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Designing Interventions

Designing Interventions

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.
What are 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.
Contingencies Related to the Change Situation:

Researchers have identified a number of contingencies present in the change situation that can affect intervention success. These include individual differences among organization members (for example, needs for autonomy), organizational factors (for example, management style and technical uncertainty), and dimensions of the change process itself (for example, degree of top-management support). Unless these factors are taken into account in designing an intervention, it will have little impact on organizational functioning or, worse, it may produce negative results. For example, to resolve motivational problems among blue-collar workers in an oil refinery it is important to know whether interventions intended to improve motivation (for example, job enrichment) will succeed with the kinds of people who work there. In many cases, knowledge of these contingencies results in modifying or adjusting the change program to fit the setting. In applying a reward-system intervention to an organization, the changes might have to be modified depending on whether the firm wants to reinforce individual or team performance. Although knowledge of contingencies is still at a rudimentary stage of development in OD, researchers have discovered several situational factors that can affect intervention success. More generic contingencies that apply to all OD interventions are presented below. 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 assumptions held 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.
Capabilities of the Change Agent:

Many failures in OD result when change agents apply interventions beyond their competence. In designing interventions, OD practitioners should assess their experience and expertise against the requirements needed to implement the intervention effectively. When a mismatch is discovered, practitioners can explore whether the intervention can be modified to fit their talents better, whether another intervention more suited to their skills can satisfy the organization’s needs, or whether they should enlist the assistance of another change agent who can guide the process more effectively. The ethical guidelines under which OD practitioners operate requires full disclosure of the applicability of their knowledge and expertise to the client situation. Practitioners are expected to intervene within their capabilities or to recommend someone more suited to the client’s needs.

Contingencies Related to the Target of Change:

OD interventions seek to change specific features or parts of organizations. These targets of change are the main focus of interventions, and researchers have identified two key contingencies related to change targets that can affect intervention success: the organizational issues that the intervention is intended to resolve and the level of organizational system at which the intervention is expected to have a primary impact.

Organizational Issues:

Organizations need to address certain issues to operate effectively. Figure 9.1 lists these issues along with the OD interventions that are intended to resolve them. It shows the following four interrelated issues that are key targets of OD interventions: 1.

Strategic issues.

Organizations need to decide what products or services they will provide and the markets in which they will compete, as well as how to relate to their environments and how to transform themselves to keep pace with changing conditions. These strategic issues are among the most critical facing organizations in today’s changing and highly competitive environments. OD methods aimed at these issues are called strategic interventions. The methods are among the most recent additions to OD and include integrated strategic change, mergers and acquisitions, trans-organizational development, and organization learning. 2.

Technology and structure issues.

Organizations must decide how to divide work into departments and then how to coordinate among those departments to support strategic directions. They also must make decisions about how to deliver products or services and how to link people to tasks. OD methods for dealing with these structural and technological issues are called techno-structural interventions and include OD activities relating to organization design, employee involvement, and work design. 3.

Human resources issues.

These issues are concerned with attracting competent people to the organization, setting goals for them, appraising and rewarding their performance, and ensuring that they develop their careers and manage stress. OD techniques aimed at these issues are called human resources management interventions. 4.

Human process issues.

These issues have to do with social processes occurring among organization members, such as communication, decision making, leadership, and group dynamics. OD methods focusing on these kinds of issues are called human process interventions; included among them are some of the most common OD techniques, such as conflict resolution and team building.

Figure 32. Types of OD Interventions and Organizational Issues

Consistent with system theory as discussed earlier, these organizational issues are interrelated and need to be integrated with each other. The double-headed arrows connecting the different issues in Figure 32 represent the fits or linkages among them. Organizations need to match answers to one set of questions with answers to other sets of questions to achieve high levels of effectiveness. For example, decisions about gaining competitive advantage need to fit with choices about organization structure, setting goals for and rewarding people, communication, and problem solving. The interventions discussed in the lectures are intended to resolve these different concerns as shown in Figure 32, particular OD interventions apply to specific issues. Thus, intervention design must create change methods appropriate to the organizational issues identified in diagnosis. Moreover, because the organizational issues are themselves linked together, OD interventions similarly need to be integrated with one another. For example, a goal-setting intervention that tries to establish motivating goals may need to be

integrated with supporting interventions, such as a reward system that links pay to goal achievement. The key point is to think systemically. Interventions aimed at one kind of organizational issue will invariably have repercussions on other kinds of issues. Careful thinking about how OD interventions affect the different kinds of issues and how different change programs might be integrated to bring about a broader and more coherent impact on organizational functioning are critical to effective intervention.

Organizational Levels:

In addition to facing interrelated issues, organizations function at different levels— individual, group, organization and trans-organization. Thus, organizational levels are targets of change in OD. Table 8 lists OD interventions in terms of the level of organization that they primarily affect. For example, some techno-structural interventions affect mainly individuals and groups (for example, work design), whereas others impact primarily the total organization (for example, structural design). It is important to emphasize that only the primary level affected by the intervention is identified in Table 8. Many OD interventions also have a secondary impact on the other levels. For example, structural design affects mainly the organization level but can have an indirect effect on groups and individuals because it sets the broad parameters for designing work groups and individual jobs. Again, practitioners need to think systemically. They must design interventions to apply to specific organizational levels, address the possibility of cross-level effects, and perhaps integrate interventions affecting different levels to achieve overall success. For example, an intervention to create self-managed work teams may need to be linked to organization-level changes in measurement and reward systems to promote team-based work.

