“All improvement begins with the identification of a problem”.
These words were spoken by Mazaaki Imai, Founder of the Kaizen Institute in Japan.
“Kaizen” means improvement. Literally translated, it’s “change” (kai) “for the better” (zen). And this quote should be a source of inspiration for anyone working in human and organizational development.
But whose responsibility is it to improve human development within an organization? Is it the HR manager’s? The change manager’s? The CEO’s? Or perhaps it’s an internal communications problem?
In siloed corporate environments, it can be a challenge to assign an appropriate solution to a problem — particularly when it involves people. Because people are the foundation for all business processes, performance, and problems.
What is human and organizational development?
We could be talking about two different but interrelated things here: human resources (HR) and organizational development (OD).
Both functions deal with people, that’s true. But they’ve developed in very different ways and to do distinct things.
Traditionally, HR focuses on the efficient management of the employment process. That includes everything from recruitment to termination. HR also helps organizations to comply with employment-related legislation.
HR typically acts separately to but in support of other business units. As a result, in many organizations, HR is very process driven and utilitarian in nature.
OD was developed based on behavioral science. As a discipline, its purpose is to help organizations improve their individual employees and systems. In other words, OD makes people work better within an enterprise context.
OD represents directed, meaningful, positive change. And this is how it’s connected to change management.
So, it looks as though it’s the responsibility of the OD manager to improve human development within an organization. But what if there isn’t an OD manager?
Blending HR and OD together
HR and OD have always been interrelated.
For instance, the long-term organizational development plan of an enterprise might include corporate restructure, or the creation of new departments or positions. HR would be responsible for filling roles and processing promotions or redundancies.
But in recent years, the activities of HR and OD have blended together significantly within many organizations. The result of this amalgamation of functions is often referred to as “strategic HR”.
Strategic HR provides many of the business solutions and strategies developed by OD. It’s normal to see HR professionals engaging in OD and change management exercises these days, not just their traditional HR compliance-related services.
Studying human and organizational development
This blurring of the lines between both disciplines has led to being able to study them together. At some institutions, human and organizational development is actually offered as a major.
“The Human and Organizational Development (HOD) major is designed for students interested in careers that involve finding solutions to human problems in organizations and communities.” Vanderbilt University
The human and organizational development course at Vanderbilt University provides students “with the skills and knowledge [they] need to succeed in a people-oriented organizational role.”
These skills include:
- An understanding of the basic principles and typical patterns of human development — with a view to providing leadership and facilitating decision making in organizational settings.
- Application of quantitative and qualitative data-gathering and analysis skills to define and plan solutions to applied problems.
- An understanding of the ethical dimensions of personal and organizational decisions.
- Aptitude with organizational theories and their applications.
- Effective management, supervision, and organizational development and program planning skills (including needs assessment, goal setting, program development, and evaluation).
A course like this provides a good foundation in the general area of human and organizational development. But further study would be required to gain a thorough understanding of the complexities of the discipline in a vocational context.
Working in human and organizational development
Graduates of such a degree might go on to careers in HR departments, as management consultants, or any other role that necessitates a good thorough grasp of human behavior.
But working in human and organizational development usually manifests in the following ways. There might be:
- a human resources team that performs organizational development activities;
- a human resources team that uses an OD consultant;
- a human resources team, an OD function, and a human and organizational development consultant (as in the video below).
It doesn’t really matter what the setup looks like, as long as the focus is right. “Our goal,” says Matt Wride, COO of DecisionWise, “should be to improve the people-side of business, regardless of who is helping to advance that cause.”
“Rather than trying to segregate things by who does what, the better course is to make sure that practitioners understand and appreciate when they are applying OD to solve a problem and what problems require an OD solution as opposed to an HR solution.” Matt Wride, COO DecisionWise
Some final words
Whether you call it human and organizational development, strategic HR, or something else, the benefits these activities bring to today’s businesses cannot be overstated.
“In today’s modern service economy, the ability to win is dependent more on how an organization’s talent performs than on historical factors such as market share, access to raw materials, or logistical prowess. Matt Wride, COO DecisionWise
In 2019 and beyond, winning organizations will be those that approach business problems with a focus on people and behavioral science. In doing so, they can overcome the usual barriers to organizational change.