Organization Development – 1.3 An exploration of motivations and expectations associated with OD

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1.3    An Exploration of Motivations and Expectations Associated with OD

A factor that is crucial to the success of an OD effort is the managerial motivation for becoming involved.  Managers who lack an adequate understanding of what OD can and cannot be expected to accomplish may become involved for the wrong reasons.  For example, the motive for engaging in an OD effort may be to ‘sort out’ staff that are ‘misguided.’  This view is likely to cause considerable trouble during an OD effort.  In contrast, a positive motivation for launching an OD effort would be a willingness to engage in self-examination to build realistic expectations for change within a climate of openness, trust and authenticity.

From this, we can categorize motivations as either:

  • Those that are questionable in that they tend to impair the success of an OD effort;
  • Those that are supportive and tend to enhance the success of an OD effort.

Let’s explore this in a little more detail.

(a)       Motives that impair the success of an OD effort

In each of the following motivations, the manager described has begun an OD effort based on an inappropriate set of expectations, or as an indirect means to achieve an alternative agenda.

To key into a new form of training for staff

This manager characteristically believes that OD is a new type of training program designed to bring about a change in staff attitudes to the benefit of the team or organization as a whole.  The general image of the OD practitioner is that of an inspiring lecturer who provides insight, advice and a clear path forward.  This type of manager is likely to have little awareness of real organizational problems or the challenges of change.

To offer OD as an extra reward

This motive is characteristic of a manager who has some unused budget and wants to use it (rather than loose it!).  S/he believes that an off-site OD event would make a good ‘reward’ in the form of a reprieve from the regular work routine.  Thus, OD is seen as a recreational and/or social event run by a practitioner with good social skills.  As a result the effort is not taken seriously in terms of operational priorities or for the contribution it can make to change efforts.

To boost staff morale

This may be linked to the previous motive.  The manager who manifests this motive feels that some activity is needed to raise the spirits of staff, to convince them of their importance, and to show them that the organization really cares about them.  The assumption is that an OD effort will persuade staff that their managers are not as insensitive as they perceive.  In effect, OD is thought of as a form of rally that will stress the positive aspects of change and generate support.  An OD practitioner is thus seen as a motivational expert who stimulates enthusiasm.

To be included in the trend towards OD

This motive is indicative of political game-playing as well as a desire to keep up with management and organizational trends.  Managers who are motivated in this way may believe it is fashionable to demonstrate concern for staff, and often they undertake an OD effort in response to pressure from various sources to adopt new practices (because the old ones aren’t working).  OD is viewed in terms of a fashionable event at which the practitioner is expected to serve as an articulate and witty ‘master of ceremonies’ as part of the change programme.

To gain personal approval and advancement

An extension of the previous motive, this one centres on the manager’s desire to make the right impression with more senior managers, to appear progressive and concerned, and to ensure that his or her image is consistent with what is expected.  Such a manager may view OD as a gimmick that is part of a career-advancement strategy.  A practitioner who participates in this fantasy becomes a potential co-conspirator in furthering the manager’s career.

To learn how to be nicer

This motive is characteristic of managers who have been conditioned by years of autocratic leadership and suddenly become aware that top management no longer supports this style – at least in theory.  The message they receive is that they need to show more appreciation for and interest in their staff and to improve human relations.  Although such managers may view this trend as pampering staff, they resign themselves to co-operating as instructed.  The OD process is thus perceived as a form of innocuous charm school, with the practitioner serving as a human-relations theorist who facilitates activities for the purpose of improving work etiquette.

To sell unpopular changes

The belief underlying this motive is that staff members are not mature enough to understand organizational needs and it is a waste of time to consult with them about related changes.  Instead, management should make decisions independently and then win support for actions to be taken.  A further assumption is that efforts to build staff loyalty will pay off in terms of less questioning of change determined by management.  The OD process is thus viewed as a form of advertising conducted by a practitioner who acts as a promoter of carefully orchestrated strategies.

To promote staff conformance

The manager who seeks to promote staff conformance characteristically clings to Theory-X beliefs (McGregor).  Certain staff members are seen as unproductive and maladjusted and OD is viewed as a useful control device for manipulating or even shocking them into acceptable behaviour.  The practitioner, therefore, becomes therapist, trouble-shooter, or ‘hired gun.’  Managers thus motivated are often acutely aware of morale problems and believe that the solution lies in an OD effort to communicate the organizational facts of life and to rehabilitate ‘dinosaurs’ by forcing them to change their attitudes.  The probable results of such an effort are fear and its related consequences, including a closed atmosphere, a lack of trust and further ‘hidden’ resistance.

To avert personal disaster

This motive is characteristic of managers who are under great pressure either to change or to produce results that are not forthcoming.  They see OD as a panacea, a last-chance miracle cure to save them from any number of punishments, including the loss of their jobs.  Often they feel the need to improve costs, quality or profits quickly and to be able to show measures of improvement immediately.  OD is perceived as a means to achieve quick payoffs and the practitioner is thought of as a saviour.

OD efforts based on any of the above motivations will almost certainly produce unrealistic expectations and eventual scepticism when nothing concrete or permanent occurs in the way of organizational and behavioural change.

