Organization Development – 1.1 The Four Key Orientations and Seven Ss of OD

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

1.1    The Four Key Orientations and Seven Ss of OD

OD is a complex behavioural science that has four key orientations:

  • A systemic orientation:  The understanding that all parts of an organization (structure, technology, processes, people) are highly connected.  Problems can occur at one or more levels and have far reaching consequences throughout the organization;
  • A problem-solving orientation:  A focus on problem identification, data gathering, option generation, cost/benefit analysis, decision-making, action planning, monitoring, review and adaptability – in the light of subjective experience;
  • A humanistic orientation:  A positive belief about the potential of people, their rights, their need for autonomy and support in varying measures, and the value of their subjective experience;
  • An experiential learning orientation:  An acceptance that training, development and organizational learning should be based on the subjective experiences of all those involved.

OD also influences a wide range of organizational factors.  Peters and Waterman, consultants at McKinsey & Company, developed the 7S model in the late 1970s to help managers address the difficulties of organizational change.  The model suggests that organizational ‘immune systems’ and the many interconnected variables that exist within the complex structures and functioning of an organization make change highly complex.  Furthermore, an effective change effort must address many (if not all) of the interconnected variables simultaneously.  By way of an outline, the original seven Ss are as follows:

  • Structure The framework in which the activities of the organization’s members are coordinated. The four basic structural forms are the functional form, divisional structure, matrix structure, and network structure;
  • Strategy The route that the organization has chosen for its future growth and to gain a sustainable competitive advantage;
  • Systems The formal and informal procedures, including, management information systems, capital allocation systems, reward systems, quality systems and innovation systems;
  • Skills What the company does best; the distinctive capabilities and competencies that reside in the organization;
  • Shared values The guiding concepts and principles of the organization – values and aspirations, often unwritten – that go beyond the conventional statements of corporate objectives; the fundamental ideas around which a business is built; the things that influence a group to work together for a common aim;
  • Staff The organization’s human resources and the ways they are developed, trained, socialized, integrated, motivated, and managed;
  • Style The leadership approach of top management and the organization’s overall operating approach, including the way in which the organization’s employees present themselves to the outside world, to suppliers and customers.

To be effective, organizations must have a high degree of alignment among the 7-Ss.  Each S must be consistent with and reinforce the other Ss, with all Ss being interrelated such that change in one has a ripple effect on all the others.  It is impossible to make sustainable progress on one without making progress on all the others.

Since the 1970’s, some OD practitioners have been critical of the 7S model, whilst others have built upon the original framework to create an even more comprehensive analytical/planning tool.  Popular additions have been ‘Situation’ and Stakeholders’, i.e.

  • Situation The external environment in which the organization carries out its business.  Analysis of the external environment is often aided by mnemonics such as STEP (Social, Technical, Economic and Political influences).
  • Stakeholder Satisfaction Stakeholders are those who have an interest in what the organization does, and how well it does it.  Stakeholders span groups as diverse as customers, staff, shareholders, regulators, etc.

I feel one more addition would equip the model for a further decade or so, i.e.

  • Social Responsibility The approach the organization takes to issues such as business ethics, global warming, charitable contributions, etc.

Within a comprehensive OD effort, all four orientations would be used to bring about an improved alignment between all ten Ss.  Now, given the complexity that these orientations and factors encompass, effective OD interventions will typically consist of a number of interdependent steps or phases, each of which builds on the previous one.  Each step of an OD process provides new data, which can then be evaluated and incorporated into data generated previously and, in the light of this process flow, objectives are reassessed and decisions are made regarding the next steps.  Thus, OD is an evolutionary process that responds to emerging organizational needs as the process unfolds.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

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