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Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Lesson 22
Designing Interventions
An organization development intervention is a sequence of activities, actions, and events intended to help
an organization improve its performance and effectiveness. Intervention design, or action planning, derives
from careful diagnosis and is meant to resolve specific problems and to improve particular areas of
organizational functioning identified in the diagnosis. OD interventions vary from standardized programs
that have been developed and used in many organizations to relatively unique programs tailored to a
specific organization or department.
What are effective interventions?
The term intervention refers to a set of sequenced planned actions or events intended to help an
organization increase its effectiveness. Interventions purposely disrupt the status quo; they are deliberate
attempts to change an organization or subunit toward a different and more effective state. In OD, three
major criteria define an effective intervention: (1) the extent to which it fits the needs of the organization;
(2) the degree to which it is based on causal knowledge of intended outcomes; and (3) the extent to which it
transfers change-management competence to organization members.
The first criterion concerns the extent to which the intervention is relevant to the organization and its
members. Effective interventions are based on valid information about the organization's functioning; they
provide organization members with opportunities to make free and informed choices; and they gain
members' internal commitment to those choices.
Valid information is the result of an accurate diagnosis of the organization's functioning. It must reflect
fairly what organization members perceive and feel about their primary concerns and issues. Free and
informed choice suggests that members are actively involved in making decisions about the changes that
will affect them. It means that they can choose not to participate and that interventions will not be imposed
on them. Internal commitment means that organization members accept ownership of the intervention and
take responsibility for implementing it. If interventions are to result in meaningful changes, management,
staff, and other relevant members must be committed to carrying them out.
The second criterion of an effective intervention involves knowledge of outcomes. Because interventions
are intended to produce specific results, they must be based on valid knowledge that those outcomes
actually can be produced. Otherwise there is no scientific basis for designing an effective OD intervention.
Unfortunately, and in contrast to other applied disciplines such as medicine and engineering, knowledge of
intervention effects is in a rudimentary stage of development in OD. Much of the evaluation research lacks
sufficient rigor to make strong causal inferences about the success or failure of change programs.
Moreover, few attempts have been made to examine the comparative effects of different OD techniques.
All of these factors make it difficult to know whether one method is more effective than another.
Despite these problems, more attempts are being made to assess systematically the strengths and
weaknesses of OD interventions and to compare the impact of different techniques on organization
The third criterion of an effective intervention involves the extent to which it enhances the organization's
capacity to manage change. The values underlying OD suggest that organization members should be better
able to carry out planned change activities on their own following an intervention. They should gain
knowledge and skill in managing change from active participation in designing and implementing the
intervention. Competence in change management is essential in today's environment, where technological,
social, economic, arid political changes are rapid and persistent.
How to design effective interventions:
Designing OD interventions requires paying careful attention to the needs and dynamics of the change
situation and crafting a change program that will be consistent with the previously described criteria of
effective interventions. Current knowledge of OD interventions provides only general prescriptions for
change. There is scant precise information or research about how to design interventions or how they can
be expected to interact with organizational conditions to achieve specific results. Moreover, because the
ability to implement most OD interventions is highly dependent on the skills and knowledge of the change
agent, the design of an intervention will depend to some extent on the expertise of the practitioner.
Two major sets of contingencies that can affect intervention success have been discussed in the OD
literature: those having to do with the change situation (including the practitioner) and those related to the
target of change. Both kinds of contingencies need to be considered in designing interventions.
Contingencies Related to the Change Situation:
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Researchers have identified a number of contingencies present in the change situation that can affect
intervention success. These include individual differences among organization members (for example,
needs for autonomy), organizational factors (for example, management style and technical uncertainty), and
dimensions of the change process itself (for example, degree of top-management support). Unless these
factors are taken into account in designing an intervention, it will have little impact on organizational
functioning or, worse, it may produce negative results. For example, to resolve motivational problems
among blue-collar workers in an oil refinery it is important to know whether interventions intended to
improve motivation (for example, job enrichment) will succeed with the kinds of people who work there.
