Organizational development is an effort by companies to examine their policies, resources, and financial goals from the top down to affect positive change throughout the organization using behavioral-science knowledge.
Julie Jacobs, founder and principal consultant at Ironside & Associates, a consulting firm offering strategic organizational development for C-suite executives and founders, believes the consultative approach of getting to know and working directly with a leadership team can not only help facilitate change, it can long-term pay dividends. Jacobs focuses her work with small and mid-sized privately held companies, where she joins her clients’ executive team meetings as an active member.
“An OD and change management expert has the ability to lean in when working within an executive leadership team,” Jacobs explains, “to see what individual executives might not be paying attention to because they’re focused on their team or their own department. The critical part for executives, when you’re on a leadership team, is to remember that that is your team. The individuals around the table have to be rowing the boat together. Your true team is those peers, not the people that directly report to you. My role as a consultant is to help individuals recognize and embrace that.”
As an active member of an executive team, an OD consultant like Jacobs brings an informed outsider’s view that is especially valuable in facilitating two fundamental types of business change:
- Amplifying focus on potentially overlooked opportunities
- Facilitating new thinking during times of reorganization or evolution
This white paper explores the benefits and potential outcomes of partnering with an outside OD consultant including objectivity, strategic clarity (and alignment), and team efficiency. It also includes an interview checklist to help you evaluate potential partners as well as some watch outs when retaining an OD partner.
BENEFITS OF ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
- Continuous development: ongoing business model evolution creates a constant pattern of improvement and a favorable environment for embracing change.
- Increased horizontal and vertical communication aligns employees with mutual goals, values, and objectives.
- Employee growth: improving skills to equip employees with market-relevant skills and the right attitude.
- Enhancement of products and services: empowering innovation is one of the main benefits of organizational development.
- Increased profit margins: as a result of increased productivity and innovation, profits and efficiency increase as well. Costs come down because the organization can manage turnover and absenteeism.
For example, an Ironside & Associates client had an executive vice president of sales and marketing who was planning to retire after 30 years in the role. Jacobs and the executive team discussed the skill set and cultural fit they needed. Instead of a replacement hire, the market had changed, and this retirement was an opportunity to bring additional go-to-market strategies in house.
“When you start probing, you open the door for people to speak up and reveal insights. Maybe the ideal replacement would have stronger digital marketing skills or operational expertise. The company had an opportunity to look at the role and get ‘what we need’ as opposed to replacing ‘what we had’ – with no disrespect to what they had,” Jacobs says. “Business evolves at a rapid pace and job descriptions also need to evolve and change to complement what the business needs now. An objective outside partner working within the business is in a prime position to recognize that.”
An OD consultant’s objectivity, or lack of emotional attachment that comes from being outside the company’s daily flow, is a benefit across other challenges that face an executive team as well. According to Jacobs, it’s a key factor in her success at getting executive teams to come together in support of the entity, rather than simply representing their own departments in leadership meetings.
STRATEGIC CLARITY (AND ALIGNMENT)
“Within an organization, executive leadership teams sometimes fail to recognize that if they don’t fully support each other’s departmental initiatives, the team can’t achieve its common goal,” Jacobs says. “Clarifying the strategy and their role in it makes all the difference. If a team’s energy and resources aren’t flowing the same way, in most organizations, revenues won’t flow either.”
For example: one of Jacobs’ clients recognized they needed to upgrade their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, a decision that would benefit the business but would require a significant investment of time, energy, and resources upfront.
The COO led the 18-month effort, and every member of the leadership team had to work in lockstep to streamline operational functions. For HR, that required heavy-duty recruiting, for finance it meant working with banking partners to ensure the right tools and financing were available. Sales and marketing had to reenter data correctly. By the end of the 18 months, every leader had spent approximately 20% additional time making sure that the COO’s initiative succeeded, and the ERP implementation was effective.
How does “extra mile” teamwork like that happen? As an OD consultant, Jacobs facilitates to align the team around the strategic objective and gain their commitment and buy-in to the process. In sum: it’s about people and process.
“Leadership teams are typically stretched for resources and have more on their plate than they can likely accomplish – adding more is not a welcomed idea. Aligning the team is critical, and in this instance, accepting that the ERP implementation supported the goals of the business was essential. The next step was building a list of deliverables to ensure accountability. This approach underscores the idea that as a member of the executive team, you’re representing the organization at large – and you can do that while maintaining your expertise within your department.”
GROWTH & REPOSITIONING CASE STUDY
Our team needed a new skill set. Julie recognized that right away. She brings a level of expertise that is unmatched. She’s a trusted partner, unflappable under stress, and one of our secret weapons. She has helped facilitate change that would have taken us much longer to achieve on our own. She has helped align our team to deliver on our promise of sustainable profitability while enabling physician partners to maintain clinical autonomy and financial control.”
Leadership teams need meetings that make progress, and good facilitation can make this possible. A skilled facilitator will outline an effective process, develop group norms, cultivate full participation, and guide the discussion to move strategies forward and get results.
Says Jacobs: “It’s important to keep things on track and a well-planned agenda is essential. It’s also critical to establish some expectations upfront. So often leadership meetings become people staring at their own cell phones and listening only to what they think matters to them. Having somebody there who is actively working to create (perhaps unpopular, but) productive group norms, like leaving cell phones at the door, does help. It creates efficiency, and it also helps the team form a stronger bond. I’m very comfortable giving the floor to someone who is less vocal. I force participation around the table. That’s important because then you bring awareness of whatever topic that you’re hearing about through the lens of everyone around the table, not just the loudest voice.”
An outside consultant’s detachment, coupled with their expertise, helps manifest these improvements for the betterment of the organization.
WHAT OUTCOMES TO EXPECT?
The book posits that an organization is “healthy” when it is whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations and culture are unified. Lencioni says healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion, and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave.
Jacobs concurs: “I think companies stay more focused, are more timely in their deliverables and more successful in their change initiatives when they make organizational development expertise part of their leadership team. They enjoy improved decision making. We catch things that would have fallen through the cracks. We also gain respect for one another’s differences – we begin to actively see and develop a better understanding of each person’s responsibilities within the organization.”
In addition to better business outcomes, succession planning is often streamlined. “Being embedded in leadership team meetings makes it very clear who the leaders in the room are, and who they aren’t. Both scenarios are okay but being present drives efficiency and ensures we’re in a better position to make the right choices regarding people and roles.”
CHECKLIST FOR CHOOSING AN OD CONSULTANT
- Breadth of business experience
- Willing to immerse to understand your marketplace
- Ability to assess organizational health
- Facilitation skills to hold the team accountable
- Comfortable delivering messages people don’t want to hear
In terms of “watch outs,” Jacobs offers these:
- While HR/OD is their personal expertise, the consultant must fully embrace the whole business – every function, everyone on the team – with equal comfort and without functional bias.
- They should speak for the entity and be careful not to become another voice/vote for the CEO.
- And, they should not have the focus be on sales only — true organizational health and growth are more than your top line revenue number.
“When you decide that your team’s health is worth the investment,” says Jacobs, “partnering with an organizational development consultant can be a game changer for leaders of small and privately held companies striving to improve efficiency, build a leadership pipeline, and improve performance across the organization.”
For more information on best practices to ensure strong organizational health, contact Ironside & Associates here.