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What Is Organizational Development, Anyway?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
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Years ago, I was working as a trainer and instructional designer for a small company when my supervisor, the operations vice president, remarked that our employees did not seem to have loyalty to the organization. This was a small startup tech company and most of the employees were remote. She told me that the engineers would stay for about six months then leave. Some did not stay even that long. It was a huge problem for the company. She also said that these engineers needed training.

The engineers would join the company, then go out immediately on assignment with an experienced engineer. They would watch and learn from the experienced engineer. That was their training. When they “got it,” they would head out on their own. Each new engineer was assigned randomly to an experienced engineer. Some experienced engineers were good at teaching the new people, and some were not so good. My supervisor thought that this was not enough training for the new employees, which is why they hired me. I was supposed to train the engineers so they would all have the same experience. The main goal was that if the engineers all had the same training and they felt comfortable, they would not leave the company.

So, I did what I was asked and more. I took about a month to research the task, interview and shadow the experienced engineers, find my subject matter experts, talk to some clients, and do some analysis. I created a 1.5-week training program that taught the new engineers the hard skills: how to rack and stack, configure a switch, set up the server, and operate the storage array. I created a class called Consulting 101. This class consisted of the soft skills: how to start your conversation with the client, how to keep them informed, how to escalate an issue, and how to have the final conversation and walk through before they were left with their new equipment. I also created an orientation so that the engineers would feel more connected to the company. They learned more about the organization, the purpose, people, and other engineers. We all thought this would solve the problem.

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The executive team seemed pleased with the results. Instead of hiring one engineer at a time, we would bring in four to six and put them through the training program, then send them out to shadow for a few days. The new hires were not leaving, and we could weed out the noncommitted or the “ones who just did not get it” in the first two weeks. This training initiative seemed to be working.

After I worked for this company for about a year, I realized that there were deeper issues than training. I won’t get into what these issues were, but there were quite a few. If I had known more about organizational development, I would have asked more questions of the operations vice president. I would have tried to get to the root of the matter, rather than just following orders from my supervisor. If I had taken a class or even a webinar, I would have had more knowledge of what I should have done at that time.

Now I know better, and I hope to share what I’ve learned with you. I will be facilitating an ATD course, Essentials of Organizational Development, alongside Deborah Covin Wilson, president of Wilson Associates. Together we’ll explain the mysterious world of organizational development (OD), and how understanding OD can enhance our approach to talent development challenges like the one described in this post.

In this three-part online program, we will discuss how to analyze data to make recommendations and communicate results to the stakeholders. Furthermore, we will explore how to select the appropriate organizational development strategy, measure the success of a specific OD tactic, and identify common mistakes and pitfalls during OD. You will develop a plan to create an OD implementation in your own organization. We will experience an OD implementation through a case study, and explore the ways in which you can use new skills to achieve your business results. You will become familiar with resources you can go to for additional assistance in the future. Plus, you’ll walk away with a network of peers to discuss best practices with—sharing experiences between participants is highly encouraged for better learning. Go to the ATD website to sign up for Essentials of Organizational Development!

About the Author
Lori Ann Roth is the president of Learning and . . . Reflective Growth, which specializes in training and coaching. Her favorite saying is “Be your best you!”

Lori has an undergraduate degree in psychology and communication, and a master’s degree in adult education from Michigan State University. She earned a doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in human development. The emphasis of her study consisted of adult learning and human resources management. Lori has worked in organizational development and training for more than 35 years at universities, training corporations, high-tech corporations, and her own businesses.

Lori is a pilot pioneer, earning her Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) in 2006. She is also one of 11 people to have been awarded the CPLP Contributor Award from ATD. Lori volunteers as the vice president of professional development for the ATD Sun Coast Local Chapter in Florida, and recently accepted its Lifetime Achievement Award 2017.
1 Comment
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Lori, great article that captured well the importance of taking a systemic approach to organization development. Thanks!
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