In many cases, knowledge of these contingencies results in modifying or adjusting the change program to
fit the setting. In applying a reward-system intervention to an organization, the changes might have to be
modified depending on whether the firm wants to reinforce individual or team performance.
Although knowledge of contingencies is still at a rudimentary stage of development in OD, researchers
have discovered several situational factors that can affect intervention success. More generic contingencies
that apply to all OD interventions are presented below. They include the following situational factors that
must be considered in designing any intervention: the organization's readiness for change, its change
capability, its cultural context, and the change agent's skills and abilities.
Readiness for Change:
Intervention success depends heavily on the organization being ready for planned change. Indicators of
readiness for change include sensitivity to pressures for change, dissatisfaction with the status quo,
availability of resources to support change, and commitment of significant management time. When such
conditions are present, interventions can be designed to address the organizational issues uncovered during
diagnosis. When readiness for change is low, however, interventions need to focus first on increasing the
organization's willingness to change.
Capability to Change:
Managing planned change requires particular knowledge and skills, including the ability to motivate change,
to lead change, to develop political support, to manage the transition, and to sustain momentum. If
organization members do not have these capabilities, then a preliminary training intervention may be
needed before members can engage meaningfully in intervention design.
Cultural Context:
The national culture within which the organization is embedded can exert a powerful influence on
members' reactions to change, so intervention design must account for the cultural values and assumptions
held by organization members. Interventions may have to be modified to fit the local culture, particularly
when OD practices developed in one culture are applied to organizations in another culture. For example, a
team-building intervention designed for top managers at an American firm may need to be modified when
applied to the company's foreign subsidiaries.
Capabilities of the Change Agent:
Many failures in OD result when change agents apply interventions beyond their competence. In designing
interventions, OD practitioners should assess their experience and expertise against the requirements
needed to implement the intervention effectively. When a mismatch is discovered, practitioners can explore
whether the intervention can be modified to fit their talents better, whether another intervention more
suited to their skills can satisfy the organization's needs, or whether they should enlist the assistance of
another change agent who can guide the process more effectively. The ethical guidelines under which OD
practitioners operate requires full disclosure of the applicability of their knowledge and expertise to the
client situation. Practitioners are expected to intervene within their capabilities or to recommend someone
more suited to the client's needs.
Contingencies Related to the Target of Change:
OD interventions seek to change specific features or parts of organizations. These targets of change are
the main focus of interventions, and researchers have identified two key contingencies related to change
targets that can affect intervention success: the organizational issues that the intervention is intended to
resolve and the level of organizational system at which the intervention is expected to have a primary
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Organizational Issues:
Organizations need to address certain issues to operate effectively. Figure 9.1 lists these issues along with
the OD interventions that are intended to resolve them. It shows the following four interrelated issues that
are key targets of OD interventions:
1. Strategic issues. Organizations need to decide what products or services they will provide and the
markets in which they will compete, as well as how to relate to their environments and how to transform
themselves to keep pace with changing conditions. These strategic issues are among the most critical facing
organizations in today's changing and highly competitive environments. OD methods aimed at these issues
are called strategic interventions. The methods are among the most recent additions to OD and include
integrated strategic change, mergers and acquisitions, trans-organizational development, and organization
2. Technology and structure issues. Organizations must decide how to divide work into departments
and then how to coordinate among those departments to support strategic directions. They also must make
decisions about how to deliver products or services and how to link people to tasks. OD methods for
dealing with these structural and technological issues are called techno-structural interventions and include
OD activities relating to organization design, employee involvement, and work design.
3. Human resources issues. These issues are concerned with attracting competent people to the
organization, setting goals for them, appraising and rewarding their performance, and ensuring that they
develop their careers and manage stress. OD techniques aimed at these issues are called human resources
management interventions.
