June 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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Organizational Renewal in the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service

This article reflects the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service's (ACES) considerable efforts to enable its organization to meet the changing needs of the citizens of Alabama today and tomorrow. After an arduous process of reevaluation, prompted by Auburn University's president, ACES created an internal document specifying goals and strategies to be used as a guideline to better serve the citizens of Alabama. This article reflects the importance of organizational renewal and commitment necessary to change for Extension to survive in the 90s.

Suzette M. Jelinek
Extension Associate-Administration
Extension-Auburn University
Internet address: sjelinek@acenet.auburn.edu

Martha R. Johnson
Extension Assistant Director
Alabama Cooperative Extension Service
Auburn University
Internet address: mjohnson@acenet.auburn.edu

William I. Sauser, Jr.
Executive Director and Professor
Outreach and International Programs
Auburn University
Internet address: sauser@business.auburn.edu

In a previous article, "Will Cooperative Extension Survive in the 90s?," it was stated that today's smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable Cooperative Extension was not caused by federal, state, and local deficits alone but by complacency and a fear of change (Graf, 1993). In response to the very issues brought to light in Graf's article regarding complacency and resistance to change, the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES) sought to undertake a tactic of "no fear" in addressing the issue of strategic change. Much as the business sector has reevaluated, realigned, and reorganized, ACES has also embarked upon a process of organizational renewal to meet the needs of the citizens of Alabama today and tomorrow. The following describes how ACES has gone about this transformation.

Closely following his inauguration as Auburn University's 15th president, Dr. William V. Muse appointed a broad-based Twenty-first Century Commission to review the university's operations--including Extension--in order to position Auburn for the upcoming millennium. In response to the recommendations made by the Commission in February of 1993, ACES set the wheels in motion for an organizational renewal process. A total quality management approach was the basis for the review of operations. Thirty ACES employees--broadly representative of the unit--were selected to review the organization's mission and values and to set goals and strategies to carry ACES into the future. It was deemed crucial to receive input from all areas and all levels. District agents, county agents, specialists, and administration alike were incorporated into the renewal process.

After the initial task force met, additional groups representing different districts and specialties held meetings to determine whether the initial document met ACES' needs for the future. After nearly seven months of gathering input and redefining goals and strategies, ACES produced an internal document, "Meeting the Needs of Alabama Today and Tomorrow," as a guide. Six key goals were set forth in the document:

  • employ and develop a competent Extension staff;
  • promote creativity and enhance performance of staff;
  • formulate programs that focus on relevant needs;
  • improve public credibility and visibility;
  • increase effectiveness and efficiency; and
  • build a sense of community, trust, and open communication.

For each of these key goals, step-by-step strategies were identified, timetables were established, and appropriate individuals and groups were identified to implement the strategies.

While the preparation of this document was a feat of exceptional teamwork, it has also set the stage for additional efforts. By adopting an ongoing process of organizational renewal, ACES now must meet the challenge of actually implementing the strategies and accomplishing the goals. To that end, internal steering committees and task force groups have been assigned.

With key leadership endorsement of this process, ACES is challenged to remain committed to its initial efforts and to effectuate its desired outcomes. ACES has a great challenge ahead since, "there's nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things" (Machiavelli as quoted in Schmidt & Finnigan, 1992, p. 148). However, the first essential step in the journey--overcoming resistance to change and planning for organizational renewal--has been taken. We will provide further progress reports as the process continues to unfold.


Graf, K. W. (1993). Will Cooperative Extension survive in the 90s? Journal of Extension, Winter, 30-31.

Meeting the needs of Alabama today and tomorrow: A plan for organizational renewal. (1994). Auburn, AL: Auburn University.

Schmidt, W. H., & Finnigan, J. P. (1992). A race without a finish line: America's quest for total quality. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.