Appreciating Organization Development: A Comparative Essay on Divergent Perspectives Thomas G. Cummings, Chailin Cummings

HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, vol. 25, no. 2, Summer 2014 © Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/hrdq.21186 141


Appreciating Organization Development: A Comparative Essay on Divergent Perspectives

Thomas G. Cummings, Chailin Cummings

Organization development (OD) applies social science knowledge to help organizations change and improve themselves. From its beginnings over 70 years ago in group dynamics, action research, and humanistic psychology, the fi eld has expanded enormously to include a diversity of theories and practices aimed at developing organizations at different levels, from jobs, teams, and organizations to interorganization alliances and societal change. Along with this expansive evolution, however, has come increasing confusion and disagreement in defi ning the fi eld’s conceptual boundaries, change interventions, and underlying values. This raises fundamental questions about the nature and consequences of OD, which can impede the fi eld’s further progress conceptually, empirically, and practically. We clarify some of the major ambiguities and differences in the fi eld today and suggest solutions for moving forward by comparing four pairs of divergent perspectives: (a) development versus change, (b) episodic versus continuous change, (c) planned versus emergent change, and (d) diagnostic versus dialogic OD.

Key Words: organization development, organization change, episodic change, continuous change, planned change, emergent change, organization diagnosis, dialogic organization development

Organization development (OD) applies social-science knowledge and prac- tice to help organizations change themselves to achieve greater effectiveness. It draws on concepts and methods from a variety of fi elds, such as social psy- chology, human resource management, organization theory, corporate strat- egy, and systems theory. It uses that knowledge and expertise for improving organizations at different levels, such as job, group, and organization. OD is a social practice, in which managers, staff experts, and consultants apply

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relevant knowledge and practices to improve organizations. It also is an applied social science, where researchers study change processes to gener- ate new knowledge that can be used in other organizations. Because prac- titioners and researchers generally work closely together to jointly apply knowledge and to learn from those experiences, OD is an “action science,” in which knowledge is generated in the context of applying it and learning from the consequences (cf. Argyris, Putnam, & Smith, 1985; Lawler, Mohrman, Mohrman, Ledford, & Cummings, 1985).

OD originated in the 1950s in the application of group dynamics to resolve social problems arising from the rapid growth of modern bureaucra- cies, such as poor communication, dysfunctional confl ict, and resistance to change. Based on humanistic values promoting democratic practices, human potential, and openness, trust, and collaboration in interpersonal relation- ships, the fi eld helped organizations run more smoothly and humanely, with less confl ict, autocracy, and rigidity. From this relatively cohesive beginning, OD has burgeoned over the past 70 years into a large yet loosely bounded fi eld of research and practice. It includes a diverse and often disconnected array of concepts and change methods, promoting an increasing and often confl icting collection of humanistic, economic, and societal values. OD inter- ventions have gone far beyond interpersonal relations and groups to encom- pass features and processes occurring at organization, interorganization, and nation levels. Indeed, the fi eld’s vast and growing storehouse of knowledge and practice took over 800 pages to describe in a recent textbook (Cummings & Worley, 2015).

OD’s diffuse evolution has generally kept pace with organizations’ increasing need to adapt to rapid changes in technology, the workforce, and the global economy. Although the fi eld has evolved successfully by provid- ing organizations with helpful interventions and expertise, OD scholars and practitioners are voicing serious concerns that the fi eld has lost its coherent identity and humanistic heart along the way. Recent OD histories and reviews have pointed to confusion and disagreement in defi ning the fi eld’s conceptual boundaries, key change interventions, and emerging values (cf. Burke, 2011; Burnes & Cook, 2012; Greiner & Cummings, 2004). A myriad of approaches to organization improvement has appeared under the OD banner. Change targets as varied as employee stress, product quality, and environmental sus- tainability have entered the fi eld’s lexicon. This wide diversity of applications makes it diffi cult to understand the nature and consequences of OD. It raises fundamental questions about what in organizations is being changed, how these changes are being made, with what results, and under what conditions. Conceptual and empirical clarity on these issues are essential for OD’s prog- ress as a scientifi c and pragmatic approach to improving organizations.

