At Mayvin, we’ve been exploring the reasons for and against Organisation Design.
An Organisation Development consultant colleague of mine likes to tell the following story. It helps to illustrate the pros and cons of organisation design.
Back when I had a ‘proper job’, I ended up redesigning a department following the arrival of a dynamic, new boss with a reputation for getting things done. She had spent a few weeks watching and asking questions and then declared that we were broken. Her diagnosis was that brilliant people being hampered by a weak strategy, unclear objectives, poor processes, no leadership, limp performance management and an unhealthy culture.
‘What we need,’ declared my new boss over lunch one day, ‘is a redesign. That will sort things out. We’ll start with the structure.’ She drew what she had in mind on a paper napkin.
And so we did our restructure. We did it rather well, if I say so myself. My boss was a skilful and experienced manager and her ‘back of the envelope’ design wasn’t wrong. Several months later we had successfully seen it through. The right people were in the right jobs and reporting to the right people. Their job roles were clearer and better articulated and we sorted out the key business processes. No one had left and people generally were feeling pretty engaged.
But the process took masses of energy and attention and caused a lot of anxiety for everyone involved, not least of all my boss. It left people weary and some a bit bruised. Not only that, but once the dust had settled we were distressed to note that the problems that afflicted our department were still there. Somehow we’d forgotten all the other elements of that original diagnosis that also needed attention as part of the redesign. The strategy was still the strategy, leadership hadn’t changed and the culture was still the culture. People still weren’t able to hold each other to account. It was as if everything had changed and yet nothing had changed. It was another two years of hard graft before we’d addressed those wider issues and we really started to do well.
Anyone working in OD (whether the D is for Development or Design) won’t be surprised at this story. The excellent Burke-Litwin model refers to Structure and Business Processes as ‘Transactional Factors’ – secondary in their impact to strategy, leadership and culture. As a consultant I find that my clients are very keen to turn to structure and processes as a first port of call, seduced perhaps by the fact that they are tangible.
The famous quote (wrongly) attributed to various eminent Romans is often cited in this context. (In fact the quote is from the American journalist and author Charlton Ogburn Jr writing of his experiences in the Burma Campaign in WW2.)
We tend to meet any new situation by reorganisation, and a wonderful method it is for creating the illusion of progress at a mere cost of confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.
Organisation Design interventions (by which we mean those interventions that reconfigure the so-called ‘formal organisation’) should be the last port of call for people leading change rather than the first. Why? Because changing the formal organisation is inherently more traumatic than working with the informal organisation – leadership, culture, behaviours, values, mindset. It’s a bit like the difference between Physiotherapy and back surgery. That’s not to say don’t do it, but it is important to know why you are doing it, that it is the most appropriate intervention and that the organisation is ready for a redesign.
The pros and cons of Organisation Design
So here in our view are some good reasons to embark on Organisation Design interventions.
- To respond to major changes in the external environment
- To resolve a specific strategic business challenge or take advantage of a specific strategic opportunity. (Either way it should be possible to come up with a clear business case for the redesign work.)
- Because a new strategy requires a fundamentally different set of organisational priorities
- To enable major growth or shrinkage
Here are some less good reasons (although sometimes the political pressure associated with such situations becomes too great and a redesign becomes inevitable.)
- In response to public dissatisfaction with the current organisation
- Reaction to an adverse event
- To please the organisation’s ‘Tops’
Here are some terrible reasons that may be all too familiar.
- To deal with a poor performer – in other words to avoid a difficult conversation
- Because the new boss wants to make a mark or shake things up
- To feel like you are doing something useful
At Mayvin we have a range of tools to help you decide whether Organisation Design work is going to be right for you and also whether your organisation is ready for to take on design work. To find out more about our ‘People Change’ approach to Organisation Design or to join in the conversation do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.