Transforming Our Impact: An Interview with Peter Lee

photoWhat led you to follow organizational development (OD) as a career?

I had a fantastic mentor. Someone who saw my interest in the field of human resources. She took the time to connect with me and then offered me the chance to spend time with her at work. So, that’s what I did.

Obviously, I didn’t know the technical aspects of the work, but what they did resonated with me.  There was an undeniable emphasis on helping individuals, teams, and organizations improve by focusing on people.

Experiencing her workplace, sealed the deal–I knew what I wanted to do.  It made my university preparation very easy.

What is organizational development?

The definition has shifted over the years. It is grounded in the foundation of increasing an organization’s effectiveness and health through planned behavioural science-based interventions. However, for me, organizational development is really about transformation:  how do we actually transform organizations into places that create real value and positive impact in people’s lives? How do we add to the social line as well as the bottom line?

OD involves various kinds of interventions such as strategy, culture, leadership development, and process improvement. Connecting all these pieces together in an integrated way is what organizational development is all about. This is where transformation takes place.

From an organizational development perspective, what is the biggest challenge businesses face today?

The biggest organizational challenge is navigating through turbulent times:  figuring out how to build capacity for leaders of all levels to adapt, operate, and thrive in ambiguity and complexity. This is the world standing in front of us today.

Is this challenge different than it was 15 or 20 years ago?

Yes. From a corporate perspective there’s been a shift away from taking a paternalistic approach–telling employees what to do and how to be. Previously, this strategy had tendency to work because businesses had “employees for life.”

The world is different today. For example, leaders are way younger than senior level executives 20 years ago. You have people like Tamara Vrooman (CEO, Vancity)  and Darren Entwistle (CEO, Telus), who were CEOs of major institutions in their 30s–something relatively unheard of 20 years ago.

The days of having to pay your dues until you’re 55 before you can enter the executive suite are gone. The world has changed dramatically from that perspective.

The rise and expanded influence of younger leaders is creating a significant transformational shift in the way organizations think and operate. “New leadership” is changing business.


As an organization, how do you simplify things without losing two essential ingredients: the creative/innovative juices or the necessary formal structures? How do you find the sweet spot?

We have two types of work in our lives: the day-to-day pressures (the things we have to respond to urgently) and strategic pressures (the things we know will move us or the organization forward).

Don’t ignore the day-to-day stuff, it is a necessary part of your life. But, don’t put your best energy there. Pump your best energy and effort into a couple of strategic things that will have the biggest impact over a particular period of time (day, week, quarter, year).

As for the whirlwind, day-to-day stuff, just get it to a place of “good enough.”  It will still consume 80% of your life, but it’s the other 20% that you must reserve your best energy for.

Is simplification the best way to achieve better results? What else is involved in ‘excellent execution’?

If you view excellent execution as a system, simplification is one piece of the story. The book The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals offers great insight into the formula for great execution.

The first discipline is to zero-in and focus on the things that are truly important, and then give them your best effort. Simultaneously, you continue to tackle your day-to-day whirlwind.

The second, is to decide what sort of leading behaviours (behaviours that are predictive of your desired outcome and are influenceable by you) will actually make a difference.

Third, keep a scorecard — know if you’re winning or losing in a simple way. If I say the most important thing for me to do is to spend 30 minutes a day reflecting on the strategic plan, I need to track that visually.

Fourth, create accountability mechanisms to assess your efforts and ensure you’re on the right path.

When put together as an integrated system, these four disciplines can have tremendous power.

Nathanael Baker


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