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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: How Can I Support Corporate Culture During a Time of Change?

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

In this week’s Ask a Trainer guest post, Bill Rothwell offers advice for how talent development professionals can help managers and employees take on workplace challenges.

Dear Bill,

My organization is going through some rapid changes: moving to hybrid and dispersed work, dealing with automation and AI, and more. These changes have been in the works for a while, but it feels like the pace of change is accelerating dramatically, and it’s taking a toll on our corporate culture. As a talent development professional, how can I support my organization through these changes while preserving our corporate culture?

One of the guiding models in organization development is Lewin’s action research model and how it differs from traditional change management. The action research model identifies what people believe their problems are, what people believe their solutions are, what people believe their action plans to implement solutions should be, and how people believe success should be measured. It’s democracy in the workplace. When I train people on this approach, often the first objection I get from managers is that it will take too long to involve people in decision making. The reality is that often it does take longer, but this is only because people don’t know how to do it.

The way people learn management in many organizations is by watching their role models. It’s not what they learned in an MBA program; it’s the managers that people have had and the quality of those managers and how well they are able to tap into the creative and innovative thinking of their workers. That’s key to success and to worker engagement. Many managers still don’t know how to because they were never trained to do it. They also have never seen a role model do it, and they are left to try to invent it themselves. Many business schools still don’t teach good, practical human resource–related topics in any level of business major, so a lot of people, even those from first-rate business schools, lack in the people side of the enterprise. They don’t understand the first thing about how to diagnose and address performance problems with people, how to manage change, how to engage their workforce, how to keep avoidable turnover down, and how to attract top talent.

This is one of the central challenges of the 21st century: How can we adapt our management thinking to the new realities of the workplace where we have new ways of thinking about work, new ways of doing work, new places from which we do work, and new thinking about the people we involve as workers. Technological implications, such as how well we work with robots and artificial intelligence to achieve results with an existing workforce, are also present. These are some of the challenges that this next generation of leaders and managers must cope with.

That’s where our field comes in. Often, we are the ones who help socialize workers into the corporate culture that they find themselves working in. It falls to us sometimes more than it does schools to help equip people with what they need to be successful.


When I was a manager at the training department in a multinational company, I used to tell my staff that everyone in the company is our customer. We must help them figure out how to solve the problems they face, whether those are day-to-day problems or whether they are strategic long-term problems. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. So that’s the challenge for our field: How to help managers and leaders tackle those broader challenges.

Learn more from Bill about the future of talent development on the Accidental Trainer podcast. His episode will air on June 2, 2021.


If you have a question for Ask a Trainer, send it to [email protected]. You can find answers to previous questions by visiting the Ask a Trainer hub.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CPLP Fellow, is president of Rothwell and Associates, Inc., a full-service consulting company that specializes in succession planning. He is also a professor of learning and performance in the Workforce Education and Development program, Department of Learning and Performance Systems, at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park campus. In that capacity, he heads up a top-ranked graduate program in learning and performance and is the program coordinator for the fully online Master of Professional Studies in Organization Development and Change. He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited 300 books, book chapters, and articles—including 64 books. Before arriving at Penn State in 1993, he had 20 years of work experience as a training director in government and in business. As a consultant, he has worked with over 50 multinational corporations--including Motorola, General Motors, Ford, and many others. In 2004, he earned the Graduate Faculty Teaching Award at Pennsylvania State University, a single award given to the best graduate faculty member on the 23 campuses of the Penn State system. His train-the-trainers programs have won global awards.

His recent books include Organization Development Interventions: Executing Effective Organizational Change (Routledge, 2021 in press), Virtual Coaching to Improve Group Relationships (Routledge, 2021), Adult Learning Basics, 2nd ed. (Association for Talent Development Press, 2020), The Essential HR Guide for Small Business and Start Ups (Society for Human Resource Management, 2020); Increasing Learning and Development’s Impact Through Accreditation (Palgrave, 2020); Workforce Development: Guidelines for Community College Professionals, 2nd ed. (Rowman-Littlefield, 2020); Human Performance Improvement: Building Practitioner Performance, 3rd ed. (Routledge, 2018); Innovation Leadership (Routledge, 2018); Evaluating Organization Development: How to Ensure and Sustain the Successful Transformation (CRC Press, 2017); Marketing Organization Development Consulting: A How-To Guide for OD Consultants (CRC Press, 2017); and, Assessment and Diagnosis for Organization Development: Powerful Tools and Perspectives for the OD practitioner (CRC Press, 2017), Community College Leaders on Workforce Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), Organization Development in Practice (ODNetwork, 2016), Mastering the Instructional Design Process, 5th ed. (Wiley, 2016), Practicing Organization Development, 4th ed. (Wiley, 2015), Effective Succession Planning, 5th ed. (AMACOM, 2015), The Competency Toolkit, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (HRD Press, 2015), Beyond Training and Development, 3rd ed. (HRD Press, 2015), The Leader’s Daily Role in Talent Management (McGraw-Hill, 2015), Organization Development Fundamentals (ATD, 2015), Creating Engaged Employees: It’s Worth the Investment (ATD Press, 2014), The Leader’s Daily Role in Talent Management (Institute for Training and Development [Malaysia], 2014), Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce (Management Concepts, 2014), Performance Consulting (Wiley, 2014), the ASTD Competency Study: The Training and Development Profession Redefined (ASTD, 2013), Becoming An Effective Mentoring Leader: Proven Strategies for Building Excellence in Your Organization (McGraw-Hill, 2013), Talent Management: A Step-by-Step Action-Oriented Approach Based on Best Practice (HRD Press, 2012), the edited three-volume Encyclopedia of Human Resource Management (Wiley, 2012), Lean But Agile: Rethink Workforce Planning and Gain a True Competitive Advantage (Amacom, 2012), Invaluable Knowledge: Securing Your Company’s Technical Expertise-Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent, Transferring Technical Knowledge, Engaging High Performers (Amacom, 2011), Competency-Based Training Basics (ASTD Press, 2010), Practicing Organization Development, 3rd ed. (Pfeiffer, 2009), Basics of Adult Learning (ASTD, 2009), HR Transformation (Davies-Black, 2008), Working Longer (Amacom, 2008), and Cases in Government Succession Planning: Action-Oriented Strategies for Public-Sector Human Capital Management, Workforce Planning, Succession Planning, and Talent Management (HRD Press, 2008).

He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 814-863-2581. He is at 310B Keller Building, University Park, PA 16803. See his website at, his videos on YouTube, and his wiki site at

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