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The Organization Development Institute International, Latinamerica
Presidente: Eric Gaynor Butterfield


Volume 13

Number 4




W. Warner Burke, Ph.D

Teachers College, Columbia University

W. Warner Burke Associates

87 Wolf’s Lane, 2nd Floor

Pelham, NY 10803

(914) 738-0080




Organization Development today is compared with the field 20 years ago across 8 transitions, for example, the consultant has changed from a non directive, purely process-oriented practitioner to an authoritative specialist OD today is addressed regarding (1) whether a unifying theory is needed, (2) the need for a broadly based model, and (3) the requirement of self-awareness, skill development, and increased knowledge for the practitioner. The future of OD must concentrate on interorganizational relationships, self-directed groups, and on coaching leaders ans managers. A final point is that today it is no longer possible to be an effective OD practitioner on a temporary basis. Due to what is required now and in the future, choosing OD must be a total commitment.


Organization Development: Then, Now and Tomorrow


It has now been 20 years since I wrote a certain paper (Burke, 1976) about the state of organization development (OD). The paper was a statement about OD being in a state of transition; the field at that time was about 15 years old and was still changing. It being 15 years since its approximate beginnings, I characterized OD as being at the adolescent stage of life.

The purpose of this paper is to take stock, to revisit the earlier article and then to consider OD today, having reached adulthood. Even though the field today has matured, more change and growth is required if OD is to sustain its viability and meet successfully the demands of the future.



At that time it was not completely clear that the label, organization development (OD), would even remain. Other, similar movements were afoot; e.g., QWL (quality of working life). Although having been in existence as a movement under the banner of OD for at least 15 years, nevertheless most people hearing the initials would more likely think overdose, olive drab, officer of the day, or perhaps organization design. Moreover, OD 20 years ago was still closely associated with the T group, participative management and consensus, Theory Y, and self- actualization. In other words, OD was associated with “soft” human, touch feely kinds of activities and therefore was vulnerable—vulnerable to skeptics from the “real world” of business, if not vulnerable to long-term survival as a movement, as a field. I had characterized OD at that time as having reached “adolescence,” that is, “gawky, searching for sell-identity and self-concept, and sometimes overly autonomous if not rebellious, rather, than more settled and adult” (Burke, 1976, p. 23). So, OD was still in the process of growing up and changing, transitioning to a somewhat different state.


At that time I viewed OD as undergoing eight primary changes:


- from a field limited almost exclusively to business/industrial organizations to a field affecting many different organizational types.


This transition has clearly occurred. Today OD is practiced in all kinds of organizations—health care, schools, federal and state governments, religious institutions, community agencies—and even with law and accounting firms!


- from advocating a specific managerial style to emphasizing a situation or contingency approach.


The managerial grid (Blake and Mouton, 1978) is still around, and so is Likert’s (1967) System 4, but these approaches are more historical than active today. Theory X and Y (McGregor, 1960) are still taught in the classroom, but rarely in a management development program or as part of an organization change effort. Rarely today is a specific managerial style emphasized by anyone.


- from democracy as the primary value advocated to authenticity as the primary value advocated to authenticity as the primary value.


I was not as accurate on this one. Democracy is no more strongly emphasized today in organizations than it was 20 years ago, maybe even less so. Authenticity as a strong value has not really come into its own either. Being real, authentic is not exactly widespread. Being humane is preached today, but in the context of so much downsizing, for example, it is most of the time merely a word. I hear a lot about the desire for openness these days, and trust is on everyone’s lips but not often found in one’s behaviour. So, I am hard pressed to identify a primary value today. There are definitely desired values at the present. The ones I hear espoused the most are openness, trust, integrity, service to others (internal and external customers), respect, dignity, and cooperation (teamwork). We still have a long way to go to realize these values.


- from a field based largely on the social technology of laboratory training and survey feedback to a field based on a broader range of social technology.


