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GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 441 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1

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Universities are facing dramatic changes in their environment, affecting their strategic competitive positions and organizational effectiveness. High education is a big business, but business approach to strategic planning and organizational development in a university environment is still rarely used. Change management and organizational interventions are among best corporate practices in addressing external and internal strategic and organizational needs. Is it possible effectively using adapted corporate approaches for strategy-driven organizational development in universities? What are factual and perceived key problems and what are key success factors? What are result's logic, time-frame, and expected benefits?

This critical research study is based on 128 structured interviews, followed by open-question interviews and employees’ anonymous evaluations in five comprehensive organizational development projects in one university. The projects are focused on clusters of centralized business and financial services at a statesupported mid-size northwest university. This study is highlighting a successfully adapted model and a structured implementation framework for organizational development in a specific university environment.

The purpose of the study is to help understanding and sharing challenges and practitioners’ experience answering the overarching question: How to make organizational development project in university work?

JEL: L22, M19 KEYWORDS: Organizational Development, University Environment, Change Management, Strategic Planning, Organizational Interventions, Business Development, Results Logic, Implementation Framework


High education becomes a big and global business, with growing competitive pressures from the gamechanging factors. Competitive battles are emerging on the high education diversified markets, increasing needs for strategy-driven organizational development (OD). However, business approach and criteria in planning and implementing strategic and organizational changes in a university environment are still rarely used. Change management and organizational interventions are theoretically well founded, and OD techniques are already being used widely in business corporations. Addressing changes in universities is still on a mostly theoretical level, analyzing “Why?” and “What?” issues, but with very few studies focused on the generic question: How to make organizational development project in university work? In the last decade, there is an effort among a growing number of universities to address strategic and operational business challenges in a more effective way. Despite an academic and tradition based culture and driving forces, more and more universities are trying to find ways to overcome typically “glacial” approach in comparison to fast and substantial changes in the business world. The search for new OD approach and practices in high education is primarily conducted in universities with advanced Human Resources Management (HRM) capacities and functions. Accordingly, research questions emerged.

GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 442 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1 What are best corporate practices in addressing external and internal strategic and organizational needs and challenges? Is it possible to use adapted corporate models and business approach for strategic-driven organizational development in universities? What are factual and perceived key problems and what are key success factors? Are there adapted models and a structured framework for organization development in universities? What are result's logic and expected benefits? Those are issues and challenges that are receiving increasing attention from both practitioners and researchers – and this is the topic of this paper.

Relatively little is known about universities using organizational development in a comprehensive way, for strategy-driven changes. There is very few published research of specific attempts to adapt corporate techniques for university. Rare OD case studies (Torroco, 2005) are helping gaining initial insights into practical initiation and implementation problems. In practice, simply visiting universities’ web sites across the country, the primary conclusion is that organizational development is still mostly reduced to the professional training program and coordinating external consulting services. This is especially case analyzing mid-size public and state-supported universities. However, in the last several years, there is growing number of universities assigning a more strategic role to their Human Resources departments. The approach is focused on adding OD as an advanced HRM function (for example, Rutgers University, 2012).

It is easier to state this as a strategic intention then implementing an effective change. The purpose of this qualitative case study, combined with collected empiric data, is to indicate factors that contributed to OD project's initiations, implementations, and results logic. The presented OD model is developed adapting the theoretical foundation and proven corporate practices, aligned with the specific setting and influential factors in university environment. The paper is focused on providing the OD model overview and highlighting the practical implementation framework that may be adapted for use in other university environments for effective organizational development projects and interventions.


The organization development (OD) is an applied behavioral discipline. This is OD’s theoretical foundation. Professional implementation of OD may simply be described as a methodology or technique used to affect change in an organization or section of an organization, with the overall goal of improving the organization’s effectiveness. OD evolved through few strong research and practice waves (1950-ties, seventies, 1990-ties, and in the last decade). OD focus changed by time, but the main driving force remained: an economic environment where the goal was to improve business efficiency and management.

Behavioral science knowledge and practices (as a foundation of applied OD), incorporate concepts such as leadership, group dynamics and teamwork, work design and approaches such as strategy, organization design and international relations (Cummings and Worley, 1997). Since OD has a multifaceted structure, and a reach applied history in the corporate world, there are myriad of theoretical references. However, there is no consensus of an overarching definition of OD. A literature review on the topic “organizational development in universities," reveals emphases on generic approaches, reflecting on theoretical foundations and implementation in the corporate environment (Scott, 2013). The related subtopics (organizational change, change management, organizational effectiveness, etc.) in university environment are also not significantly addressed by researchers so far. Some relatively recent studies are addressing the OD models in high education (Ashraf, 2011).

