BGSU organization development alumna named Emerging Practitioner of the Year
By Julie Carle
Erin Garland ’19 is in the business of helping Wellstar Health System and its more than 20,000 employees in the Atlanta area be more effective and efficient.
As Wellstar’s executive director of organizational effectiveness, Garland uses the lessons she learned in Bowling Green State University’s Executive Master of Organization Development program in the Allen W. and Carol M. Schmidthorst College of Business to make learning part of her organization’s everyday culture.
The importance of integrating a learning mindset into companies and organizations is one of the mantras she absorbed early in the master’s program. Garland said it was Dr. Corrie Voss, EMOD instructor, who explained that people usually approach life situations through a learning orientation or a performance orientation.
“Hearing that was a big ‘hold-up-the-mirror’ moment for me,” Garland said. “I had really been spending so much of my life in a performance orientation. It was so eye-opening to realize the learning is what’s important.”
It’s an idea that she reflects on regularly and incorporates into her daily work. Her success and influence in the effectiveness of the company and its employees contributed to Garland being named Emerging Practitioner of the Year in 2020 by the Organization Development Network (ODN).
“Erin is the epitome of the consummate emerging organization development practitioner,” Dr. Deborah O’Neil, director of the program, said in her nomination letter. “She believes in the power of organization development to positively transform individuals and organizations and applies that belief to everything she does.”
In addition to her work, Garland has also taken a volunteer role in ODN. In 2019, she joined the organization’s social impact committee and helped spearhead Social Impact Day. The initiative provided pro bono consulting to nonprofit organizations by teams of experienced and emerging OD practitioners. She and members of the team published their results that demonstrated ODN’s commitment to give back to public benefit organizations and to provide reciprocal learning opportunities to its members. The event was so successful that she was asked to chair the 2020 event, which ended up being a virtual event because of the pandemic.
Voss said Garland exhibits three important traits that are foundational for an exceptional organization development practitioner: intellectual curiosity, devotion to our humanistic values and pursuit of personal and professional growth. “She demonstrates our values by keeping people at the heart of everything she does, listening authentically, treating others with respect and advocating for equality in all spaces.”
Garland knows those skills are vital to any organization’s culture of learning. The current pandemic environment is significantly affecting every industry, every organization and health care in particular,” she said. “Our folks are on the front lines, and we have to be responsive to how they are feeling.”
While her job is to keep the organization moving forward, she acknowledged that, especially in times of high stress with COVID-19, it is important “to take some of the burden off of the frontline employees and work in alignment with their needs.”
“I’m continuously looking for ways to incorporate different facilitation techniques and tools that they can use in their own work,” she said. “We help shift the organization to that learning orientation and make it safe and comfortable for folks to feel like they can engage in those stretch assignments.”
“Health care is one of our most essential industries, particularly given the current interrelated crises of public health and social justice,” O’Neill said. “Having someone of Erin’s character, compassion and competence in an OD leadership position in this essential industry, should give us all a measure of confidence and comfort."
From Art History to Organization Development
Garland’s path to organization development started, not in business, but in art history.
“Most people assume that you have to have a business background to be in organization development, but you don't,” Garland said. “You can come from any walk of life and be able to enter into this world to make an impact.”
She landed at Quad Graphics, a Wisconsin company that offered a rotational training program. Ultimately, she found the perfect fit in the learning department where she worked on the competency side of adult learning instead of the technical training side.
After eight years, she moved into the health care industry in a more traditional internal organization development role.
“I really loved it, but I sometimes felt like I was limited by my own knowledge or access to resources to find the best solution for my clients,” she said about her decision to pursue a master’s degree in the industry.
She checked various OD programs and said BGSU had some key differentiators for what she was looking for (See her top six reasons for choosing BGSU’s EMOD program). She wanted a program that would help her “become more efficient and effective for client work and allow me to support greater positive change within the organization.”
Garland said the program went quickly because there is so much to learn. “The cohort was so much fun and I’m so grateful for the relationships we built.”
“I felt like I found a career that was aligned to some of my natural inclinations and skill sets,” she said. “I found my people who like the same things and can talk about this.” And they continue to stay connected through regular conversations and occasional virtual get-togethers.
A year after she earned her EMOD degree, Garland accepted the Wellstar Health job and moved to Atlanta last July in the midst of the pandemic. The EMOD program helped give her the tools and the confidence to make the move from Wisconsin to Atlanta to serve in the new role.
“I tell people this program was life changing,” Garland said. “I grew so much, both personally and professional. I honestly don’t know where I would be without it.”