The world of organizational development (OD) has had many jump starts over time. In fact, some may be thinking that OD really stands for organizational dysfunction. The fact that it has been an on-again, off-again priority means that in most organizations, development, succession planning, career planning, performance management and learning management have not gone through more than one or two cycles before they were abandoned for the latest business trend or technology. This has seriously hurt the notion that organizational development can make a difference, not only to the workforce but also to real operating and financial results. Each of these disciplines is as important as the next, and each is a building block for creating a workforce that strives for true business results.
Combine this inconsistent methodology around learning with the changes in technology that have occurred in the past 15 years, and you are left with the “organizational development hodgepodge” of most organizations. This involves many paper-based systems, stand-alone, disparate performance systems, file cabinets filled with career and succession plans and multiple training methods. Organizations take on development for one reason—to ensure that the workforce is ready to meet and exceed organizational goals. What has happened over time has caused companies to sit back and ask, “What happened?” since they are no closer to becoming performance-driven than they were years ago, despite spending millions of dollars.
In the past, organizational development was usually tied to job descriptions. While job descriptions provide employees with a good idea of what they are supposed to be doing, they have many flaws:
- They list only some work responsibilities, leaving out other key tasks. (We know this all too well.)
- They date quickly (sometimes before workers even start a new job).
- They often equate education and experience with job success. (Some of the most educated people fail rapidly in their work life.)
- They push people into boxes on the organizational chart. (We all know how it feels to be “boxed-in.”)
- Most importantly, measurable performance results are not usually spelled out. (We all go to work not knowing what the goals are.)
These job descriptions drive HR planning, training, performance management, recruiting and employee development. Organizations with an entire development strategy created around job descriptions may well miss their marks.
Why Organizational Development Today?
There are many reasons why organizational development has returned as one of the hottest areas within the human capital arena. Part of this comes from the 2003 survey of CEOs sponsored by The Conference Board. Over the next five years, three of the top five initiatives mentioned by CEOs are tied specifically to human capital management and organizational development. These initiatives are: developing and retaining potential leaders, top management succession, and talent identification and growth. The fact that CEOs are placing such a high emphasis on this area is a key indicator that organizational development is back and will remain a huge focus. There are other trends that are driving the need for a renewed focus on development:
- Most researchers are predicting a major shortage of skilled workers around the world over the next 10 years. This means that organizations must develop talent instead of hoping to find it on the outside.
- As the knowledge economy continues to outpace the manufacturing economy, organizations are increasingly looking at the value of the intellectual property their workforce brings to bear over the value of capital goods.
- Organizations are not hiring the way they were three to five years ago. In the past, when an organization needed a certain competency, it would go out and hire someone who had it. In today’s world, with headcount controls and spending freezes, “growing your own” is back in vogue.
- Organizational development no longer consists of individual silos of people, processes and systems. Executives expect organizations to produce alignment between performance goals and company objectives, alignment between skills and competency gaps and learning deployment, and finally, top-down alignment of corporate goals and objectives with the goals of the workforce.
- Time-to-market for new products and services has shrunk dramatically over the past 10 years. Employee skills are now outdated in three to five years, and new jobs will emerge in 2005 that involve tasks that don’t even exist today.
These issues, along with the pervasiveness of the Internet, have brought organizational development back to life. For those of us in the learning trenches, this will be our last chance to make it stick. We know our CEOs have this in mind, and we know that both the technology and the demand exist. Now is the time to change the perception of organizational development and bring it to its glory.
How Technology Drives Organizational Development to New Heights
During the past 15 years, technology advances have benefited the world greatly. The ATM machine, the airline kiosk, the cellular phone and the PDA show that needs have changed from information interface to on-demand information integration. These changes in technology have affected all industries and all jobs, but technology’s impact on organizational development is simply amazing.
Let’s start with communication. Remember the posters, then the newsletters and the television sets in the cafeteria? Each of these was meant to communicate the goals of the organization to the workforce. We hoped that employees happened to read the newsletter or walk by the TV at the right time, when the information was relevant to them.
Today, the portal is the lynchpin of communicating role-based, personalized information to the workforce. On average, a daily newspaper contains 300 or so stories, of which you find only about five relevant to your interests and world. The television has five bars of information crossing the screen, of which you only find one sports score or one stock ticker symbol that matters to you. Portals eliminate all of the background noise to deliver specific, relevant, real-time information, such as daily performance goals, expiring certifications, new position openings and available courses tied to your skills. This is real-time development at its best.
Now that the communication channel is in place, it must be filled with content. First, you need to know your resources within the organization. Most organizations call their employees their most important asset. Most executives, after making this claim, still know more about their laptops than their subordinates. Technology today is giving organizations the ability to “skills ID” their workforce in a matter of days versus months or years. The value that a workforce’s skills inventory can provide an organization is priceless. Once this inventory is obtained, organizations can easily transform themselves from a job-description-based human resources organization to a competency-based human capital management strategic function. Some of the benefits of this transformation are:
- The ability to perform workforce planning within HR around individual workforce skills.
