Get the weekly blog directly into your email inbox

Email Address:


divider image

Organization design blog

A busman's holiday

06/19/17  7:40 PM 

We went walking in the Scottish Highlands last week. The idea was to take a holiday: to get away from organization design stuff, book writing, work pre-occupations, and all the normal business as usual of life.

Holidays are supposed to make you more productive when you get back to work, because you've had time for rumination, reflection, mind-wandering and all the rest of the reasons we read about that tell us taking a holiday is a good thing

Whether or not it's actually true I'm not sure, and neither are others . Maybe I'll find out during the coming week when I re-enter the digitally enabled networked world: not easy to be part of in the areas we were walking.

Continue reading...

Accountability: is it a design concern?

06/12/17  2:42 PM 

We've had several discussions this week on 'single point accountability'. This sounds straightforward as a concept. Like financial accounting, 'accountability is about giving a reckoning of the actions taken-—and the actions not taken-—that led to the final outcome. Just like in accounting, where your balance sheet must add up correctly, there also has to be a balance in performance accountability'.

Unfortunately, mostly, we think of accountability in relation to assignment of blame (loss) rather than in relation to credit (profit). If you're accountable, you take the blame for what goes wrong. CEOs are usually held accountable for wrong-doing that occurs in their organization and in many cases resign as a result. Sir John Rose, formerly CEO Rolls-Royce, and Martin Winterkorn, formerly CEO Volkswagen are two cases in point.

While they were still at work, both Sir John Rose and Mr Winterkorn received accolades for their leadership and credit for rising sales and share prices. Now, they face pressure to explain why they should not be held accountable for the bad things that happened on their watch as well.

Resignation doesn't solve the issue of what causes something to go wrong: why has the loss occurred? It's often hard to find out. Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal by Jack Ewing, a new book on the Volkswagen emissions problem attempts to explain how that situation arose.

Continue reading...

Change, transformation, tools, levers and systems

06/06/17  4:32 AM 

I'm wondering whether the phrase '70% of change efforts fail' is down to not knowing how to get from a design to an implementation – so things stall at the point of a detailed, tested concept design. The 30% that don't fail may have cracked the process of a) planning to get safely from current to designed state and b) getting there. (Whether 70% of change fails is largely unproven but that hasn't stopped people thinking that is the case).

The topic came to mind when someone sent an email asking me to run a session with project managers where we 'delve deeper into the tools of change' which (in a previous workshop) I'd suggested included: incentives, policies, symbols, feedback, communication, education and development.

He asked 'from your experience what has worked, what's not – why to both, how can you use the tools in the project world, both internally to the project team (i.e. incentives to drive performance/change in behaviours, are there any lessons we can learn from the Agile delivery?) but also to the products of the projects'.

Continue reading...

Which organisation design programme?

05/28/17  6:34 PM 

Hi Naomi, I was hoping that you'd be able to give me a bit of advice, as I'd like to get a diploma or other qualification on organisation design but I'm not sure which programmes/trainings would be best to attend. Do you have any recommendations? Natasha

Hello Natasha – thanks for your email. I can only give some general suggestions and can't recommend any specific programmes. My thoughts below don't give a comprehensive picture but are based on my slant on organisation design.

I guess that you're looking for something that is accredited by a university and/or professional recognised body? Here's three ways to approach your enquiry

  • Browsing
  • Trying out
  • Asking others
Look at the Design Research Society website. It is the 'multi-disciplinary learned society for the design research community, promoting excellence in design research globally.
  • recognising design as a creative act common to many disciplines
  • understanding research and its relationship with education and practice
  • advancing the theory and practice of design'
You'll see how organization design is one strand of 'design'. You'll also see that the Design Management Academy Conference is next week (7 – 9 June 2017) with some interesting themes listed in an earlier call for papers. Three that caught my eye were:
Track 6.d Designing the Designers: Future of Design Education
Track 6.a Building New Capabilities in an Organization: A research methodology perspective
Track 4.a Changing Design Practices: How We Design, What We Design, and Who Designs?

Each track is led by academics and in a couple of the track description are indicative references to content.

Continue reading...

Designing for happiness

05/22/17  7:39 PM 

What I didn't know when until I got to Dubai last week, to facilitate an organization design programme, was that 'The UAE Cabinet, chaired over by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, endorsed the launch of corporate happiness and positivity initiatives in the UAE Federal Government.'

It came up in the discussion we were having, at one point, on designing for employee engagement and one of the participants mentioned the fact that there is a UAE Minister of State for Happiness. The same participant mentioned the book, Reflections on Happiness & Positivity that Sheikh Mohammed has written. I bought a copy to learn more about his thinking behind the happiness initiatives.

One of the stories he tells in it is the story of standing in the desert and asking the people with him what they saw. One replied 'a barren desert', when asked what he saw, Sheikh Mohammed said 'a great national treasure .. a fundamental pillar of our national economy.' He tells of how over the two decades since that point they have built a thriving economy attracting 14 million tourists each year. He suggests, in the book, that having the ability to realize a vision takes happiness and positivity.

Continue reading...

Holding patterns

05/14/17  7:00 PM 

Last week I was reminded of my aeons ago primary school experience of having to bring in something for the 'nature table' and then being made to stand up and show it to my classmates and tell them about it. I liked the clump of sheep's wool I'd pulled off some barbed wire complete with all the claggy bits of mud and twigs – but I got no takers to my offer of giving them some of it to show their mums and dads.

Nowadays this type of thing is called a 'show and tell' which Netmums tell us 'is a key part of the school day and an important part of your child's learning development, as it helps them to organise information and builds their confidence.'

The 'show and tell' (aka sprint review) that I was in was somewhat similar: a valiant presenter and polite audience. These 'show and tell' events are a key part of agile methodology giving the team the time 'to present the work completed during the sprint. The Product Owner checks the work against pre-defined acceptance criteria and either accepts or rejects the work.' A show and tell, however, 'is not a meeting designed to criticise or for the team to take further actions for improvement to the product.'

Continue reading...

Previous Entries

Enter your email address to receive blog updates automatically in your inbox:

  • Copyright 2017
    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
    consultant and expert in organization design.
  • You can contact Naomi at
    or our contact page here.
  • Website design & CMS:
    SiteStrux, Inc.