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.


Talent Development 8 Compliance and Ethical Behavior

August 27, 2020

The topics of Compliance and Ethical Behavior are part of the ATD CPTD Certification model.

This topic involves a knowledge of laws, regulations, and ethical issues related to the access and use of information. There are numerous statutes that help to safeguard sensitive information, whether that is copyrighted information, patented technology, or personally sensitive data.

The area of ethical corporate behavior is the topic of this article. I have been involved with ethics all my life and have taught different courses on the subject at local universities. I consider ethical behavior to be a subset of trust, and it is simply about doing business the right way.

We tend to rationalize situations when there are difficult choices. We use flawed logic to make something seem right when it really is not. To guard against ethical lapses, we need organizations to build cultures of trust and psychological safety.

The ability to speak up when you see something that does not seem right is at the core of ethical behavior. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the leaders find ways to punish rather than reward whistle blowers.

Leaders who have built up a high degree of trust based on the knowledge that it is a good thing to speak up when something does not seem right have the advantage of many eyes and ears to view each action. If a leader gets off the straight and narrow through some form of rationalization, the individuals will point that out. It is up to the leaders to reinforce this candor by making the whistle blower glad he brought up the problem.

In Rochester New York, we have a group that has been seeking to raise the level of ethics in our extended community by celebrating organizations that are doing great things with respect to ethics.

We call the effort “Elevate Rochester” because by openly celebrating highly ethical organizations we raise the level of awareness for ethics. Our vision is to eventually become the “Gold Standard” in terms of an ethical community.

We have a long way to go, but our program is strong and vital. It involves an annual contest to uncover highly ethical organizations (except 2020 due to COVID-19). The contest starts early in the year by a series of breakfast meetings to encourage organizations to apply for an award we call the “ETHIE.”
Groups then fill out a brief application form that asks for content and examples in the following four areas.

1. Ethical Leadership – we ask the organization to identify the importance of values, ethical standards and moral conduct in all stakeholder relations.
2. Organizational Excellence – to establish and maintain ethical standards and operational processes that are well deployed throughout the organization.
3. Ethical Challenges – this is a description of how the organization deals with ethical issues when they come up either internally or externally.
4. Corporate Citizenship – how the organization gives back to the community and supports the well-being of society.

For 2021, we will be adding a fifth section that deals with how well the organization practices inclusion and equity principles in their work.

Organizations fill out the application, and an independent panel of judges decides which organizations meet the criteria and pass on to the next level of activity, which involves a site visit to witness the degree of deployment of the above areas.

Finally, in the Fall, there is a celebration that mimics the Oscar Awards, thus celebrating the best ethical organizations in our region.

Participating organizations tell us that the organized process is the valuable part of the contest. Getting a glass statue for the trophy case is the icing on the cake, but the real benefit is bringing ethical behavior front and center within the organization on a daily basis.


Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.