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Everything You Need to Know to Succeed in an Organizational Development Career

Everything You Need to Know to Succeed in an Organizational Development Career
Organizations often need help identifying what changes are necessary and then doing the difficult work of successfully implementing those changes. Image from Unsplash
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Noodle Staff March 27, 2018

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Everything You Need to Know to Succeed in Organizational Development

Are you a truth seeker, a truth teller, or a change agent? Do you aspire to make people and organizations better for everyone involved? Have you studied behavioral sciences? If so, then a career in organization development may be right for you. While only a few decades old, the field of organizational development is more necessary than ever before.

Change is necessary, but change is hard. Therefore, organizations often need help identifying what changes are necessary and then doing the difficult work of successfully implementing the changes. That’s where you come in. Those who study and work in organizational development help businesses and organizations improve, grow, and sustain change.

If you are interested in a career in organizational development, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know to achieve your dream. We’ll break down the various organizational development jobs, as well as provide helpful information for what degrees to seek (and where to seek them) and which professional associations to join and books to read.


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What is organizational development?

The concept of organizational development emerged from the field of human relations in the 1930s and was introduced by Kurt Lewin who studied group dynamics. However, it was not until the 1950s that the idea became popular. It was in the 1950s when Richard Beckhard coined the term “organization developmental.” Hence, Beckhard defined organization development as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, and (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s “processes,” using behavioral-science knowledge.”

While this is the most often cited definition, the field itself has changed over time. Donald L. Anderson defines the meaning of organizational development as “the process of increasing organizational effectiveness and facilitating personal and organizational change through the use of interventions driven by social and behavioral science knowledge.” Combining multiple disciplines and fields of study, organizational development is essentially designed to make organizations better (more effective, productive, and enjoyable).

With the constant evolution of the business world, emphasizing organizational development is essential to keeping companies moving in the right direction at the right pace. Meredith Ruble, CFO The Noodle Companies

Today, organizational development involves everything from assessing the organization’s culture and values and interviewing the employees to helping implement strategies to make recommended changes sustainable long-term. When corporations, businesses, schools, or government agencies are struggling, organizational development consultants are hired to help the organizations improve.

What is human resources organizational development?

Organizational development and human resources are often lumped together. This is because both fields deal with people being satisfied within their workplace. Additionally, many of those in HR have been tasked with what is typically considered OD job requirements. However, the two fields are unique and separate.

Human resources are primarily focused on supporting the management team from recruitment to termination. Human resources also deal heavily with regulations and risk concerns. Those in HR spend time reviewing manuals and making sure the management team and employees are following the required steps and responsibilities.

Whereas, organizational development is more focused on assessment and intervention. As Decision Wise claims organizational development is best defined as “a way of applying behavioral science to help organizations improve individuals and systems. OD’s goal is to help people function better within an organizational context.” Those in OD spend their time in research and data. Another distinguishing factor is that you cannot earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational development, but you can earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources.

There are many jobs that appear to merge human resources organizational development. For example, more companies are requiring the human resources department to take an active role in offering strategies for business success (also known as strategic HR). In this case, a background in OD may be helpful for those seeking organizational development job titles in human resources.

What is the primary function of organizational development?

Organizational development
is “a process of continuous diagnosis, action planning, implementation, and evaluation, with the goal of transferring knowledge and skills to organizations to improve their capacity for solving problems and managing future change.” The primary the primary function of organizational development is to help organizations effectively affect change.
The organizational development job description requires the professional to identify and assess the organizational climate and the organizational culture. Upon assessing the climate and culture of an organization, the OD will then present an organizational strategy. The strategy consists of a diagnosis, action planning, intervention, and evaluation.

The Organization Development Network explains that OD focuses “on developing organization capability through alignment of strategy, structure, management processes, people, and rewards and metrics” as the term “organization” is essential to both the job title, theory, and practice.
Considering careers in organizational development? Here are a few to consider.

Organizational Development Specialist – The organizational development specialist job description involves assessing an organization and then identifying strategies such as teamwork and working relationships to help employees work more efficiently. This individual is responsible for the overall improvement of an organization. According to Glassdoor, the US median annual organizational development specialist salary is $76,278. Glassdoor also reports the following organizational development salary for cities across the US:

  • New York City – $86,560
  • Boston – $76,846
  • Austin, TX – $71,200
  • San Francisco – $94,577
  • Chicago – $76,762
  • Miami – $70,901

Organizational Development Practitioner – This job title refers to an individual who practices organization development by helping organizations improve through planned changes. Those in this role specialize in OD and offer their services to organizations. When searching for organizational development practitioner careers, you will discover that this title is often used synonymously with organizational development consultant.