Our purpose in this article is to address these issues through a compara- tive lens. Specifi cally, we address key perspectives on OD that differ substan- tially on how the fi eld is conceived and practiced. These viewpoints often are

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discussed separately or tangentially from each other. We believe that a greater appreciation of OD can be gained from a more direct comparison of them. It can highlight some of the major ambiguities and differences that persist in the fi eld today and perhaps suggest a clearer and more integrative path for- ward. The following four comparisons are discussed: (a) development versus change, (b) episodic versus continuous change, (c) planned versus emergent change, and (d) diagnostic versus dialogic OD.

Development Versus Change

The words development and change appear frequently in the OD literature, often used interchangeably or linked together as in “organization development and change.” Development has long been the distinguishing feature of OD, a distinct approach to organizational change with its own values, concepts, and methods (cf. Burke, 2013; Cummings, 2008; Cummings & Worley, 2015). Recently, change has been described more and more in the context of change management (CM), an emergent social practice that involves helping organi- zations implement change (cf. Hays, 2010; Kotter, 1996). CM has grown in popularity as organizations seek to change themselves to adapt to complex and uncertain environments. The term CM also has been used increasingly to suggest a harder, more business-oriented approach to change than the softer version often associated with the name OD. The relationship between OD and CM is usually more presumed than clearly articulated, however. This can lead to vagueness and misunderstanding about how OD and CM are defi ned and related to each other. It raises questions about whether CM is simply the change part of OD, a variant of OD practice, or a separate approach to organi- zation improvement altogether.

OD and CM share some common features. Both involve planned change aimed at helping organizations become more effective. They address similar change activities, such as creating readiness for change, overcoming resis- tance, and sustaining momentum. They are concerned with the structures, processes, and leadership that produce effective organization change. Yet OD and CM differ in fundamental ways that need to be taken into account when conceptualizing and practicing them. This difference stems from their under- lying value orientations and resultant purposes.

OD’s most distinct and basic feature comes from the “development” part of its title, which is frequently passed over without considering its mean- ing and signifi cance in an organization context. How OD defi nes and enacts development rests on certain assumptions about human beings and organiza- tions. All approaches to changing organizations are based, either implicitly or explicitly, on beliefs about the nature of human beings. These views affect how people’s behavior is explained, changed, and developed. From its begin- ning, OD has drawn heavily on humanistic psychology and its underlying val- ues to understand behavior in organizations and to defi ne what development

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means for organization members (Ellis, 1973; Maslow, 1968; Rogers, 1972). Humanistic psychology provides a positive view of human behavior that sees people as inherently good and having a substantial capacity for self-deter- mination, creativity, and psychological growth. This positive view of human beings is embedded deeply in OD’s values and practice. It guides how OD helps organizations address a key issue underlying all cooperative social behavior: how to integrate the personal interests and needs of individuals with the collective interests and needs of organizations. OD’s solution lies in helping organizations create opportunities for members to apply their psycho- logical maturity and to achieve greater human potential (Argyris, 1964). For example, when organizations provide members with enriched forms of work, involvement in decision making, and open and trusting relationships, mem- bers are likely to be self-controlling, take responsibility for their actions, and expend energy toward realizing their potential while meeting the challenges facing the organization (cf. Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Reason, 1988; Weisbord, 1987). Providing opportunities for members to behave and develop as mature human beings integrates their interests with those of the organization and benefi ts both of them.

At the organization level, OD’s assumptions about development relate to organizations’ competence to solve problems, adapt to change, and improve themselves. Organizations are seen to develop to the extent that they have the knowledge and skills to solve their own problems and to change and improve themselves, what recently has been referred to as dynamic capabilities (Teece, Pisano, & Shuen, 1997). OD helps organizations gain this expertise, usually by transferring knowledge and skills to organizations while they are imple- menting organization changes.