4. Human process issues. These issues have to do with social processes occurring among organization
members, such as communication, decision making, leadership, and group dynamics. OD methods
focusing on these kinds of issues are called human process interventions; included among them are some of
the most common OD techniques, such as conflict resolution and team building.
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Figure 32. Types of OD Interventions and Organizational Issues
Consistent with system theory as discussed earlier, these organizational issues are interrelated and need to
be integrated with each other. The double-headed arrows connecting the different issues in Figure 32
represent the fits or linkages among them. Organizations need to match answers to one set of questions
with answers to other sets of questions to achieve high levels of effectiveness. For example, decisions about
gaining competitive advantage need to fit with choices about organization structure, setting goals for and
rewarding people, communication, and problem solving.
The interventions discussed in the lectures are intended to resolve these different concerns as shown in
Figure 32, particular OD interventions apply to specific issues. Thus, intervention design must create
change methods appropriate to the organizational issues identified in diagnosis. Moreover, because the
organizational issues are themselves linked together, OD interventions similarly need to be integrated with
one another. For example, a goal-setting intervention that tries to establish motivating goals may need to be
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
integrated with supporting interventions, such as a reward system that links pay to goal achievement. The
key point is to think systemically. Interventions aimed at one kind of organizational issue will invariably
have repercussions on other kinds of issues. Careful thinking about how OD interventions affect the
different kinds of issues and how different change programs might be integrated to bring about a broader
and more coherent impact on organizational functioning are critical to effective intervention.
Organizational Levels:
In addition to facing interrelated issues, organizations function at different levels-- individual, group,
organization and trans-organization. Thus, organizational levels are targets of change in OD. Table 8 lists
OD interventions in terms of the level of organization that they primarily affect. For example, some
techno-structural interventions affect mainly individuals and groups (for example, work design), whereas
others impact primarily the total organization (for example, structural design).
It is important to emphasize that only the primary level affected by the intervention is identified in Table 8.
Many OD interventions also have a secondary impact on the other levels. For example, structural design
affects mainly the organization level but can have an indirect effect on groups and individuals because it
sets the broad parameters for designing work groups and individual jobs. Again, practitioners need to think
systemically. They must design interventions to apply to specific organizational levels, address the
possibility of cross-level effects, and perhaps integrate interventions affecting different levels to achieve
overall success. For example, an intervention to create self-managed work teams may need to be linked to
organization-level changes in measurement and reward systems to promote team-based work.
Overview of interventions:
The OD interventions, which will be discussed later, are briefly described below. They represent the major
organizational change methods used in OD today.
Human Process Interventions:
These interventions focus on people within organizations and the processes through which they
accomplish organizational goals. These processes include communication, problem solving, group decision
making, and leadership. This type of intervention is deeply rooted in the history of OD. It represents the
earliest change programs characterizing OD, including the T-group and the organizational confrontation
meeting. Human process interventions derive mainly from the disciplines of psychology and social
psychology and the applied fields of group dynamics and human relations. Practitioners applying these
interventions generally value human fulfillment and expect that organizational effectiveness follows from
improved functioning of people and organizational processes.
Table 8 Types of Interventions and Organization Levels
Organizational Levels
Primary Organization Level Affected
Human Process
Process consultation
Third-party intervention
Organization confrontation meeting
Inter-group relations
Large-group interventions
Structural Design
Work Design
Human Resources Management
Goal setting
Performance appraisal
Reward systems
Managing workforce diversity
Employee wellness
Self-designing organizations
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Human process interventions related to interpersonal relationships and group dynamics include the
following four interventions:
1. T-group. This traditional change method provides members with experiential learning about
group dynamics, leadership, and interpersonal relations. The basic T-group brings ten to fifteen
strangers together with a professional trainer to examine the social dynamics that emerge from
their interactions. Members gain feedback about the impact of their own behaviors on each other
and learn about group dynamics.