The case studies analyzing OD and change in university are very rare. Torraco (2005) and his team analyzed OD implementations in five universities, in various phases of building OD capacities and practices. Among universities with advanced OD positioning and published reports is Center for Organizational Development and Leadership in Rutgers University (2012). The literature on applied OD and change approach in the business world is a long list of books addressing OD principles, practices, perspectives, processes, and performances (for example, Johns, 2014, McLean, 2005). In the recent years, OD pays much more attention to the larger environment in which the business operates and aims at helping businesses accomplish their strategic objectives. Some researchers and practitioners were focused on applied OD as a part of an GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 443 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1 advanced Human Resource (HR) Management, publishing handbooks for strategic HR and best practices in OD (Vogelsang, 2012, Cheung-Judge, 2011). In addition, many consulting companies published their own practitioners’ guides for OD. Among topics related to OD, there are also many books focused on leadership and leading change (Kotter, 1996), leadership teams and team building, as well as achieving “organizational health” (Lencioni, 2012).

In summary, there are numerous research reports and books about OD theoretical aspects, and books and case studies about applied OD practices in the corporate world. OD in high education has very few research and case studies of OD models and implementation practices in university environment. This critical research study is addressing a series of OD projects, however, limited to only one university’s OD experience, but may be a good reference for further research and applied practices.


The objective of OD is to improve the organization’s capacity to handle internal and external functioning and relationship, improving group dynamics, organization's structure, and effective and collaborative management of organizational culture. Accordingly, the methodology used in related OD projects and in this research study is aligned with the purpose and objective of OD concept and expected results. The OD projects were initiated in one Northwestern university, in the part that has the functions closest to the standard business practices. Five OD projects were focused on clusters of centralized business and financial services at this state-supported mid-size university. In initiating and conducting those complex OD projects, the goal was to reach higher results than with previous OD attempts, this time using and adapting proven best practices from corporate environment. This critical research study is based on 128 structured interviews, followed by open-questions interviews and employees’ anonymous evaluations in five comprehensive organizational development projects. The study is an overview of an adapted OD model, highlighting implementation framework for OD projects in a specific university environment.

Following its strategic plan, the university leadership decided actively addressing the critical elements of the overall organizational effectiveness in business, financial and other services supporting the core function – education. In 2013, Human Resources (HR) department was reorganized and staffed to accept the strategic role as a strategic driving force and functional center for Organizational Development and Professional Development in this university. In comparison to some OD activities performed in previous years with mostly external support (consulting, experts), this time OD was based on a full-time internal capacity, providing in-house expertise and continuous support for OD projects. The OD projects are

initiated and implemented in the following phases and steps:

Phase I: General Preparation Activities

1- Introducing OD to the university leadership team (vice presidents, provost, deans, directors).

Through tailored presentations, meetings, and brief workshops, led by HR department and an assistant director for OD, OD methods and techniques were introduced to the university's top officials.

2- The university leadership team, based on strategic goals and various performance analyses, suggested which organizational units should be priorities for organizational comprehensive assessments and adequate organizational interventions.

3- The next step was a “buy-in” process involving the management team in chosen organizational unit. Meetings and presentations were focused on initial assessments, and explaining characteristics and dynamics of OD projects’ framework, process, specific goals, roles, and implementation steps, expected change management challenges and OD benefits, as well as a project’s suggested timeline.

GCBF ♦ Vol. 11 ♦ No. 1 ♦ 2016 ♦ ISSN 1941-9589 ONLINE & ISSN 2168-0612 USB Flash Drive 444 Global Conference on Business and Finance Proceedings ♦ Volume 11 ♦ Number 1 Phase II: OD Project Realization Steps 4- In-depth presentation to all managers and supervisors, open to all unit’s employees, explaining OD needs and assessments process, OD interventions planning, implementation steps, expected results, benefits, and especially transparent reviews and reports, with feedback and follow-up mechanism.

5- All employees in the unit are informed about planned project and related steps and schedules.

6- Structured one-on-one interviews, confidential, followed by open questions individual sessions.

7- After all interviews’ results are systemized and analyzed, all employees are invited to the project presentation. The unit’s core management team received just a brief summary prior the presentation.

8- After the presentation of project’s finding suggested OD interventions and an initial action plan, employees were invited to form an OD Team. This team did not have top managers in it, and it was empowered to contribute to the project related overall coordination and communication.

Phase III: OD Continuous Support, Feedback, and Follow-up.

9- After the anonymous project evaluation from all employees, the ownership of the OD project is transferred to the organizational unit’s OD team, with continuous monitoring and support from OD specialist, including team-building activities, OD-specific problem-solving assistance, etc.

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