When considered at the person and organization levels, the development part of OD involves helping organizations create opportunities for member psychological maturity while building problem-solving and change capabili- ties into the organization itself. The more an organization has the capabil- ity to enhance member maturity and to change and improve itself, the more developed it is considered to be and, in turn, the more likely it is to perform effectively (e.g., high levels of productivity, quality, and employee fulfi llment).

Change management, however, focuses on helping organizations imple- ment specifi c changes, such as a new organization structure, technology, or work practice. CM’s values and practices are highly pragmatic and aimed at making change processes more effective and effi cient (cf. Hays, 2010). Particular attention is paid to how well change is implemented and at what cost and speed. In advising organizations how to plan and implement change, CM addresses many of the same issues as those dealt with in OD, such as creating a vision for change, overcoming resistance, developing political sup- port, managing the transition process, and reinforcing the changes. What distinguishes CM from OD, however, is an emphasis on change implemen- tation, with a relative neglect for development and its concern for member

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psychological maturity and transferring knowledge and skills to organiza- tions so that they are more capable of managing change in the future. Thus, although CM may use many of OD’s democratic change methods, it also can apply more power-oriented interventions rooted in hierarchy, bargaining, and persuasion to assure that changes get implemented. Part of CM’s narrower focus can be attributed to its typical location in management consulting fi rms or its sideline role in organizations’ human resource function. Consulting companies are generally more concerned with gaining repeat business than with transferring their expertise to clients. The human resource function tends to provide change management skills through traditional training programs, not through a learning-by-doing process that has been so effective in OD.

To provide conceptual clarity about development and change in orga- nizations, we suggest that OD and CM be treated as different approaches to organization improvement. OD addresses change implementation from a developmental perspective. CM’s values and methods focus on implementing organization changes effectively and effi ciently, not necessarily from a devel- opmental standpoint. In those cases where CM is conceived and practiced developmentally, it is synonymous with how change is implemented in OD, and consequently, it is more accurate and parsimonious to simply use the name OD.

To empirically distinguish between OD and CM, we need to develop common measures of each of them, assess the approaches’ effects in organiza- tions, and compare them with each other and across different organization contexts as well. This is a tall order. Studies of OD have included few common measures of interventions and their effects and research designs of question- able validity; the most prevalent research is case studies with post-hoc results (cf. Woodman, Bingham, & Yuan, 2008). All of this makes interpretation of results problematic and comparison across studies nearly impossible. Research in CM is just beginning, with few if any common measures or research designs that permit causal inference (e.g., quasi-experiments). Without common measures of OD and CM and research designs that allow reasonable causal conclusions, empirical understanding of the two approaches, their relative effects and general applicability will continue to rest more on supposition than empirical evidence.

Episodic Versus Continuous Change

OD helps organizations solve particular problems or improve their current functioning. Although the fi eld conceptualizes change as a process, in practice change often is treated as an episodic event involving a linear series of change activities with a distinct beginning and end. Episodic approaches to change can help organizations implement discrete changes but can be troublesome when organizations need to change almost continuously to adapt to changing envi- ronments. In these situations, a more dynamic application of OD is needed.

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The distinction between episodic and continuous change is crucial to under- standing OD change processes and where they are most likely to be effective. Yet differences between the two types of change are often glossed over in the OD literature. Standard descriptions of how OD is practiced generally follow an episodic perspective. Because OD applications more suited to continuous change are relatively new and still being developed, they often are presented as an adjunct to traditional OD practices rather than a fundamentally different approach to change. This can hinder understanding the unique qualities of con- tinuous change and what is needed to implement it effectively in organizations.

Starting from Lewin’s pioneering work in action research and change dynamics (Lewin, 1946, 1947), OD has conceptualized organization change as involving three sequential steps, portrayed as unfreezing, moving, and refreezing the organization. First, the structures and processes that govern and reinforce an organization’s current functioning and performance need to be unfrozen or loosened, so there is opportunity or leeway to change the status quo. Second, the organization needs to move or change to new structures and processes to function and perform more effectively. Third, the organization needs to refreeze or stabilize the new structures and processes so that they do not revert to their former states.

