By Sarah Beart & Dev Mookherjee

When a senior leader realises that their organisation is not performing well, or well enough, they often commission a redesign, and task a small design group to start thinking about how they could be better organised. The temptation for the design team is to start tinkering with org charts, add in new roles to bridge perceived gaps, and identify savings and synergies.

However, we believe that what SHOULD take centre stage at this point is getting the design team sufficiently clear and aligned on the strategy. After all, you want them to be designing based on choices you have made about the purpose of the organisation and your beliefs about how it will succeed in possible future contexts, in short, you want the FORM of the organisation to follow its FUNCTION. So we are always curious about how people understand the strategy, and how well-designed the organisation is to make it happen.

Often leaders are impatient to see an org chart, and resist opening up any conversation about strategy at this stage. Many have a fear opening the Pandora’s box of strategy. Or they are impatient “we’ve talked ENDLESSLY about the strategy and everyone is PERFECTLY CLEAR! GRRRR” (often accompanied with an eye roll).  But as one of Michael Frayn’s characters in Matchbox Theatre comments “There are masses of things I want to be clear about. Since I am being so absolutely clear about them, and since one totally transparent thing looks so much like another totally transparent thing, it’s difficult to tell one from the other.”

Inquiring into the Strategy: what we find

Often people do know the headlines, and the desired outcome but they haven’t thought about HOW it’s going to happen. When starting a process of re-design we often carry out interviews with a range of staff and stakeholders with questions including:

– How clear are you about the strategy (they often know at least some of WHAT the strategy is but have little idea of how they choose to make it happen)

– How well organised are you to deliver the strategy? Frequently this provokes a tumbleweed moment – because people haven’t had time to think about this – whether the current form really does enable what they’re trying to achieve.

In his 1992 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” These inquiry questions pull the tide right out on the strategy and exposes the flotsam and jetsam of strategic thinking, unresolved or unspoken disagreements about strategy (and maybe the odd wreck of previous strategies).

Any senior team who are going to be making the decisions about org design need to have a good enough shared understanding of a good-enough shared strategy if they are going to make good decisions about the design. So that’s where good participative organisation design starts.

Inquiry about terminology should not be avoided – it is the work!

Often, we find that time is expended by groups working on design on understanding what others’ mean when they use certain terms. There is a “dialogic pull” to move to a shared language around what we are trying to do and what we mean by different activities. Examples of this are what exactly is being done under the banner of “commercial” or “compliance” or “operations”. Different parts of the organization may have very different assumptions about the activities implied by different terms. We would suggest that you don’t fight the need for conversation – it’s no reflection on you if there are things that need clearing up, or that new ideas emerge. It’s a natural part of doing org design work, to be welcomed and allowed space and time.

This strategic conversation helps you build a coherent shared narrative about why you needed to redesign, why you have chosen the design you have chosen and how you expect this to help you deliver your strategy

In summary

– Org design is done to help you deliver strategy, so it requires you to look at strategy

– This is needed and not to be feared

– Good participative org re-design processes help you get your senior team to have a shared language and sense of purpose

– This helps you take the rest of the organization along because there is a clear enough shared narrative about the need for re-design and the background to the choices you have made – you will be appropriately clothed for conversations with the wider organisation

Need help with your organization design conversations? Get in touch!

We at Metalogue have developed a tool (www.orgwith.com) to help in-house organization designers to facilitate activity-based design conversations. If you would like a demo of Orgwith™ get in touch at the following email address: orgwith-admin@metalogue.co.uk

Sources

Buffett, Warren. Berkshire Hathaway: Letter to Shareholders (1992)

Frayn, Michael. (2014) “Matchbox Theatre: thirty short entertainments”, Faber & Faber: London

Goold, M & A. Campbell. “Do you have a well designed organization?” in Harvard Business Review, March 2002

Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409. Quoted on Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function

Photo: Dev Mookherjee

#orgdesign #strategy #od #facilitation #facilitationtech #hrtech #orgwith

Organisation re-design traps

Organisation re-design bear traps

By Dev Mookherjee and Sarah Beart

Many of us have experienced organisation re-design processes that have destroyed trust and value in the organisations in which we work. (Some of us have even been responsible for them). When things go wrong, it’s often down to misguided assumptions about what’s needed, usually based on good intentions and responding to organisational pressures. Letting off steam over the holidays, we listed some of the most-tempting bear traps for the organisation designer. Warning: this post contains irony!

