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Organization Development and Culture Are Vital Capabilities in Talent Development


Tue Jun 02 2020

Organization Development and Culture Are Vital Capabilities in Talent Development

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is highlighting the importance of continual learning in a fast-changing business environment with its new capability model. By shifting from competency to capability, the Talent Development Capability Model emphasizes the skills and knowledge talent development (TD) professionals need to continue developing and growing along with the field.

Organization development (OD) and culture is one of the 23 capabilities in the model and sits in the Impacting Organizational Capabilities domain. Organization development focuses on optimizing an organization’s effectiveness through alignment of strategy, metrics, processes, and people. Organizational culture encompasses the values and behaviors that make up the social and psychological environment of a business.


To be effective in OD and culture, a TD professional will need to be able to:

  • Design and implement organization development strategy.

  • Identify formal and informal relationships, hierarchies, and power dynamics in an organization.

  • Create a culture that encourages and creates opportunities for dialogue and feedback between individuals and groups (for example, designing collaborative work practices and spaces, and role-modeling effective feedback techniques).

  • Asses and evaluate employee engagement.

  • Design and implement employee engagement strategies.

  • Articulate and codify talent and leadership principles, values, and competencies that guide the organization’s culture and define behavioral expectations.

Talent development professionals must be able to assess and navigate organizational culture to design and implement effective organization development initiatives.

“Internal culture impacts all people strategy initiatives,” says Kimberly Currier, senior vice president of people strategy at North Highland Worldwide Consulting. “The culture will either support or create roadblocks to initiatives.”

As champions of learning and professional betterment, TD professionals should understand what defines a “learning culture” within an organization and what they need to do to promote it.

Talent development professionals can cultivate a true learning culture by:

  • creating a collaborative culture with strong peer support among employees

  • building effective partnerships with managers and senior leaders who make decisions and allocate resources toward learning and performance solutions

  • demonstrating the impact of such solutions on business results that matter to leaders (which means engaging with leaders to learn about the business and better “speak their language”)

challenging business assumptions and beliefs about talent development.

This last point is essentially about educating leadership on the difference between a training culture and a learning culture. An organization overly focused on training tends to frame all talent development as instructor-driven, event-based, and centralized, but an organization with a thriving learning culture empowers individual learners; facilitates learning wherever it happens (in informal and formal situations); and focuses less on outputs (such as number of trainings delivered) and more on outcomes, such as how knowledge and skills are acquired and applied and how they contribute to strategic goals and priorities.

When a true learning culture exists within an organization, TD professionals can find success in OD program implementation.

As an interdisciplinary field, OD comprises a wide range of competencies and capabilities. ATD’s capability model emphasizes several OD skills and knowledge areas that TD professionals will likely apply in the workplace, including systems thinking.

“Using systems thinking can help address culture challenges,” says Currier. “Let’s take career development as an example. Your company is implementing a career development program. Who is asking for this program? What are your leader’s opinion and actions? What do managers do to hurt or help career development? Does your culture encourage growth, development, and career mobility? These questions help assess the system you are working in and its cultural implications. Without clarity on these key components, attempts to implement initiatives may fall short or fail.”


A few additional core knowledge areas that are important for TD professionals leading OD initiatives include:

  • work roles, relationships, and reporting structures within an organization

  • how employee engagement and retention influence organizational outcomes

  • the principles, policies, and practices associated with programs and initiatives designed for organizational well-being (such as silos, job environment, toxicity, goal setting, job stability, and autonomy)

  • strategies and techniques for building, supporting, or promoting an organizational culture that values talent and learning as drivers of competitive advantage.

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