- Accurate identification of recruitment and selection criteria.
- Pinpointed training needs.
- Performance management information.
- Employee development initiatives.
Now that we know the skills of our workforce, technology lets us change organizational development from a manual, paper-based system to an integrated performance support system. This includes integrated career planning, succession planning, certifications, language proficiency and continuing education, all in one single system to ensure that we know the DNA of the workforce at the time of hire, that we understand the growth and development of the organization and that we have the ability to conduct a “point-in-time” snapshot of the organization when needed.
Finally, to continue the organization’s development and take advantage of this new information, learning management systems have become mainstream. E-learning and learning content have been around since the early delivery of Windows 3.11 training on floppy diskette. Before now, the behavior of organizations around the delivery and tracking of learning content could easily have been called irresponsible. This irresponsibility is not the fault of the training department or even the technology organization, but is due to where e-learning fell in the chronology of accepted technology. The delivery of electronic learning began at a time when organizations lacked the infrastructure to actually facilitate learning, foster collaboration or measure the impact of learning. Only recently have organizations been in the position to reasonably set the goal of understanding learning’s results across the enterprise. The infrastructure is now in place to know who is taking which courses and to what result across the enterprise, to analyze the impact of that training on a person’s performance and, to some extent, to examine the impact of learning on the organization as a whole.
Organizational development is reaching new heights through technologies like portals, direct access to performance and development information for employees and managers, learning management, and real-time measurement and reporting. Now the fun begins: Technology without context is like television without programs.
Where Are We Going?
Technology takes us down new paths each day when it comes to optimizing the organization and the workforce that comprises it. Each of these paths leads us to a common output: We focus on workforce performance and how that performance drives specific business results. For example, a large high-tech company with a sales force that sells a large number of complex products is leveraging new learning technologies and Web services to identify specific learning needs within its sales force and to push out targeted learning based on sales forecast data. Let’s take a look at how they use learning to improve sales execution.
All sales and service activities at this company are managed in a centralized customer relationship management (CRM) system. When a sales rep enters a new opportunity into the CRM system, a message is sent to the learning management system (LMS), alerting it to the fact that this employee is now beginning a sales cycle for a new product. The LMS analyzes the information to determine whether or not the sales rep has the right training and competencies to effectively sell the product. If not, the LMS pushes the appropriate learning module to the rep and tracks the completion of the activity. The sales rep’s manager is notified that the sales rep needs to complete the product training and monitors the rep’s progress toward this completion. Once the sales rep completes the training, the manager is notified and the LMS updates the rep’s competencies. Using this event-driven learning framework, the high-tech company enables just-in-time learning to ensure that sales reps spend their time on learning activities that will directly impact revenue, eliminating “nice-to-know” or non-essential learning.
Technology is also playing a key role in the consolidation of performance and learning systems within organizations. For years, individual divisions or departments have developed their own processes and licensed their own technologies to do performance reviews and, even more prevalent, training. Today, organizations realize that they cannot meet their business objectives using decentralized systems, because these offer no way to integrate performance and learning goals across the enterprise, much less measure them against business goals. As systems continue to become easier to integrate, install and upgrade, companies will focus more on consolidation, resulting in the ability to measure and monitor every aspect of their organizational development efforts.
What Should You Do?
Human resources is being outsourced more than any other area of business today. The learning and development function may not be far behind. The reason that HR is being outsourced is simple: It has turned into a transactional machine in most organizations. As outsourcing continues to grow in popularity, it will affect anything that does not add value to the bottom line or that is seen as transactional. In some companies, training has been outsourced along with HR. In others, training has been given a stay of execution, but remains under fire until it either proves its value or is outsourced.
You should immediately ask yourself, “Can my activities be tied to the strategic objectives of the company?” If there is any doubt in your answer, you should immediately think twice about the way you approach your role.
The next question you should ask yourself is, “Can I prove that my activities provide a return on investment?” Once again, if the answer is no, you should run. If the answer is yes, you should replicate and market your accomplishments because you are driving organizational development to new heights.
Last but not least, you should enjoy this time. This is finally the time for organizational development professionals to shine. The economy is ready, the demographics are aligned, the technology is stable, and the executives are on your side. Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to learn along the way.
Jason Averbook is the director of global product marketing for PeopleSoft HCM. He has more than 15 years of experience in the human resource technology industry. Prior to joining PeopleSoft, Averbook was director of organizational readiness at Ceridian Corp., a human resource/payroll outsourcing company. E-mail Jason at email@example.com.