What’s the difference between People Development and Organisational Development (OD)?

February 11, 2018

There is still much confusion about the differences and similarities.

The common denominator is the word development – meaning an improvement!

People development is about when there is an improvement to a person(s). A person can be exposed to an intervention (e.g. a training course, programme or event) designed to help that person make improvements – development! (It’s only the doing things differently that real learning can then take place).

Organisational Development (OD) is about developing the system of an organisation with the aim of improving the system. Just developing people, doesn’t necessarily mean that the organisation will improve. Here is the first distinction.

Embedding new ways of thinking or behaving in people, doesn’t necessarily mean that the organisation will change or get better, regardless of how much better a person feels in terms of their own improvement.

For OD to be effective, the whole system has to improve (with change, its usually a fact of system, normally linked to strategy, structure and/or process). An OD intervention therefore isn’t a people intervention, unless its design and impact is anchored into leveraging a whole system change.

Due to a blurring of the lines, interchangeable and inaccurate uses of the term OD, we have developed a habit to describe things that develop people as an “OD intervention”. It isn’t – it’s a people development intervention.

For it to be OD, you have to start with a consultancy intervention to diagnose and understand the story (the diagnostic and dialogic aspects of OD), before designing a tailored solution and anchoring it into the organisation, again using dialogue or storytelling to drive understanding, ownership and commitment amongst people. You have to be clear on the impact you want the OD intervention to have and agree how you will best deliver and evaluate the impact so that you can measure the returns.

That’s what OD is and it’s not just about people development. It’s about strategy, structure, process and culture too!

Steve Benfield

Chief Executive

The Beech Centre for People, Performance and Organisational Development

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