2. Process consultation. This intervention focuses on interpersonal relations and social dynamics
occurring in work group. Typically, a process consultant helps group members diagnose group
functioning and devise appropriate solutions to process problems, such as dysfunctional conflict,
poor communication, and ineffective norms. The aim is to help members gain the skills and
understanding necessary to identify and solve problems themselves.
3. Third-party intervention. This change method is a form of process consultation aimed at
dysfunctional interpersonal relations in organizations. Interpersonal conflict may derive from
substantive issues, such as disputes over work methods, or from interpersonal issues, such as
miscommunication. The third-party intervener helps people resolve conflicts through such
methods as problem solving, bargaining, and conciliation.
4. Team building. This intervention helps work groups become more effective in accomplishing
tasks. Like process consultation, team building helps members diagnose group processes and
devise solutions to problems. It goes beyond group processes, however, to include examination of
the group's task, member roles, and strategies for performing tasks. The consultant also may
function as a resource person offering expertise related to the group's task.
Human process interventions that are more system-wide (than those related to Interpersonal & Groups)
typically focus on the total organization or an entire department, as well as on relations between groups.
These include the following four change programs:
1. Organization confrontation meeting. This change method mobilizes organization members to
identify problems, set action targets, and begin working on problems. It is usually applied when
organizations are experiencing stress and when management needs to organize resources for immediate
problem solving. The intervention generally includes various groupings of employees in identifying and
solving problems.
2. Inter-group relations. These interventions are designed to improve interactions among different groups
or departments in organizations. The microcosm group intervention involves a small group of people
whose backgrounds closely match the organizational problems being addressed. This group addresses the
problem and develops means to solve it. The inter-group conflict model typically involves a consultant
helping two groups understand the causes of their conflict and choose appropriate solutions.
3. Large-group interventions. These interventions involve getting a broad variety of stakeholders into a
large meeting to clarify important values, to develop new ways of working, to articulate a new vision for the
organization, or to solve pressing organizational problems. Such meetings are powerful tools for creating
awareness of organizational problems and opportunities and for specifying valued directions for future
4. Grid organization development. This normative intervention specifies a particular way to manage an
organization. It is a packaged OD program that includes standardized instruments for measuring
organizational practices and specific procedures for helping organizations to achieve the prescribed
Techno-structural Interventions:
These interventions focus on an organization's technology (for example, task methods and job design) and
structure (for example, division of labor and hierarchy). These change methods are receiving increasing
attention in OD, especially in light of current concerns about productivity and organizational effectiveness.
They include approaches to employee involvement, as well as methods for designing organizations, groups,
and jobs. Techno-structural intervention are rooted in the disciplines of engineering, sociology, and
psychology and in the applied fields of socio-technical systems and organization design, practitioners
generally stress both productivity and human fulfillment and expect that organization effectiveness will
result from appropriate work designs and organization structures.
In the coming lectures we will discuss the following three techno-structural interventions concerned with
restructuring organizations:
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
1. Structural design. This change process concerns the organization's division of labor--how to
specialize task performances. Interventions aimed at structural design include moving from more
traditional ways of dividing the organizations overall work (such as functional, self-contained-unit,
and matrix structures) to more integrative and flexible forms (such as process-based and network-
based structures). Diagnostic guidelines exist to determine which structure is appropriate for
particular organizational environments, technologies, and conditions.
2. Downsizing. This intervention reduces costs and bureaucracy by decreasing the size of the
organization through personnel layouts, organization redesign and outsourcing. Each of these
downsizing methods must be planned with a clear understanding of the organizations strategy.
3. Reengineering. This recent intervention radically redesigns the organization's core work
processes to create tighter linkage and coordination among the different tasks. This work-flow
integration results in faster, more responsive task performance. Reengineering is often
accomplished with new information technology that permits employees to control and coordinate
work processes more effectively. Reengineering often fails if it ignores basic principles and
processes of OD.
