The long-term success of an organization depends on its ability to adapt to change. Change may be prompted by the workforce, the economy or new technology. Instead of injecting training or education into one aspect of the company, organizational development takes a holistic approach to managing change. Plans are specific to the organization, built on research and contain measurements to evaluate effectiveness.


Although several of the theories that support organizational development emerged during the early part of the 20th century, organizational development was not recognized as its own industry until the 1950s. During this time, practitioners had different definitions of organizational development, and work was typically performed by outside consultants. Richard Beckhard is given credit for coining the term in his 1969 book, "Organizational Development: Strategies and Models." Beckhard was an adjunct professor at MIT's Sloan School of Business and author of seven other books and many organizational change and development articles.


Organizational development is built on behavioral science and is a purposeful and planned intervention administered organization-wide, according to Beckhard. Its goal is to match the systems and processes of an organization with the needs and abilities of its people. Once those factors are in line, an organization's overall well-being, effectiveness and efficiency will improve. For an organizational development plan to be effective, top management has to model desired behavior and employees must support the need for change. One factor that separates organizational development from related fields is the change agent, which is the person or groups of people leading the change process.


Organizational development has two implementations stages: action research and intervention. During action research, the change agents use several methods to gather information about an organization's challenges. Types of research in organizational development include surveys, focus groups interviews and observation. The type of intervention plan depends on the research results and the nature of the problem. Although there are many different organizational development intervention plans, they all include activities to bring about change. Types of activities include exercises in interpersonal, group and inter-group communication.


If implemented successfully, organizational development interventions can help an organization adapt to the changing needs of a new workforce, keep it competitive in the face of shifting global dynamics and help it successfully transition to new leadership. Other benefits of organizational development include increased collaboration, improved decision-making processes and preservation of company culture.


Organizational development is a long-term process which requires buy-in from all levels of employees and patience from the client. Those looking to organizational development for a quick fix to recharge an apathetic workforce will be disappointed. The decision to hire outside consultants or rely on in-house personal for change agents is also complicated. While outside consultants may be more free from bias given their lack of personal history with the company, they may also lack the ability to quickly grasp nuances that point to the root of an organization's problem.