Rod Githens, Ph.D.

A Recipe for Using Participation to Change Culture

Creating Organizational Change with the Right People, Right Environment, and Right Processes

Oh, feedback and participation—many leaders have a love-hate relationship with it. Even though leaders know it’s important, it can seem messy and never-ending. The most effective leaders know that although getting feedback and participation requires more work, better-quality decisions and increased support result when stakeholders engage. But how can it be less painful and less chaotic?

I led a team hired by a large regional healthcare system to facilitate a new learning strategy throughout their organization. Healthcare organizations have an incredible number of stakeholders, whom we included in the process. These include all types of employees, from doctors to cleaning staff. Stakeholders also include chaplains, patients, and extended care network stakeholders. Senior leaders can’t understand the intimate needs of all of these groups without directly seeking input from these folks.

To build a healthcare system in which learning supported organizational strategy, the CEO and chief learning officer (CLO) committed to widespread participation. They wanted anyone who might have insights to help influence what learning would look like in their system.

Edward Hess, in his provocative book Learn or Die, outlines a basic formula for building an organization that’s continually growing and evolving:

High-Performing Learning Organization =Right People +
Right Environment +
Right Processes

Our process followed the model by fostering a culture of growth among employees at all levels of the organization. Leaders engaged employees in a way that showed humility and used deliberate and inclusive processes to make the organization better.

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Designing Powerful Online Meeting Experiences

Originally published via The Startup on, May 8, 2020

Do online meetings have to be mediocre? With drawings of three faces with faces that aren't very happy.

Most folks have adjusted to the new normal of online meetings. Unfortunately, that means that many have accepted “good enough” by creating mediocre experiences. We know folks can do better. With some careful planning, an online meeting can excite and energize participants.

During April 2020, we trained over 200 people to create better online meetings. We’ve found that folks usually think they need training on the mechanics of Zoom, Teams, or WebEx. Yet, we’ve seen many online meetings turn into disasters when organizers don’t use the medium purposefully.

Please don’t start with technological “bells and whistles.” Instead, have a clear and purposeful meeting design with technology as a support. Sure, any of us can jump into a meeting without a plan, but we’ll rarely get the results we want. Besides, meetings cost a lot of money. Consider two scenarios is this graphic for two weekly one-hour meetings.

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Six Ways to Be Ready for a Campus Shutdown

Originally published on Medium on March 2, 2020

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Sometimes higher education truly has its collective head in the sand. Institutions have left themselves vulnerable to collapse during a long-term campus closure, despite increased risk from extreme weather events and other unexpected catastrophes. I talked with representatives from across the county to understand their preparedness for an extended campus closure. Their responses illuminate the need for creative, innovative approaches to campus and workplace policies.

Japan’s nationwide shutdown of its schools due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) got me thinking about what would happen if universities in the U.S. closed their doors for a month. Even if it doesn’t happen with this pandemic, some natural disaster or other unexpected events will certainly cause campus closures across the country this year. The higher education workplace is generally unprepared to support employees in continuing operations to serve students during campus closures.  

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Giving Up Control to Build a Learning Culture in a Healthcare System

photo of a woman releasing a heat balloon in the nightA case of strategy development through participation in a large, complex organization. 

Few other industries have the potential to impact life and death as much as the healthcare sector.  Healthcare organizations that don’t provide sufficient attention to learning, improvement, and growth put their patients’ safety and well-being at risk.

A team I led facilitated an 18-month process to enhance learning within a 40-location healthcare system with over 12,000 employees that faced unprecedented changes due to internal and external pressures.  The CEO wanted to make learning “everyone’s business,” as opposed to trainer-centric.  The goal was to have “perfect alignment” between overall systemwide strategy and the learning occurring in the system.  To help achieve this goal, the Chief Learning Officer (CLO), who reported directly to the CEO, hired us to facilitate engagement across their system.  He tasked us with helping build a results-oriented mechanism to achieve alignment between strategy and learning.

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Dreaming of the Perfect Marriage: Learning and Organizational Strategy

chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk

Data suggest that leverage points exist to change employee perceptions.

Few chief learning officers (CLOs) disagree they have a mandate to ensure that learning initiatives align with organizational strategy.  A great deal of research exists about how to align the two.  However, what does it look like for employees to connect their learning and development with an actual organization’s strategy?

The term “line of sight” refers to how well an employee can see and understand the connection between their work and organizational strategy.  If employees can see a connection between their daily work and strategy, they can better make decisions about the direction of their individual work and learning.  In particular, it helps employees know where to put their energy when competing priorities exist.  Frankly, strategy doesn’t matter if it doesn’t filter down to employees to affect their daily work.

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How to Respond to Employee Activism

girl on someone's shoulders at a rally with a sign that says "protect kids not guns"Many employees want to do meaningful work and they want their employer to either support or align with their values and identities.  When that doesn’t happen, employees generally have three choices: leave the organization, try to bring change within the organization, or just shut up and deal with it.  The last option is probably the worst  for the employer because it leads to lowered employee engagement.

I recommend providing a relief valve that allows for employees to express themselves when they rise up against a decision or organize themselves to advocate for change within the organization.  In this article, I outline two models employers can use to address employee activism.

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Picking the Perfect Location for an Off-site Retreat or Meeting

photo of serene-looking conference room

Leaders oftentimes delegate the role of handling logistics for an off-site meeting.  However, selecting the right location and ambiance can directly impact the success of the event.  Those in charge of logistics can select an optimal space and room setup to increase the likelihood of the event’s success.

I recently co-facilitated a strategic planning session at a beautiful location in the Sonoma Region of California.  When I arrived, the venue appeared to be perfect: serene grounds and attractive well-maintained facilities.  However, the venue had never been used for a business retreat or meeting.  It normally serves as a wedding venue.  When I walked into the large room for the meeting, I thought “this is perfect.”  The room had expansive windows with lots of natural light, high vaulted ceilings, and hardwood floors.  It looked like an ideal location for a retreat.

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Needs Assessment as a Learning Tool: Three Findings

Neeinnovative looking office with notes pasted on windowds assessment can be used to determine what factors are causing a problem. Can it also be used to improve organizational learning?

With my colleague, Dr. Denise Cumberland, I was involved in a project that sought to understand if needs assessment could be used as an organizational learning tool, in addition to identifying causes of a problem.  We worked with a Fortune 200 quick service restaurant chain and their “broken” new product development process.  Data were gathered from multiple stakeholder groups using interviews and a survey questionnaire.

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Organizational Change in Franchises through Advisory Boards

large board tableHow do franchise organizations build momentum around change and an atmosphere of trust? Franchising brings a unique set of challenges in achieving organizational change.  The main challenge is that franchise organizations actually consist of various firms (called franchisors and franchisees).  One solution is fostering a healthy relationship with franchisees through franchise advisory boards.  At their best, franchise associations and advisory boards help ensure that franchisee voices are heard and that collaborative relationships exist between the franchisor and franchisees.

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Online Learning & Centralization of Commuity College Systems

Workforce development training is an important part of the mission of community colleges.  Increasingly, students need and expect online courses to be an option for some or all of their programs.  I conducted a study looking at why some community and technical colleges offer more online programs than others.  Read More