The Organization Development Institute International, Latinamerica
Presidente: Eric Gaynor Butterfield
ORGANIZATION DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL
NOW AND TOMORROW
Warner Burke, Ph.D
Teachers College, Columbia University
Warner Burke Associates
Wolf’s Lane, 2nd Floor
Pelham, NY 10803
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
consultant has changed from a nondirective, purely process oriented
practitioner to an authoritative specialist.
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
-There has been a change from considering the OD practitioner as the
change agent to thinking of the line manager/administrator as change
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.
role of the practitioner has changed from working almost exclusively
with management to working with both managers and persons at all
transition has clearly occurred. Conducting focus groups—a common
intervention in practice today—is a good example of the more
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.
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?
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
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.
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
Broadly Based Model
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
-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
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.
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
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.
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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.
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