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What is Organizational Development?

Does this sound familiar: you come up with a great idea to improve efficiencies at your organization. There’s initial interest, but then you’re met by pushback, and your vision gets scrapped.  

What if you could implement impactful organizational changes instead of having new initiatives fought and ignored? 

What is organizational development?

Organizational development is the solution you need. Organizational development (OD) lets you identify opportunities and make changes based on social and behavioral science to increase organizational efficiency.

Change is a constant in business, whether it’s management changes, external factors, or investor demands. With organizational development, you can proactively identify issues and respond effectively.

What is the difference between organizational development and human resources (HR)?

Human resources (HR) is a department that manages everything related to your employees and benefits. However, HR professionals need to be more focused on strategic action planning and making changes in business processes.

Instead, the focus is on helping employees understand professional expectations, enforcing those expectations, and administering payroll and benefits.

OD has an entirely different focus. With organizational development, you’re strategically looking at improving business processes. Then, you plan how to introduce and implement changes, so your team understands and accepts them.

In other words, both HR and OD focus on people, but in different ways. HR ensures people are professional, get paid, and have the right benefits, and organizational development focuses on how to move people to adopt changes so the entire company can succeed.

Why is organizational development important to business?

Change is constant in today’s business environment. The combined forces of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA) make leadership and business success difficult.

Organizational development can help you diagnose problems and face them head-on, being proactive vs. reactive.

Best of all, the results of OD initiatives can increase efficiency, profitability, and productivity 

within your organization.

Organizational development initiatives and goals

OD initiatives can be focused on any one of many opportunities. For example, an employee-focused intervention could improve team relationships or promote leadership and development

Other areas organizational development focuses on improving include:

  • Structure: Organizational structure, quality systems, or design of work
  • People Management: Wellness, organizational performance management, or diversity and inclusion
  • Strategic Change: Processes, restructuring, innovation

These opportunities generally lead to increased efficiency, productivity, employee development, and profitability, which are the primary goals of OD. 

What are the phases of an organizational development strategy?

Because organizational development is strategic, it takes place in phases. Your organization may have only one OD project at a time, or you might run a few.

If there’s more than one, ensuring they don’t conflict or create confusion among team members is essential.


The first step in an OD project is diagnosing the problem or opportunity. Next, it’s essential to carefully think through what changes you’d like to make and the potential impact.

Some examples of changes you might aim for are:

  • Better communication between individuals or teams
  • Effective leadership development to identify and train talented managers
  • Implementing continuous process improvement in the production of your product or service
  • Improving work design or job enrichment
  • Moving your organization toward a learning culture where you learn from mistakes and failures instead of punishing them

Once you’ve determined the changes you want to make, set up a project with a scope of work and project plan.

Diagnosis or assessment

The next step is gathering information on the problem or change you want. For example, you need to document a current process before looking to improve work design. 

The goal of the diagnosis/assessment stage is to understand the root cause of the issue. You can look at current data, interview affected team members, survey a particular department, or take necessary steps to get clear information about the issue. 


Following your assessment, ensure all stakeholders understand and agree with the conclusions. From there, create an action plan to make the changes that will solve the problem or improve the workflow.

It’s also essential to set up metrics to track as you implement the solution, so you can ensure that your changes are effective. 


Once you have an action plan, it’s time to create “interventions,” meaning you’ll take specific actions that cause the changes you want to see.

Some examples of interventions include:

  • Providing targeted microtraining to individuals or teams
  • Training employees on and implementing new processes to make work more enjoyable or remove obstacles in the workflow
  • Training team members on lean and continuous improvement methods and creating new employee goals around ongoing improvement
  • Creating and implementing leadership training for new managers

Change is challenging, and as you implement these interventions, it’s important to keep change management strategies in mind. Help employees understand why the planned change is happening, how it benefits them, and how you’ll support them in the new approach.

From there, continue encouraging change and measuring key metrics associated with the new processes. 


Finally, you’ll want to collect data to determine whether the interventions are reaching the goals you set in stages one and two. For example, you’ll want to know the adoption rate, whether success metrics are being met, and more. 