This transition is still underway. Laboratory training is rarely if ever used as an OD intervention today. Survey feedback, on the other hand, is everywhere; well, at least the survey part is -sometimes I wonder about the feedback part. An interesting new social technology today, yet plainly built on work done in the sixties, is large group interventions—see Bunker and Alban (1992). I listed a number of other, broader social technologies back then that are commonplace today, e.g., socio-technical systems, job redesign, intergroup conflict management, open systems planning, etc.


-The consultant has changed from a nondirective, purely process oriented practitioner to an authoritative specialist.


This transition continues as well. Clearly, more is expected of us today. Process skills are a given, absolutely necessary but not sufficient. Con knowledge is demanded of us today, especially regarding the phases, stages, and programs that assure measurable organizational change.


-There has been a change from considering the OD practitioner as the change agent to thinking of the line manager/administrator as change agent.


This is not just a thinking transition today; it is easily and readily understood, and action is taken accordingly. We the change agents, we are not the change agents. We seem to be about this today.


-The role of the practitioner has changed from working almost exclusively with management to working with both managers and persons at all levels.


This transition has clearly occurred. Conducting focus groups—a common intervention in practice today—is a good example of the more complete transition.


-The OD function has changed from being merely a more glamorous name for training to a function that has organizational legitimacy in and of itself, with attendant power and official status.


Official status, yes; attendant power, I am not so sure. The OD Network is 2 or 3 times larger than it was 20 years ago. OD is more common in academia today. The Masters of Science in Organization Development at Bowling Green State University, the first of its kind, is alive and well today; so is its sister program at Pepperdine. The “Advanced Organization Development and Human Resource Management Program”, cosponsored by Teachers College, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan’s Graduate School of Business Administration, has a waiting list each year, as does the precursor program also sponsored by Teachers College, “Principles and Practices of Organization Development”. And the Organization Development and Change Division of the Academy of Management continues to be active and is one of the larger divisions in the Academy.

While OD departments in large organizations may not always be labeled as such, most have internal practitioners regardless of what theirs titles might be. Often internal practitioners in OD wear additional hats—training and development, organization research, communication, and a variety of HRD responsibilities.


In summary, most of these transitions have occurred. OD is no longer an adolescent; it has grown to adulthood. Like our need as individuals to learn and grow even though we may be adults, OD has the same requirements. The remainder of this paper addresses this need.




Twenty years ago in the same article I made recommendations regarding how and where OD needed to change to remain viable. These previous recommendations will now be considered in the present. Did the field move in the direction of these three areas?


Unifying Theory


I believed then, and still do, that the practice of OD needs to be as theory- and research-based as possible. But theory unification has not happened. There is no singular theory of OD. At about that time, some 20 years ago, I began to develop a theory orientation questionnaire for OD practitioners. After a number of iterations it is today based on 8 mini-theories—see Chapter 4 in Plovnick, Fry and Burke (1982). For descriptions of these theories, see Burke (1982), Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 in Burke (1994). Scholar-practitioners continue to develop our knowledge base. For example, today, theirs? there is an annual volume of books internal devoted to Research in Organizational Change and Development edited by R. W. Woodman and W. A.  Pasmore. Certain periodicals today have many of their pages devoted to OD—Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Organizational Dynamics, Group and Organization Management, and the Journal of Change Management. The field continues to benefit from these scholar-practitioners’ work. OD has come a long way in this regard.


While no unifying theory exists, two points need highlighting. First, it’ may not be all that important for OD to be undergirded by a unifying theory, at least not at the present. Our learning curve regarding organization change continues to be steep. In other words, there is still much to learn, and we are steadily climbing the curve. The field continues to be fluid, facile, and taking shape. Unification, even if possible now, may be premature.


