Themes in Module 3 of the Level 5 CIPD Qualification

A summary of everything you need to know about the third module

By Les Jones

Les is Oakwood's Head of Associates and works in our Associate Team
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HRM Module 3 focuses on three interrelated areas of HR practice: ‘Organisational Development’ (5ODT); ‘Organisational Design’ (5ODG) and ‘Improving Organisational Performance’ (5IVP). These are, on the face of it, quite complex and deep – but once learners become immersed in the subject matter for each unit, they could be forgiven for thinking 'haven’t we covered much of this already?' They would be right – at least in part.

Level 5 students will all have a range of experience covering HR practice and the wider considerations of business and organisation management. By embarking on the programme, they will reinforce their professional knowledge and practice with concepts and theory based on current and emerging practice – the aim being to be able to apply theory in a practical sense in the reality of their HR management roles. If you have read the blogs covering the key themes in Module 1 and Module 2, you will know there are enduring themes that develop and build. 

Alignment of HR practice to all aspects of the organisation is a key theme as is the need to ensure sustained organisational performance. That word ‘alignment’ is so important! These themes continue to be developed during Module 3 – but a review of the learning launches a new word that you might like to consider and digest – that word is ‘harmonisation.’


The module starts with consideration of ‘Organisational Development’ as an applied business discipline. We’ve all heard of ‘Organisational Development’, and can probably create some clear imagery in our minds to visualise what it entails. But, as some academics have acknowledged, there are so many definitions to consider and we might be forgiven for being rather confused. The CIPD factsheet ‘Organisational Development’ (2015) provides several definitions, some clear, others obscured through complex wordology. We see mention of the social sciences, in particular psychology, sociology and anthropology – indeed, some academics claim that to be effective and credible, organisation development consultants should be academically qualified in these disciplines. 

What we need to do, of course, is synthesise the many definitions and come up with something that makes sense to us. What are the common themes? What can we relate to in terms of our own experience? For example, is ‘Organisational Development’ another term for change management (done properly?), or is it a sub-theme of learning and development? Oakwood had developed a view on this. We see organisational development as systematic process, applying a consultant/facilitator approach, that enables an organisation, through harnessing the talents of the organisation’s people at all levels, to achieve sustainable organisational performance (and survivability in a VUCA world).  Of course, we may be mistaken – what do you think?

Organisational Design

The second unit of Module 3 is ‘Organisational Design.’ The logic of exploring this subject after ‘Organisation Development’ is that, at least in Oakwood’s opinion, the two areas are inextricably related where ‘Organisation Design’ is a sub-theme or adjunct of the larger discipline of Organisation Development.’ One of the first key learning points from this unit is that ‘Organisation Design’ is far more than a focus on organisation diagrams and different possible versions of this. The physical shape of an organisation is important – seeking alignment to business need, of course. 

But there are far more considerations that must be accounted for in order to optimise organisational performance – both tangible: processes and procedures, reporting lines, communication flows – and intangible, not least of which is ‘culture.’ 

As with ‘Organisation Development’ there is a heavy base of concepts and theory, some of which – systems theory, for example, is shared by both subjects. We explore the development and evolvement of organisational theory from the origins of modern thinking as espoused by Max Weber, through Taylorism (‘Scientific Management’) then considerations of ‘mechanistic’ and ‘organic’ organisations and then on to the evolvement of organisational models – ‘static’, ‘dynamic’ and ‘ecological.’ The thinking underpinning the theory of organisation design seems to be becoming increasingly more complex – try fathoming the significance and features of the ‘Fractal Web’ for example! 

The models of organisation design, which we explore during the unit, are indeed complicated. However, if we filter out some of the detail, it is possible to draw out some key themes – and the importance of understanding organisation design becomes clearer. For example, we learn that the earlier ‘static’ models such as McKinsey’s ‘7 S’ and Galbraith’s ‘Star’, which are still used by consultancies to shape their interventions, are possibly too simplistic as they do not take account of the external environment. 

By Module 3, you will be fully conversant with the necessity of understanding the external environment and how it impacts on the organisation – remember PESTLE/STEEPLE and that rather disturbing acronym VUCA? The more contemporary models of organisational design, those that sit under the heading ‘ecological,’ take full account of the macro environment – indeed, there is the recognition that not only does the external environment impact on the organisation, the organisation in turn has a tangible influence on the external environment.

Organisational Development

Now, if you consider the definition of ‘Organisation Development’ offered above, could this not apply equally to ‘Organisation Design’ as an applied business discipline? The answer is ‘yes’ – in part. Both Organisation Development and Organisation Design seek to ensure the organisation is best positioned (and shaped) to optimise performance. 

However, Oakwood considers Organisation Design to be more finite that Organisation Development. Confused? Well, consider the following analogy. If you were tasked with designing a car engine, you would want to ensure that all of the components making up the finished engine, working in ‘harmony.’ There’s that word. Think about it – you don’t need an engine warning light to tell you your engine is not working – you can hear it, feel it. So, you design an engine where all the components work together, in harmony, to optimise that engine’s performance: speed, fuel efficiency, endurance, comfort and so on. 

Now, having designed your engine (Organisational Design), you now need to ensure that the engine is maintained (and the customer who bought the car remains satisfied). The engine will need to evolve – new legislation might require enhanced control of fuel emissions, for example. Activities to ensure the sustainability and appropriate evolvement of the engine are analogous to ‘Organisational Development.’ Of course, you may have or develop a different opinion of the relationship between these two disciplines – but that’s a key emphasis of Level 5 – critical analysis of concepts and ideas.

Improving Organisation Performance

So, to the third unit – and final subject of the Level 5 programme: ‘Improving Organisation Performance.’ This unit explores the key concept of ‘High Performance Working’ (HPW) and what this means in terms of ‘High Performance Working Practices’ (HPWP) and how to create a ‘High Performance Working Organisation’ (HPWO). As we unpack the ‘Black Box’ of HPW, a strange feeling of déjà vu is likely occur. We have, surely, covered all of this – perhaps with the exception of some terminology – in previous units? Of course we have! This last unit serves to tie everything together – to reinforce and consolidate. 

For example, when we explored the business case for creating a ‘high engagement culture’ (5ENG) did we not cover the same themes? Absolutely! Consider for a moment – what comes first, ‘high performance working’ (optimal organisational performance) or a high engagement culture? They are, of course, mutually inclusive. If you focus on creating and driving a strategy leading to high performance working – then surely the outcome will be enhanced levels of employee engagement. But, if you focus on efforts to create and drive a ‘high engagement culture’, will that not result in optimised organisational performance?

So, coming back to that new word: ‘harmonisation’ – can you see how it applies?

Les Jones
Director of Development