In a blog post a while back I mentioned it might be nice to see the training function morph into something more akin to an organizational effectiveness unit in the next ten years.  So I enjoyed a  recent post (The Rise of the Chief Performance Officer) by knowledge management leader Tom Davenport where he suggests merging organizational groups that share performance improvement as their mission but come at it from different vantage points and methodologies.  He cites a recent meeting of his knowledge management research group:

..we advocated for merging knowledge management with some other function – most likely the human resources/organizational learning/talent management constellation. We felt that knowledge management groups don’t often have the critical mass to stand alone, and knowledge and learning are very similar concepts anyway.

He continues:

... if you’re going to be merging things, you might as well go a bit further… if you want to align knowledge and learning with work, you need to know something about business processes and how to improve them. And if you’re going to align processes with the content needed to perform them effectively, you need to know something about the technology that would deliver the content in accordance with job tasks.

In the end, he suggests a merged unit with a Chief Performance Officer at the helm.

Many organizations have separate departments in these (and other) disciplines, all sharing the mission of impacting organizational performance.

  • Learning and Development
  • Organizational Development
  • Process Improvement (Quality)
  • Human Resources/Talent management
  • Knowledge Management

Sometimes there are sub-departments within these (for example a performance technology group within Learning and Development).

I’ve had the chance to work with many of these groups and use their methods to improve performance (sometimes on the same performance issue!).  While the approaches of each group are very effective in the right situation, each group tends to see their solutions as “best” or are blindly unaware of the methods developed in sister disciplines.  This competitive and silo thinking rarely results in optimal solutions and can confuse line managers with the array of “performance improvement” solutions to their issues.

Even though learning professionals are trained to analyze performance issues to identify “learning or “non-learning” solutions,  the “non-learning” catch-all is usually the less comfortable road than the learning solution.  Likewise, for a time, everything in the organizational development arsenal seemed to involve team building, and for the Quality department every process required “re-engineering” without regard to the people working in those processes.  In recent years, most performance improvement groups have learned that their solutions are much richer and more effective when enhanced by the perspective of others.

Bringing these organizations all under one roof could accelerate this cross fertilization of ideas, result in innovative new approaches and reduce the redundancy and confusion that exists for line managers. A reasonably neutral label for this organization might be “Organization Effectivness”.  Performance Improvement, Performance Effectiveness, Performance Development are also candidates I’ve heard tossed around.  Of course, the label is less important than how the organization is designed and the services it provides.

Designing the Organization Effectiveness Function

There are potential models for designing such an organization.   For example, an article (Redesigning the HR organization) by organizational design specialist Amy Kates describes a matrix organization structure that could support the complexity of a merged performance improvement unit.   Her award winning model targets HR but I see many useful features for supporting an even broader organization.  The model includes:

Customer Relationship Managers

  • front end customer facing team)

Centres of Excellence

  • back end expert teams or networks that cross performance improvement disciplines

Solutions Teams

  • Multidisciplinary teams that are configured to mirror the complexity of the work rather than the business hierarchy

Here is Amy Kates HR orientated Model from her article:

Here is the model re-illustrated from the broader Organizational Effectiveness view:

Organizational Effectiveness as Internal Management Consulting

Another possible organizational model is the professional services firm or management consulting company.   It would be possible to organize the unit as an internal consultancy of sorts modeled on the multidisciplinary focus of many of the large consulting companies.  Toyota for example has modeled their internal learning and lean process improvement services using a management consulting model.  This article (Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System) describes how Toyota’s Operations Management Consulting Division (OMCD) provides learning and lean process improvement services inside and outside the organization through a management consulting model.

Benefits and Risks

Creating and managing and organizational effectiveness department is not without risks.  The centralization required could result in bureaucratization (although the solution teams and dedicated business partners of the matrix model guards against that),  bringing together professional groups that have operated independently for many years could result in internal conflict and of course deciding who’s in and whose out could be interesting.  But the potential benefits make the idea worth exploring.  Among the benefits I would include:

  • Performance improvement solution innovations
  • Resource efficiencies
  • Improved service and single point of contact to line management
  • Cross-fertilization of approaches and methods
  • More strategic performance improvement efforts
  • Avoid political dominance of single groups
  • Professionalization of performance improvement services
  • More innovative uses of technology for performance improvement.
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9 Responses
  1. Tom, what a timely post. I needed this several weeks ago as I am merging a Corporate University and a Quality Office into one department that is focused on Org. Performance. You hit a homer with this post. I would be glad to share our outcomes as we present it to a pilot group of customers this week and to the County Administrator, who requested this merger next week. The two leaders are committed to making this work to demonstrate our abilities to our organization. Wish us luck!


  2. Kevin:
    Thanks for your comment. Quality and training are a natural fit and if you start to merge processes they can enhance each other greatly. Toyota Talent, a current book by Liker and Meier is a great reference for how Training can support Quality and visa versa. Good luck…and yes I’d love to hear about your progress as you present it to your pilot group.


  3. Tom,
    I very much ennjoyed your post – working across Australasia, UK, USA and India I can definitely relate to the proposed role and functions within your post.

    One of the key issues around the reorganised roles and responsibilities seems to openly be capability and experience within senior HR leaders -many have confided in me that they see real challenges in taking on the CPO role without some depth in a line business role outside of HR.

    I think this is one of the key reasons we are not seeing the transition faster but I believe it will happen and makes total sense.

    Thanks for keeping it interesting.

    best regards


  4. John;
    Thanks for the comment. I agree “staff” roles can struggle for credibility with their “line” clients. Sometimes it’s justified and other times it’s just a line knee-jerk response. I think it’s great when line managers are interested in leading staff functions for a period of time but I don’t think it’s essential for the success of staff groups. As HR, Training, Quality etc. become more business conscious and accountable for contributing to real results the old staff-line gap is closing and staff functions can be a credible stage in management succession planning.

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