How do we get our business partners to take an interest in Organization Development?

One experience may be worth a thousand words.

Some years ago I met with a general manager to get his perspective on the organization’s difficulties in meeting its business goals. Because my title had “Training & Development” in it, he assumed I wanted a review of his business unit’s training and OD activities. He met me with his T&OD manager in tow and said that his associate would be happy to discuss anything I wished. The general manager also said he was very sorry, but that he would only be able to stay with us for about 15 minutes and then he would have to go to attend to some “very serious business matters.”

I replied that I was not there to discuss training and development activities, but to get his perspective on his business unit’s goals and the factors that helped or hindered the achievement of those goals. I then asked him the first question, “What are your business objectives?”

This general manager then talked to me for the next 60+ minutes about his business and the positive and negative issues he faced in trying to achieve his objectives.

In the end, I added his insights into similar data from his peers and functional leaders and used the summary of interview themes to help all of these leaders and the CEO craft a strategy for improving results. Virtually every barrier identified by these leaders were organizational barriers: confusion around goals, arduous decision-making processes, lack of teamwork among functions, etc. The organization’s improvement strategy for the business was to correct a few key organizational processes. Organization Development consultants helped the general managers execute these improvements. Within two years this organization’s profits had tripled because of successfully implementing the change strategy.

Moral of the story:  Rather than try to sell our OD tools to a business partner, let’s first deeply understand their organizational unit’s business strategy, market dynamics, and the issues that are causing them to lose sleep at night. (Aside from shocking some managers by doing this, it will give us an understanding of their business needs. Like my interviewee in the experience above, your business partners are passionate about THEIR issues.)

Analyze their data and deduce some key organizational issues where your OD tools and approaches could make a difference. Gather any best practices or case examples of how these tools have paid off FOR THE BUSINESS’S SAKE in other settings.

Offer your recommendations for how you could help them and their team take the necessary actions to solve the critical problems. Show them how your recommendation gets to the roots of their problems, not merely a band-aid for the symptoms.

Plan your JOINT PROJECT with your business partner and do whatever it takes to deliver as promised.  Prepare for more business—both from this business partner and from others who hear how HR has actually contributed to better business results.

In short, don’t try to get your business partners interested in OD. Get yourself interested in their business and find ways to connect the dots between their passion and your OD tools and skills.