Organization Development – A Practitioner's Guide for OD and HR

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 4 October 2011



Sayers, P. (2011), "Organization Development – A Practitioner's Guide for OD and HR", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 43 No. 7, pp. 467-468.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is, as the title suggests, a book aimed at OD and HR professionals but could also be a useful read for any manager interested in change initiatives. It describes the kind of help that OD consultants can offer, the strategic role of HR in supporting OD initiatives and comes in two parts. The first, written by Mee‐Yan Cheung‐Judge, covers the development of organizational development (OD) as a profession and how the constituent parts of an OD intervention fit together. The second, by Linda Holbeche, is a study of how OD and HR can work effectively together. The book is full of tables and lists which also give it good potential as both a textbook and a reference work to come back to.

The history of OD takes us through the key texts and key people that built up the body of knowledge and the system of working that became known as organizational development. OD is not easy to define succinctly, but Mee‐Yan Cheung‐Judge has found plenty of quotes and arranged her thinking into lists of bullet points that give anyone needing to define OD a wealth of data to choose from. The history of OD takes as its starting point developments in group dynamics and group therapy with contributions from systems theory and social‐contructionism. The book explains how OD became a values driven profession that sees the building of effective inter‐personal relationships as central to its effectiveness.

The theoretical basis for OD covers five core theories – systems theory, action research theory, change theories, social constructionism and complexity theories. The key authors in each of these theoretical roots of OD are arranged in a very neat tree diagram on page 29. Each theory is explained and presented in a way that both gives the reader an excellent overview, together with links for further reading and exploration.

The rest of the first section of the book is the OD practitioner guide with a chapter on the four phases of the OD cycle – the entry and contracting phase, the diagnostic phase, the intervention phase and finally the evaluation phase. In addition to the now familiar lists and bullet points telling the reader what happens in each phase, there are also explanations of the competencies and skills required by practitioners. These can be divided into the work OD consultants need to do on themselves, and the work they need to be able to do with others. The use of “self as instrument” is explained in some detail and is clearly one of the key competences in Mee‐Yan Cheung‐Judge's toolbag. The diagnostic phase includes lots of things that the OD consultant might need to take into account. This would be useful reading for any consultant planning work with a new client. The intervention phase contains a set of three dimensional models described as the OD Cube, the Consulcube and the Intervention Cube. I have to admit that I found these diagrams a bit difficult to understand and could not work out how to use them. Perhaps I am too used to the two dimensional models of management textbooks. On the other hand the list of tasks and accompanying OD practitioner skills looked very useful, as did the table showing how a typical presentation session can be divided into processes for gaining participant engagement. The evaluation phase takes the reader through a variety of techniques that OD consultants can use for their own purposes and to help the organization understand the effectiveness of OD interventions, including formulae for calculating that elusive return on investment.

The first half of the book ends with a chapter on power and politics in organizational development. Given that this is the area where many OD practitioners come unstuck, this is a good overview of the kind of things a consultant should take into account and watch out for.

The second part of the book, written by Linda Holbeche, shifts the focus from the OD consultant to the HR professional. This section starts with a chapter on organizational design, a topic which is often done exclusively by senior leaders, but fits within the remit of strategic HR. This and the subsequent chapter – on organizational culture – cover topics that HR professionals have not always found easy to address, but which are of great interest to organizational developers. Linda Holbeche also provides a couple of case studies of organizations that have undertaken successful culture change programs. The chapter concludes with a comprehensive list of things to do in order to lead culture change. There then follows a chapter on managing transformational change. This looks at why change programs fail. These are grouped into three categories – the content of the change, the process of change, and the people aspects of change. It is the people aspects that are most often overlooked by senior managers, but the ones where adept HR professionals and OD consultants (internal or external) are most likely to make an effective contribution. This is an area where the author feels it is crucial that HR lead from the front. The chapter contains quite a long list of things that HR needs to do. Quite how people in HR will respond to the style of this list is difficult to predict, but it will probably be heartening reading to those in OD who would like a more effective OD role for their HR colleagues. The final chapter in the book is on developing effective leadership. This is the culmination of the OD processes that the book has provided the background for, and gives examples of how OD interventions have helped organizational development through encouraging and building effective leadership.

In all, Mee‐Yan Cheung‐Judge and Linda Holbeche have done a good job in creating a book that gives the background to and the practice of organizational development. The first part has a mainly historical and descriptive feel to it, whilst the second part has more of a campaigning style. There are some significant absences from the book. Mee‐Yan Cheung‐Judge clearly sees the roots of OD in the study of group dynamics and systems theory, whereas my own introduction to OD was through personal development and individual counseling and therapy. I say this merely because I suspect there may be an alternative history of OD for someone else to write at some point. It is also perhaps curious for a book that sees its roots in systems theory that there is little if no mention of the way that quality systems and quality models have been used by many organizations as a stimulus for development. However, as a textbook and reference book for people interested in OD this book is good value, and worthy of a place on the practitioner's bookshelf.

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