fiduciary duties and responsibilities to fulfil; stop making excuses. Do or do not, there’s no try. 😉

p/s: FYI companies that have done OD (through case studies that I encountered) are Kraft Foods, SmithKline Beecham, Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, AMD and Sonoco.

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