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To jump-start the economy, is an “Organizational Development Intervention needed?

A recent US Senate hearing on the recruitment and hiring of college graduates made it clear that the Senators as well as the panelists from government and academia faced difficult questions about the future of the workforce and the dismal U.S. economy.

The harsh reality is that the marketplace is not producing enough jobs for college grads. “In today’s economy, many students are graduating only to find that they are locked out because the marketplace is not producing enough jobs,” said Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management. “At the same time,” he continued, “federal jobs in science, national security and medicine are difficult to fill. We must develop innovative strategies to bridge this gap.”1

The recession of 2007-2009 caused huge layoffs and some early retirements in the federal workforce. The current economy has resulted in heavier work-loads for employees left holding down the fort – as I’m sure many of you have witnessed firsthand According to a recent report from Mercer 2, an outplacement and consulting firm, the snail’s pace growth in the job market means workers are reluctant to leave jobs, even if they are overworked, unhappy and not focused on their employer’s success. Even though they stay, stagnant wages and slow company growth is creating low employee morale. This has an overall negative effect on company revenue and customer service.

How to Produce Growth

So what can be done to inspire employees and job seekers in both the public and private sector, to increase employee morale and produce economic growth that can yield enough jobs for everyone including college graduates? How can America’s largest companies and the federal government work together to improve everyone’s bottom-line? The answer is an organizational development intervention.”

An organizational intervention is not just a fancy name for “let’s pay a consultant to make our employees happy.” An organizational intervention is a conceptual, organization-wide effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and viability. These interventions are usually a response to change They consist of strategies intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values, and structure of an organization so that it can better adapt to new technologies, markets, challenges, and the dizzying rate of change itself. OD interventions, if properly designed and deployed, contain a set of processes designed to bring about a particular kind of end result. Though some federal government agencies and private sector companies may utilize some organizational development principles, they rarely take the time needed to establish customized people development strategies or to go deep enough to create lasting change that can foster exponential growth.

To increase organizational health, engagement and productivity and spur organizational growth, what is really needed is to conduct an “organizational development intervention.” In considering organizational development intervention strategies for my clients I often include several concepts to which I have found to be successful adapted from Richard Beckhard’s Addison-Wesley Organization Development Series ,

  • Customization – Organizations are like fingerprints, no two organizations are the same, no two cultures are the same, and thus organizational development strategies are not a one size fits all. The strategies must be customized to fit the particular organization and circumstances
  • Leadership commitment – Any intervention or change strategy requires a committed sponsor and champion. Leadership must be committed to the outcome and communicate their commitment throughout the organization to achieve successful desired results.
  • Follow through – Organizational interventions cannot be a one off event. For improvement strategies to be a success they must be followed through to the fullest extent; both by those leading the efforts and those impacted by the intervention strategies.
  • Course correction Success doesn’t happen overnight. The first organizational intervention may not always succeed how it was planned. It is imperative to get feedback from those throughout the impacted groups and change direction, tweak the approach and course correct as needed.

Focusing on these strategies will help guide an organization to individual and organizational success and lead to increased employee and customer satisfaction and financial growth.

The Bottom-Line: Effectiveness

Any one of these strategies can be used to improve the effectiveness of individuals and teams. When combined with other organizational intervention strategies they can also synergistically produce a positive effect on the organization. Enthusiastic employees are more likely to be committed to their organizations. Committed employees are more likely to deliver satisfaction to customers, which leads to increased revenues, which leads to more consumer spending, which leads to improvement in the U.S. economy which … well you get the idea.

Perhaps Senator Akaka and his panel of experts should consider organizational development interventions as part of their innovative strategies to help attract, retain, and engage the current and next generation of workers; as the ability to do so will help positively bolster the US economy.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm. He helps clients be responsive, focused and effective to facilitate sustainable growth.

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1 Grasgreen, Allie “Calling All Leaders,” Inside Higher Education (website news article), June 22, 2011,http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/set/popup/news/2011/06/22/senate_hearing_
2 “One in Two US Employees Looking to Leave or Checked Out On the Job, Says New What’s Working™ Research by Mercer,” Press Release on Business Wire (online), June 20, 2011 http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110620005336/en/Employees-Leave-Checked-Job-What%E2%80%99s-Working%E2%84%A2-Research

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Scott Span

Hi Andy,

Actually, I’m working on one now, which is what lead to the post, based on recent experiences with a public sector client. I will say the concepts of customization, leadership commitment, follow through, and course correction have been applicable to both public and private sector work – though the drivers for changes differ.

Pat Fiorenza

Interesting post, Scott…just wondering what the difference is between organizational development intervention and strategic planning. In your experience, are agencies falling flat in strategic planning? Is this a new approach to traditional ways agencies approach goal setting & culture change? Thanks!

Scott Span

Thanks Patrick. To your question, strategic planning is just one type of an organizational development intervention and usually a good starting point that opens the door to being able to address other issues using communications, change management, leadership development etc. I actually just had an experience with a recent client, where despite all their committed efforts, they are falling flat with strategic planning. We went through the phase one work of developing a strategy and having the working sessions and leadership sessions to gain inputs. It was however an arm twist to get them to agree to a communications strategy to accompany the new vision and strategy, and a more difficult arm twist to get them to agree to change management and governance. Without all of these other organizational development interventions to support the strategic implementation, to help create buy in and stakeholder support, to help drive leadership and employee commitment etc. then the strategic plan itself is really just shelf ware! This integrated approach is not necessarily a new approach, but frankly, an approach agencies don’t do all that well.

Pat Fiorenza

That’s really interesting to consider, thanks for clarifying – Like Andy, it would be interesting to see some of the case studies and learning a bit more about this model. Sounds very promising for agencies – a very holistic approach to driving change in an agency, meet goals, buy-in, etc..