Yet, to the second point, we do know more today about the change process itself, in the form of a unifying set of principles perhaps. For what I mean, see such writings as Beckhard and Harris (1987)—you know, the present state-transition state-future state concepts—Schein’s (1980, 1987) elaboration of Lewin’s (1958) three stages (unfreeze, change and refreeze), as well as Lippitt, Watson, and Westley’s (1958) phases of planned change, Argyris’s (1970) theory about interventions, Hanna’s (1988) and Vaill’s (1989) ideas about high performance organizations, Woodman (1989) on new theories, and some of my own—see Chapters 4 and 8 in Burke (1994). These citations are meant to be illustrative, not necessarily comprehensive, much less exhaustive. The point is that there is some degree of unification in OD theory, at least with respect to the processes of organization change.


A Broadly Based Model

I called for a new model for OD back then. The argument I made was that democracy in organizations was not inevitable, as Bennis had declared (Bennis and Slater, 1964) and later corrected (Bennis, 1970). Rather, I stated that a model for change was needed, ‘one which provides directions for organizational change. bas on sound research and experience rather than the latest untested fad in applied behavioral science. . . one that helps management decide when a particular intervention is appropriate and when it is not” (Burke, 1976, p. 35). I did not know then that a little more than a decade later, as I was consulting with British Airways (BA), a change model would evolve. The work at BA created a real need for a coherent framework. Working with George Litwin, we took his earlier work on organizational climate, expanded and elaborated on his previous thinking and research outcomes, and developed a comprehensively descriptive model for organizational performance and change (Burke and Litwin, 1989; 1992). Other models had been created and described—see, for example, Nadler and Tushman (1977), Tichy (1983), and Weisbord (1976)—but they did not go much beyond description (Burke, 1994). Litwin and I decided to take the risk of suggesting what kinds of change were systemwide, transformational, and what were changes involving only parts or aspects of the organization and were in the context of continuous improvement, i.e., transactional changes. We went further to predict how, for example, organizational culture, affects such other organizational dimensions as management practices, climate, individual needs and values, and ultimately individual and organization performance.

Should our model prove to be valid over time, and there is some early evidence that we are on the right track (Bernstein and Burke, 1989; Burke and Jackson, 1991; Fox, 1990), and coupled with the strides that have been made in general regarding principles and practices of organizational change mentioned in the previous section, then the field of OD has truly become more authoritative and not merely “facilitative.”


Training: Practitioner; Know Thyself


“As much as in any helping profession, the OD practitioner must know him- or herself. While it is true that OD is based on research and theory the behavioral sciences, it is hot a science. It is mostly an art—in this case, an effective use of human skill” (Burke, 1976; p. 38). I believe this just as strongly today as I did then. At the time I had just completed an intensive eight-week program at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and perhaps was embued with the positive impact the training had been for me. Yet over 20 years later it is clear to me that I would do it again, even though at that time I had had what felt like 100 T groups under my belt.

Today we tout the words “life-long learning,” and I am underscoring that this must be the quest for OD practitioners. Beyond self-under standing and personal growth I am also meaning to emphasize our need constantly to enhance our base of knowledge; i.e., content about organizations qua organizations, organizational behavior and, of course, change, both individual and organizational.


Additional Commentary About Now/Today


As of this writing, the Big 6 accounting firms are all scrambling either to enter the organizational change market or are already in the practice and trying to capture a major share of the market. Although each has its own label, the common language is the “change management” practice. Many other consulting firms and individual practitioners are also moving into, if not already consulting in, their market. Currently the market continues to grow. As one accounting firm partner put it, “The market is there to be taken.” The point is this: To consult in the world of OD today is highly competitive. Whether one is labeled as an OD consultant or not, many are now involved in change management, which 20 years ago was practically the sole domain of OD practitioners.

Besides the fact that many are now recognizing that organizational change consultation has come into its own—change management is where systems consulting was a decade ago, that is, on the verge of significant growth—it also is very clear that what OD had to offer 20 years ago is not sufficient today. Facilitation skills are no longer unique to OD practice; many today are trained as facilitators and most of these new entries do not belong to the OD Network. Facilitation today is a commodity. What must be added to the OD practitioners’ skill and knowledge set to approach sufficiency?

