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The espoused goal of organization development or OD (Burke, 1987) is generally recognized as the installation of lasting abilities to manage ongoing change. It is a central tenet of OD that real change happens by cultivating the ability and desire of a workforce to perform as needed. Such voluntary change in behavior is distinct from employer-mandated compliance because it is employee controlled and may have associated positive effects on any related work or nonwork activity. In contrast to OD effects, rule-based mandatory compliance programs are likely to induce beneficial change only in specifically targeted and employer-controlled behaviors. However, evaluating voluntary OD-induced change in behavior as distinct from employer-mandated behavior and demonstrating the independent effects of rule-based compliance and OD activity (Burke, 1987, pp. 130-142) have been problematic for OD researchers.
This study contrasted OD-induced and voluntary changes in behavior with later employer-mandated compliance. The behaviors studied were employee time use patterns related to employee absence. Absence research has noted the emergence of legitimacy-based substitution effects (Chadwick-Jones, Nicholson, & Brown, 1982; Denerly, 1952) in which employees choose to replace forms of time use prohibited under the rules with nonwork time uses that have not been forbidden. With absence control based on policy and enforcement, such legitimacy effects are pivotal in accommodating employee non-cooperation with absence control rules. Systems based on employee cooperation differ from this in that substantial gains can be achieved as employees voluntarily seek ways of avoiding absence and committing themselves to work. New ways of acting can emerge in relation to values and beliefs rather than in conformance to positional authority, rewards, or punishments.
Research and evaluation of OD has clustered into several groups. One group investigates the possibility that a positive-findings bias colors valuative research on OD interventions (Roberts & Robertson, 1992; Terpstra, 1981; Woodman & Wayne, 1985). Another group compares types of interventions and associated evaluation strategies (Terpstra, 1982). Other recent work by Bullock and colleagues (Bullock & Svyantek, 1985; Bullock & Tubbs, 1987) explores ways of using meta-analytic techniques to combine results across case studies.
The quality of OD intervention studies has been criticized on several bases (Beer & Walton, 1987). Observed changes following an intervention could be due to various rival hypotheses including maturation, history, self-selection, and related interaction effects (Vicars & Hartke, 1984). OD evaluations have also been criticized for focusing on short-term changes, subjectively measured dependent variables, weak instrumentation, and lack of independent investigation (Bass, 1983; Morrison, 1978). Evaluators of OD research have called for more quantitative data, more sophisticated research designs, and appropriate statistical procedures (Armenakis, Bedeian, & Pond, 1983; Nicholas & Katz, 1985). They also have consistently called for more longitudinal designs and more frequent measurements to assess permanence of OD change effects. Assessing results and their effects almost contemporaneously does not show whether different posttest measurements would support different explanations of OD effects. Besides longitudinal measures and more frequent measurement, Morrison (1978) also argued for more complete measurement schemata that allow assessing multiple outcomes related to the dependent variable.
THE EVENT TIME LINE FOR THIS INTERVENTION
This article describes a 2-year study of OD and related effects on a major bus system in a Great Lakes state. The bus system executive director wished to institutionalize a system that would provide continuous OD and organization renewal activities (Lippitt, 1969) to his perpetually crisis-ridden organization. He invited proposals from a consulting firm that previously had completed two planning systems projects for the bus system, including many participation mechanisms. A new contract was approved, despite strong public criticism from riders and city politicians, and required consultants to perform nearly 600 days of work within 1 year.
Contract approval was conditional. The executive director wanted to focus on renewal, but the city budget office demanded that the consulting firm address the high level of short-term nonlegitimate absence experienced by the bus system. Furthermore, the contract might not be renewed or extended beyond the first year. After much negotiation, an adaptive strategy for achieving both the renewal and absence control objectives was collaboratively designed by the consultants, the executive committee, and the director. This corroborates the assertion of Mirvis (1990) that challenging clients have the capacity to encourage adaptive approaches to OD.
