Published in For Teams

Effectively manage change with an organizational development strategy

By Alyssa Zacharias


6 min read

While unavoidable, change is often uncomfortable. Employees get cozy in their work habits and routines, and leaders may struggle to break teams out of complacency. 

Even if new protocols, technologies, or goals promise to improve productivity, resistance to change is a fierce opponent to growth. 

To overcome this all-too-human hesitancy toward change, managers often employ a multifaceted organizational development (OD) plan. With a detailed OD framework, you have the tools to define, communicate, and implement significant changes to your company culture and protocols while ensuring employees adapt throughout the process. 

Learn how OD works and the most common change interventions for a successful company-wide shake-up.

What’s organizational development? 

OD is a research-backed method that helps shift a company’s processes to improve efficiency, adapt to changing circumstances, and maintain peak competitiveness. When leaders use an OD approach, they first analyze data to identify potential issues in their current operations. Then they intervene to modify and solidify new behaviors in line with their target objectives. 

Whatever changes a company wants to make to its goals and processes, OD helps steer the business structure, systems, and company culture toward new objectives with the highest potential for success.

Organization development versus human resources 

There’s considerable overlap between OD and human resources (HR) departments, but OD goals are more far-reaching than HR’s. An OD plan focuses on broad, system-wide changes to foundational aspects of a company’s operations, including long-term vision or growth initiatives. 

By contrast, HR reps focus on managing employee welfare and training to maintain smooth day-to-day operations. While HR departments help implement organizational development interventions like training sessions and mentorships, they don’t focus on making systemic changes to corporate culture.

Why is organizational development important?

OD initiatives force teams to be flexible, which equips companies to tweak or overhaul their operations for exceptional efficiency. By regularly applying OD, you keep your organization out of unproductive frameworks and feedback loops. Using this development structure:

  • Improves adaptability — the primary purpose of OD is to make systemic changes quickly and smoothly. The framework’s tactics help leaders analyze current data, develop actionable strategies, and make policy changes so teams always adapt to changing circumstances. 

  • Minimizes disruptive changes — while change is a natural and healthy aspect of growth, it isn’t easy for employees to suddenly pivot when they’re accustomed to their roles. An OD plan factors in this inherent resistance to change and supports transitions with interventions like mentoring, training, and team-building workshops. 

  • Fosters employee growth many organizational change interventions double as valuable professional development opportunities. Workshops and team-building sessions positively impact features like knowledge sharing, efficiency, and productivity rates, and development initiatives often improve retention and job satisfaction scores. 

  • Creates a culture of improvement — participants learn to refine their business models for optimal performance. This improvement-centered mindset ensures teams continuously seek opportunities to scale their operations, boosting their competitive edge.

Explaining the organizational development process

There are dozens of OD models with distinct stages for defining and applying new protocols, but most draw on the pioneering work of psychologist Kurt Lewin. In the early 20th century, Lewin developed a three-phase model to help leaders strategize, integrate, and assess their goals. 

1. Unfreezing

Before implementing OD, start by identifying improvement areas within your business operations and developing clear strategies and key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor success. Analyze your current operations, primary competitors, and market trends to identify inefficiencies and opportunities. Also engage all relevant stakeholders to refine your goals and protocols.

Once you have clear objectives that meet the SMART criteria, introduce organizational change to employees to prepare them to “unfreeze” their current routines. Explain the reasoning behind these new operations and the necessary steps before officially integrating new protocols. 

2. Changing

Once everyone has processed the impending changes to their day-to-day work, you can introduce strategies in line with your new organizational objectives. This stage involves interventions like mentoring, mediation, and team-building workshops to demonstrate processes and help employees adapt. 

Constant communication and collaboration are crucial to streamline knowledge transfer and help team members reacclimate. Leaders also monitor resistance or misunderstandings throughout this process and provide solutions when applicable. 

3. Refreezing 

When revamped protocols have become a comfortable “new normal” in your business, reinforce new habits by “refreezing.” This final stage aims to weave modifications into your company’s DNA by constantly assessing operations, celebrating successes, and guiding employees if they veer off course. Conduct evaluations to verify whether adjustments enhanced productivity, efficiency, and profitability. Also use data like employee feedback reports to evaluate how well your team has adjusted and identify communication or operational inefficiencies.

Common organizational development interventions

“Interventions” in OD are the specific actions or strategies that promote behavioral change to achieve specific business results. These actions target various organizational aspects — from culture and leadership roles to daily processes and employee relationships — to align the company with new objectives. While there are several types of interventions, the following strategies are hallmarks of OD plans.

Mentorship and training programs

Mentorship and training programs are the most direct ways for experts and seasoned employees to share knowledge about a new technology or workflow process. Not only are training courses great for skill transfer and performance management, but they also allow teams to clear up confusion around organizational changes.

Team-building workshops

Strong communication and collaboration make it easier to distribute critical information about the latest process changes. To streamline the flow of information as teams transition operations, conduct team-building workshops and let employees build trust, establish communication pathways, and share procedural knowledge on organizational protocols.

Process consultation

Developed by psychologist Edgar H. Schein, process consultation assumes teams have all the expertise and resources to solve problems without external help. The concept empowers employees to share, develop, and implement solutions. Groups incorporate the ideas of process consultation into organizational development interventions to boost problem-solving abilities and improve confidence in their adaptability and resilience. 

Conflict resolution and change management

Changes to well-established workflows can trigger disputes in the workplace. While OD is meant to smoothly manage adjustments, it’s important to prepare conflict resolution plans for addressing interpersonal conflicts quickly and professionally. Use your mediation tactics to open constructive discussions with employees and resolve concerns.

Track organizational change and development with Notion

Since OD is a far-reaching process, implementing it successfully takes superior communication and knowledge sharing. For help arranging and incorporating your organizational change objectives, consider adding Notion templates to your toolkit. With resources like performance improvement plans and team journals, it’s easy to explain the “why” and “how” of your change initiatives and monitor employee feedback. Learn how Notion can swiftly help your company adapt to shifting policies and goals. 

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