In a conversation recently with a change management partner in one of the Big 6 firms, he was discussing his efforts and frustrations with recruiting people for his area of practice. I asked him what he was finding. He said 2 types: One was the person who knew a lot about business, usually had an MBA, and was bright and eager, yet knew little about organizational behavior in general, and even less about change in particular. The other type, which he associated with OD, knew much about organizational behavior and change but little about business—strategy, structure, marketing, finance and the like. Of course, ideal for him was the combination. Thus to remain viable as an OD practitioner today one must know much more than was required 20 yeas ago. Other requirements for viability today include:


- How OD relates to and can help with other change initiatives, especially quality efforts and work process change programs. Quality and work process changes are not passing fads. OD practitioners need to be knowledgeable in these areas and know how to help make them pay off for the organization.


-Organizational cu1ture is not a passing fad either. It is now accepted by executives, managers, and other organizational members as a phenomenon that is real and highly important. OD practitioners must be the most knowledgeable persons in the room regarding the understanding of what culture is and how to change it.


-The design and structure of organizations today is clearly undergoing significant change. To what is not as clear. Mo are struggling with what to keep centralized and what to decentralize; they know today that it is not an either/or choice. It is not a matter of whether to centralize or decentralize. The question is what should be centralized and what at the same time should be decentralized. Moreover, there is also a struggle now to clarify what added value a corporate headquarters provides. And with globalization on the increase, traditional structure, functional and product, do not suffice. At least a matrix is usually required if not beyond this form— networks and the virtual corporation” (Davidow and Malone, 1992). The point is that OD practitioners need to plunge into this arena, learn all that we can, and provide help.


In summary, we OD practitioners must know all that has been traditionally associated with the field—and then some. The some is demanding and broad. The basics of OD remain a must—process consultation, off-site and meeting facilitation, helping to resolve interpersonal and intergroup conflict, the values of openness, honesty, treating people with respect and dignity, fairness, and related values— yet we must provide much more than the basics. This must is no doubt daunting, but personal challenge needs to be a central motive for life-long learning.




Present demands are enough. Not really. Change continues and accelerates; we must know even more tö only viable but ahead of the curve. The following three areas are, in my judgment, primary for viability and contribution in the very near future:




The world is moving rapidly toward more of an “inter” way of operating and less of an “intra” mode. Executives decry “smokestacks” and “silos” in their organizations, i.e., operating vertically primarily within one’s function or line of business and not across the organization. The paradox that decisions get made vertically, yet work in organizations usually occurs horizontally. Beyond this “inter” desire inside organizations there is the strong trend toward organizational collaborations— strategic alliances, joint ventures/ partnerships, consortia, and the like. I am never clear about how representative my consulting work is, but today at least 50% involves interorganizational relations: a merger, a strategic alliance between a British corporation and one in France, and an acquisition that is not working, to name three such activities. Regardless of how representative my work may be, I am convinced that we are only beginning to move in this direction. The trend is and cuts a wide swath from relations with suppliers, with clients and customers, to alliances with former competitors. The world is shrinking, many businesses are now in mature markets, and competition on a global basis is keener than ever are just a few reasons for this interorganizational movement.

We in OD know something about relationships especially at the interpersonal and intergroup levels. We must use this knowledge and experience as a point of departure for taking huge leaps into a much broader arena. We cannot afford to let the world leave us behind.


Self-directed Groups


There is more word about this trend than deed. The trend nevertheless appears to be solid. One thing for sure is that organizational hierarchy is flatter than it was 20 years ago, with span of control being anything but the traditional 8 or 9 to 1. Managers cannot keep up with it all. This flatter hierarchy movement, plus the desire for authority to rest more with expertise than with position are some of the reasons for this trend toward self- directed groups in organizations.

People such as Hackman (1992) and Cummings (1978) have paved the way for our learning about self-directed groups, but they have only begun to lay the roadbed. We are nowhere near an interstate system at the present. See French and Bell (1995) for a summary of problems in implementing self- managed teams.

