One good way to understand organizational development is by looking at organizational development examples.
Looking at real-world examples can also help us:
- Learn why organizational development is important
- Learn how organizational development is different from organizational change
- Learn when to implement each approach
Let’s start with a basic definition of organizational development.
Organizational Development: Just the Basics
What is organizational development and why does it matter?
Organizational development refers to…
- Long-term approaches to changing culture, beliefs, and values.
- Improvements to the organization’s processes, strategies, and practices.
- Systematic approaches to organizational change.
Depending on who you talk to, the nuanced definition may vary.
Organizational Development Examples
Organizational development projects can include ongoing, long-term programs such as:
- Employee training. Employee training is essential, especially in the digital business environment. Workers need to stay competent and productive. And, as lifelong learning becomes more of a reality, this means continual training initiatives.
- Product research and development. The development of new services, products, and ideas can change the nature of a business. However, these programs often take years to come to fruition.
- Cultural change campaigns. Culture matters – it affects an organization’s productivity, agility, performance, and many other things. Aligning culture with an organization’s mission is often a long-term, continual effort.
Now, let’s look at a few real-world organizational development examples:
- Amazon’s recent initiative to retrain and upskill its employees. The online retail giant recently committed to spending $700 million on retraining its workers. This forward-thinking project will help its own employees stay resilient in the years to come. It will also help the business develop employee training programs that keep the company relevant, modern, and cutting-edge.
- Google’s culture of learning. According to a former Google executive, a culture that emphasizes learning is important to long-term business growth. A culture of learning is essential for businesses that continually grow and transform, such as Google.
- Starbucks’ environmental initiatives. The well-known coffee company introduced a variety of environmentally-friendly initiatives that include recycling, paper cup reduction, energy consumption, and so on. Naturally, these long-term changes will positively impact the environment. But they will also improve the company’s image and its bottom line.
- Walmart’s long-term digital transformation programs. It’s no secret that Amazon and other online retailers have put pressure on Walmart to transform. The US retailer has responded by engaging in complex, long-term digital transformation efforts. These include a variety of digital adoption programs, the introduction of new customer services, and more.
Programs such as these may be called “organizational development” by some.
Others may refer to them as “organizational change” programs.
So which is correct?
Organizational Development vs. Organizational Change
There is definitely overlap between organizational development and organizational change.
Some professionals may even claim that the difference is just semantics.
However, the difference between the two is often a matter of degree…
Organizational development is focused on long-term, “evolutionary” changes.
Organizational change programs can be considered short-term, “revolutionary” changes.
That is, organizational change programs are often viewed as:
- Short-term. However, short-term is relative – organizational change initiatives can take weeks, months, or years. At a certain point, the lines between organizational development and organizational change will blur.
- Transformative. Organizational development projects are often gradual and less obtrusive. However, when faster change is necessary, an organization will often make changes that completely transform current processes or practices.
- Disruptive. Such transformative changes are often disruptive. They may displace workers, change job duties, and so on. The resulting disruption can be difficult for many employees, which frequently results in employee resistance. Mitigating such resistance is a key focus of change management.
To highlight the difference between change and development, let’s look at some more examples.
Organizational Change Examples
While long-term organizational development projects may not be noticeable to outside observers, short-term change projects often are.
Here are some examples:
- Mergers and acquisitions. When two businesses join forces, there are often drastic, overnight changes. These can include rebranding, restructuring, job displacement, rapid cultural changes, and more.
- Rebranding. To stay modern and relevant, many businesses will engage in rebranding efforts. Typically, these changes occur quickly, through the introduction of new logos, new branding assets, a new brand image, and so on.
- Digital adoption. A company that adopts new digital technology will often make a quick transition to a new set of tools. Digital adoption is becoming more and more common in today’s digitizing economy.
Changes such as these are often driven by the same causes as organizational development projects.
Such drivers of change can include:
- Competitive pressure
- Changing industry paradigms
- Customer demand
- Growth opportunities
And so on.
Final Thoughts: “Change” vs. “Develop”
Should an organization engage in short-term disruptive change?
Or long-term development?
Many factors contribute to this decision, including:
- The level of urgency
- The business’s strategic imperatives
- The marketplace
- The nature of the required change
As we have seen, there is certainly overlap between “organizational development” and “organizational change.”
However, in today’s fast-paced economy, speed is an asset.
The faster an organization can initiate, implement, and complete changes, the better it will be able to adjust to the demands of today’s ever-changing economy.
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