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Define Your Path

Is an Organization Development Degree Right for You?

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So you want to get an Organization Development (OD) degree?  You may be thinking you might be interested in one, but aren't really sure.  Or maybe you're just curious about what OD is really all about and what OD practitioners really do.  Hopefully we'll answer a little bit of that here. 

Organization development (OD) is about the application of behavioral science knowledge to the planned development, improvement, and reinforcement of the strategies, structures, and processes that lead to organizational effectiveness (Cummings & Worley, 2005).  It is about trying to make organizations a better place for the people who are a part of their ecosystem (e.g., customers, stakeholders).  More importantly, it is about doing this with an approach that includes humanistic values and recognizes that even though we have to focus on the success of the organization as an entity, we can't pursue that goal at the expense of the individuals in it.  In other words, people are not just cogs in the wheel. 

Now that we have covered what OD is about, let’s discuss what is involved in earning a degree. Part of that depends on what kind of degree you plan to earn.  While there are a several bachelor level OD programs, most are Master's level, and there are few doctoral level programs.  Master's level programs usually run 36-45 credit hours beyond a baccalaureate, and doctoral programs are at least 90 credit hours past a baccalaureate (often many more) and require completion of a dissertation.  What would you do in one of these programs?  There is lots of reading about theory and case studies.  Lots of discussion about what is going on in those case studies (either in live classes or on online discussion boards), and then lots of writing about what is going on in those cases and how we might be able to apply those concepts to the real world.  If you are the kind of person who likes to consider lots of different options and approaches to a problem, this kind of experience can be fun.

So what can you do with an OD degree?  Quite a lot.  Probably the two most common places to work with an OD degree are in a corporate Human Resources department or as a consultant.  Both of those jobs allow for day to day application of the acquired behavioral science knowledge.  I have, however, seen people work as IT executives, Chief Executive Officers, and even know a couple of practicing physicians who earned OD degrees to help them take a broader perspective to patient care.  Frankly it is all over the board, but that is okay because OD is as much about how we do things.

Now you have to decide whether or not you should you get an OD degree.  Given that OD is all about the process, however, maybe the question is not should you get the degree.  Maybe the question is would you enjoy the process of earning the degree?  If the answer is yes, then it will probably be a valuable experience.  Now the question is just where to go...

References

Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2005). Organization development and change. (8th ed.).  (Eight Edition ed.) Mason, OH: Thomas South-Western.

Related Benedictine Programs

If you are interested in learning more about how you can hone your professional skills in Organizational Development, check out Benedictine’s online MS in Management and Organizational Behavior.

About the Author

Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.

He can be reached at www.jimmybrownphd.com or via Twitter @jimmybrownphd