Evaluation is also a good time to set up ongoing resources and support to keep the new changes in place. Of course, enthusiasm can ebb and flow, but if you want to continue to reap the benefits of your hard work, you must make the changes permanent. 

How to prepare your team to embrace change

Organizational change is a phrase that can strike fear in some employees. So why is change within the workplace so difficult?

The biggest reason is that people fear losing something of value. They may fear losing their position, role as the expert, respect from others, or even their job. Even positive change involves loss; you leave the familiar behind when you embrace something new.

That doesn’t mean every attempt at change is doomed, however. Instead, you can take steps to help your team anticipate and embrace ongoing changes. 

Here are some strategies to keep in mind.

Never overlook the emotional aspect of change

No matter what’s different-how someone does their job or where they sit in the office- people react emotionally to it. 

Of course, you can be logical in explaining the need for the new approach, but you can’t overlook the emotional aspect of it as well. Be sure to address that you know people have conflicting feelings about change and give them resources to work through it. This could be saying, “My door is open if you want to talk,” or orchestrating a goodbye ceremony

Whatever your team needs, be sure to support them along the way.

Give people time to prepare for change

If you’re introducing something new, one of the worst things to do is give no warning. 

If you walk in and say, “Starting right now, we’re going to do XYZ,” you’ll get a lot of resistance, frustration, and even anger. 

People need time to prepare for change or feel blindsided and unable to process what’s happening.

Your team needs time to understand, think about, and adjust to the new way of doing things. 

Introduce changes gradually and regularly

Another way to get people to embrace change is to introduce them gradually but ensure they know to expect more over time. For instance, you can outline a roadmap for how and when new processes will be implemented or new training will be required.

Introducing new processes gradually and consistently does two things that can be very helpful. First, it helps people take small steps instead of one large one, which is easier for many people to manage. Secondly, it helps them acclimate to continuous change, making improving your organization’s effectiveness easier over time.

Talk about why

Helping employees understand the “why” behind a change is vital to getting them to embrace it and become change agents. It’s also helpful to let them know that the organization wants to improve consistently and that they can expect ongoing change to reach these goals.

Remember to frame the “why” in terms that matter to your team, not just to leadership. 

Consider talking about: 

  • How better employee training creates more opportunities for advancement
  • How efficient processes help reduce error and save time
  • How increased business profitability allows the organization to grow, create new opportunities for employees, and innovate to add more value for customers
  • That work design changes make work less frustrating and more engaging


Most people understand that change will happen and even that it’s necessary on a logical level. However, resistance often happens when there’s a lack of communication.

Talk about potential changes and invite feedback. Your team wants to feel like they are part of the process, not simply taking orders. Your frontline employees often have the best ideas and suggestions because they interact daily with these processes.

8 competencies of an organizational development practitioner

Some teams work with an organizational development specialist, which can be expensive. So what does it take to spearhead OD efforts at your organization?

You do need specific skills, but they can be learned. You can also organize a team so that all of these skills are represented.

Look for abilities in:

  • Diagnostics and assessment
  • Analyzing issues and opportunities
  • Knowledge of the organization
  • Documenting and improving processes

There are also important soft skills, such as:

  • Communication
  • Facilitating change
  • Emotional intelligence and relational skills
  • Collaboration

When finding a person or team with most of these traits, you can run organizational development internally rather than relying on outside consultants.

Implement the changes your organization needs today

Implementing change is challenging, but when you use organizational development strategies, you can identify opportunities and reduce resistance to change. 

Once you’ve decided on a course of action, implementation is key. Companies often start with two initiatives: employee upskilling and leadership training. Do you have an all-in-one learning platform that makes it easy for team members to adopt these changes?

WorkRamp is an All-in-One Learning Platform to implement effective training initiatives, from internal employee training to customer education. 

Want to learn more about how WorkRamp can help you drive organizational development and change to help your team improve? Contact us to schedule a free, personalized demo.


Complete the form for a custom demo.

Anna Spooner

WorkRamp Contributor

Anna Spooner is a digital strategist and marketer with over 11 years of experience. She writes content for various industries, including SaaS, medical and personal insurance, healthcare, education, marketing, and business. She enjoys the process of putting words around a company’s vision and is an expert at making complex ideas approachable and encouraging an audience to take action. 

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