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Organization Development 101

organizational consulting & executive advising Jan 11, 2017
organization development


Tim, a seasoned leader in his hospitality/entertainment company, finally made the leap from general manager to vice president of the flagship theme park of his company. As he assumed his duties, he realized there were several major challenges in front of him:

    • How can he keep his “product” fresh and new while maintaining the company’s heritage and traditions?
    • How can he re-engage his employees and make them feel special?
    • How can he break down the silos among the various departments so they can work together more effectively and creatively?

Like the great operator and manager that he is, Tim began a series of initiatives to help rectify the problems. He began a program called “Employee First Community,” which was conceived to make employees feel special by having a logo designed and placed on many internal communication tools and recognition gifts such as briefcases. In addition, he set up a series of meetings for the leaders of the organization to begin partnering and communicating with one another. And, he began working on determining which new products were needed and developing presentations to acquire the capital funding and approvals to put those products in place. What were the results of his efforts?

    1. The funding that was initially secured was held up due to a lack of clarity concerning the target market for the business and which products were truly needed.
    2. Feedback from a recent employee satisfaction survey showed that, while employees appreciated the initial attention, they still felt disengaged, as well as frustrated with the silos among departments.

What went wrong? Tim’s predicament was that he wasn’t aware of a complex organizational problem that required a systematic analysis of the company to find long-term solutions. Once he had that revelation, things started to change, because he then knew which resource to bring in: his Organization Development Consultant.


Organization development (OD) a process that helps leaders initiate and manage planned, long-term change. Key beliefs that differentiate OD consultants from other management consultants/project managers include the following:

  • Systems thinking: An organization is comprised of various performance levers that work together to achieve outcomes.
  • Long-term (the long view): Organizational success comes from making decisions today, in light of their impact over the long term.
  • Long-term (root cause): Making decisions based on knowledge of the root cause of organizational problems rather than looking only at their symptoms.
  • Leadership sponsored: Leaders are made responsible for OD work in their areas, and OD resources that they leverage have to be in support of the sponsorship of a key leader who is accountable for the work.
  • Data-based: Data must be leveraged to derive root-cause analysis and intervention selection.
  • Whole-system focus: The whole system must be engaged in diagnosis and solution, because a high level of employee involvement leads to buy-in, sustainability and ownership.


Many OD consultants use a model similar my Consulting Engagement Cycle to organize their activities. This model can also be viewed as an example of action research, which is the foundation for most OD inventions.

Establish Winning Partnerships Coming to shared agreement with the leader who has the complex organizational challenge around key issues and mutual expectations.

Assessment: Process consultants use this to determine where the organization wants to be, where it is today and what the barriers are between today and the desired future state. A consultant can use a variety of options at this point. For example, a consultant can use a business assessment approach that looks at what is working/not working from customer, employee and financial perspectives. From there, a consultant makes choices on how to conduct the assessment. Some consultants choose an appreciative inquiry approach that boils down to what is working instead of asking questions about what is not working.

Solution Design: Once the root cause is uncovered, the consultant then determines what intervention is best, which options are most suitable for delivering that intervention, and how to present the client with results and recommendations. Invention options include but are not limited to: business strategy development, organization redesign, process redesign, team development, leadership development, training, and change management. There is a wide variety of delivery options for each invention. Delivery options are decided based on the culture of the organization (how much involvement will be tolerated) and available time. For example, I was involved in developing strategy for several business units for a large Fortune 100 company. For one business unit, there was a need to gain clarity quickly, so a future search conference was the best option. For another unit, time away from the operation was limited, so their strategy development took place during existing staff meetings over a longer time period.

Solution Delivery: Develop and Implement Intervention: Almost all OD interventions involve facilitation of some kind, whether it is between two individuals or work sessions with several hundred participants in attendance.

Measure Results: At the end of the intervention, it is important to measure its effectiveness, to ensure that the intervention actually solved the complex organizational challenge. There are five levels of measurement (according to Jack Phillips of the ROI Institute):

Level 1: Reaction (How satisfied are the clients and intervention targets?) For example, how satisfied were clients/work session participants with the future search strategy development work session?

Level 2: Learning (Did the clients and work session participants learn what they needed to learn?) For example, did the participants learn new strategy?

Level 3: Behavior (Are the targets of the intervention behaving differently as a result?) For example, are the leaders and employees using the new strategy as a decision-making filter?

Level 4: Business Results (Did the intervention lead to improved business results?) For example, as employee behavior changes, how have customer satisfaction and sales been impacted?

Level 5: Return on Investment (Do the benefits of the intervention outweigh the costs involved?) For example, did incremental sales and customer satisfaction provide a return for the investment of time and dollars in strategy development?


One thing that I have learned through my years of working as consultant and partnering with other consultants all over the country is that there are many good OD consultants, but very few great ones.

The following qualities are what makes an OD Consultant great:

  • Excellent contracting skills: There is nothing more critical than demonstrating not only an understanding of the client’s view of the problem, but also the client’s expectations and point of departure. Furthermore, it is critical for a consultant to share up front what he or she needs in the relationship, such as: access to people/data, permission to raise difficult issues, and maintaining an independent point of view. It is much harder to ask for these things after the project is underway.
  • Making the complex simple: Clients bring in OD when they are mired in the complexities of a situation and don’t know what else to do. A great OD consultant can sift through and organize the complexities in such a way that they become more manageable.
  • Effective group process/facilitation skills: The consultant’s work more often than not involves helping groups become more effective. To accomplish this, the OD consultant must have excellent facilitation skills, and be able to “read” the room and the individuals. Facilitation skills are what clients notice and what they will comment about. If those skills aren’t there, clients oftentimes will have little patience with the consultant, because he or she cannot deliver the intended results without them.
  • Understanding the client’s point of departure: Clients have varying degrees of understanding and interest in the OD side of their work, so it is up to the consultant to make his or her work understandable to them. Furthermore, it is up to the consultant to understand the culture and environment that clients find themselves in, so that his or her recommendations are relevant to the organization and more likely to succeed.


Remember our friend, Tim, in the opening case study? Tim had a challenge with silos, with employee engagement and with long-term strategic direction for his business. As you’ve probably guessed, I was the OD Consultant called in, and here’s what I did (after coming to a shared agreement with Tim’s issues and needs and expressing my own):

  • Conducted a business assessment to understand the key issues that the business was facing.
  • Facilitated a high-involvement process with the park’s leadership and stakeholders to better define the long-term strategic value of the park and what value the park drove for the enterprise.
  • Facilitated a high-involvement process to create a strategy map that clarified the long-term goals for the park in terms of guest satisfaction, cast satisfaction, and leadership excellence.

The immediate results of the process included breaking down the silos. As a result, for the first time, all departments put aside individual loyalties and determined what was best as a whole for the park, in addition to the buy-in and support due to employee involvement. Recommendations became clear for what capital investments were needed. All the tangible business results exceeded expectations, but the clients were able to see immediate impact from the process alone. What sets OD consulting apart is that clients don’t have to wait for full implementation to see results, which begin to appear as soon as the change process is engaged.

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