(b)       Motives that support the success of an OD effort

In contrast to the negative motives just discussed, those that follow represent a more legitimate motivational foundation that can provide the appropriate support for an OD effort.  These motivation categories are indicative of more realistic views of OD and the practitioner’s role.  Consequently, the chances of success based on these motives are much higher than those associated with the negative motives outlined above.

To investigate problems

This motive and the two that follow are oriented towards ‘learning’.  The manager who enters an OD effort to investigate problems recognizes that the organization is not resolving its problems.  S/he is likely to be aware that current statements of these problems are couched in terms that make solution improbable and wonders whether the real problems are, in fact, not being voiced.  This type of manager relies heavily on intuition and wants to explore the situation to see whether OD can help to define the real problems.  OD is thus viewed as an exploratory, analytical device, with OD activities perceived as cautious, judicious efforts to increase available data by opening communication and generating upward feedback within the organization.  When an effort is conducted on this basis, the practitioner becomes a co-investigator.

To test OD as a helpful approach

The manager whose motive is to test the usefulness of OD will see human problems as the underlying cause for other problems being experienced by the organization, but is uncertain whether OD will confirm this perception.  Such a manager generally feels that s/he has never been able to break through to the real problem areas, that staff are holding back and hesitant to say what they really think and that all staff should be more involved in problem-solving and decision-making processes.  Thus, an OD effort is initiated as a test project to determine whether real problem-solving will occur.  Each activity is fully supported and carefully monitored.  The practitioner is viewed as a potential source of creativity, a catalyst and a resource.

To undergo an educational process

This motive, like the two preceding ones, is based on an observed need for learning.  It is also indicative of a genuine respect for education and a strong belief in the connection between learning and problem-solving.  In this case the manager wants to achieve a full understanding of basic OD values, the rationale behind activities, the commitments that must be made and the consequences – before launching an effort.  S/he feels that OD may be helpful but wants to be certain about the practitioner’s assessment of limitations.  Thus, the OD process is seen as an unknown but potentially valuable management strategy.  Activities are thought of as including learning and planning events as well as careful evaluations of various process options.  The practitioner is considered to be both teacher and co-assessor.

To shape change

This motive, and the two that follow, are orientated towards ‘doing’.  The motivation to shape change reflects a clear realization that changes are necessary and that they will affect many people.  Such a manager has a genuine desire to receive staff input about contemplated changes and wishes to reduce the fear associated with these changes.  S/he wants to involve staff at all levels in the process of defining, implementing, and promoting commitment to change.  This manager views OD as a respected strategy for bringing about change, and individual activities are seen as proactive steps that reduce the anxiety associated with change.  The practitioner is thought of as a sensitive change agent whose responsibility is to help the manager to unfreeze communications.

To assist with preventive maintenance

A manager who manifests this motive believes that the organization is doing well, that interpersonal relationships are generally good and that these positive conditions should be preserved through some mechanism that ensures ongoing future commitment.  S/he is aware of the constant need to develop plans for the future and to involve staff at as many levels as possible in maintaining a state of alertness for early-warning signals of deterioration in processes such as communication, delegation and joint problem-solving.  Such a manager also recognizes the consequences of maintaining a fast pace in the organization without periodic checks on staff feelings about such matters as involvement and commitment.  OD is seen as offering various ways to accomplish such maintenance checks.  The practitioner becomes an objective resource, a co-analyst and a helpful critic.

To build organizational strength

This motive is characteristic of the manager who realizes that the organization is functioning well but that vehicles must be established for continual re-examination in order to sustain excellence in performance.  An additional goal is to identify and to tap human resources that have not been used to an optimum level.  This type of manager also supports the inclusion of as many staff as possible in problem-solving, decision-making and planning.  Thus, the manager views the practitioner as a co-analyst and catalyst.

To help remedy human resource problems

This motive and the two that follow tend to be oriented toward reinforcing both the ‘learning’ and ‘doing’ aspects of OD.  Managers who display this motive recognize organizational difficulties in the human-resource area that may be worsening but are not unsolvable.  Usually such a manager admits that people are not addressing these difficulties.  OD activities are viewed as necessary, sometimes painful or challenging steps required to fully analyse issues.  The practitioner’s role is seen as being that of an expert in interpersonal relations, a confronter, and a human-systems analyst.

To change the organizational climate

Managers of this type are anxious to ensure that the climate of the organization facilitates the meeting of organizational objectives.  They express a genuine desire to build trust between individuals and groups in order to reduce ‘backbiting’ and destructive conflict.  In addition, they want to increase commitment to objectives, build greater ownership of personal behaviour, and reduce defensive behaviours.  Such a manager seeks to enhance collaborative and problem-solving capabilities throughout the organization.  OD is thought to be both a philosophy and a strategy for examining current behaviour patterns and influencing norms.  Activities are viewed as interrelated steps aimed at long-range improvements in climate.  The practitioner is seen as a strategist, an analyst and an interpersonal-behaviour expert.

To revitalize the organization

The chief concerns of this type of manager are lacklustre performance and mediocrity in the organization.  S/he wants to revitalize staff interest and involvement in the organization’s structure, tasks, objectives, philosophy and vision.  OD is believed to represent a strategy for improving the organization’s use of resources, particularly through emphasis on staff self-assessment.  Activities are seen as steps that are taken to build awareness of problem performance patterns and to elicit support for changes related to these patterns.  The practitioner serves as a catalyst and a guide in the process of change assessment.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

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