Designing Interventions, Characteristics and Process

An organization development intervention is a sequence of activities, actions, and events intended to help an organization improve its performance and effectiveness. Intervention design, or action planning, derives from careful diagnosis and is meant to resolve specific problems and to improve particular areas of organizational functioning identified in the diagnosis. OD interventions vary from standardized programs that have been developed and used in many organizations to relatively unique programs tailored to a specific organization or department.

Effective interventions

The term intervention refers to a set of sequenced planned actions or events intended to help an organization increase its effectiveness. Interventions purposely disrupt the status quo; they are deliberate attempts to change an organization or subunit toward a different and more effective state. In OD, three major criteria define an effective intervention:

(1) The extent to which it fits the needs of the organization;

(2) The degree to which it is based on causal knowledge of intended outcomes; and

(3) The extent to which it transfers change-management competence to organization members.

The first criterion concerns the extent to which the intervention is relevant to the organization and its members. Effective interventions are based on valid information about the organization’s functioning; they provide organization members with opportunities to make free and informed choices; and they gain members’ internal commitment to those choices. Valid information is the result of an accurate diagnosis of the organization’s functioning. It must reflect fairly what organization members perceive and feel about their primary concerns and issues. Free and informed choice suggests that members are actively involved in making decisions about the changes that will affect them. It means that they can choose not to participate and that interventions will not be imposed on them. Internal commitment means that organization members accept ownership of the intervention and take responsibility for implementing it. If interventions are to result in meaningful changes, management, staff, and other relevant members must be committed to carrying them out. The second criterion of an effective intervention involves knowledge of outcomes. Because interventions are intended to produce specific results, they must be based on valid knowledge that those outcomes actually can be produced. Otherwise there is no scientific basis for designing an effective OD intervention. Unfortunately, and in contrast to other applied disciplines such as medicine and engineering, knowledge of intervention effects is in a rudimentary stage of development in OD. Much of the evaluation research lacks sufficient rigor to make strong causal inferences about the success or failure of change programs. Moreover, few attempts have been made to examine the comparative effects of different OD techniques. All of these factors make it difficult to know whether one method is more effective than another. Despite these problems, more attempts are being made to assess systematically the strengths and weaknesses of OD interventions and to compare the impact of different techniques on organization effectiveness. The third criterion of an effective intervention involves the extent to which it enhances the organization’s capacity to manage change. The values underlying OD suggest that organization members should be better able to carry out planned change activities on their own following an intervention. They should gain knowledge and skill in managing change from active participation in designing and implementing the intervention. Competence in change management is essential in today’s environment, where technological, social, economic, arid political changes are rapid and persistent.

How to design effective interventions:

Designing OD interventions requires paying careful attention to the needs and dynamics of the change situation and crafting a change program that will be consistent with the previously described criteria of effective interventions. Current knowledge of OD interventions provides only general prescriptions for change. There is scant precise information or research about how to design interventions or how they can be expected to interact with organizational conditions to achieve specific results. Moreover, because the ability to implement most OD interventions is highly dependent on the skills and knowledge of the change agent, the design of an intervention will depend to some extent on the expertise of the practitioner. Two major sets of contingencies that can affect intervention success have been discussed in the OD literature: those having to do with the change situation (including the practitioner) and those related to the target of change. Both kinds of contingencies need to be considered in designing interventions.

They include the following situational factors that must be considered in designing any intervention: the organization’s readiness for change, its change capability, its cultural context, and the change agent’s skills and abilities.

Readiness for Change:

Intervention success depends heavily on the organization being ready for planned change. Indicators of readiness for change include sensitivity to pressures for change, dissatisfaction with the status quo, availability of resources to support change, and commitment of significant management time. When such conditions are present, interventions can be designed to address the organizational issues uncovered during diagnosis. When readiness for change is low, however, interventions need to focus first on increasing the organization’s willingness to change.

Capability to Change:

Managing planned change requires particular knowledge and skills, including the ability to motivate change, to lead change, to develop political support, to manage the transition, and to sustain momentum. If organization members do not have these capabilities, then a preliminary training intervention may be needed before members can engage meaningfully in intervention design.

Cultural Context:

The national culture within which the organization is embedded can exert a powerful influence on members’ reactions to change, so intervention design must account for the cultural values and assumption shield by organization members. Interventions may have to be modified to fit the local culture, particularly when OD practices developed in one culture are applied to organizations in another culture. For example, a team-building intervention designed for top managers at an American firm may need to be modified when applied to the company’s foreign subsidiaries

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