Organisation Development

by Rosie Stevens

OD versus HR

It is important to say that there is much debate and a range of views relating to the differences between OD and HR. In many organisations, OD is combined with the HR function, with the Head of Department or Director having a dual role and title, as in ‘Head/Director of OD and HR’ (and vice versa), while in others, the HR department has a strategic role which implicitly, but not explicitly, includes OD.

Some believe that HR and OD are gradually merging, while others see them as necessarily distinct and different disciplines and believe that merging them is positively unhelpful and can lead to conflicts of interest.

For the purposes of this topic, I have attempted to provide a traditional explanation of difference, based on historical research and writing.

Human Resource management

HR management (as opposed to development) is associated primarily with the more traditional personnel-type functions, most of which tend to be characterised by specific and sometimes very detailed processes, legislation and regulation. Most of these processes have been designed to ensure that things run smoothly for the organisation, while at the same time ensuring that people get a fair deal, are adequately rewarded, have the opportunity for personal development, are happy and motivated at work and are well managed.

These processes include recruitment and selection, employment legislation, the development and management of the employment contract and associated legislative acts, codes and regulations, pay strategies and mechanisms, appraisal, performance management (including capability and disciplinary processes), HR systems and databases, compensation and benefits, appraisal procedures, talent management and a whole array of other processes and functions.

As discussed above, modern, strategic HR has begun to address many of the issues with which OD was historically associated and uses, as its starting point for the development of HR policy and strategy, the strategic goals and plans of the organisation.

Arguably, though, the difference that still exists today is the basis of each individual discipline.

Organisation Development

Organisation Development, as seen from the history section and definitions, is, at its very core, rooted in behavioural science – psychology, sociology and anthropology – and is concerned with applying that knowledge to help organisations develop and improve.

There are few OD ‘processes’ that are bound by legislation or set in stone because the majority of such processes are custom-designed to meet the aims of the specific OD strategy. The starting point for development of an OD strategy is always a system-wide diagnosis, including at least a review of the organisation’s mission or purpose, vision and values, to ensure that the direction of travel agreed following the diagnosis is aligned and consistent with the purpose, vision and values.

Ongoing debate

It seems likely that the debate is set to ramble on for some considerable period of time and, as strategic HR progresses and HR comes to be seen as more and more of a strategic and necessary function at board level, the boundaries may very well continue to blur. What is critical, though, is that OD does not in the process lose some of its independence of thought and application of the knowledge of behavioural sciences, the understanding of which significantly benefits the organisation and the people within it.