Overview of interventions:

The OD interventions, which will be discussed later, are briefly described below. They represent the major organizational change methods used in OD today.

Human Process Interventions:

These interventions focus on people within organizations and the processes through which they accomplish organizational goals. These processes include communication, problem solving, group decision making, and leadership. This type of intervention is deeply rooted in the history of OD. It represents the earliest change programs characterizing OD, including the T-group and the organizational confrontation meeting. Human process interventions derive mainly from the disciplines of psychology and social psychology and the applied fields of group dynamics and human relations. Practitioners applying these interventions generally value human fulfillment and expect that organizational effectiveness follows from improved functioning of people and organizational processes.

Table 8 Types of Interventions and Organization Levels Organizational Levels Primary Organization Level Affected Interventions Individual Group Organization Human Process

T-group X X Process consultation X Third-party intervention X X Organization confrontation meeting X X Inter-group relations X X Large-group interventions X


Structural Design X Work Design X X

Human Resources Management

Goal setting X X Performance appraisal X X Reward systems X X X Managing workforce diversity X X Employee wellness X


Self-designing organizations X X

Human process interventions related to interpersonal relationships and group dynamics include the following four interventions: 1.


This traditional change method provides members with experiential learning about group dynamics, leadership, and interpersonal relations. The basic T-group brings ten to fifteen strangers together with a professional trainer to examine the social dynamics that emerge from their interactions. Members gain feedback about the impact of their own behaviors on each other and learn about group dynamics. 2.

Process consultation.

This intervention focuses on interpersonal relations and social dynamics occurring in work group. Typically, a process consultant helps group members diagnose group functioning and devise appropriate solutions to process problems, such as dysfunctional conflict, poor communication, and ineffective norms. The aim is to help members gain the skills and understanding necessary to identify and solve problems themselves. 3.

Third-party intervention.

This change method is a form of process consultation aimed at dysfunctional interpersonal relations in organizations. Interpersonal conflict may derive from substantive issues, such as disputes over work methods, or from interpersonal issues, such as miscommunication. The third-party intervener helps people resolve conflicts through such methods as problem solving, bargaining, and conciliation. 4.

Team building.

This intervention helps work groups become more effective in accomplishing tasks. Like process consultation, team building helps members diagnose group processes and devise solutions to problems. It goes beyond group processes, however, to include examination of the group’s task, member roles, and strategies for performing tasks. The consultant also may function as a resource person offering expertise related to the group’s task. Human process interventions that are more system-wide (than those related to Interpersonal & Groups) typically focus on the total organization or an entire department, as well as on relations between groups. These include the following four change programs: 1.

Organization confrontation meeting.

This change method mobilizes organization members to identify problems, set action targets, and begin working on problems. It is usually applied when organizations are experiencing stress and when management needs to organize resources for immediate problem solving. The intervention generally includes various groupings of employees in identifying and solving problems. 2.

Inter-group relations.

These interventions are designed to improve interactions among different groups or departments in organizations. The microcosm group intervention involves a small group of people whose backgrounds closely match the organizational problems being addressed. This group addresses the problem and develops means to solve it. The inter-group conflict model typically involves a consultant helping two groups understand the causes of their conflict and choose appropriate solutions. 3.

Large-group interventions.

These interventions involve getting a broad variety of stakeholders into a large meeting to clarify important values, to develop new ways of working, to articulate a new vision for the organization, or to solve pressing organizational problems. Such meetings are powerful tools for creating awareness of organizational problems and opportunities and for specifying valued directions for future action. 4.

Grid organization development.

This normative intervention specifies a particular way to manage an organization. It is a packaged OD program that includes standardized instruments for measuring organizational practices and specific procedures for helping organizations to achieve the prescribed approach.

Techno-structural Interventions:

These interventions focus on an organization’s technology (for example, task methods and job design) and structure (for example, division of labor and hierarchy). These change methods are receiving increasing attention in OD, especially in light of current concerns about productivity and organizational effectiveness. They include approaches to employee involvement, as well as methods for designing organizations, groups, and jobs. Techno-structural intervention are rooted in the disciplines of engineering, sociology, and psychology and in the applied fields of socio-technical systems and organization design, practitioners generally stress both productivity and human fulfillment and expect that organization effectiveness will result from appropriate work designs and organization structures. In the coming lectures we will discuss the following three techno-structural interventions concerned with restructuring organizations:


Structural design.

This change process concerns the organization’s division of labor—how to specialize task performances. Interventions aimed at structural design include moving from more traditional ways of dividing the organizations overall work (such as functional, self-contained-unit, and matrix structures) to more integrative and flexible forms (such as process-based and networkbased structures). Diagnostic guidelines exist to determine which structure is appropriate for particular organizational environments, technologies, and conditions. 2.