We in OD know much about groups. Self-directed groups, while in the knowledge and experience family of OD, are nevertheless a different breed. Authority, for example, really is shared; it is not just an exercise. Team building is not a matter of working on the re1ati6 between the boss and team members, but relationships among group members. It is not just a matter of learning to make decisions as a group, but in addition a matter of deciding what and which decisions are the ones to be considered, to be the ones that are the jurisdiction of which self-directed group.

So, we have a base of knowledge, i.e., group dynamics and team building, but like much of what I have emphasized in this paper, it is not enough for the future. Self-direction in a collective context demands another level of knowledge and experience for OD practitioner effectiveness in working with this type of group.


Leadership, Management, and Coaching


This final area is not new per Se, but how we treat it may be. OD practitioners have always been in a coaching role. The future demands that in this coaching capacity we must know much about the following;


-The differences between leadership and management and when to emphasize each is critical to effective organizational change efforts. In t days of organizational change especially, lead imperative; later, management is more important -a replacement for leadership, just more of a need for management as implementation of the change becomes more and more of a requirement for success. Zaleznik (1977) was indeed correct in my opinion. There is a sufficient distinction between leadership and management to warrant not only our consideration, but should include our practice as well. When to coach about leadership and when to coach about management is the key.


-Coaching executives and managers about change steps and activities. Being a change agent is a new role for most executives and managers. Entrepreneurs and turnaround artists are used to change: that’s their game. But for most executives and managers in large organizations, especially those that are trying hard to shed bureaucracy and become more adaptive to change, this role of initiating and managing change is not “normal” management. They therefore would need help in understanding (a) what to say, when, how much to say, etc., (b) what steps to take first, second, and so forth, (c) how to use groups of people in the change effort, (d) how to deal with resistance, and (e) how to deal with chaos, once change gets underway. These are only a few of the domains for OD coaching, of course. These examples are illustrative of the kind of coaching that is needed. To summarize this second coaching area, it is a matter of relying on the knowledge base that we are accumulating about principles and practices of  organizational change, as noted earlier, and knowing how apply this knowledge when an what circumstances.


These two coaching areas are not mutually exclusive. They represent the type and quality of coaching will be expected from OD practitioners more and more in the future.




I remember that in the past people tended to come and go in the field of OD. The attitude, for some at least, was “I’ll learn how to do OD and then apply the learning to my next career move.” Others, seemingly a minority to me, elected to stay with OD as a career. Today, and certainly for the future, I do not believe such an option is possible. One can clearly learn facilitation skills and move on to other things. But one cannot learn OD in the same amount of time, and most definitely cannot learn what will be required for competent OD practice in the future, in the same time frame that may have been enough even in the last decade, not to mention 20 years ago. More is expected of OD people today and will be even more demanding in the future.


If one’s ambition is to become financially rich, choosing OD as the way to realize such an ambition is probably not smart. One can make a good living, however, and much more importantly OD is unequivocally a way to have challenge and meaning in work. Challenge and meaning will be even more a part of the OD choice in the future.




Argyris, C. (1970) Intervention Theory and Method. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Beckhard, R. and Harris, R. T. (1987) Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change, 2nd Ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Bennis, W. G. (1970) A funny thing happened on the way to the future. American Psychologist, 25, 595-608.


Bennis, W. G. and Slater, P. (1964) Democracy is inevitable. Harvard Business Review, 42, 51-59.


Bernstein, W. M. and Burke, W. W. (1989) Modeling organizational meaning systems. In R. W. Woodman and W. A. Pasmore (Eds.) Research in Organizational Change and Development (pp. 117-159). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.


Blake, R. R. and Mouton, J. S. (1982) A comparative analysis of situationalism and 9,9 management by principle. Organizational Dynamics, 10(4), 20-43.


Bunker, B. B. and Alban, B. T. (Eds.) (1992) Special Issue: Large group interventions. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 28, 473-591.


