“Getting there isn’t half the fun—it’s all the fun..”
— Robert Townsend, former chairman of Avis Rent-A-Car
Through OD I teach the need to invert the organizational pyramid so that managers become servant leaders, providing support from below, while those who do the hard, actual work are at the top of the corporation.
The discipline of Organizational Development arose as its own field within the larger OB context. It emerged in the 1960s as a set of methods for improving corporate life and its participants. OD draws on behavioral science knowledge that helps organizations become effective and healthy. Bill Dyer and Weldon Moffitt of BYU, Warner Burke at Columbia, Dick Beckhard and Ed Schein at MIT, Chris Argyris at Harvard, and Warren Bennis at USC, were pioneers of the field. The movement originated to address the problems of industrial bureaucracy, inefficiency, and dehumanization. Since its early days, OD has spread to applications in government, education, health care, and even the arts.
OD practitioners embrace several professional values: collaboration, respect and inclusion, authenticity, and self-awareness. The practice of OD interventions emphasizes various aspects: action research, systems focus, interventions that are supported by theory and linked to data collection, and client-centered in its applications.
For three decades, the Addison-Wesley OD series has been the most prestigious set of publications regarding the field, including the volume Creating Labor-Management Partnerships I co-authored with Chris Meek. Today, OD research appears in a number of journals, and it has dozens of networks and professional associations around the world.
Much of my OD work has criticized the field as a being too management-centered, top-down, gradualistic, and homogenous. In contrast, my doctoral dissertation in the 1970s at the University of Michigan called for an OD that was different: labor-centered, bottom-up change methods, revolutionary, and in need of greater diversity. While OD’s founders and major universities where the new field was being taught reacted with shock and horror, I ultimately succeeded in assembling a faculty committee who supported these innovative suggestions. Regarding the resistance I experienced in getting my dissertation passed off, one of them said: “The problem, Warner, is that you’re too far ahead of the field.”
But happily over the past several decades, OD has changed much toward the ways I advocated. For instance, when I used to tell executives that they needed to begin thinking “outside of the box,” I was usually vilified. But today, the phrase has become a slogan in many companies, an acceptable argument for seeking creative new processes and systems in modern corporations.
“OD Discourse and Domination,” The Routledge Companion to Organizational Change (Chapter 30 with Maxim Voronov), David Boje (ed.) in print 2011.
“OD as Social Entrepreneurship: Interventions for Building Socio-Economic Justice,” San Francisco, CA: Organizational Development Network Proceedings. October, 12 pp., 2006 (with Peter Sorenson).
Creating Labor-Management Partnerships. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley OD Series, 1995. (Book, 240 pp. with C. Meek)
“Organizational Development: A Closer Scrutiny”. Human Relations, Vol. 35, No. 4, 1982, pp. 307 319.
“Witch Doctors, Messianics, Sorcerers, and OD Consultants: Parallels and Paradigms”. In Douglas B. Gutknecht (ed.), Meeting Organization and Human Resource Challenges: Perspectives, Issues, and Strategies. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1984, pp. 407-431.
“In times of need, one should rise to the occasion and fight bravely for what is right.”
— The Dalai Lama
“We must work from our own values and elevate their influence to those of men.”
— Petra Kelly, German activist and co-founder of the Green Party