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Role of OD in Modern Organizations: 7 Steps to Implementing Change

Organizational Development Professional

The march forward to more effective and efficient organizations needs to be led by organizational development professionals. All too often change initiatives lose traction and wind up on some shelf to collect dust, which is demoralizing and wasteful.

Organizational development professionals have the power to ensure that the above doesn’t happen and that organizational change does become a reality. Consider the following seven steps toward this goal.


1. Become the Driver of Change

OD professionals must take charge of internally-focused change initiatives. You are in the best position to define and drive strategy for change−not senior leaders and not the project management office. Sure, the project office can oversee the initiatives from a portfolio perspective, and senior leaders should be part of strategic decision-making process. OD professionals, however, are the ones with the knowledge of the overall organizational effectiveness. You are the mechanics who make this complex machine run well.

Sadly, too many approaches to change are piecemeal. Someone decides it would be a good idea to build strong customer focus in the Engineering Department, and an initiative is launched. Another leader decides that Sales and Marketing need to be more integrated and an initiative is launched.

Some OD professionals are so focused on interventions with teams and individual leaders that they haven’t looked more broadly at what the organization as a whole needs as an intervention, or at what changes need to be made at a more systemic level.

In the end, each individual initiative might have a benefit, but the benefit will be limited due to little to no connection to the overall strategy (a customer-focused Engineering Department can only do so much without other departments backing them up on the customer focus). Even worse, initiatives can end up being at cross-purposes to one another.

2. Get Familiar with an Organizational Operating System

In order to create a basis for an effective internal change strategy, OD professionals should always keep an eye on the organization as a whole. Like other complex machines, organizations need an operating system (OS). An up-to-date OS is instrumental for creating an optimized organization that is both efficient (the resources are aligned with functions) and effective (people are aligned with the customer).

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3. Create Your Long-Term and Short-Term Change Strategies

Taking the lead on strategy means thinking outside the OD department. You need to reach out to all the key stakeholders and change agents in the organization and get them on board with the strategy. You’ll need good influencing skills. You’ll also need a core design team that can help you formulate the strategy and sell it to the rest of the organization.

At the design-team level, look at the longer-term vision of where you want the organization to be in five years, then define your two-year strategy for change, taking into account what change the organization is prepared to absorb in that timeframe.

Why two years? If you’re looking at changing systemic factors in the organization, those are big initiatives and take time. You’ll need a two-year horizon to bring these types of changes to life.

Before you settle on your two-year plan, do an assessment of the current the state of the union. Where are you now? And in that assessment, determine what appetite there is for change in various areas. You need a strategy for change – how can you navigate the difficult journey of shifting the organization onto a new path while creating the least amount of resistance?

Deciding which direction to go is the easy part of the strategy. Figuring out how to get there with most of the people behind the idea, is what most organizations find truly challenging.

4. Define the Portfolio

As you know, you can’t implement a broad strategy. You have to break it down into specifics, such as the first level of change that you are looking for. You need to be very strategic with the portfolio definition, based on your assessment of adoptability of the two-year strategy.

You’ll be looking at creating a balanced enterprise portfolio, accurately scoping out the size of each initiative, and aligning each one with the strategy. Each initiative should be a part of the larger plan and so they are interdependent. Each one will affect one or more of the other initiatives. Make sure they form a cohesive whole.

5. Grow Your Change Agents

The next challenge is picking the best person to lead each initiative. The initiative lead needs to be a change agent. One of their biggest jobs is to create a cohesive team made up of stakeholders of the change and make converts out of them.

A collaborative project management approach is most effective in making sure organizational changes stick. Despite its name, this approach is not just for project staff. Organizational development professionals can manage their change initiatives as projects. Also, many of the collaborative methods and skills are just as relevant to OD as they are to projects. You’ll need the same tools to get buy-in from all of the stakeholders at the planning stage, to make decisions collaboratively, or to guide teams to consensus.

6. Become the Sponsor of Change Initiatives

OD should take the role of the sponsor in the organizational change initiatives. As a sponsor of these projects, you need to make sure the scope is accurate and clear from the beginning, and the initiative leader has clear direction.

You are going to be successful if these initiative teams are successful, so you’re going to need to monitor them and make sure they stay on the right track. No, you don’t have any control over them, but you have plenty of influence. Check in with them regularly. Keep them focused on the human aspects of the project. Make sure they conduct adoptability assessments and communication planning.

Being a sponsor also means that you are who the team goes to for support, conflicts resolution, and getting resources. You should have reviewed and signed off on their initiative plans, so you know what work they will be doing.

Check in with the leaders and see if they need help. Keep them focused on the work and not on fighting political battles. That’s your job. Give them lots of positive feedback and recognition. Creating organizational change is hard work, as you well know, and they need as much encouragement as they can get.

7. Tirelessly Promote Change

Finally, never stop selling the vision and the strategy. Have your own communication plan and work it every day. Change is not easy, but it’s easier if you’re proactive and not reactive. Proactive change is getting it right from the get-go and making people more and more comfortable with the change as it is being built.

By the time the change arrives, everyone is used to the idea, and resistance is low. That’s your goal.

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Paula Martin

Paula Martin is a Master Level Certified Matrix Management Consultant™ (CMMC™—MOL), and the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Matrix Management Institute. She is the developer of the MM 2.0™ Operating System, and the author of the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, the Matrix Management Reinvented book series, and more than 10 other books on topics related to Matrix Management and Managing Projects in a Matrix.