O.E. in T.O.

Inside the org. effectiveness unit at the City of Toronto

The City of Toronto has more than 40 staff dedicated full time to organizational effectiveness.

The organization effectiveness department of 29 people works on supporting senior management in organizational improvement efforts across the corporation, and another 12 OE consultants are spread throughout the organization’s different business units.

Not surprisingly, as the city still deals with the amalgamation of six municipalities and a regional government into one “mega-city,” much of what they do involves change initiatives. But the scope of their activity goes beyond that to include support and direction across the organization, explained Barbara Freedman, director of organization effectiveness.

There’s a broad range of tasks assigned to Freedman’s group, some of which would be seen as the traditional role of HR (training and development and HR communications for example), while others would typically fall outside the domain of HR. It keeps evolving she said, but it covers areas as diverse as strategic planning support, structure design, performance management and business process re-engineering.

“Basically we provide an internal consulting service to senior management, to support them in organizational improvement efforts,” said John Douey, one of six management consultants in the OE unit.

In fact, their range of specialties is so diverse that in the minds of some it puts them outside of HR altogether. Naturally all management consultant work takes people into account but it includes technological issues, space and facility issues, as well as information and systems.

Aside from six generalist management consultants, there are also people working in career development services. They work with managers to identify skill gaps and learning needs. The training and organization development people are responsible for all of the corporate training that goes on, as well as the performance management system and the identification of competencies for non-union staff. While the HR communications group tends to the HR Web site and all communications on HR matters to employees.

The OE group is truly unique, more of a hybrid, explained Freedman. It is a progressive approach where issues are not HR issues, or process issues. They are just issues that the OE unit tackles drawing on a number of its own resources and, when need be, working with other units.

Because they had people come into the corporation from seven different organizations with different skill levels, for example, the OE unit has been busy with a major corporation-wide retraining strategy. They conceptualize it across the organization, and depend on the HR people in the business units to identify specific needs and suggest solutions.

Freedman’s group has also overseen a major succession management project for the city.

They created a task group that researched both internally and externally to identify best practices. From that they came up with a number of recommendations on what the city’s approach should be, and then developed materials to be used in the business units.

“We were the group that initiated the project, the philosophy, the principals. However HR in the business units are the ones working directly with clients to develop individual succession plans.”

Within the OE unit there are people with backgrounds in training as well as organizational design and development. There are people who have skills and knowledge in change management, strategic planning, and the ability to complete skills analysis and diagnostics, she said.

“I would say we have that mix of skills in the unit. We have people whose specialty is career services, helping managers assess skill needs, and put together training programs, through to someone who could contribute to the redesign of one of the city processes,” said Freedman.

Probably the most important feature of the organization effectiveness department at the City of Toronto is that they are working without structures to guide them. Because of that, the people in OE need a finely tuned sense of what is going on in the business.

“Organizational effectiveness doesn’t have a framework, the only thing we have is an understanding of where the client has to go,” said Kevin Smith, one of the 12 organization effectiveness consultants working within the HR department out in the business units.

In other words, they are essentially the people building the framework or at least repairing the ones that are already in place.

In a way, the OE role at the city mirrors that often defined by people who champion strategic HR. The city has said it wants HR to be a strategic partner. And HR wants to do a lot of the innovative and proactive activity the OE people are doing, but they are still too busy implementing regulations and policies, said Smith.

“I often hear from other HR people that they are envious of what we are,” he added.

Working as consultants who are experts in process and people, the OE staff in the business units are there to help managers cope with any problems they are having within their own little organization.

Managers and employees are often being asked to do their jobs in completely different manner, for example.

“I think one of our main benefits is allowing the client to see things through different eyes,” said Smith. “We do have managers who have been in the positions for a long time and can only see things in one way.” What’s more, people in leadership or management roles tend to be technical experts but not necessarily highly skilled in managing people.

“They know what they need to but not the processes they can use to make them most effective or how to motivate the staff and get them on board,” he said.

That’s where the OE people enter, working with managers to help them understand how to adapt to the change as well as manage their staff accordingly.

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