Employee time use behaviors were monitored daily, but the events that triggered time use shifts in this study can be viewed in terms of four successive time spans. These are shown in Figure 1. A description of events within the four time spans follows.
THE BASE YEAR
During the year before this intervention began, system managers had been exposed to management development training in management-by-objectives and performance problem-solving techniques. All other employees were excluded. Due to the intervention of city authorities, no subsequent activity occurred to install improved performance management methods. Without that follow-up, this work became simply one more of a series of managerial training efforts, so that direct and substantial effects on the behavior of other employees were not expected. Conversely, if any training effects had already occurred, it seemed reasonable to expect them to be consistent with subsequent OD efforts, which would reduce the apparent effect of subsequent intervention activities. The base year therefore offered a fair or at least a conservative basis for evaluating subsequent intervention effects. A database was generated from archival data to include time use data for all employees during that baseline year. This time span has been referred to as the base year.
THE OD PHASE
An intervention making broad use of OD techniques was initiated to collaboratively collect data, to diagnose the organization, to design solution options, to build and work in teams, to integrate those teams through a parallel organization, and to invent a new way to improve attendance at the bus system. These activities, referred to as the OD phase, consumed the first 6 months of the project and involved almost all employees. Due to funding constraints, OD activities were abruptly restricted at the end of the first 6 months. Although this sudden restriction of OD contravenes the accepted ideal model of long-term and continuous OD effort, it probably typifies the vast majority of attempts to install and apply OD technology. Because the measurement of targeted behaviors continued far beyond the end of the OD phase, it also provided a unique opportunity to find out what the short-run effects of OD could be and to examine the consequences of truncating an OD effort. The time span of this intensive OD phase was the first 6 months after the base year. OD activities are described below.
A Parallel Organization
The major strategy recommended was to create a parallel organization (Bushe & Shani, 1990; Stein & Kanter, 1980) to aid upward communication, cooperation across functions, development of staff, and development of executives as leaders of large systems change. The seven unions that represented workers in the system were invited to get directly involved but declined, although they were included in interview activities and did not attempt to block the project. In addition to weekly meetings on project and renewal issues by an executive committee at the top of the organization, a cross-functional, diagonal-slice team called the Issue Analysis Team (I/A Team) was created as the main working entity in the new organization. This team was trained by consultants in interviewing and problem-solving techniques and in basic nominal group processes (Delbecq, Van De Ven, & Gustafson, 1977). It was to become strongly instrumental in guiding initial OD efforts and in later project design activities.
Data Collections, Interviews, and Nominal Groups
The first 6 months of OD work were devoted to extensive data collection about absenteeism and related issues. Field interviews were conducted by the I/A Team and consultants with executives, managers, supervisors, employees, and union leaders. These interviews with the I/A Team and external consultants were voluntary and might be either small-group or one-on-one interviews, but virtually every influential party in the organization was invited to participate. Some interviews when conducted by I/A Team members without the external consultants, but when the presence of a disinterested third party seemed important, the consultants were there. In most cases, the selection of other interview participants was left to the discretion of the initial contact person invited, but the external consultant, the I/A Team, and other participants did suggest other parties to include when that was likely to be helpful. In addition, dozens of formal nominal group sessions involved employees in all occupational groups, shifts, and work locations, reaching nearly all bus system workforce.
Members of the parallel organization paired with consultants and designed problem statements around which to focus group problem solving, conducted round-robin sweeps of absence-related issues, discussed issues, ranked issues, and led plenary sessions. Each session lasted 3 to 6 hours while participants offered ideas about effects of absenteeism, absenteeism solutions, and incentives for improved attendance. Information from employees was summarized into "white paper" executive summaries and reviewed by the executive committee in their weekly sessions.
A central focusing mechanism for OD effort during the first 6 months was the collaborative preparation of white papers by I/A Team members and consultants (French & Bell, 1990). These papers were an important channel for integration of information from outside sources with feedback from the nominal group sessions and interviews. They also served as a visible intermediate outcome of intervention activities. Each paper sent to the executive team for review, comment, …