Organizational Development Manager – Those holding this job title work directly with the management team. For instance, they assess management training programs used by human resources, and then they develop and implement more effective programs that meet the organization’s long-term goals. According to Glassdoor, the US median annual organizational development manager salary is $73,626. Glassdoor also reports the following salaries across the US:

  • New York City – $77,939
  • Boston – $73,227
  • Austin, TX – $68,487
  • San Francisco – $82,510
  • Chicago – $66,882
  • Miami – $71,998

Organizational Development Consultant – Rather than working with a specific organization long-term, an organizational development consultant is called upon to help a struggling company or business by offering organizational development theories and practices. According to Glassdoor, the US median annual organizational development salary is $48,274. Glassdoor also reports the following salaries across the US:

  • New York City – $49,629
  • Boston – $49,137
  • Austin, TX – $47,891
  • San Francisco – $57,960
  • Chicago – $47.772
  • Miami – $46,062

Director of Organizational Development – The director of organizational development is responsible for not only using organizational development theories to a business, but also to oversee the rest of the business’s OD department and implement employee training programs. According to Glassdoor, the US median annual salary for those in this position is $85,270. Glassdoor also reports the following salaries across the US:

  • New York City – $95,144
  • Boston – $89,078
  • Austin, TX – $82,977
  • San Francisco – $100,883
  • Chicago – $80,820
  • Miami – $87,535

The steps you need to take for a career in organizational development

The pathways to organizational development careers are varied, but one thing is clear – it will take time and work. For instance, colleges do not offer degrees in organizational development. However, these jobs traditionally require the candidate to hold a valid degree in a related field. Here is a basic outline of the steps you will need to take to begin your organizational development career path:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as the behavioral sciences, business, or human resources).
  • Find a job in a related field. For example, most individuals will not find an organizational development job without having work experience. Therefore, it is essential to find work and spend time learning the in’s and out’s of how organizations and management runs.
  • Put your ideas into practice. While at your job, seek opportunities to address organizational issues.
  • Obtain an advanced degree (master’s in organizational development or a doctorate degree) in organization development.
  • Get certified and join a professional organization development association.
  • Continue to pursue knowledge. The world is constantly changing; therefore, it is imperative to stay on top of the latest trends in business, technology, and organization development.
  • Finally, network – and network some more.

Organizational development degree programs & training

While an advanced degree is not required, it does make your chances of landing an OD job much higher. This is because competition for these careers is steep, so it is important to show you have studied and understand how to help organizations achieve optimal results.

Master of science in organizational development

Organizational development graduate programs are typically 36-45 credit hours beyond a baccalaureate – approximately two years. The classes focus on studying organization development, which involves reading about theories and case studies, as well as discussing how these ideas can be applied in various organizations. Graduate program costs vary from approximately $9,000 to $25,000 depending on in-state tuition, out-of-state tuition, and program duration. In addition to on-campus graduate programs, there are also several masters in organizational development online programs where one can earn a degree.

Here are a few of the best organizational development masters programs:

University of Georgia, Athens – Offers a Master of Learning, Leadership & Organization Development degree with courses on change management, talent management, team development, coaching, and more. The program is an online masters in organizational development.

American University, Washington, DC – Offers an MS in Organizational Development that will be completed in approximately 21 months. The program involves a 3-day class weekend format with three residencies and integrated online learning. Courses delve into human and organizational development theory and modern issues and ethical practices.

Penn State World Campus – Offers a Master of Professional Studies in Organizational Development and Change that consists of 33 hours including a 3-hour field-based project course. Their program includes educators from Workforce Education and Development (WF ED) and has been recognized as one of the best online programs. Penn State also offers online graduate certificates.

Colorado State University Online – Offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) – in Education and Human Resource Studies – Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change Specialization. This program utilizes an interdisciplinary combination of sociological, systems, psychological, and economic approaches. The program may be completed online in two years.

Doctorate in organizational development (Ph.D.)

The most advanced degree one can achieve in organizational development is a doctorate. Those who pursue a PhD Organizational Development are furthering their education and advancing their careers. Generally, these individuals are preparing for senior-level executive positions. Doctorate programs involve a significant amount of research and the production of an individual dissertation. Doctoral candidates may take anywhere from three to five years to earn their degree.