Employee involvement (El). This broad category of interventions is aimed at improving employee well-
being and organizational effectiveness. It generally attempts to move knowledge, power, information, and
rewards downward in the organization. El includes parallel structures (such as cooperative union--
management projects and quality circles), high-involvement plants, and total quality management.
Work design. These change programs are concerned with designing work for work groups and individual
jobs. The intervention includes engineering, motivational, and socio-technical systems approaches that
produce traditionally designed jobs and work groups; enriched jobs that provide employees with greater
task variety, autonomy, and feedback about results; and self-managing teams that can govern their own task
behaviors with limited external control.
Human Resources Management Interventions:
These interventions would focus on personnel practices used to integrate people into organizations. These
practices include career planning, reward systems, goal setting, and performance appraisal--change
methods that traditionally have been associated with the personnel function in organizations. In recent
years, interest has grown in integrating human resources management with OD. Human resources
management interventions are rooted in the disciplines of economics and labor relations and in the applied
personnel practices of wages and compensation employee selection and placements performance appraisal,
and career development. Practitioners in this area typically focus on the people in organizations believing
that organizational effectiveness results from improved practices for integrating employees into
Interventions concerning performance management include the following change programs:
Goal setting. This change program involves setting clear and challenging goals. It attempts to
improve organization effectiveness by establishing a better fit between personal and organizational
objectives. Managers and subordinates periodically meet to plan work, review accomplishments
and solve problems in achieving goals.
Performance appraisal. This intervention is a systematic process of jointly assessing work-related
achievements, strengths, and weaknesses. It is the primary human resources management
intervention for providing performance feedback to individuals and work groups. Performance
appraisal represents an important link between goal setting and reward systems.
Reward systems. This intervention involves the design of organizational rewards to improve
employee satisfaction and performance. It includes innovative approaches to pay, promotions and
fringe benefits.
Three change methods associated with developing and assisting organization members include:
Career planning and development. This intervention helps people choose organizations and
career paths and attain career objectives. It generally focuses on managers and professional staff
and is seen as a way of improving the quality of their work life.
Managing workforce diversity. This change program makes human resources practices more
responsive to a variety of individual needs. Important trends, such as the increasing number of
women, ethnic minorities, and physically and mentally challenged people in the workforce, require
a more flexible set of polices and practices.
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Employee wellness. These interventions include employee assistance programs (EAPs) and stress
management. EAPs are counseling programs that help employees deal with substance abuse and
mental health, marital, and financial problems that often are associated with poor work
performance. Stress management programs help workers cope with the negative consequences of
stress at work. They help managers reduce specific sources of stress, such as role conflict and
ambiguity, and provide methods for reducing such stress symptoms as hypertension and anxiety.
Strategic Interventions:
Interventions that link the internal functioning of the organization to the larger environment and transform
the organization to keep pace with changing conditions are among the newest additions to OD. They are
implemented organization wide and bring about a fit between business strategy, structure, culture, and the
larger environment. The interventions derive from the disciplines of strategic management, organization
theory, open--systems theory, and cultural anthropology.
Major interventions for managing organization and environment relationships involve:
Integrated strategic change. This comprehensive OD intervention describes how planned
change can make a value-added contribution to strategic management. It argues that business
strategies and organizational systems must be changed together in response to external and internal
disruptions. A strategic change plan helps members manage the transition between a current
strategy and organization design and the desired future strategic orientation.
Trans-organization development. This intervention helps organizations enter into alliances,
partnerships, and joint ventures to perform tasks or solve problems that are too complex for single
organizations to resolve. It helps organizations recognize the need for partnerships and develop
appropriate structures for implementing them.
Merger and acquisition integration. This intervention describes how OD practitioners can
assist two or more organizations to form a new entity. Addressing key strategic, leadership, and
cultural issues prior to the legal and financial transaction helps to smooth operational integration.
Interventions for transforming organizations include:
Culture change. This intervention helps organizations develop cultures (behaviors, values,
believes, and norms) appropriate to their strategies and environments. It focuses on developing a
strong organization culture to keep organization members pulling in the same direction.
