Transforming Organizations: A New Mindset

Aleen Bayard

After more than a decade as a marketing and communications consultant, Aleen Bayard had plenty of practical experience but felt she needed to deepen her expertise to better address the complex business challenges her clients were facing. She started looking for a graduate program that would provide the academic rigor she needed.

She found that and a lot more as a student in the School of Education and Social Policy’s Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change program.

“It’s like consulting on steroids,” Bayard says. The program gave her new ways to help clients approach their problems as well as more strategies to understand and respond to employees’ and clients’ needs.

Program director Kimberly Scott says students take core courses designed to provide experiential learning in each of three major areas: learning and performance, strategic organizational change and knowledge management.

Scott explains that the program holds an ambitious objective. “Our students develop as leaders who have the vision and capabilities to successfully transform organizations,” she says, pointing to alumni such as Katie Huxley (GSESP04), who joined the program as a programmer and now works as knowledge management and communication specialist for Zurich North America, a commercial property-casualty insurance provider in Schaumburg, Ill.

A practicum, or field experience, is one of the Learning and Organizational Change program’s cornerstones. Huxley’s practicum at Zurich involved helping develop a web-based tool that serves as a virtual storehouse of underwriting guidelines and other insurance-related information. Adopted throughout the organization, the tool has helped Zurich employees deliver higher quality service to their customers on a more consistent basis, Huxley says. As a result of this practicum work, Huxley was offered her current position at Zurich.

Bayard’s practicum took her to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations to help executive-level staff think about how the council could add more value to its corporate membership.

After interviewing council members and their corporate clients, Bayard and two classmates concluded that the council needed to focus less on its programs and more on the nuances of its corporate clients’ needs.

The three students ultimately developed a scorecard that the council could use to more closely align its offerings with what its clients would value most. “It was more matchmaking than sales,” Bayard says.

The students in the program are an experienced crew.

The Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change program requires applicants to have a minimum of three to five years of work experience, but Scott says that the typical student has 7 to 10 years in the workforce, and some students have been in their respective fields for as long as a quarter of a century.

“Many students select our program after having considered other similar types of management programs or organizational development programs,” Scott says, adding that 40 percent of entering students already have an advanced degree.

“The program takes a different approach to preparing people to lead organizational change.

We emphasize the human side of the equation. Our program puts a strong emphasis on community and learning from the experiences people have with each other throughout the program — both inside and outside the classroom.”

Ranging from instruction about human cognition to thinking about helping workers align themselves with organizations’ strategic goals, the emphasis has already proved useful to Bayard.

The management committee of an executive search firm with which Bayard worked wanted to expand into searches for CEOs. The firm contacted Bayard to explore the possibility of a public relations campaign to launch this service. Previously she would have gone along with their plans, but instead she was able to challenge the company to provide evidence that spending money on public relations would produce the desired results. The ensuing silence prompted the firm’s leaders to acknowledge their unarticulated assumption that media coverage leads to business. They then opted to invest in market research to understand their audience.

Bayard says she appreciates the expanded repertoire of skills she has acquired through her participation in the Learning and Organizational Change program. She notes that by asking clients to examine their way of seeing the world, breakthroughs in thinking can occur, resulting in innovative practices.

“It’s another lens or filter that is not commonly understood or explicitly used in business problem-solving,” she says. — J.K.L.