Mastering Organizational Design with the IRC

About seven years ago, while working in our human resources branch, my manager recommended that I take a couple of the Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) Organization Development (OD) certificate courses. Thus began a journey, which this year, culminated in me being awarded a Queen’s IRC Master Practitioner in Applied Organizational Development certificate and standing as a Master OD Practitioner. The Queen’s IRC’s programming has been invaluable to my work, and I want to take this opportunity to share my perspective on the value of the IRC’s programming and the ease with which the tools, resources, and learning can be applied to the workplace.

Over the past seven years, I have moved out of the HR field and into various management positions that allowed me to utilize the knowledge acquired in the IRC’s programming and hone my skills around strategic business planning and organizational design. The knowledge that I gained through the IRC’s OD programs enabled me to apply specific approaches and processes to our business challenges. In particular, when working in a branch that was broadening the scope of its business, I was able to lead the management team through a process to build a branch vision and to develop a three-year strategic business plan that included key priorities, outcomes, and specific areas on which to focus. Using the collaborative process I learned in the IRC’s programming, our management team reached consensus on the future direction of the branch; a considerable ‘giant step’ forward from our previous path.

In that branch, I also led a team focused on achieving certification under the Excellence Canada (formerly National Quality Institute) Progressive Excellence Program. Following a four-step program, we achieved Level 3 Quality certification and a Canada Awards of Excellence Bronze certificate as a quality organization. Again, the organizational effectiveness and team building skills obtained in the IRC’s programming contributed to my ability to facilitate our success.

In order to acquire standing as a Queen’s IRC Master OD Practitioner, I had to complete a practicum that employed the Action Learning Research Consulting Process, a component of the IRC’s programming. Due to the change in vision, our branch now needed to reconsider our structure in order to align ourselves to better deliver our services. I relied on the four-step design process—Define, Discover, Design, Deliver—a tool that I acquired in the IRC’s OD programming to lead a transition team of senior and frontline managers to a decision about how we needed to be organized. This was the second time that I was able to utilize this process within our organization and both times the resulting frontline manager buy-in and agreement on direction and structure was impressive.

Recently, I have been able compare these results to another significant internal ‘transformation’. This time, little thought was given to change management during the planning phase and there was minimal or no collaboration with senior and frontline managers. In the end, the new organizational design is not a bad one, but the process to get there has been long and arduous, with significant loss of leadership credibility and trust. Decision makers must ask themselves if the time saved by not consulting upfront with those impacted is worth the loss of many long-term staff and the effort it will take to re-engage those that remain.

Personally, what I have learned through these experiences is the importance of asking the right questions—because we cannot ever know all of the answers—and the importance of having a specific framework, based on consultation and collaboration, to follow when undertaking these major initiatives.

Patricia Allen is Group Manager, Strategic Partnerships & Program Policy Division for the Ministry of Finance. She was recently awarded a Queen’s IRC Master Practitioner in Applied Organizational Development certificate and standing as a Master OD Practitioner.

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