Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Neely Gardner and the State Fund Experience: 25 Years after a Large-Scale OD Intervention

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Neely Gardner and the State Fund Experience: 25 Years after a Large-Scale OD Intervention

Article excerpt


This article was prepared as a response to observations Frank Sherwood shared with the pre-conference memorial symposium on the late Neely Gardner.(1) The symposium was sponsored by the Section for Professional and Organization Development (SPOD) at the American Society for Public Administration's national conference in Los Angeles, 1990 (Sherwood, 1990:2,3):

I have read rather widely about OD interventions and taught a course in that area for a number of years. There is, however, no report of an intervention that I have found as exciting and consequential as Neely's in the [California] State Comp[ensation Insurance] Fund.

It seems to me there are two imperatives. One is to make sure that Neely's report [Gardner, 1980] on the Comp Fund effort is properly published, though perhaps abbreviated, and therefore made a part of our permanent record. It was an exciting, ground-breaking undertaking at the time and, in my view, remains so today. The second imperative is to discover what has happened to the Fund in the two decades since the intervention. Since we do have a good record of what was intended and what was done at the time, it would be fascinating to discover what 'took' over the 20 years.

Neely Gardner's involvement with the State Fund falls into three phases. The first phase, Management Training, began in the late 1950s. Gardner had been developing his Training-of-Trainers while he was the State Training Officer for the State of California. During this first phase, many of the State Fund's managers participated in training programs organized by Gardner. These training programs included modern management methods, communication, group dynamics, and leadership. The executives also experienced various T-Group sessions with Carl Rogers as well as Robert Tannenbaum.

The second phase, The Organization Development Project, began in 1967 after Al Young became president of the State Fund. He brought Neely Gardner to help reverse the declining quality of service delivery and diminishing earned premium at the State Fund. The third phase was the implementation of Gardner's Training-of Trainers approach to managing change in organizations. It has been noted by others that Neely Gardner's approach has much in common with Total Quality Management (TQM) approaches (Wolf, 1991). Although that comparison will become apparent from time to time in this discussion, that analysis lies outside the scope of this article.

Although Gardner had a variety of relationships with the State Fund, this article's major focus is on his OD intervention. In Part One, the author will provide a review of "what was intended and what was done" during Gardner's OD project (1967-1974). In Part Two he will focus on Gardner's Training-of-Trainers approach to organizational change as an example of how the State Fund put its own special "spin" in fashioning Gardner's ideas into new organizational tools during and after Gardner's OD project (1975-1984). In the long run, however, it seems problematic to consider when an organization change effort is actually over. George Berkely (1971:3) notes:

As this book was being finished, I received word from manager [Al] Young that the Fund no longer viewed their effort as an experiment. All the field offices were operating in this new fashion and the organizational change was now, in Young's words, "a fact of life."

The State Fund "experiment" became operational in 1971, but it has retained a continuing process of change even today. Although Gardner's formal involvement in the organization development effort continued for seven years, the life of this "project" can be gauged better by the long-term persistence of many of the dynamic organizational changes that were initiated by Al Young and Neely Gardner in 1967. In Part Three the author will present an appraisal of what "took" over the past quarter century.


The State Fund is an agency of the State of California, established by legislation and organized in 1914 to provide "competitive" workers' compensation insurance coverage to employees located in California (State Fund, 1989). …

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