In an interview with Manage HR magazine, Stone shares his experience in the field, his perspective on strategic change, and how he turned into a much sought-after OD partner for a wide range of businesses, including corporate, government, healthcare, higher education, and nonprofits.
What, generally speaking, is your take on organizational change and culture?
Leaders of organizations have an imperative to create change—whether it is the mission, vision, strategy, processes, or organizational structure. Whatever the nature of the effort, virtually all successful change requires adapting the core culture since in the end all organizations rely on its people to achieve real change.
As anyone who has attempted it knows well, culture change can present unique challenges. Therefore the ability to change the culture rests on clearly understanding these fundamental core requirements of change. First of all there must be a clear and compelling reason for needing to make the change, since any major change is going to make significant demands on people and resources. Then there has to be a clear vision for that change. And that vision must be owned by a critical mass of key stakeholders whose support is essential to realizing the vision. The key organizational systems and processes, and structures need to be aligned with that vision. People need to be empowered to fulfill the vision, by being given the authority and behavioral skills to execute, along with genuine accountability. Creating change also requires constant monitoring to stay updated on the current reality concerning the vision and to identify gaps that need to be closed.
What distinguishes you from competitors?
I have been a change consultant for over 45 years for a wide variety of organizations and across five continents. I have worked at all levels of organizations—from CEO’s and Cabinet-Level Secretaries down to frontline employees. And I am highly experienced in a wide range of change methodologies. With all of this experience, I bring a high-level of seasoned expertise and competence, along with a systems approach to change, which I employ to help my clients envision the change that is needed, and then to carry it out successfully.
What is your experience with organizations’ approach to change?
I have seen three kinds of change efforts that organizations typically undertake. The first I would call “faux change”, whenorganizations try to show that they are undergoing a positive change but without any serious intention of changing. They may initiate activities such as team-building, diversity training, or customer support training. But it is akin to ‘checking the box’ or for PR purposes.
The second type I call “change that is no change.” These organizations may bring in consultants and change agents, try different methodologies, and give their best-level efforts, but there are few results, because there is not a sufficiently robust process or insufficient follow-through to actually see results. Many organizations that bring me in have shared with me a long history of their failed or suboptimized change efforts.
The third category is what I call “real change”, where the organization is committed to seeing the change effort through to the point that it produces genuine results that are sustainable over time. In these cases, the organization is not just committing to a process, approach, or activity, but is determined to hold itself accountable to seeing that its vision for change is actually realized. This third type of real change is the one that interests me.
Please elaborate on your core competencies and the services you offer?
My core competencies revolve around working with individuals, groups, and larger organizations to envision and carry out a roadmap to organizational change. I draw upon whatever modalities seem useful including team building, organizational assessment, strategic planning, conference design and facilitation, meeting and retreat facilitation, leadership development and coaching, orchestrating mergers and partnerships, stakeholder engagement, and survey guided feedback. I have extensive experience working with individuals and groups in size from very small to very large. I have also been a pioneer in the use of various technologies such as groupware systems and keypad polling to meaningfully engage groups as large as several thousand at a time.
I help organizations “make change real” by achieving impactful and sustainable results
How do you typically engage with your clients?
While initiating a change project, I begin by working with the leader and his/her team to clarify the urgency for the change and create a vision for the outcome they hope to achieve. Then I craft a process that can be used within the organization to achieve the vision. In crafting this process, I often work with a design team that represents key perspectives and facets of the organization. Both the design team and I have distinct roles to play. I bring in the process expertise, whereas they are responsible for the real-time check on what will work in the organization and how the approaches will be received in different departments. The approach may involve any of a variety of methods that are best configured to achieve the desired outcomes. In addition, I usually meet in an ongoing way with the leadership to review the status of the effort and adjust as needed.
Can you share a couple of success stories where you helped clients attain organizational change?
I helped a college organize a large-scale conference of 100 people to engage their entire organization in creating vision and strategy. In addition to administrators, faculty and students, a third of the participants were external stakeholders including employers, regulators, and donors. The conferees agreed on a vision, and committed themselves to fulfilling the vision. In addition to creating major change, one of the most significant outcomes was the college tripled the donations it received within a year—an outcome that leadership attributed to having meaningfully included so many external stakeholders.
Another example would be a major hospital that was facing stiff competition from different healthcare institutions. I conducted a leadership team retreat of 50 people, where we identified the core issues and established a vision for a greatly enhanced customer service culture as a competitive advantage. The strategy to reach the vision, which I facilitated, included modifying hospital processes, policies, and physical makeup to align with the new customer service vision. A two-day training session was then conducted for all staff from top level down to clerical staff to equip everyone with the skills to serve patients as customers.
How do you envision the future for your practice?
My practice has always been and will continue to be client-centric with a strong sense of partnership with those organizations that engage me. I am always interested in working with clients who are committed to achieving “real change”.