Richard Beckhard, a founder of the field of organizational development, pioneering consultant on issues of managing change, and adjunct professor at the Sloan School from 1963-1984, died in New York City on December 28, 1999. He was 81.
For nearly 50 years, Professor Beckhard helped organizations function in a more humane and high-performing manner, and to empower people to be agents of change. He began his career in the theater, first as an actor and then as a Broadway stage manager. During World War II, he directed the entertainment of troops in the Pacific.
In 1950, his expertise in theatrical staging brought him to the attention of founders of the National Training Laboratories (NTL), who asked him to improve the staging of NTL training sessions. When Mr. Beckhard himself participated in T-Groups at NTL, the experience stimulated his seminal thinking on the relationships between group functioning and problems faced by managers in corporations.
In the late 1950s, he began collaborating with the late MIT Professor Douglas McGregor, who created the Organization Studies Department at the School School. With Dewey Balch, they initiated a project designed to facilitate the change process in organizations, naming it organization development. Mr. Beckhard's emphasis on system-wide change in organizations distinguished him as a pioneer in this emerging field. Also in the 1950s, Mr. Beckhard began working with executives at several multinational companies.
In the late 1960s, with colleagues Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein (now a Sloan professor emeritus), he launched the Addison-Wesley Organization Development Series. Mr. Beckhard wrote eight books and numerous articles, including Organization Development: Strategies and Models; Changing the Essence; and Richard Beckhard: Agent of Change: My Life, My Practice.
In 1967, under the auspices of the NTL, he launched the Organization Development Network, the first training program for specialists in organization development. The Family Firm Institute, an organization devoted to developing family-owned business that he founded in the 1970s with his second wife, Elaine Kepner, has supported training programs at more than 150 US and European universities.
Mr. Beckhard is survived by his third wife, Sandra Barty, and a sister, Barbara MacNeill.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, Feb. 13 at 3pm at Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street in New York City. Friends and colleagues are invited to send brief personal stories about their experiences with Mr. Beckhard by mail to Laurel Bergman, 311 Park St., Redwood City, CA 94061; by fax to (650) 366-9030; or by e-mail to LaurBerg@aol.com.
Donations in Mr. Beckhard's memory may be made to a college scholarship fund near Lovell, Maine, where he summered most of his life, or to the medical center that supports Dr. Diane Meier, one of his doctors. Please indicate "Beckhard Donation" and send to Timothy Scott, Director of Development, Fryeburg Academy, Fryeburg, ME 04037-1329; or Shari Baskin, administrator, Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Box 1070, 1 Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, NY 10029.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 26, 2000.