Many people consider organizational development to be a sub-discipline of human resources. Others consider them to be two different disciplines. While it is true that both OD and HR deal with the role of humans within a company, they are different in a number of ways.

Different Focuses

While human resources may handle issues within a company such as employee complaints about harassment or discrimination, one of the main focuses of human resources is to make sure the company is following all local, state and federal regulations and to protect the company from liability. Human resources also deals with looking at how employee efforts can be maximized for the good of the company. Organizational development is more focused on developing the employee’s potential and on bringing employees into alignment with company values and goals. Unlike human resources, organizational development would not deal with issues such as timekeeping, benefits administration or paid time off unless restructuring those elements would contribute in some way to employee and organizational development.

Research and Data

Rooted in behavioral science, organizational development also draws from other disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. Organizational development is research- and data-driven and focuses on influencing employee behavior for the betterment of the employees and the company. Human resources does not attempt to influence employee behavior beyond ensuring that employees are compliant with regulations and properly trained. In general, HR does not draw on psychology and similar fields to change behavior in the way OD does. Where HR relies on law, regulations and manuals, OD looks at research on human behavior. This commitment to data and analytics is embedded enough in OD that a professional in the field would be unlikely to initiate significant change without gathering data first. Approaches to change and solutions to issues in the workplace would also draw heavily on data-driven research.

Supporting Culture and Values

According to an article in Forbes, organizational values are an often-overlooked but critical element in a company’s success. One way to understand the difference in human resources and organizational development is to look at the different ways each discipline would communicate and uphold those values. For example, a company might want to show a strong commitment to diversity and to preventing harassment and discrimination. Human resources might approach this by revising its employee handbook, ensuring that there is a reporting system in place that encourages people to report harassment and discrimination, and by looking at how the company recruits. Organizational development might approach the same goal by looking at how the company culture could be changed and how managers could be better trained to support those values and communicate them to employees in various ways.

In some organizations, these two disciplines may be more closely intertwined than others, and some companies may have people who are HR professionals also working with principles of OD. However, both at their core and in their main concerns, human resources, and organizational development are two related but different approaches to maximizing employee and organizational potential.