How to Build Successful Organizational Interventions

Topic(s): organizational performance
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (2011)
Article: HR interventions that go viral
Authors: P.R. Yost, J.R. McLellan, D.L. Ecker, G.C. Chang, J.M. Hereford, C.C. Roenicke, J.B. Town, Y.L. Winberg
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Why do some HR interventions fail while others succeed? In this article, Yost et al. (2011) attempt to answer that question by using three different methods: a literature review, a case study, and interviews with a number of senior I-O and HR professionals. 


The authors provided a case study of a successful HR intervention. They noted five important characteristics of the intervention.

  • It was strategic. Resources and tools were written in alignment with business strategy.
  • It was systemic. The intervention complemented and enhanced other company initiatives.
  • It was simple. Resources and tools were simple, easy to read and understand, and written in the language of business leaders (not that of HR).
  • It was sustainable. The intervention was created with the explicit intent to sustain it for a long time.
  • It was sneeze-able. It was designed to be interesting and passed on to others.


The authors also reviewed the literature and interviewed 16 senior I-O and HR professionals about both successful and unsuccessful HR interventions. Both the literature review and interviews focused on characteristics of the organization, characteristics of the intervention, and characteristics of the change agent leading the intervention. Common themes were found in the literature review and the interviews.

Regarding organizational characteristics, support from top management and key stakeholders is very important, as is addressing an organizational need with a sense of urgency. Important intervention characteristics are alignment of the intervention’s strategy and objectives with those of the organization and having a senior leader who will champion the intervention. The change agent leading the intervention also needs to actively engage key stakeholders, build relationships with top management, and plan for (including setting goals and objectives for) the intervention.


Yost, P. R., McLellan, J. R., Ecker, D. L., Chang, G. C., Hereford, J. M., Roenicke, C. C., Town, J. B., & Winberg, Y. L. (2011). HR interventions that go viral. Journal of Business and Psychology, 26, 233-239.

Image credit: istockphoto/ Ridofranz