1. Ensure no link to strategy. You don’t really understand what the strategy means anyway, and checking for understanding may well expose your ignorance.

‎2. Ask the HR Director to come up with the new structure over the weekend, they will come up with a new organigram, or better still ‎outsource the re-design process to a consultancy – they have tried and tested templates to do “this sort of thing”. The best thing about this approach is that you could blame them if the re-structuring gets too painful and this allows you to remain “off the hook”.

‎3. Do early planning in secret, announce the high-level plan and then maintain radio silence (while all your good people look for other jobs). You don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep. If you involved people you would be forced to take on board their ideas and that’s not a good idea as you’ve made your mind up already. This is a great tip if you are an avid practitioner and advocate of “mushroom management”.

4. Build your new structure around the people you like, and use the opportunity of the restructure to get rid of the “dead wood” you were never able to give difficult feedback to. They will never know that you thought they weren’t any good at the job anyway.

5. Assume that the structure you choose will act as a kind of magic wand to disappear all the unhelpful behaviour and perverse incentives you now have. Act surprised when these things resurface in the new set up.

‎6. Come up with only one structural option. No time to waste and you know what you need to do anyway. You could copy the design that your closest competitor has – after all it works for them. Or go back to a previous design which, with the benefit of hindsight, looks better than what you have now.

7. ‎Rush the re-design. After all, you don’t want people to be worried for too long and we all know that “time is money”.

8. Keep the re-design disconnected from culture and feelings – you don’t want any of that soft stuff creeping in to your nice tidy organigram. You can always mop up later with some kind of specialist therapy.

9. Run some organisation re-design workshops to consult the workforce, and smile broadly at people who come up with ideas that suit your secret plans, frown at those whose ideas contradict it. They’ll all soon get the message.

10. Invent a lot of jargon, acronyms and strange job titles to bandy about. It will help you stay on top of the conversations.

Recognise any of these or have others to add? Drop us a line at: devmookherjee@metalogue.co.uk or sarahbeart@metalogue.co.uk.

Avoiding organisation design traps

Successfully avoiding bear traps on your organisation re-design journey

So…you think you need to re-structure? Really?

Organisation design

Re-structuring – the organisation defibrillator

We are often asked whether we could support a company re-design. The conversation usually starts something like this…”We have decided to re-structure our organisation and would like some help on how to do this well – can you help us”? We then respond… “What is the question you are trying to answer, and what makes you think re-structuring is the right answer to your question”?

At this point some clients are bemused (or irritated) that we seem to challenge what they see as an obvious need. Others seem relieved and intrigued by the possibility of having a range of choices available to them.

Restructuring: the design option of last resort

Our view is that re-structuring should be seen as the option of last resort – the one you turn to when others won’t solve your problem.

Why do we say this? Well, large scale re-structuring is often disruptive to the people in the business, takes time (research suggests most take over a year to bed in) and can have a negative impact on clients during the transition. A client described the experience of re-structuring as “fixing a running car”.

We are not though saying that re-structures are never appropriate, indeed we make a living out of supporting them, just that they should not be initiated without understanding of their impact and the other organisation design choices available.

Client experience of an alternative design option

A recent client has had a chronic issue around the fact that accountability for decisions was so opaque and freedom for managers so great that this resulted in duplication of activities and confusion for clients as they received different offers from different departments in the same organisation. Rather than restructuring, the initial preferred option, they were able to make significant improvements by clarifying decision rights on critical decisions. In the process they got under the skin of their culture to understand and address their aversion to consistency and clarity.

When are re-structures helpful?

There are however a number of circumstances where re-structures (not structural tweaks) seem to be helpful and appropriate…

1. when you have tried addressing the other design policy areas on Jay Galbraith’s Star Model (people, process, rewards) and the results have come up short;

2. when the scale of the challenge is big and urgent and perhaps mandated due to an acquisition or divestment;

3. when you have clear evidence that structure is the critical barrier to delivering your strategy;

4. if you believe the organisation needs the equivalent of an electrical jolt to the heart to re-pattern its activity.

If you are still clear that re-structuring in the right answer given the above then hang on to the moving vehicle or grab the defibrillator and stand clear…