The Best PhD – Organizational Development or Change Management?

Which is the right PhD – organizational development or change management?

Both of these degrees offer excellent skills, knowledge, and career potential. Yet each has its own emphasis and each lends itself to a different career path.

Below, we’ll learn about these two PhD choices in detail – and the best way to start is by understanding the difference between these two fields.

What Is Organizational Development?

Organizational development is a business discipline that focuses on improving organizational effectiveness and performance over time.

To make those improvements, practitioners in this field focus on areas such as:

  • Organizational climate. A company’s climate could be considered its “personality,” or its atmosphere, which are influenced by a range of factors, from business processes to the culture itself.
  • Organizational culture. When organizational development specialists engage in organizational culture change, they aim to improve business performance by focusing on areas such as employees’ beliefs, values, and behaviors.
  • Organizational strategies. Organizational strategies must also change over time in order to stay aligned with the business landscape, customer needs, technology-driven change, and more. Ensuring that those strategies align with organizational needs is yet another way business professionals can optimize business performance.

Organizational development shares much in common with change management.

Both, for instance, aim to improve organizational performance and draw heavily from theories such as the Lewin change management model.

There are, however, important distinctions to keep in mind when comparing organizational development to change management.

What Is Change Management?

Change management practitioners design, coordinate, and execute organizational change initiatives and organizational transformation programs.

In general, change managers focus on managing specific change projects, both large and small, rather than on ongoing improvement programs.

Change managers focus on:

  • The human element. Many change management professionals focus on earning employee support and reducing resistance to change. Since employees are the ones implementing change projects, after all, it is important to find ways to keep them motivated and engaged.
  • Designing and planning change projects. Change managers will often take on the duties of project managers by working with stakeholders to create roadmaps for a change project, which will include goals, milestones, timelines, and other information pertinent to a plan.
  • Conducting and enhancing project performance. Change management professionals will also be the ones responsible for managing change projects, assessing their performance, and making changes as needed.

Change management, in general, is a more popular term than organizational development and there tends to be more overall agreement over the definition of change management.

Though there is clearly a significant overlap between the two fields, it is important to understand the distinction – especially for those considering a PhD in organizational development or change management.

Choosing a PhD: Organizational Development vs. Change Management

The most important point to note is that each degree will emphasize its own approach to organizational improvement, as we saw above.

Here are a few other questions to consider when comparing the two:

Which approach is most common in my region?

As mentioned above, change management as a term is more popular than organizational development.

That being said, organizational development is used more often in certain parts of the world, such as Africa.

The popularity of this term should be taken into consideration, though it should not be the deciding factor.

After all, job skills, not terms, are often more important to hiring managers and business leaders.

Which career path do I prefer the most?

For most people, this is the question that supersedes all others.

Both degrees and professions, as mentioned, cover much of the same territory, but each has its own emphasis.

Change managers, for instance, will often involve more short- and medium-term tasks, such as project management, data-driven business processes, and digital transformation.

Organizational development professionals, however, will often take a longer-term approach that focuses on talent management, the employee experience, organizational strategy, and leadership.

What options are available to me?

Location may be a limitation for some.

Recently, though, many schools offer online degrees in organizational development, which opens up these programs to a much wider audience.

Of course, PhD programs are highly selective and only available to those who meet the entrance requirements and pass the admissions process.

In some cases, it may be a good idea to expand the search to other PhDs that offer similar education and benefits.

Are there other PhDs that will help me meet my career goals?

A PhD in organizational development is not the only choice for those interested in having a positive influence on the direction that their organization takes.

Degree names, job titles, and business disciplines, after all, often overlap. And in some cases, they are entirely interchangeable.

Here are a few other degree titles that offer similar content to PhDs in organizational development:

  • Organizational leadership
  • Organizational change
  • Organizational behavior
  • Organizational management
  • Organizational studies
  • Organizational culture

Degrees such as these may offer many – if not all – of the benefits that come with a degree in organizational development, so it may be a good idea to research a variety of degrees before settling on one.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.