This simple yet profound model of organization change has stood the test of time. Almost all conceptions of how OD is applied include elaborations on these three stages (cf. Cummings & Worley, 2015). They typically start with organization members perceiving a problem and seeking OD help to resolve it; then the problem is diagnosed to discover its underlying causes, and action planning occurs to design changes to solve the problem; fi nally, the changes are implemented and assessed and, if found successful, are stabilized and rein- forced. This general OD process can vary in magnitude, timing, and degree of member participation depending on the nature of the problem and the orga- nization’s expertise and culture. Despite these differences, the language and conceptual frame that are used to describe the change process imply, often unintentionally, that organization change is an episodic event that occurs peri- odically, beginning when a problem is identifi ed and ending when it is resolved.

An episodic approach to OD can pose difficulties, however, particu- larly when applied to organizations facing complex and changing environ- ments. It can reinforce organizations’ natural tendency to treat change as a discrete problem-solving event. Rational approaches to problem solving tend to be widely accepted, well learned, and taken for granted in most organiza- tions (cf. March & Simon, 1958). They can lead to an overly programmed approach to OD, in which organization leaders, who are responsible for solv- ing problems and improving the organization, focus more on results than the change process itself. They typically seek maximal control over the problem- solving process while relying on experts to offer solutions and make changes. Consequently, organizations can easily neglect the development part of OD in favor of solving particular problems rather than gaining the knowledge

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and skills to solve problems and implement change in the future. Developing dynamic capabilities is essential for organizations that need to change con- stantly to adapt to rapidly changing and unpredictable environments. In these situations, change is more appropriately considered a “verb” or process, not a “noun” or event.

Continuous change requires an approach to OD that is itself continu- ous. Change capability needs to be part of members’ knowledge and skills (i.e., human capital) as well as built into organizations’ structures, norms, and routines (i.e., organization capital), so members treat change as a nor- mal part of work, not an unusual event. Under such names as participatory action research (Reason & Bradbury, 2008), action inquiry (Torbert, 2004), and self-designing organizations (Mohrman & Cummings, 1989), dynamic change methods raise the development part of OD to new levels. They treat organi- zation change as an action-learning process, in which organization members learn how to change by doing it and refl ecting on the experience. Because members constantly need to learn new ways to behave and perform, change involves an iterative cycle of learning activities. Members take action to imple- ment changes, assess whether they are progressing as intended, and, if not, make plans to modify them, then continue the implementation process, and so on. This feedback-adjustment cycle helps members learn from their behaviors how to change and improve the organization. It continues indefi – nitely as members initiate changes to adapt to changing conditions as well as invent and implement new ways to improve the organization. Continuous change involves three levels of learning (Argyris, 2003; Argyris & Schön, 1978, 1996): single-loop learning is focused on implementing the changes as intended; double-loop learning is directed at the values underlying the changes and determining if they are still relevant or need to be changed; and meta-learning is aimed at assessing and improving the learning process itself or learning how to learn. In many ways, meta-learning is the most important but diffi cult form of organization learning needed for continuous change. It is essential to improving the other two levels of learning and to enhance the organization’s capability to learn how to change and improve itself. Yet meta- learning takes time, effort, and skills to step back from the ongoing change process and to examine how well the organization is learning and how it can be improved. This can be challenging even for change-savvy organizations.

Conceptually, the overall differences between episodic and continuous change are fairly clear, as are the situations where each is most appropriate. Moreover, explanations of episodic change offer detailed accounts of how it works and what results can be expected. Considerably more explanation is needed, however, about continuous change. Initial descriptions of this newer approach to change suggest that learning by doing requires a supportive infra- structure, in which an organization’s leadership, culture, and information sys- tem need to mutually support and reinforce the learning process. Specifi cally, leadership needs to provide a clear valued direction for change, criteria for

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assessing progress, and rewards for learning and improvement. Cultural val- ues and norms need to support open and frank discussion of how changes are being implemented and what can be learned from both failures and successes. The information system needs to provide timely measures of the changes and their effects to guide the feedback-adjustment process. These preliminary sug- gestions are based mainly on ethnographic observations from researchers who were actively engaged with organization members in continuous change (cf. Beer & Nohria, 2000; Greiner & Cummings, 2009; Mohrman & Cummings, 1989). A next step is to conduct more rigorous studies of continuous change, including quantitative measures of organization learning and its effects over reasonable periods of time.

