Clearing Up Terms and Language About Organizational Change and Development


Much of the content of this topic came from this book: Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

When a topic, for example, organizational change and development, becomes very prominent, it often takes on many different interpretations and meanings. The advantage is that the topic becomes very accessible, interesting and enlightening to many. The disadvantage is that it is also increasingly vague and difficult for many to make practical. To make this topic of organizational change and development useful in this Library, we should suggest working definitions.

Even if not all people agree with the definitions, we at least have some definitions in common to disagree about -- that alone can enhance the communications about the topic. Having some understanding and discernment about the following phrases will help readers to benefit even more from literature about organizational change and development.

NOTE: The terms are listed in an order to build on the reader's understanding of all of them.

Organizational performance management

We are used to thinking of ongoing performance management for employees, for example, setting goals, monitoring the employee's achievement of those goals, sharing feedback with the employee, evaluating the employee's performance, rewarding performance or firing the employee. Performance management is about effectively and efficiently achieving goals. Systems are inherently constructed and aligned to accomplish a common overall purpose. Thus, performance management applies to any system, including social systems, such as individuals, teams and organizations.

In contrast to organizational change projects, each of which is usually a one-time set of activities, performance management activities are recurring in nature. Those recurring activities are much of what leaders and managers inherently do in their organizations. An organizational change project is not likely to be successful if it is not within the context of the recurring activities of organizational performance management.

Organizational change

This phrase refers to the overall nature of process and activities that occur during a project that aims to enhance the overall performance of the organization. The activities are often led by a change agent -- the person or team currently responsible for the overall change effort. The activities are often project-oriented (a one-time project) and geared to address a current overall problem or goal in the organization.

A relatively new phrase, capacity building, refers to these types of activities, as well.

Organizational development

This phrase refers to the evolution of the organization during the overall organizational change activities, for example, evolution of its members to be able to resolve a major problem, achieve an overall project goal or achieve overall organizational goals. Organizational development is an outcome of organizational change activities.

Change management

This phrase refers to the implementation of a certain approach or methodology to ensure that the organizational change effort is successful, including to ensure a clear vision and/or goals for the project, and to modify systems in the organization to more effectively achieve the goals. Change management activities can range from a planned, structured and explicit approach (successful change efforts usually are) to unplanned, unfolding and implicit.

The phrase "change management" is also used to refer to a distinct discipline that is focused on the necessary changes needed among people in the organization in order to accomplish the overall change in the organization. Others believe that change management is not a separate discipline and is actually an aspect of what the field of Organization Development naturally focuses on when changing the entire system, that is, that Organization Development also focuses a great deal on what is needed to change people. Other views on change management might sound much like how others would define Organization Development, for example, "Organizational Change Management is about an organization achieving a desired future state from its current state with minimal disruption or negative impact to the organization" ... "Change Management ... is not organization-wide or enterprise-wide. It is change specific to a project or program" (Rona Puntawe).

Change agent

A change agent is the person or team who is currently responsible for the overall change effort. It could be different people at different times during the change. For example, it could be a champion for change who encourages the change. Then it could be an expert on change who plans the change. Then it could be leader in the organization who drives the change.

Organization Development (OD)

OD is a field of research, theory and practice dedicated to expanding the knowledge and effectiveness of people to accomplish more successful organizational change and performance. Different people often have different perspectives on the field, depending on their particular values and skills. Many people assert that, for OD projects to be highly effective, they must be systems-based in design and highly humanistic in implementation. (Occasionally, someone refers to the field as "organizational development," but for the sake of clarity in this Library, that definition will not be used when referring to the field.)

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