What is the cause of most problems in the workplace? People. What is the solution? People.
Forbes.com released an article in 2013 entitled 12 Challenges Faced By The Fastest-Growing Companies. Many of the challenges mentioned by industry leaders surrounded “talent”, “employee needs”, “company culture”, and “getting the right people”.
And that is where organizational development educator, trainer and coach David Warner comes in. He consults nationally to organizations (people) in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to help leaders and groups work more effectively. He does coaching and leadership development with for-profit and nonprofit clients. He says, “I’m at my best when helping others to be their best.” David currently teaches at Sonoma State University as a Director of Human Systems Redesign and Professional Practice in Organization Development. He holds a Masters in Psychology and Organization Development.
I had the pleasure of meeting David when I attended an in-depth leadership development series covering topics like conflict resolution, goal setting, transition management, coaching for success, and organizational change. David excels in drawing those tough conversations out of working groups (people) and using humor and humility to effect real change.
Maybe you aren’t quite sure how a regular focus on organizational development can help your team or company (all people). Or maybe you need fresh ideas to infuse your team with new life. A sit down with David Warner might help you reinvigorate your pool of talent, satisfy employee needs, improve culture, and get and keep the right people in your company.
I chatted with David to uncover some gems of wisdom from this proven talent leader.
Michael: David, what attracted you to Organizational Development in the first place?
David: I had gotten my undergraduate degrees in Management (called Business Administration today) and Psychology. Additionally, I had a ten-year career in for-profit leadership and a ten-year career in nonprofit leadership. So I had plenty of firsthand experience in organizational dysfunction. (Laughs) I knew there had to be a way to affect positive change in organizations. But nothing I tried ever seemed to work.
When I found Organization Development (OD), I had no idea that such a field existed. It was the perfect blend of my education and experience. It gave me hope that changing human systems was possible. I was encouraged to learn that my experience in less-than-effective organizations was not unusual, and that there was an entire discipline dedicated to helping teams and other human systems work more effectively together.
Michael: In your expert opinion, what do you feel is the greatest threat to organizations functioning well?
David: Complacency. Failure to stay curious. Failure to question assumptions. Belief that we’re already doing it the best way it can possibly be done. Organizations that don’t ask why things are will never realize what things can become.
It’s hard work staying curious, but the payoff is greater than any other effort an organization can put forth.
There’s a resultant problem that’s even more serious, and that’s learned helplessness. Years of complacency can lead to a sense of powerlessness. People might say, “We know we’re not doing it well. But that can’t be changed. So there’s no point in trying.”
The truth is, it is rarely hopeless. Good OD practitioners can offer hope and a roadmap. The most egregious mistake a practitioner can make, however, is offering hope where none exists. Sometimes the most compassionate solution is to help the organization to start over.
Michael: What is one of your greatest success stories when you think back on the various organizations (people) you have coached?
David: Two come immediately to mind: one from long ago, and one more recent.
When I was still in graduate school as an intern, my consulting partner and I had a landscape company as a client. This company employed about 100 people. Half were Spanish-speaking. The other half were English-speaking. Not surprisingly, they had identified “communication” as one of their problems. We were asked to put together a two-day event to help solve ongoing issues.
Early in the event, one of the leaders stood up and said regarding the Spanish-speakers, “They’re in the U.S. They should learn to speak English!” Interestingly, we never separated the groups by language. In fact, we began Day One by pairing up each English speaker with a Spanish speaker and asked both to learn several things about the other. (Questions were posted in two languages.). We then introduced each pair to the whole group. Over the course of the event, these 100 people worked together and identified their shared values. They created a Mission Statement for the entire organization. This mission is still proudly displayed on their website today, over fifteen years later. The same leader who early on had insisted that everyone learn English closed the event by committing to everyone that he was going to take Spanish classes at the local community college.
More recently, I helped a company in the entertainment industry redesign their leadership team. Seven officers and Vice Presidents were beset by internal squabbles, miscommunication, slow response times, and worse. Their troubles had gotten personal—the CFO wasn’t doing his job, the Marketing VP was stepping on the toes of the Operations VP, the CEO had his nose in everybody’s business, the COO was peacemaker first and COO second—you get the idea.
Over many months, it became apparent that this team, without question, contained the skills and knowledge necessary to lead the company. But everyone was trying to perform the duties they believed their title should perform. No one what doing what they were actually good at! By designing positions and assigning tasks based on individual strengths as opposed to titles, this team streamlined its operations and immediately improved its performance. They also instituted a new reporting structure facilitating enhanced communication with their people in the field.
Each of these seven leaders reports being happier, less stressed, more effective, and they are having more fun than they ever thought possible. Profits are improving and the leadership team is discovering that they are less reactive and more strategic.
Michael: What would you advise a person to do 15 minutes per day, at minimum, to help improve the morale and teamwork of their organizations?
David: For me, the power of reflection can’t be overstated. This may come in the form of prayer or meditation. Many years ago, I heard this statement, “As we live our days, so we live our lives.” Each morning, ask yourself, “What can I do today to improve the effectiveness of my team?” Each night, ask, “How did I do today? In what ways was I successful or not? What needs to happen next?” These questions can easily be integrated into any spiritual practice you may have. If you don’t do that sort of thing, you can still ask yourself these questions.
Taking at least 15 minutes to do this can have a big impact on your thinking and actions. Find a quiet, solitary place so you can listen for the answers. Some people choose to journal their insights. The trick to such a practice is to keep it simple enough that you’ll stay with it over time. The reason I like doing this before bed is that it sets the subconscious to work on the right stuff while you’re sleeping. I often wake up having new insight and clarity.
The larger underlying questions, implicit or explicit, are, “How can I (Did I) live today as I wish to live my life?” Oftentimes, the answer is calmer, more effective individuals and happier, more productive teams.
All too often, when problems arise in our organizations, people may blame technology or systems. But at the root of each of those is people who need to work well with whomever to get everyone to do what needs to be done. Lack of communication, inability to give timely and honest feedback, unwillingness to deal with conflict, cliques, and turnover are more lethal to an organization than a downed email server or power outage.
“Today’s best leaders keep people—their talent pool—at the forefront.”
Just like a medical doctor can diagnosis and help remedy physical ailments, a specialist in organizational development like David Warner can help cure or improve people issues in a company.
Today’s best leaders keep people—their talent pool—at the forefront. They understand that humans are behind everything and ensure that people feel great while doing work that matters.
If you are a business leader, how often do you reflect about taking care of the people in your organization? If you can’t definitively respond to that question, than I assure you of the answer—not enough.
(For more on my personal heroes of talent development, productivity tips, and articles on leadership visit 15 Minutes Per Day.)