Why It’s Better To Study OD Instead of an MBA

As someone who chose to do a masters in organizational development, I’m often asked why I chose to do it over an MBA. The truth is, the answer is multi-faceted, and it would have to be broken down in order to articulate it clearly. Most of us tend to shoot for the biggest fish, and while OD programs are not necessary less competitive than those in MBA, there are definitely other advantages towards pursuing this degree. Here is why you should study OD in lieu of an MBA.

MBA stands for masters of business administration. It’s commonly pursued by individuals who are determined to be the head of something, whether it be a company, or corporation, or even a branch of some kind. While this is perfectly acceptable, and there is plenty of room for these types, managers who are nothing but business-oriented tend to become overly confident, often resulting in a dysfunctional department, team, or entire organization. That’s where OD comes in. Organizational development is the study of how organizations work, and what can be done to make them better. Typically, those who pursue a degree in OD are more prone to understanding organizations as a whole, rather than just how to run them.

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There is a psychological element in OD, that simply doesn’t exist in most MBA programs. While almost all MBA programs require a semester of organizational or consumer psychology, the foundation of psychology doesn’t typically exceed that. OD juggles a good amount of psychological foundation so that the student can better understand the structure of an organization from a psychological perspective. We are humans, after all, and will more than likely be working with them, so understanding theories, as well as practical applications of OD from a psychological standpoint is not only what differentiates the two, but actually makes it a more wholesome program.

Let’s face it: most of us aren’t great with numbers. Yes, a semester or year of statistics will be required in any OD program, but this is nothing compared to the amount of accounting, stats, and possible calculus courses that are required by many MBA programs. Since an OD program’s approach is more humanistic, it is treated as somewhat of a hybrid between an MBA and masters in industrial psychology. Most people who study OD typically pursue careers as some kind of organizational consultant, so practicum is a crucial aspect of the degree. There is a lot of emphasis on maintaining one’s humanity, as well understanding, empathy, and critical thinking when dealing with a client. How to navigate various situations is one of the main focuses of practicum in an OD degree.

Essentially, what really differentiates a masters in OD from an MBA, is rather simple. An MBA creates an understanding of how businesses are run from the inside-out, versus an OD program, which focuses on the outside-in. This isn’t to say that an MBA isn’t valuable, as that’s far from true, but it’s important to take into consideration that OD degrees exist to create better, more efficient, and understanding managers and leaders, whereas an MBA’s goal is to create hard skills, with less of an emphasis on relationships; a key aspect of good management.

So, when it comes down to it, I just believe that a masters in OD sets students up for better and more open communication with future colleagues, whereas an MBA will probably make you a more skillful banker and business owner. Regardless of what you choose, remember that quality relationships are the key to maintaining high-quality management, and that too much of a focus on control can backfire. If it’s up to you, go for a masters in OD, and obtain the skills necessary for understanding the whole, and addressing the small details in between.