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Organization Development – The Humanistic Approach to Change

Human resource theory, which is the foundation of organization development and behaviour dates back to the 1927 Hawthorne experiments.  The experiments set out to investigate methods in which organizational efficiency could be improved through the use of scientific principles to redesign the organizational environment.

Using a mixture of technology, work flow rational, and work performance applications the experiments developed an early foray into open-systems theory and organization design, but also led to further work in the area of socio-psychological factors that contribute to effectiveness in performance.  As the social sciences became more sophisticated a greater understanding of factors such as leadership style, attitudes, situational and group dynamics and motivational relationships contributed to a growing body of work regarding the alignment of individual and organizational needs and the impact on resulting performance.

OD emerged from the 1950s as a distinctive discipline of change management which focused on the human elements of the planned change process that progress from problem identification, intervention and evaluation.  The process demands the application of a variety of techniques designed to deal with the organizational problem through utilising the power of the individual employee.

Profoundly research exposed that it was not enough for organizational leaders to give orders, and assume that change starts from a place of stability and consensus.  Rather, that people are active agents within an organizational environment which is characterized by conflict, fluidity and change.  Therefore the capturing creativity through social means is a key to driving organizational change.

The unique ability of the human mind to create new out of old, through dialogue, interaction and activity is central to the concept of creativity.  The characterisation of a great idea being the result of a light bulb moment, dismisses the level of interaction and subsequent ruminating that leads to the connections being made.

Making assumptions that any change is as a result of a neat linear set of processes and interactions, dominated by a strategic plan managed by senior leadership cleanses the truly holistic and messy nature of change as a social phenomenon.

OD therefore can be summarised as a synthesis of systems thinking, founded and entrenched in behavioural research and dedicated to humanistic principles.  The OD process is informed and enlivened by a number of methods, including; Organizational Diagnosis, Action Research, Group Dynamics, Process Consultation and Change Theory. Central to the OD intervention is the idea of planned change through people, focusing on consensus building and participative methods of management.