Planned Versus Emergent Change

Along with episodic change, planned change is fundamental to OD’s identity and practice. It is intentional and rational, a process that is formally initiated, designed, and implemented to achieve expected results. Recently, a more pro- cessual approach to change has emerged called emergent change (cf. Burnes, 2004; Livne-Tarandach & Bartunek, 2009; Weick, 2000). It views organi- zation change as ongoing, unpredictable, and infl uenced as much by daily evolving work events as by rational planning. So far, planned and emergent change have been treated as separate and often confl icting approaches to organization improvement. Limited consideration has been given to how they might interrelate to provide a more comprehensive change perspective. A step in this direction is to clarify the premises underlying planned and emergent change and to explore how they might provide complimentary perspectives on organization change.

Planned change is an integral part of OD. It is deliberately designed and managed and presumes that practitioners have suffi cient foresight and control over the change process to plan and execute it effectively (cf. Cummings & Worley, 2015). Planned change is widely accepted and generally taken for granted in OD, which makes it diffi cult for the fi eld to consider alternative forms of organizational change. Yet emergent change is ubiquitous in orga- nizations and can impact whether planned change is successful (cf. Weick, 2000). It includes all the innumerable daily activities that organization mem- bers do to respond to emergent problems and opportunities. These ongoing adaptations and modifi cations are not formal or explicitly planned ahead of time but arise in response to changing conditions. Although emergent change may consist of many small, independent alterations, they can accumulate and interact with each other over time to produce larger, more fundamental orga- nization changes, such as when a series of small modifi cations in work meth- ods leads to an entirely new approach to performing work. Because emergent change is ongoing and represents an informal approach to continuous change, it can help organizations adapt to changing environments.

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Both planned and emergent change have been criticized on several counts (cf. Bamford & Forrester, 2003; Burnes, 2004). Planned change can be too slow and formulaic to keep pace with the rapidly changing environ- ments faced by many organizations today. In these situations, to be systemati- cally late is to be systematically wrong. Planned change requires a high level of understanding and control of the organization and its context that many organization members may not possess. This can result in changes that are ill- suited to the organization or poorly implemented. Planned change relies on members’ agreement and commitment to make changes, which may not align with organizational politics. This can make changes diffi cult if not impossible to implement, which can contribute to confl ict and distrust among mem- bers. On the other side, emergent changes can be too small, disparate, and diffuse to accumulate into more basic changes, which can limit their effect on organization performance. Emergent changes may be constrained by the organization’s technology, culture, and standard operating practices, making it diffi cult to implement and learn from them. Because emergent change gener- ally emanates from the bottom levels of the organization, it may be too slow and inconsequential to meet pressing organization needs that require top- down change, such as when organizations need to make rapid and fundamen- tal changes in strategy or structure.

These two approaches to organization change can be diffi cult to reconcile conceptually and in practice. Because they derive from divergent mind-sets on how change is conceived and practiced, they can form dissimilar institutional logics of change embedded in organizations’ culture, structure, and practices (Weick, 2000). This makes them highly resistant to change and relatively closed to alternative viewpoints. A potential way to bridge the gap between planned and emergent change is to exploit their differences by applying them to differ- ent yet complementary aspects of the change process. Planned change is for- mal and organized; it can provide an overall direction for organization change, which can capture members’ attention. Emergent change is informal and local- ized. It can increase members’ readiness and acceptability to planned change; it can tailor the changes to fi t specifi c situations and help to stabilize them.

