Kimberly Scott is Director of Northwestern University’s Master’s Degree Program in Learning & Organizational Change. In this interview she discusses how the Master’s Program prepares students to effect organizational change and her own work transforming the workplace culture at the William Wrigley, Jr. Company.

How does the Master’s Program and Center for Learning & Organizational Change prepare students and alumni to assist organizations with transformation or development?
First I should make a distinction between the Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change (MS LOC) and the Center. The Master’s Program is designed to help experienced practitioners pursue an advanced degree and to build their expertise in the arenas of performance-based learning, knowledge management and strategic change. Our Master’s students graduate with the skills and knowledge they will need to help organizations and their people achieve sustained success, despite the complex and dynamic challenges they face.

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In the Master’s Program, we help students better appreciate that the behaviors and practices they see in the world can be understood by identifying the underlying structures and systems that support those behaviors and practices. Our students learn about theories of how people think and make sense of the world around them. They then translate theory into practice by synthesizing this knowledge into the frameworks and models they can use to design innovative solutions to organizational challenges.

The Center complements the Master’s Program through its mission to promote thought leadership in organizational and individual transformation. We’re a community of students, alumni, faculty and practitioners-at-large who share a passion for change leadership. We host lectures, panels and workshops, engaging experts from diverse backgrounds to present their ideas and experiences. For example, we recently hosted Northwestern Professor Dan McAdams to talk about his research in the power of narrative to reveal insights about leadership. At another lecture, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Art and Design Professor Marcia Lausen discussed the role of good design in the process of change.

One of the Center’s goals is to help people transform organizations into more effective workplaces. What kind of specific advice is given?
The advice always depends on the situation. When people are faced with the question of how to create a more effective workplace, they should start by agreeing to a definition of what “effective” means – to them and the people they work with. They need to use a common language. Some people think of effectiveness in performance terms like profits, revenue or how they perform against their competitors. If this is where they are starting from, then the next step is to identify how this definition translates into the kind of work environment that should exist for their people. This requires an understanding of the connections between the workplace environment and culture and the overall effectiveness of the organization. It also means connecting and aligning organizational goals with people’s understanding of those goals. Our program emphasizes that engaging people is the key to making organizations more effective.

Management also needs to remember that they are communicating and acting on a real value, not just delivering lip service. It’s often that you hear leaders say, “Our people are our most important asset,” but when their communicated values don’t match their behaviors, the workforce becomes disillusioned and the organization loses its opportunity to engage its talent.

You worked at Hewitt Associates, which provides HR outsourcing and consulting services. While you were there, what qualities came across in the best places to work that you examined in countries like Brazil, Canada and Australia versus those in the United States?

There were more similarities than differences. What they shared was a high level of employee engagement and the overarching strategy to align and develop their people, at the start of their careers and throughout their employment. Their specific talent strategies may have been different, but the commitment from their people was high. The differences across countries appeared when we examined the tactics or practices that companies selected to engage their people. Some practices were unique to their cultures, whereas others were required by their governments or labor movements.

You also worked at the William Wrigley, Jr. Company, helping it to achieve its strategic objectives for growth and innovation. Specifically what did this involve?
When I began my work with Wrigley, the company’s organizational development function was just forming, and the human resources function was still called “Personnel.” I worked with company executives to help William Wrigley, Jr. achieve his vision for the organization he wanted to create. This involved maintaining what he calls the “Wrigley Way,” but at the same time fundamentally changing the way the company operated in order to foster innovation. I was asked to design global organizational programs such as an employee feedback survey and to create leadership development programs. We eventually launched a “Wrigley University” to integrate and measure the impact of training and development initiatives.

Within the first year, we designed and implemented a new HR strategy, the employee survey I mentioned, a global performance management program and a 360-degree feedback program. Simultaneously, we were assisting leaders with the department reorganizations that were happening as a result of new leaders and employees, which affected marketing, information technology, research and development and the supply chain.

It was challenging, and I learned a lot. There were many employees who had been there 20, 30 and even 50 years, and whose only work experience was as an employee at Wrigley. Being part of a team to transform an organization with this kind of history was a terrific opportunity.

Finally, what brought you to Winning Workplaces’ Board of Directors?
I had the privilege of working with [former] Board Member Ed Gubman for several years at Hewitt. [Gubman is a founding partner of Strategic Talent Solutions –Ed.] He helped shape my perspective about the importance of building a talent strategy that meets the needs of the organization and its people. We also share a common belief that Winning Workplaces is founded on – namely, that positive people practices lead to positive business results. I’ve been looking for ways to share my expertise and passion for making workplaces healthier and more effective, so serving on the board of Winning Workplaces is a great fit.