Talent Development 14 Organization Development and Culture

October 24, 2020

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization Development and Culture. Section F reads, “Skill in designing and implementing employee engagement strategy.”

I have seen many engagement efforts that were highly effective. I have also witnessed some that were complete failures. In this brief article I will describe the things that cause success or failure.

I appreciate the way this item is worded, because ATD has avoided calling it an “Engagement Program.” When you use the name “Program” to describe an effort to create higher engagement, it shows a poor understanding of how engagement is created, maintained, and improved.

I once inherited a production department of about 150 people. The incumbent Department Manager was an ex-Industrial Engineer who had a reputation of being a “people oriented” manager.

As I got to know the people and the manager, I was impressed that they had an “Engagement Room” where various teams would meet to work on their “Program.” There were fancy charts all over the walls and there was a facilitator hired to run the “Program.”

They had slogans and symbols for the effort. After a while I got the impression that this effort was a text book application to Organization Development that was done by the book. All the trappings were there, but I sensed something phony about the whole deal.

I recall meeting one of the senior employees in the hallway one day, and when I asked him about how the “Engagement Program” was going, his body language was not good.

I took the time to sit with this employee, and he told me in confidence, “To tell you the truth, Bob, we all think it is a bunch of B.S. We do a bunch of mickey mouse exercises and the entire effort is all hat and no cattle.”

As I looked into the situation more closely, I realized this was an effort by the Department Manager and the facilitator to drive “Engagement,” whether the real people wanted it or not. The effort was costing money rather than having the impact the manager desired, and it was doing more harm than good.

I searched for a different manager for the department and found an excellent people-oriented woman who had a better track record. I explained to her that the mechanical approach was not working and suggested she work to develop a culture of high trust and scrap the “Engagement Program.”

She went to work on this and gained substantial stake from the production workers, who were happy to participate in an effort to change the culture permanently to one of much higher trust. The new Department Head worked on creating Psychological Safety in the department and got rid of the signage and slogans.

Within six months the manager had turned the situation completely around. Productivity had doubled, and the entire group of employees were as engaged as I have ever seen a group. The contrast between a mechanical approach and a genuine shift in the culture was simply amazing.

Never think of employee engagement as something you can “do to” the workforce. Instead think of engagement as an outcome of a brilliant culture. Work on trust and building an honest environment where it is safe to voice your truth, and the workforce will choose to become engaged.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Leadership Barometer 41 Mentor Power

March 9, 2020

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career.

Also, turn the logic around and you should be mentoring at least one other person, hopefully more than one.

Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization. Here are a few of them:

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster
2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid doing.
3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles from yours.
4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.
5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.
6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past, so you can avoid them.
7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate in the long term. That is because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process. The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy.

This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities. After about six months, the interfaces are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people.

It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.
2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.
3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.
4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.
5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.
6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization, but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Mentor Power

July 29, 2012

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career. Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization.

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster

2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.

3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles than yours.

4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.

5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.

6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past so you can avoid them.

7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That is because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process. The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities. After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people. It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.

2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.

3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.

5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.

6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.