Naturally, this joint application raises a host of thorny issues that need further inquiry and practical consideration. For example, should the two approaches be used sequentially or in tandem with each other? How do orga- nizations buffer or protect emergent change processes from formal organiza- tional arrangements, such as culture, structure, and human resource practices, which can intrude on them and render them ineffective? How are localized emergent changes transformed into formal practices that can be used else- where in the organization? Answers to these kinds of questions would provide a deeper appreciation that organization change is an unfolding process involv- ing the constant interplay between planned and emergent elements. Sustained organization effectiveness is likely to depend on maintaining a dynamic bal- ance between the two kinds of change.

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Diagnostic Versus Dialogic OD

Diagnosis before action is a fundamental dictum of OD. It is considered the rational basis for choosing planned changes, which follow from assessing the organization to determine the underlying causes of problems or areas where it can improve (cf. Harrison, 2004). Recent years have seen a growing interest in alternatives to traditional diagnostic OD based on fundamentally different philosophical and conceptual assumptions about organizations and how best to develop them. Referred to broadly as “dialogic OD” (cf. Bushe & Marshak, 2009), these approaches to organization improvement rest on postmodern views that organizations are socially constructed realities that result from members’ sensemaking activities (cf. Weick, 1995, 2009). Rather than assess an assumed objective organization, dialogic OD seeks to improve discourse among members, so they better understand their different interpretations of organization reality and can jointly envision a more positive reality. Because sensemaking affects how members think and act, it is thought to infl uence organization effectiveness.

Dialogic OD has received varied attention in the literature and practice. It often has been portrayed as a postmodern extension of traditional OD, without clear understanding of its concepts and practices and their unique contribution to the fi eld. Dialogic OD draws on interpretive approaches to social science, which view organizations as sensemaking systems (cf. Weick, 1995, 2009). Organization members actively engage in sensemaking to under- stand and know how to behave in their situation; they socially construct orga- nization reality through dialogue and interaction with each other. Because sensemaking can vary depending on personal, role, and power differences among members, multiple organization realities can exist and members may need to negotiate among them to gain suffi cient agreement to enable coordi- nated action. In practice, dialogic OD facilitates meaningful discourse among members so they can understand their different organization realities, iden- tify dysfunctional assumptions and interaction patterns, and jointly engage in new sensemaking that nurtures positive actions. Change is aimed at members’ sensemaking processes and outcomes, the frames that guide what they think and do. It engages members in a generative process of inquiring about their organization realities and imagining new alternatives and how to make them happen (cf. Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008).

Dialogic OD is often presented as a solution to what are seen as lim- itations of the diagnostic approach (cf. Bushe & Marshak, 2009). Because diagnostic OD is based on positivist social science, it treats organizations as tangible entities that can be assessed objectively. This can result in diagnostic models that are too prescriptive and assess the organization on ideal criteria or benchmarks that may not fi t with how members make sense of their situation. Diagnosis seeks to uncover causes of problems or areas for improvement. It can lead members to assume that something is wrong with the organization

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and needs fixing, which can reinforce members’ defensive routines and resistance to change. This contrasts with dialogic OD’s focus on generative ideas and positive change. Diagnostic OD typically changes organizations by modifying the features and processes that shape members’ behavior, such as rewards, performance norms, and operating routines. Because members may perceive these changes as externally created and controlled, they may not be committed or motivated to implement them. Dialogic OD changes organiza- tions through members’ mind-sets and discourses. It is more self-generated and member driven than diagnostic OD, and consequently, members are likely to be more dedicated to implementing the changes.