Here are a few of the leading programs offering a Doctorate Degree in Organizational Development:

University of Georgia, Athens – Offers a Ph.D. in Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development with a focus on a research-oriented career for individuals hoping to work in academic environments. The 66-hour program may be completed as a full-time or part-time student in five to six years.

Colorado State University Online – Offers a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education and Human Resource Studies – Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change Specialization. The program is designed for executives and academics with bi-weekly meetings in Denver. The program can be completed in a little less than four years.

University of the Rockies – Offers a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Organizational Development and Leadership. The program is 62 credit hours and requires online students to three non-credit in-residence workshops in addition to a dissertation. Note – this program is not for licensure purposes.

Harvard Business School – Offers a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior. The program combines psychology, sociology, business administration, and organizational theories. In addition to program courses, candidates must complete a teaching assignment as well as an apprenticeship. This is a five-year program.

Organizational development membership networks

Professional development and networking is a critical part of a career in organizational development. Fortunately, there are several options for individuals to meet others in their fields and grow professionally. Here are some of the popular membership networks:

Organization Development Network – A worldwide organization for OD that has identified a Global OD Practice Framework. It provides networking opportunities, mentoring, and a quarterly journal.

International Organization Development Association – This professional membership association is for OD professionals and students. It offers professional development, professional networking, and news.

Organization Development Network of New York – This professional network is for OD professionals and students in New York. It provides networking, forums, and resume-enhancing opportunities.

International Society of Organization Development and Change – This organization provides various learning and professional development opportunities, such as organizational development training, conferences, and webinars.

Organizational development certification to obtain

In addition to joining a professional organizational development membership network, you should also consider organizational development certification programs. While they are not required, the following certification programs will expand your knowledge, enhance your resume, and help you advance in your career.

The Institute of Organization Development offers online certification programs such as Organization Development, Leadership Development, Talent Management, and Executive Coaching. Additionally, they offer professional organizational development programs and complimentary webinars.

NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science offers courses and certification programs in organizational development. The OD certification program is five courses that may be completed in two years.

The Society for Human Resource Management provides candidates with SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP credentials specializing in Organizational Training & Development. Those who hold certification from this HR Society are respected in this field as leaders.

Individuals can also pursue organizational development certification programs online through many academic institutions. Certificate programs generally take less time than degree programs. Certificate programs work well for individuals wanting to update their skill sets.

Expanding your knowledge about organizational development

There are other ways to expand your knowledge and add to your value as an OD professional. For example, read the best organizational development books in your field and show your understanding of the ideas when you are strategizing. Here are three books on organizational development we recommend:

Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organization Development from the OD Network(ODNetwork (Editor), John Vogelsang (Editor), Maya Townsend (Editor)) – This book is a collection of 78 articles by OD professionals.

Organization Development & Change: (Thomas G. Cummings & Christopher Worley) – This book is a close examination of behavioral science within organizations.

The Change Champion’s Field Guide: Strategies and Tools for Leading Change in Your Organization (Louis Carter and Roland L. Sullivan) – This book teaches how to be a positive change agent, and it contains advice from leaders in the organizational development field.

For more reading material, see this list of the Top 15 Books Recommended for Organization Development Professionals by IOD.

Additionally, conferences are excellent learning and networking opportunities. The field of organization development is ever-evolving; therefore, it is important for OD professionals to stay up on the latest research and studies impacting their field. You should make every effort to attend the following organizational development conferences in 2018:

The 2018 OD Network Annual Conference will be October 18 – October 21 in Alexandria, Virginia.

The 2018 IODA Annual Conference will be September 13 – September 15 in Istanbul, Turkey.

IOD’s 8th Annual OD Conference will be June 20 – June 22 in Kingston, Jamaica.

ISODC International Conference will be September 18 – September 21 in Dublin, Ireland.

The top organizational development consulting firms

Many OD professionals work as consultants through large firms. This set-up works well because you are able to apply your expertise to a variety of settings with the support of a team. When you work with a major consulting firm, you will also be provided with opportunities to learn from mentors and develop your skill set. The following consulting firms employ organization development professionals:

Accenture Talent and Organization employs consultants who specifically deal with organizational change and development.

Deloitte offers Organization Transformation & Talent services designed to help with strategic shifts such as mergers, new leadership, expansion, and more.

Kaiser Associates is an award-winning OD consulting group that offers organization development consulting services.

Those in organization development find their careers exciting and fulfilling. Being able to improve the overall well-being of an organization and its people is a rewarding experience. If you envision yourself creating change for the better in the workplace, then the field of organization development may be the right fit for you.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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