Why Should Leaders Care about Organisational Development?

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LCC Leadership Development

After all, isn’t this the domain of HR professionals and consultants?  And with so much on a leader’s plate, is this one more thing to add to the pile?  And what is Organisational Development(OD) anyway?

Recently, in a social setting, I met a young manager from a large financial institution.  Whilst chatting I realised he worked for a client organisation for whom we had recently launched a system-wide development initiative.  The Board and senior managers were extremely excited about this programme.  Given his role in the organisation, I was pretty certain that he would be in the target population for the leadership development.  However, when I asked him about this, his response was fairly typical, “Oh, yeah, I think I received an email, I heard something… a programme.  I’m not sure whether I’m attending.”  It is this disconnection between the top execution of the strategy and the various levels of management in an organisation that Organisational Development (OD) is uniquely positioned to address.

This story of disconnection is a mantra heard in most organisations to which we consult, irrespective of the sector or industry in which they operate.   This story highlights the detachment between the near-term profit initiatives (those that deliver performance today and are influenced by the management tier) and organisational health initiatives (those that build the capacity to deliver tomorrow’s results that are decided by the Senior Leadership).  For overall success a balance must be maintained between operational improvement and long-term growth, however there is no single model that guarantees success, but OD is a methodology to enable organisations to explore and test options for success.

What is OD?

There are numerous definitions of OD, with currently no single accepted definition.  However, the following definition (from a leader’s perspective) provides a useful summary:

OD is the application of the planning, development, and problem-solving process to the overall functioning of the organisation in such a way that it strengthens the physical, financial, and human resources; improves the process of interface; helps the organisation mature; and is responsive to the environment of which the organisation is a part.

The key themes and characteristics emerging from this definition is that OD is:

  • a planned effort
  • which is organisation wide and total system
  • aimed at increasing organisational effectiveness and health
  • usually responding to a changing environment (technologies, markets, challenges)
  • intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values and structure

The Leader’s OD Accountability

Organisational leaders are accountable for delivering the organisational strategy.  OD is the twin of strategy – i.e. it seeks to improve organisational performance through people, systems and processes.  OD provides content and substance to leadership in organisations.  It provides meaning for the ‘non-work’ activities that individuals and teams find themselves engaged in at work, from the way the organisation is structured, how teams are put together, the culture and values of the organisation, to how people socially engage and interact with one another and with their clients.  Without it leaders find themselves ‘leading in a vacuum’ and unable to provide meaningful and effective leadership in reaching the organisation’s goals and objectives.

OD is interested in alignment between all facets of an organization, including leadership, culture, systems, processes and client service.  Alignment helps to ensure that everyone in the organization is pulling in the same direction, with the same prioritised strategic goals and objectives.  The OD methodology provides an extremely useful leadership approach whenever a leader is faced with a decision.  Taking the key OD elements into account, he/she may ask a number of insightful questions to ensure each decision is aligned with the overall strategic direction of the organization:

  1. What environmental aspects do I need to take into account (e.g. political, geographic, public opinion)
  2. Is our current leadership style the right approach for what needs to get done?
  3. Do we have the right mission and strategy in place for where the organization is going?
  4. What changes in culture will we require for change to be effective?
  5. Are our organizational structures fit-for-purpose?  What about our systems and processes?
  6. Are our staff motivated and ready for change?

An organisation that is aligned and improving in these key elements shows a level of organisational maturity that is likely to ensure success, even in the most challenging circumstances.


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