Starting your Re-design Process? Ask the Audience!

Organisation Design

by Dev Mookherjee

11 June, 2023

So, you’ve decided to embark on an organisation re-design – what next?

Well, you are going to need to decide on a design team  to create a design, and you will need data, input and perspectives to work with.  Although, like many of our clients, you might like to jump straight to the answer, you will need an inquiry/discovery process, which involves asking people for their perspectives and input into the current state and what could be improved. In this blog we explain why you need to interview people, who and how many to speak to, and what you should ask them.

 

Why bother asking people?

 

There are 3 reasons why we find it helpful to speak to a number of people early in the process.

1. Increasing the number of people consulted improves decision quality

Part of the answer was offered by Marquis de Condorcet who, in his 1785 Jury Theorem, suggested that the quality of decisions could (potentially) be improved by increasing the number of people consulted. Fast forward to Wisdom of Crowds and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and the idea of engaging widely is now pretty mainstream!

2.  Starting conversations about the problem builds organisation-wide attention on them,  and on possible solutions

From a more academically grounded perspective, complexity thinking suggests that the mere act of intentional inquiry has the capacity to amplify and build momentum on solution-finding, even if we can’t control how this will happen. Given that organisation design has such a significant impact on so many in an organisation, it’s really helpful for people to be giving some attention to possible solutions.

3. Involving people improves both work satisfaction and decision quality

Finally, we know from our experience that those invited to contribute to a shared picture value being listened to.  Black & Gregerson[i] found that involving those with relevant knowledge in decision making improves decision quality and participants in the decision process benefit from increased performance and satisfaction. Meaningful inquiry allows participants a chance to bring their experiences of the informal patterns of organising into the formal process, allowing for a richer, more realistic and nuanced picture to emerge.

 

Who should you speak to?  

We suggest the following as a starting point, and the list should include those chosen to be members of a design team.

We start first with the LINKED mnemonic we use for selecting a design team.

L – The leader of the unit. This conversation will be important for them to express and get clearer in their own minds what the reasons for the re-design are, and how delivery of the strategy could be supported by changes to the organisation’s design. Sometimes the conversation forces them to stop in their tracks to rethink whether re-design really is the right approach.

I – Implementers – some of those who will implement the design chosen by the design team.

NNovelty – those with a fresh perspective on the organisation, including those who have recently joined and are able to spot some of the challenges of the existing design that long-timers may no longer notice.

KKnowledge – those who know what work needs to be done and how it is done and with whom.

EExisting leaders – it is worth speaking to all the leadership team, even if only a small number will be involved in the design team, as others may offer useful counter-narratives.

D – Diversity of perspectives. Significant organisation re-design processes don’t come around often and you don’t want to lose the opportunity for casting the net wide to hear different views. This may include trade union members, members/leaders of organisational networks. We have in the recent past interviewed leaders of LGBTIQ, introverts and disability networks, and we strongly encourage you to consider your EDI ambitions as you create the list of people to interview.

Others you may well want to speak to include the following (POACH):

P- Partners – major organisational partners who your organisation work closely with and rely on may have a view on how well or not your current design helps or hinders their work.

O- Owners – your parent organisation or family owners (if a family business) are likely to have some very clear views on the strategy and design and will expect to be spoken to.

A- Analytics leads – those who currently hold data on the organisation and existing structure which would be of value to a design team. If nothing else, they will be able to establish “as-is” data points (number of people, costs, layers etc.) which will be of use down the track.

CClients – they may have a view about how the current organisation is serving their needs and what they would like to see more of. At the very least the design team should have sight of recent feedback from clients.

H – HR & Finance – functional leads and particularly those who are close to the unit and will be involved in any final decision and implementation. Finance will be important as they will often need to pull together a “from – to be” costing or cost benefit analysis. HR will also have a view of levels of staff and leader engagement and capability in the existing organisation design, and thoughts on what might help.

 

How many people?

Well…25  respondents seems to be the sweet spot based purely on our experience, almost regardless of organisation size. Any fewer than this and the coverage of those on the suggested inquiry list gets thin. Any more and you end up with diminishing returns. Remember – there needs to be sufficient face validity in the interviewee list for sceptics to be reassured that the overall process and final decision is valid.

 

Questions to ask

1) How clear are you on the strategy of the organisation on a scale of 0-5 (where 0 is very unclear)? This flushes out understanding of the strategy which will be needed later in the process.

2) What do you understand it to be? This gives you a view across interviews whether all have a similar understanding

3) What is it about how the unit is organised that supports the delivery of the strategy? This should highlight what you want to retain – the proverbial baby you don’t want thrown out with the bathwater!

4) What is it about how the unit is organised that gets in the way of the delivery of the strategy and needs to be addressed? This should identify issues and provide solid input to later crafting of design principles.

5) If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about how the unit is organised that would make the biggest difference, what would it be, and why? This helps early gathering of possible routes to solution.

It’s worth recording actual statements and checking with respondent’s whether you can later share these in an unattributed way, using the Chatham House Rule.

Finally, remember that even after asking the audience you still have to come up with your decision as a design team. At least you know that you have drawn on the collective wisdom of your organisational crowd as you start the process of making your decision!

[i] Black, J.S.; Gregersen, H.B. (1997). “Participative Decision-Making: An Integration of Multiple Dimensions”. Human Relations. 50 (7): 859–878. doi:10.1177/001872679705000705. S2CID 145669862.

 

 

 

Starting your Re-design Process? Ask the Audience!

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