This intervention reduces costs and bureaucracy by decreasing the size of the organization through personnel layouts, organization redesign and outsourcing. Each of these downsizing methods must be planned with a clear understanding of the organizations strategy. 3.


This recent intervention radically redesigns the organization’s core work processes to create tighter linkage and coordination among the different tasks. This work-flow integration results in faster, more responsive task performance. Reengineering is often accomplished with new information technology that permits employees to control and coordinate work processes more effectively. Reengineering often fails if it ignores basic principles and processes of OD. Employee involvement (El). This broad category of interventions is aimed at improving employee wellbeing and organizational effectiveness. It generally attempts to move knowledge, power, information, and rewards downward in the organization. El includes parallel structures (such as cooperative union— management projects and quality circles), high-involvement plants, and total quality management. Work design. These change programs are concerned with designing work for work groups and individual jobs. The intervention includes engineering, motivational, and socio-technical systems approaches that produce traditionally designed jobs and work groups; enriched jobs that provide employees with greater task variety, autonomy, and feedback about results; and self-managing teams that can govern their own task behaviors with limited external control.

Human Resources Management Interventions:

These interventions would focus on personnel practices used to integrate people into organizations. These practices include career planning, reward systems, goal setting, and performance appraisal—change methods that traditionally have been associated with the personnel function in organizations. In recent years, interest has grown in integrating human resources management with OD. Human resources management interventions are rooted in the disciplines of economics and labor relations and in the applied personnel practices of wages and compensation employee selection and placements performance appraisal, and career development. Practitioners in this area typically focus on the people in organizations believing that organizational effectiveness results from improved practices for integrating employees into organizations.

Interventions concerning performance management include the following change programs:


Goal setting.

This change program involves setting clear and challenging goals. It attempts to improve organization effectiveness by establishing a better fit between personal and organizational objectives. Managers and subordinates periodically meet to plan work, review accomplishments and solve problems in achieving goals. 2.

Performance appraisal.

This intervention is a systematic process of jointly assessing work-related achievements, strengths, and weaknesses. It is the primary human resources management intervention for providing performance feedback to individuals and work groups. Performance appraisal represents an important link between goal setting and reward systems. 3.

Reward systems.

This intervention involves the design of organizational rewards to improve employee satisfaction and performance. It includes innovative approaches to pay, promotions and fringe benefits.

Three change methods associated with developing and assisting organization members include:


Career planning and development.

This intervention helps people choose organizations and career paths and attain career objectives. It generally focuses on managers and professional staff and is seen as a way of improving the quality of their work life. 2.

Managing workforce diversity.

This change program makes human resources practices more responsive to a variety of individual needs. Important trends, such as the increasing number of women, ethnic minorities, and physically and mentally challenged people in the workforce, require a more flexible set of polices and practices.


Employee wellness.

These interventions include employee assistance programs (EAPs) and stress management. EAPs are counseling programs that help employees deal with substance abuse and mental health, marital, and financial problems that often are associated with poor work performance. Stress management programs help workers cope with the negative consequences of stress at work. They help managers reduce specific sources of stress, such as role conflict and ambiguity, and provide methods for reducing such stress symptoms as hypertension and anxiety.

Strategic Interventions:

Interventions that link the internal functioning of the organization to the larger environment and transform the organization to keep pace with changing conditions are among the newest additions to OD. They are implemented organization wide and bring about a fit between business strategy, structure, culture, and the larger environment. The interventions derive from the disciplines of strategic management, organization theory, open—systems theory, and cultural anthropology.

Major interventions for managing organization and environment relationships involve:


Integrated strategic change.

This comprehensive OD intervention describes how planned change can make a value-added contribution to strategic management. It argues that business strategies and organizational systems must be changed together in response to external and internal disruptions. A strategic change plan helps members manage the transition between a current strategy and organization design and the desired future strategic orientation. 2.

Trans-organization development.

This intervention helps organizations enter into alliances, partnerships, and joint ventures to perform tasks or solve problems that are too complex for single organizations to resolve. It helps organizations recognize the need for partnerships and develop appropriate structures for implementing them. 3.

Merger and acquisition integration.

This intervention describes how OD practitioners can assist two or more organizations to form a new entity. Addressing key strategic, leadership, and cultural issues prior to the legal and financial transaction helps to smooth operational integration.

Interventions for transforming organizations include:


Culture change.

This intervention helps organizations develop cultures (behaviors, values, believes, and norms) appropriate to their strategies and environments. It focuses on developing a strong organization culture to keep organization members pulling in the same direction. 2.

Self-designing organizations.

This change program helps organizations gain the capacity to alter them fundamentally. It is a highly participative process involving multiple stakeholders in setting strategic directions and designing and implementing appropriate structures and processes. Organizations learn how to design and implement their own strategic changes. 3.

Organization learning and knowledge management.

This intervention describes two interrelated change processes: Organization Learning (OL), which seeks to enhance an organization’s capability to acquire and develop new knowledge, and Knowledge Management (KM), which focuses on how that knowledge can be organized and used to improve organization performance. These interventions move the organization beyond solving existing problems so as to become capable of continuous improvement.

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