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Title: A Perspective on the Field of Organization Development and Change: The Zeigarnik Effect
Author(s): W. Warner Burke
Reference: The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2010, 1-25

Abstract: Essentially, and perhaps arguably, there has been no innovation in the social technology of organization development (OD) since appreciative inquiry originated in 1987. It is as if the creative work of OD is done. Moreover, it is as if the mission of OD—to loosen tightly coupled systems, think large bureaucracies—has largely been achieved. Decentralization, involvement, and autonomy on the job are commonplace in many organizations. There is a paradox, however. The need for expertise in organization change has never been greater, and OD has so much to contribute, yet the failure rate for organization change efforts is around 70%, and for mergers and acquisitions the failure rate is even larger. The premise of this article is that there is much work yet to be done. We who identify ourselves with the field of OD have unfinished business. As research on the Zeigarnik effect showed, we tend to remember things undone more than we remember things that have been completed. A purpose of this article is to create a Zeigarnik effect. Four domains of unfinished business in the field are identified and explored. There are no doubt many other domains, but these four definitely need attention. We need to know much more than we now know about how to (a) work with loosely coupled systems, (b) change the culture of an organization, (c) identify and deal with perceived resistance to change more effectively, and (d) get leadership development right—it is not about training.



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