When it comes to organizational change and development, there always seems to be a blurry line in what separates them. There appears to be no set rules or single, authoritative definitions for either term. There is, however, a general consensus among experts, and as imprecise as it may be for a one-sentence answer, you could say that change is short term and development is long term.

A good way to understand the difference between change and development is to consider how these words apply to an individual. If you decide to get up an hour earlier each morning to get a better start on the day, that's a personal change. If you decide to pursue an MBA to further your career, that's personal development. With organizations, of course, it's a bit more complicated.

Change and Its Management

It's difficult to discuss any beneficial organizational change without examining it in the context of change management. After all, change can be managed well or poorly, but unmanaged change quickly leads to chaos and an organization's downfall.

Change management usually involves a three-step process based on Kurt Lewin's model of unfreezing, changing and refreezing.

  1. Unfreezing: The desired change is identified, and the organization is prepared for what is about to come. 

  2. Changing: The change is implemented.

  3. Refreezing: The staff is monitored to ensure the change has been incorporated into the organization.

A common example of a managed change is the implementation of a new software system. First, the staff is told of the new system and is trained to use it. Second, the system is installed and implemented. Third, management monitors the staff to ensure they are using the new system efficiently.

Difference Between OD and Change Management

Organizational change and change management usually focus on specific situations to take the organization – or in some cases, a single department – from point A to point B as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Once the change is over, the project is marked as complete, and nothing more needs to be done until the next need for change is identified.

Organizational development, on the other hand, takes a longer and more holistic approach to change. It looks at the entire organization as a complex network of systems while at the same time it is concerned with the professional development of individual employees. Organizational development can include strategic planning, leadership development, professional development, coaching and even work-life balance.

Organizations are not limited to using only organizational development or change management to the exclusion of the other. In fact, successful companies generally use both, integrating change management as one component of its organizational development strategy.

Used together, organizational development and change management can help the people in a company as well as the company as a whole be better prepared to adopt changes as they are needed while moving forward toward better prosperity as a whole.

An Example of OD and CM Working Together

Suppose, for example, you have decided that you want to rely less on a hierarchical approach to your small company's organization. You interview your employees to determine their career goals and where they would like to see the company be in the next five years.

Some employees begin taking management courses, while others learn software development. A year later, you detect a shift in the market, with a growing number of customers using the latest mobile technology, and you decide that a change in your sales approach is in order.

With your employees' development already begun, your company is now in a prime position to make changes to its existing sales model. You have people trained in choosing the right software or developing it in house, and you have candidates with the management training to manage the change.