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Ed Cohen

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Three components to successful organisational development


We continue this month's organisation development theme with a look at some top tips on how to make it work.


Organisational development is one of those topics that depending on who you are, your position within the company, and the industry you are in, you probably have a different view on. Often people think of it as just managing the process of hiring, training, promoting and guiding someone through a career path. In reality, the one goal that everyone should have is to make employees smarter, more effective and aligned with the business goals and strategy. In order to do this effectively, you must have three core components:

1. Measure the whole and the sum of the parts

You must be able to measure the company’s overall performance, as well as that of individuals doing their jobs.  Without this data, you won’t know where to start or how you are impacting the business as a whole. 

"Companies must not only keep pace with the tools and technologies of today, but also future demands of their changing workforce demographics."

Often people think of organisational development as the process of developing, promoting and staffing individuals. To retain top talent you have to help them continue to develop and improve. Organisations have a joint responsibility where both employee and company benefit, which ultimately makes the business more effective. Individual development goals should be aligned with the organisation’s business goals.

2. Automatic, not manual

It is important to have the right tools to manage the entire process. Although this process can be done manually, it is virtually impossible to react quickly enough to a shift in the business without automated tools.

Even something as simple as calculating the difference in job positions for an individual moving from one department to another can take hours when it could happen instantaneously if you have the right tools to align and automate performance management, goal management, and succession planning et al.

3. Culture, communication and collaboration

In the next few years, 43% of the workforce will be Millenials. They will want (and expect) social media-based technologies, such as Jambok, CubeTree and a host of other Facebook-type apps to shape, share and nurture their developmental experiences. Companies must not only keep pace with the tools and technologies of today, but also future demands of their changing workforce demographics.

Once you have these key components in place, organisational development looks more like a finely tuned engine and you are in charge of the type, quantity and quality of employee to fill each role. If the business is failing at doing something properly, you need to either adjust the organisation or you have a deficient employee that needs to either be replaced or improved.

This may sound like an impersonal way of describing the process but it helps visualise the entire process and ultimately helps you make the right decisions. A great example of this occurred at an international airline. A maintenance training manager looked at the top 10 reasons for flight cancelations. He then broke the problems down into things that could be addressed through better training/organisation versus things that were out of his control, like blizzards. 

Of the problems that could be addressed, he looked at which problems were caused by individual mistakes versus what were trends within the company. By having access to the data and the proper tools to view the data, the training manager was able to determine the right solution for each of the reasons for flight cancellations and then measure the effectiveness of his changes by monitoring the number of flight cancellations. 

Once he implemented his changes, the cancellations he addressed went from being in the top 10 to outside the top 100. This ultimately saved the company millions in just one year. The problems fell into five basic categories: lack of training, shortage of people, organisational change, incorrect training material and poor job performance by an individual. 

Data collection

A major key to his success was the tools he used to manage the entire process. When you are working in a company that is as large and as complex as an airline, you need to automate as much of the data collection and analysis as possible. 

This meant he had to use an analytics package that gathered data about the flight cancelations, the individuals who performed the work and the training that the individuals received. He had to have detailed performance evaluation data on the individual to determine if they were good at their job and he had to have the training material and a way to distribute it to effectively implement a change. 

Often managers are given access to these types of tools, however they are either poorly integrated or don’t share data at all. This greatly limits how effective anyone could be in managing change within a large organisation.

Once again, every industry and every set of problems being addressed by organisational development are going to be unique. However, the types of strategies and tools that are required to implement these changes, and maintain the processes over time are the same. At a high level, you need:

  • An effective workforce analytics package to gain an accurate view of your company’s workforce skills, competencies, gaps and data to help identify the problems and the effectiveness of your solution.
  • Performance management to help measure the effectiveness and organise your workforce.
  • Learning management to define, organise and deliver the training material.

Always keep in mind that the goal is to improve the business overall. Organisational development when aligned properly can have a profound impact on how a business operates, employee satisfaction and the overall success of the company. 

Ed Cohen is vice president learning technologies at SuccessFactors.


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