Why implementing ten top tips for organisational development is now more vital than ever

Thursday 17th July 2014

A business’s approach to Organisational Development can be crucial in determining its fortunes as economic recovery takes hold. Sheena Pickersgill, HR consultant, at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, explains why.

There has been much debate and speculation about economic recovery, but will your organisation prosper in a newly energised market?  After a sustained downturn in attrition, how can you now stop your best talent moving elsewhere?

My more than 20 years of senior organisational experience, including nine as corporate services director with West Yorkshire’s passenger transport executive, have taught me that your approach to Organisational Development might determine whether you keep and attract talent or your people leave at the first sign of recovery.

But let us start at the beginning. What is Organisational Development?  It is about taking a holistic view of the business and making planned, systematic changes, to improve effectiveness.

Organisational Development is about being ready for the future and transcending organisational boundaries to create an environment inspiring employees to deliver the business’s vision and objectives. It is concerned with aligning hard factors – such as strategy, policies, structures and systems – and soft issues, including skills, behaviours, values, culture and leadership style.

This does not mean you have to dismantle everything. It is about assessing whether each area is delivering, being clear about objectives and how these will be achieved, and all employees living the values, which must be embedded throughout the organisation.

It is not enough, for example, for hospitals to employ nurses with technical skills but lacking empathy – we have seen poor patient care where this has happened. Somewhere, the recruitment and performance processes and systems were not connected clearly enough to organisational values. If robust recruitment processes are linked to the values and vision, everyone entering the organisation understands their role and the behaviours required.

As important as employee development are performance management processes. Do your managers grasp the nettle on people issues or sweep things under the carpet? If employees do not display behaviours reflecting business values, how do you know and what action do you take?

Here are 10 key requirements for successful Organisational Development:

1) A compelling business vision – Does everyone in the organisation agree on this?  It is easy to assume this consensus exists but take nothing for granted. Ways of testing engagement with the vision include talking with colleagues at road shows, team meetings, appraisals and focus groups. These conversations can be augmented by employee surveys.

The more the vision is discussed and visible, the wider the understanding should be, but also the greater the questioning, challenge and discussion you will hear. These should be welcomed, as they encourage reflection on, and refinement of, the vision, plus greater buy-in and commitment to it. Employees want to know the business’s plans and why it is taking that route. Individuals may not share the vision, because they lack understanding or fear the unknown, so it is important for organisational leaders to share information on performance and the direction of travel.

2) Clear values, embedded into decision making processes, business policies and procedures. How were your business values defined and agreed? Did colleagues contribute to their   development? Does every employee even know what they are? How have the values been aligned to your appraisal and reward systems? Are the values evident in everyday behaviours and are these rewarded?

3) Top level commitment to the vision and values, including to developing a diverse and inclusive workplace. Think about how this commitment is demonstrated through actions, behaviours and decisions. Is progress monitored and are decisions made reflecting the values?

4) A robust performance plan, linking business objectives to team and individual targets, standards and KPIs. This is key for tracking performance and behaviours. The performance plan should be clear about what success looks like and identify milestone measures – short term wins galvanising commitment and enthusiasm – along the way. Clear goals and targets are essential and, once these are evident, processes and systems should support their achievement.

5) It is vital that there are clear linkages from the business vision, values and performance plan to strategies and systems – financial, technological, people and operational. This can be depicted visually, to help colleagues see the big picture and understand where they fit in. This is often called the “golden thread”, illustrating how everything done in the business feeds through to the vision.

The diagram below illustrates how customer focus, people development, leadership and performance planning coalesce to deliver the business vision.

6) Efficient and effective structures and systems to produce the product or provide the service. Change structures, systems – and policies – that do not fit the vision and values. Are your people able to work flexibly, for example?

7) A people plan, aligned to business objectives. What are the numbers, skills and behaviours that your organisation requires now and in the future? Seek to articulate connections between new behaviours and corporate success. Recruit, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision and champion business values. Instigate the means to ensure leadership development and succession. Put in place a learning and development plan, linked to delivering business objectives. The policies and procedures must support the values and vision.

8) Develop Engaging Leaders committed to delivering the vision. Leader and manager behaviour should reflect business values. Their performance should certainly be measured on technical criteria, but also their behaviours and effectiveness as developers of people. Traditional directive management techniques are no longer enough to address today’s challenges. Greater employee engagement, improved customer service and the growing need for cost efficiencies require more open styles. How are your managers rewarded? Do you consider leadership aptitudes and their ability to create conditions maximising talent?

9) Robust communication and opportunities for employees to provide feedback and ideas.

10) Implement performance and monitoring systems to measure success. You will then be able to translate culture into measurable financial results.

Business problems are always with us and, perhaps perversely to some outsiders, certain of them result from economic recovery. Implementing these steps will ensure your organisation tackles a major potential issue of this kind and is in better shape to face the future.