“On a vu une jolie demoiselle…”

So started the day. “We saw a pretty girl.”

It’s been a long time coming. A company going through a radical transformation – a real one – where the way they work together, talk to each other, share information and make decisions is actually visibly changing. Driven of course by business imperatives, and also by a new CEO who really does want to do things differently.

Who is a great leader in many ways. Who is brave enough to try new things and new ways of working – even though he has worked in the organisation his whole career. Who has a clear sense of the future of the business, and listens to his team. Who has deliberately sought out different external perspectives, as well as paying attention to the organisation’s history and existing culture.

He is creating a leadership team that meets, shares information and makes decisions together, where before there were 15 individuals who met once a month to have information given to them. This is a team where senior leaders are collaborating in ways they didn’t in the past, when the organisation was much more siloed, and the decision making process was much simpler: the most senior person decided. Simple.

The organisation has gone through not one but two participatory exercises; one to decide on a strategy and the other to come up with new brand positioning. A really exciting new brand positioning which is a change of direction, and is both credible and aspirational.

This new branding was being shared with a key group of managers today, so they could start to share it with their teams. Again – in the spirit of co-construction.

The theory and the practices I’ve spent nigh on 20 years studying and perfecting are being called into play. I am making a difference. It has the potential to be a great case study.

So why am I banging on about gender and sexism (again), I hear you ask? Why am I so narked at being described as a ‘jolie demoiselle’?

And what does this have to do with change and organisational development?

Professor of Management Joyce Fletcher talks about disappearing acts. They are things that women do that are necessary to the functioning of an organisation – and, I would argue,  become even more essential in the context of an organisation that is changing.

They fall into 4 categories:

1) Preserving: taking responsibility for the whole in order to preserve the life and well-being of the project;
2) Mutual empowering: enacting an expanding definition of outcome to include outcomes embedded in others such as increased knowledge or competence;
3) Self-achieving: using relational skills to enhance the ability to achieve goals; and;
4) Creating team: creating background conditions in which group life can flourish and the feeling of a team can be experienced.

The key insight from Fletcher though is that women do these essential things – and those same things are then ‘disappeared.’

Neither women nor men recognise what was done, the time that it took, or its importance for the well-being and health of the organisation.

I would argue that in a time of organisational change, there is an even more pressing need for the above: enabling group life, taking responsibility for the whole, enabling others to deliver are all critical ingredients for successful organisational change. That is why I do these things.

It’s not because I am nice. Trust me – I am not. I just want the job done.

A few things I have done in the last 4 weeks that fall into these categories include agreeing to be here today for this brand launch in the first place. When the conversation came up about the need to prepare the senior managers for this day, there was a heated conversation among the directors about who would actually facilitate the day. I had stated a number of times that I would not be there – having travelled every week out of the last three months I was really keen to have a full week at home. As tempers frayed, I stepped in and said I’d be there. Fletcher would categorise this as focusing on task – extending job beyond defined boundaries and doing ‘whatever it takes.’ Then I spent four hours preparing an operations director who lacks the presentation skills to present the new brand to his team of senior managers. Aside from pulling together the materials for him, myself and another (senior) woman spent two hours ensuring that he understood the work that had taken place. I spent another two hours briefing him on it. Tell me the last time you saw two men spending two hours trying to ensure that a female senior leader will look good in front of their team? It’s a classic mutual empowering move: giving help without making the receiver feel guilty or inadequate.

So when I walked in today to spend the day with a group of 13 senior managers, who just happened to all be male, I wasn’t feeling like a ‘jolie demoiselle.’ I was feeling a sense of professional responsibility for the organisation. For the transformation that the CEO is trying to bring about. For the operations director. For the 13 senior managers in the room who will be asked to go and engage their teams differently from the past.

Over lunch we talked about great customer experiences we had had. I told them that on a recent flight, I’d been invited by the pilot to come into the cockpit for the landing and that it had been a completely different experience to seeing things from the passenger window. “He was flirting with you!” came the reply. (Probably true, thinks the cynic in me)

In conversation, we talked about what they might need in order to run good sessions with their teams. I said that if they wanted someone could run the sessions with them. “Are you available?” came the question. With a wink and a knowing laugh. Oh how we all laughed.