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Burke, W. W. (1982) Organization Development; Principles and Practices. Boston: Little, Brown.


Burke, W. W. (1994) Diagnostic models for organizational development. In A. Howard (Ed.) Diagnosis for Organizational Change (p. 53-84). New York: Guilford Publications, Inc.


Burke, W. W. and P. Jackson (1991) Making the SmithKline Beecham merger work. Human Resource Management, 30: 69-87.


Burke, W. W. and Litwin, G. H. (1989) A 1\ model of organizational change and performance. In J. W. Pfeiffer (Ed.), 1989 Annual: Developing Human Resources (pp. 277-288). San Diego: University Associates.


Burke, W. W. and Litwin, G. H. (1992) A causal model of organizational performance and change. Journal of Management, 18(3), 532-545.


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Fox, M. M. (1990) The role of individual perceptions of organizational culture in predicting perceptions of work unit climate and organizational performance. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, New York.


French, W. L. and Bell, C. H. Jr. (1995) Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organizational Improvement, 5th Ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.


Hackman, J. R. (1992) The psychology of self-management ir organizations. In R. Glaser (Ed.) Classic Readings in Self-Managing Teamwork (pp. 142-193). King of Prussia, PA: Organization Design and Development Inc.


Hanna, D. P. (1988) Designing Organizations for High Performance. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Lewin, K. (1958) Group decision and social change. In E. E. Maccoby, T. M. Newcomb, and E. L. Hartley (Eds.) Readings in Social Psychology (pp. 163-226). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.


Likert, R. (1976) The Human Organization. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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McGregor, D. (1960) The Human Side of Enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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Plovnick, M. S., Fry, R. E. and Burke, W. W. (1982) Organization Development: Exercises, Cases, and Readings. Boston: Little, Brown.


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Tichy, N. M. (1983) Managing Strategic Change: Technical, Political, and Cultural Dynamics. New York: Wiley.


Vaill,P. B. (1989) Managing as a Performing Art. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publications.


Weisbord, M. R. (1976) Organizational diagnosis: Six places to look for trouble with or without a theory. Group and Organization Studies 1: 430-437.


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Zaleznik, A. (1977) Managers and leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review,







Professor of Psychology and Education and Coordinator for the Graduate Program in Social- Organization Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY and Chairman, W. Warner Burke Associates, Inc., Pelham, NY. BA, Furman University; MA, Ph.D., University of Texas, Austin. Dr. Burke was professor of management and chairman of the department of management at Clark university until 1979, when he joined the TC-Columbia faculty. For eight years he was a full-time professional with the NTL institute for Applied Behavioral Science, where he was director for Executive Programs and director of the Center for Systems Development (1966-1974). For eight years beginning in 1967 he also served as the executive director of the Organization Development Network.


Dr. Burke is a Fellow of the Academy of Management, a member of the American Psychological Society, the Society of industrial and Organizational Psychology, a Fellow of the Academy of Human Resource Development and has been on the Board of Governors of both the Academy of Management and the American Society for Training and Development. From 1979 to 1985 he was editor of the American Management Associations quarterly, Organizational Dynamics, and from 1986 to 1989 he started and served as editor of the Academy of Management Executive. Dr. Burke is the author of more than 90 articles and book chapters on organization development training, social and organizational psychology, and conference planning; and author, co-author, editor, and co0editor of 13 books. His latest book is Organization Development: A Process of Learning and Changing, in Addison-Wesley’s OD Series Published in 1984. Dr. Burke is a Diplomate in industrial/organizational psychology, American Board of Professional Psychology, and he serves as faculty director of the Columbia Business School executive pro gram “Leading and Managing People.” In 1989 he received the Public Service Medal from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in 1990 the Distinguished Contribution to Hu man Resource Development Award and in 1993 the Organization Development Professional Practice Area Award for Excellence--The Lippitt Memorial Award--from the American Society for Training and Development. Currently Dr. Burke is serving on the Committee on Techniques for the Enhancement of Human Performance, National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.


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