Self-designing organizations. This change program helps organizations gain the capacity to alter
them fundamentally. It is a highly participative process involving multiple stakeholders in setting
strategic directions and designing and implementing appropriate structures and processes.
Organizations learn how to design and implement their own strategic changes.
Organization learning and knowledge management. This intervention describes two
interrelated change processes: Organization Learning (OL), which seeks to enhance an
organization's capability to acquire and develop new knowledge, and Knowledge Management
(KM), which focuses on how that knowledge can be organized and used to improve organization
performance. These interventions move the organization beyond solving existing problems so as
to become capable of continuous improvement.
Table of Contents:
  1. The Challenge for Organizations:The Growth and Relevance of OD
  2. OD: A Unique Change Strategy:OD consultants utilize a behavioral science base
  3. What an “ideal” effective, healthy organization would look like?:
  4. The Evolution of OD:Laboratory Training, Likert Scale, Scoring and analysis,
  5. The Evolution of OD:Participative Management, Quality of Work Life, Strategic Change
  6. The Organization Culture:Adjustment to Cultural Norms, Psychological Contracts
  7. The Nature of Planned Change:Lewin’s Change Model, Case Example: British Airways
  8. Action Research Model:Termination of the OD Effort, Phases not Steps
  9. General Model of Planned Change:Entering and Contracting, Magnitude of Change
  10. The Organization Development Practitioner:External and Internal Practitioners
  11. Creating a Climate for Change:The Stabilizer Style, The Analyzer Style
  12. OD Practitioner Skills and Activities:Consultant’s Abilities, Marginality
  13. Professional Values:Professional Ethics, Ethical Dilemmas, Technical Ineptness
  14. Entering and Contracting:Clarifying the Organizational Issue, Selecting an OD Practitioner
  15. Diagnosing Organizations:The Process, The Performance Gap, The Interview Data
  16. Organization as Open Systems:Equifinality, Diagnosing Organizational Systems
  17. Diagnosing Organizations:Outputs, Alignment, Analysis
  18. Diagnosing Groups and Jobs:Design Components, Outputs
  19. Diagnosing Groups and Jobs:Design Components, Fits
  20. Collecting and Analyzing Diagnostic information:Methods for Collecting Data, Observations
  21. Collecting and Analyzing Diagnostic information:Sampling, The Analysis of Data
  22. Designing Interventions:Readiness for Change, Techno-structural Interventions
  23. Leading and Managing Change:Motivating Change, The Life Cycle of Resistance to Change
  24. Leading and managing change:Describing the Core Ideology, Commitment Planning
  25. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions:Measurement
  26. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions:Research Design
  27. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions
  28. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Group Process
  29. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Leadership and Authority, Group Interventions
  30. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Third-Party Interventions
  31. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Team Building, Team Building Process
  32. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Team Management Styles
  33. Organization Process Approaches:Application Stages, Microcosm Groups
  34. Restructuring Organizations:Structural Design, Process-Based Structures
  35. Restructuring Organizations:Downsizing, Application Stages, Reengineering
  36. Employee Involvement:Parallel Structures, Multiple-level committees
  37. Employee Involvement:Quality Circles, Total Quality Management
  38. Work Design:The Engineering Approach, Individual Differences, Vertical Loading
  39. Performance Management:Goal Setting, Management by Objectives, Criticism of MBO
  40. Developing and Assisting Members:Career Stages, Career Planning, Job Pathing
  41. Developing and Assisting Members:Culture and Values, Employee Assistance Programs
  42. Organization and Environment Relationships:Environmental Dimensions, Administrative Responses
  43. Organization Transformation:Sharing the Vision, Three kinds of Interventions
  44. The Behavioral Approach:The Deep Assumptions Approach
  45. Seven Practices of Successful Organizations:Training, Sharing Information