And here is the pattern – I have been here before. We get to the end of the day, and I’ve established some form of professional respect and working relationship. I’ve disagreed with them on some things and challenged them on others, and generally I’ve made a good amount of sense. We shake hands and say goodbye, and there is some comment along the lines of “I hope you didn’t mind our teasing?”

Well actually I did. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not funny. And there were 13 of you. And there was one of me – and you did your level best to put me in the ‘jolie demoiselle’ box.

The ‘jolie demoiselle’ box is not a place I can help you from.

Because I, like all of us, I need to be seen and recognised for who I am (an OD consultant with over 20 years professional experience behind me, among other things) and the contribution I make to the effectiveness and success of the organisation and the individuals inside it.

And just as importantly, because this organisation will not shift and grow without some more of the type of behaviour and skills that I, and that women more typically, bring.

If all that is remembered from my work today is a ‘jolie demoiselle,’ then I too have been disappeared, and I have little hope that real organisational change can happen.

 

 

Reference
Fletcher, J. (1999). Disappearing Acts. Cambridge, Mass, USA: The MIT press.

It is still by no means business as usual. While the impact of the pandemic has varied from individual to individual, we are all living with less certainty, often more anxiety and questioning some of the taken for granted in our lives.

Many organisations and teams need to re-evaluate and adapt their structures or ways of working to adapt to the new reality. So we thought it would be useful to share what we are learning about organisational re-design. The broad principles we follow continue to apply, however, some things need to be emphasised more than ever. These are our 10 top tips, re-visited in the context of our recent experiences:

1. Keep linking design to strategy. At this time of heightened uncertainty the importance of making sense together is even more crucial. From an organisation design perspective, be as clear as you can be on what the strategy is AND see organisation design as an opportunity to continue to engage people in the development and the implementation of strategy. We’ve had many a light bulb moment in workshops as the implications of a strategy memo suddenly become much clearer. This is critical given how much is changing around us at the moment.

2. Create a small but representative design team. With a clear remit and the right facilitation support they will design for the strategy and for the future, and most importantly feel ownership of the new design.

3. Continue to share as much as you can. We’ve seen great examples of very open communication by CEOs and leaders over the the last year. This is very important given that distrust and paranoia thrive in a vacuum. The same principle applies to organisation design work: pay particular attention to communicating the process and decisions to those who are not part of the design team.

4. Build a “warts and all” picture of what is and isn’t working at the moment. Share that picture (with the warts) as you start the re-design work so everyone has shared context from which to work.

5. Start by paying attention to process- the outcome will follow. As soon as the words re-design, or restructure are mentioned, naturally most people start to try and second guess what the outcome will be in terms of individuals and roles. Although it may seem counter intuitive, our experience suggests that the most helpful thing to focus on is what your redesign process will be. If you have a good process, you’ll get a good outcome- even if you don’t yet know what that will look like.

6. Conversely, beware of easy answers. This might be the sketch someone (the CEO / an expert consultant) has drawn up on the back of an envelope that is presented as “the answer”. It might not be a bad idea, but it won’t have the right level of ownership across the organisation for a successful implementation.

7. Be pacey, but don’t rush it. Re-design work is important for any organisation and has significant implications, so it’s important to take the time to get it right. That doesn’t mean it has to take years. Our experience suggests that 6-8 weeks is enough to come up with a well thought through robust organisational design. Bringing it to life will however take much longer – see point 9.

8. Be creative. The design process needs to encourage thinking outside of the box. The obvious example from this year has been virtual and multi site teams becoming the norm. It’s also highlighted how we can also be creative about the process itself. Our clients have been surprised at the quality of work that they have been able to do virtually instead of face to face, and it’’s even led us to develop an app to facilitate organisation design processes virtually. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that…

9. Plan for implementation up-front. A significant re-design always requires implementation resource: leadership time, HR support, internal communication and project coordination. Don’t let yourself be surprised by this.