Although these differences between diagnostic and dialogic OD help to clarify the two approaches to organization change, they tend to be overstated. There are diagnostic practices in OD that emphasize member discourse and perception sharing, such as process consultation, organization confrontation meeting, and dynamic strategy making (Cummings & Worley, 2015). Perhaps most important, diagnostic and dialogic OD share fundamental values about developing organizations. They both promote empowerment, collaboration, and human potential as well as open and trusting interactions among mem- bers. They facilitate members inquiring about the organization and gaining the knowledge and skills to change and improve it. Thus, despite diagnostic and dialogic OD having radically different philosophical views on organiza- tion reality, their shared values suggest that the two might complement each other, at least in practice. For example, the “harder” features of an organiza- tion, such as strategy, structure, and human resource practices, might initially be assessed diagnostically. There are many standard instruments for assessing these organization features and they can provide preliminary data as a start- ing point for subsequent dialogue. Or conversely, organization change might start with dialogue among members to envision positive futures. Then, diag- nosis could identify organization features that might thwart or support those visions. It could reveal key action levers for enacting the desired future.

Further thinking along these lines might lead to more productive exchange between diagnostic and dialogic OD. There is little that can be done conceptually or empirically to reconcile their philosophical differences. They simply see the nature of reality differently. A more promising path is to clarify what each approach contributes to OD, and then to explore how the two might coproduce a richer, more comprehensive account of organization improvement.

Final Thoughts

A social practice and applied science as old, large, and diverse as OD is subject to various conceptions from an array of perspectives. Diverse viewpoints can highlight the fi eld’s vitality and describe more fully its richness and complex- ity. Yet they can lead to confusion and disagreement if they are not clearly

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explicated and directly related to each other. We have sought to provide a clearer and more comprehensive appreciation for OD by comparing divergent perspectives, identifying their unique contributions to the fi eld, and exploring how they might be better integrated or combined with each other.

Foremost, our comparative inquiry reaffi rms that humanistic and dem- ocratic values are the core of OD. They define the field’s developmental approach to organization improvement, guide practice, and drive a spirit of inquiry. In recent times, however, OD’s fundamental values have been down- played or even ignored in the service of organizations’ economic interests. Indeed, the term OD with its soft human connotation often has been replaced with names such as change management and organization effectiveness, which imply a harder, more bottom-line approach to organization improvement. This need to censor OD’s identity is troubling to us and suggests that the fi eld may have inadvertently become a servant of power or, perhaps more simply, been lax in explaining its relevance to organization effectiveness. From OD’s beginning, it has neither ignored nor devalued the economic side of organi- zations; after all, businesses need to make a profi t or they will not persist. Rather, OD’s humanistic approach to improving organizations is intended to enhance organization effectiveness on all of its human, economic, and soci- etal dimensions. OD helps organizations seek ways to jointly optimize these different outcomes, and when this is not feasible, it encourages explicit and meaningful trade-offs among them.

When taken together, our comparisons suggest that OD has continued to evolve conceptually and practically. It has been able to adapt to organi- zations’ changing needs by maintaining an essential balance between what March (1991) called “exploitation” and “exploration.” The former has to do with continuing on a successful course of action by improving and extending it; the latter involves exploring new possibilities. The tendency is for each to drive out the other, with excessive exploitation impeding the quest for new ideas and practices and excessive exploration limiting the gains derived from applying and refi ning existing competencies. OD has been able to tread a fi ne line between these two excesses. It has continued to apply and fi ne-tune tra- ditional approaches to organization improvement, such as episodic, planned, and diagnostic forms of change. They have been long used in OD and con- tinue to reap the benefi ts of refi nement and extended application. At the same time, the fi eld has been relatively open to new concepts and approaches to improvement, such as continuous, emergent, and dialogic forms of change. These innovations have helped to keep the fi eld’s knowledge and practice vital and relevant to organizations’ changing needs. To continue to evolve success- fully, OD will need to sustain this balance between tradition and innovation, which will be challenging as there are plenty of strong defenders of estab- lished approaches and avid promoters of new concepts and practices. We believe that the central reason for OD’s success will continue to serve it well going forward, a deep and abiding commitment to values of open and honest

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inquiry that encourage frank discussion and debate about what works well and what needs to change in OD.


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Thomas G. Cummings is Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Management & Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California.

Chailin Cummings is Assistant Professor at the College of Business Administration, California State University, Long Beach.

Corresponding author: Thomas G. Cummings can be contacted at

Copyright of Human Resource Development Quarterly is the property of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.


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