10. Plan for transition support. Individuals find themselves in new roles having to do all the core business of management (i.e. set new KPIs, implement new governance processes, create new leadership teams etc) AND will need to provide emotional support to their teams who will be going through transitions themselves. At the best of times, this will typically takes 6 months for individuals to feel settled in a new structure. It will take longer in the present context and not providing appropriate support risks not realising the benefits of your re-design.


What you would add from your own experience? email us at sophypern@metalogue.co.uk


For more information and insight on organisation designing see our 2020 Research report into designing organisations

It is by no means business as usual for anyone during this crisis period. While the impact varies from individual to individual, we are all living with less certainty, often more anxiety, and questioning some of the taken for granted in our lives.

Organisations too are re-thinking what they do, and how they do it- in many cases coming right back to fundamental questions of meaning and purpose. Our engineering clients are engaging with the challenges of building ventilators and producing PPE. Our clients in tourism have been concerned with getting people home safely- and playing their part in keeping the supply chain going for vital things such as food & medicine.

Like many consultancies we have been asked to find innovative ways of continuing essential assignments. Indeed people have been surprised at how much you can still get done in the virtual space once you get over the new rules of engagement.  Sarah Beart’s blog on virtual working  is well worth reading on these.

We have noticed that many organisations are needing to re-evaluate and adapt their structures or ways of working to adapt to the new reality. The broad principles we follow continue to apply,  however some things need to be emphasised more than ever.

With that in mind, our (slightly revisited) 10 top tips for organisation design are…

1.  Be as clear as you can be on what the strategy is AND see organisation design as an opportunity to continue to engage people in the development and the implementation of strategy. At this time of heightened uncertainty the importance of making sense together is even more crucial. We’ve had many a light bulb moment in workshops as the implications of a strategy memo suddenly become much clearer- this will be even more the case at the moment.

2. Create a small and representative design team to work on this and give them a clear remit. With the right facilitation support they will design for the strategy & for the future- and most importantly feel ownership of the new design.

3. Pay even more attention than usual to communication. We’ve seen great examples of very open communication by CEOs in the last 6 weeks- very conscious that distrust and paranoia thrive in a vacuum. The same also applies to organisation design work: even more attention than usual needs to be paid to communicating on the process and the decisions that are being taken to those who are not part of the design team.

4. Build a real warts and all picture of what is and isn’t working about the current structure. And share that picture (with the warts) as you start the re-design work so you have enough shared context from which to work.

5. Trust that a good design process (like ours) will get you to a good outcome for your organisation– even though no one knows at the outset what that outcome will be. As we said to a workshop participant recently “We haven’t failed yet”.

6. Beware of the sketch someone (the CEO/ an expert consultant) has drawn up on the back of an envelope and which is “the answer”. It might not be a bad idea- but it won’t have the right level of ownership in the organisation to allow for a successful implementation

7. Be pacey – but don’t rush it. This work is important for any organisation and has significant implications- so it’s important to take the time to get it right. That doesn’t mean it has to take years. Our experience suggests that 6-8 weeks is enough to come up with a well thought through robust organisational design.

8. Be creative. In the last few weeks face to face workshops have gone virtual- and clients have been positively surprised at the quality of work that they have been able to do.

9. Plan for implementation up-front. A significant re-design always requires implementation resource: leadership time, HR, internal communication and some project coordination. Don’t be surprised by this!

10. Plan for transition support. Individuals will end up in new roles needing to do all the “traditional” management stuff (set new KPIs, implement new governance processes, create new leadership teams etc) AND in all likelihood with individuals in their teams requiring significant emotional support. At the best of times it will typically takes 6 months to individuals to be fully up & running in a new structure. It might take longer this time, and not providing appropriate support runs the risk of not realising the benefits of your re-design.

We hope these tips and pointers are helpful. What would you add from your own experience?

 

In our work with culture and transformation, we often talk about the importance of narrative and metaphor. In fact we wrote a report about this just recently. ( Metalogue report on Transformation )

So it’s always pleasing when what we say is illustrated by others – in this case by Greta Thunberg in particular. If you manged to miss her speech to the UK parliament here it is (Greta Thunberg speech).

What has struck us about it is the change in narrative

For 30 years we’ve talked about “sustainable development”. And she has offered a completely different phrase: ‘climate crisis”. And the game changes.

Speaking personally- for years I’ve been aware, probably a bit more than most, of the importance of somebody somewhere doing something about the climate stuff. And I’ve made some micro changes- better recycling, a bit less meat, and known there were other things I should do- but you know, I’m busy, there is lots going on and I will get to it later..

And yet in reading her speech, and many other articles and reports since then, what is clear to me is that “later” needs to turn into “now”. Because you don’t deal with a crisis later. You do it now. The sense of urgency that has been lacking for so many years is suddenly there. It feels deeply uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. For me- and of course, because Greta has chosen to speak in the name of the future- for my children and for the natural world which we are part of.

Her choice to speak for others, for the future and for the planet, is an immensely powerful leadership act

Her skill in doing so is remarkable.

So in the last fortnight, some very different conversations things have taken place in our home, with clients, colleagues and friends. And we have changed how we source food, what we eat, our travel plans. I’ve talked to senior clients about what their real contribution to the climate issue is. I’ve talked with friends about what they would re-imagine in their professions if environmental impact was a key consideration. There’s excitement and interest. Political parties are taking notice…What is required is cultural change on a scale we rarely think about.

Much like cultural change in an organisation, no single or individual act does the trick

It requires action from power and institutions, but also from each of us. It remains to be seen whether this is in fact a tipping point in terms of how we collectively face up to these issues, and make real deep changes. And because we are social beings the power of the collective will be there encouraging us not to disrupt too much, and holding us to our current and past ways of doing. Making deeply necessary changes will feel risky and uncomfortable, and will require courage. It will require being different, and finding the words to explain why we are being different.

 

Christmas has been and gone, January – dry or otherwise- is well and truly underway and New Year’s resolutions are starting to fade. Noses back to the grindstone then. So why work?

It’s a question worth asking.

Bills to pay? Clearly a driver for most of us.

And yet sadly for my bank balance I never figured out how to work just for money. As I approach the third decade of my working life I have to acknowledge that I am incapable of working in a set-up that doesn’t match to my values. Put simply- I have to feel that I am doing good work with good people to get out of bed in the morning. And I can’t fake it.  (It’s a strength and a liability- this inability to toe other people’s lines also seems to run in my family- but that is another blog).

So money is a driver- and I argue that it benefits us as change consultants to dig a little deeper.

Our senior clients typically have choices about which organisations to work in, which roles and projects to take up. The extent to which they are willing to exercise these choices vary.  Few and far between are senior individuals with no choice at all. They also have significant influence over the type of roles and assignments they create for those working for them, and the extent to which those working with them stay or go.

And yet many of us fall into the trap of assuming that the people around us really are just working for money. The somewhat taboo question of why do you work?” is rarely asked at work.This is particularly true in organisations with long service- where gradually the idea of people exercising their choices seems a more and more remote possibility as golden handcuffs gently tighten around executive wrists. Some of the most enlivening conversations I have had in the last 12 months have been asking senior managers what they love about their jobs. After the embarrassed laugh and a few deflections people tell you. And although they rarely thank you for asking it’s the type of conversation that creates a different kind of connection. One senior leader very frankly told me “I am motivated by learning- it’s not the money or the title”.

Another hard bitten and demanding CEO who had worked in the Health sector all his life when asked the question about what brought him into this kind of role in the first place became noticeably emotional and shared a very moving story from earlier in his career. I sensed he felt some loss for that ‘person’ who had originally felt compelled to do what he was now doing. And his demeanour lightened at least for the rest of the workshop. This glimpse of his humanity certainly had an impact on me and how I related to him from that point on.  I’m sure the rest of his team would say the same.

I sometimes follow up by asking team leaders what type of role/ project/ environment would best enable each member of their team to flourish. Taking time to think of this enables them to think about what conditions they can create to get the best out of their people. It’s a question they come back to over time.

In the context of organisational change knowing what people hold dear matters.So go ahead.  Ask someone why they work. I’d love to know what you find out.