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Organization design blog

The value of events

12/06/16  2:26 AM 

The past week seems to have been one of events in that I attended a change management masterclass hosted by Kogan-Page: People-centered Organizational Change: Strategies for Success. I went to a book launch of Mark and Anna Withers' new book Risky Business: Unlocking Unconscious Biases in Decisions. I spent a day on an Agile Awareness course, and I went to the European Organisation Design Forum event at the Wellcome Trust.

No one has yet asked me what was the return on investment of that time (no money changed hands) or how I would evaluate the benefits of the events. However, those are the sorts of question I do get asked so I thought I'd better have a shot at answering them.

There are various methods of evaluating training effectiveness the four stage Kirkpatrick model is one, the CIPD suggests a similar, but five stage one, another is Brinkerhoff's Success Case Method. Businessballs has a short piece summarising the most common methods and also offering access to a toolkit.

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A seat at which table?

11/28/16  5:15 PM 

I'm repeatedly asked where should Organisation Design sit as an organisational function? The question means where, functionally, should the skills and attributes of OD report. It's a question I tackle in my – about to be revised – book Organisation Design: Engaging with Change. In it (2014), I said:

Although 'organization design' is often seen as vested in HR, and certainly required as an HR competence – it figures on the CIPDs HR Profession Map a new design is typically initiated and driven by the business. HR, with its focus being primarily on the workforce, is only one of the parties that enable new organization design success. Other support service areas, among them IT, finance, facilities, and communications are also typically tagged as enablers of new design success, and often work alongside the business and HR in planning and implementing a (re)design piece of work. ...

Where, then, should the 'point' people with internal expertise to do the detailed technical work required to design and then keep an organization well designed be situated in an organization? Are they best placed as part of an HR function, part of a strategy department, as an independent unit reporting to a COO or CEO, or somewhere else?

The current predominant view seems to be that organization design skills are part of an HR function's services to clients and thus sit in HR.

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Resisting change

11/21/16  3:23 PM 

Several things happened this week that tested my own resistance to change. I've often said that people are happy enough to change as long as they have had a part in the decisions and it is somewhat within their control. Often they are not party to the decision and neither is it within their control. As happened to me.

I talk of change in four categories (not ideal but serves to illustrate):

  • Continuous not very planned incremental change e.g. Organizational members leaving and joining an organization as part of normal staff turnover
  • Intermittent but planned incremental change e.g. Hand written letters, typed letters, email, social media
  • Continuous not very planned radical change e.g. Stream of policy changes, leadership changes, restructurings, acquisitions, etc.
  • Intermittent planned radical change e.g. Whole office move to new building
During the past week I've experienced all four types and for all my knowledge of 'change management' I find that this has not been a comfortable experience. Indeed, I observe myself resisting the changes in all sorts of not very helpful ways.

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Tufte and Elephants

11/14/16  4:58 PM 

Last week I was in Washington DC. I got the bus from the airport to Wiehle Reston metro station where you get the Silver Line into the city. There on the station plaza are two colo(u)rful sculptures one of an elephant and one of a donkey – the symbols of the Republicans and the Democrats respectively. On my return trip on Saturday the elephant looked bigger and the donkey distressed.

On Wednesday, reeling, I went to an Edward Tufte workshop on Presenting Data and Visual Information. Years ago I got his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and I came back with the course 'party bag' of another copy of it + three other beautifully presented books he's constructed. Read a delightful review of them here.

He opened the day – no hello or introduction as they are one of his bugbears 'people don't need an attractor, they've already arrived' – with a Stephen Malinowski musical animation before moving on to discuss the National Weather Service, weather forecast page which he used to illustrate his fundamental principles of analytical design (Chapter 5 in Beautiful Evidence).

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Implications of swirl

11/08/16  5:26 AM 

Several meetings I participated in last week left me musing on 'implications of swirl'. This is a phrase I came across in a Bain brief 'Four paths to a focused organisation' looking at change and transformation. They have a graphic that illustrates swirl that runs on the lines of:

1. Issue identified that requires resolution
2. New process/initiative proposed to resolve issue
3. Data needed to determine whether proposal merits go-ahead
4. Meetings scheduled to review data
5. Additional requests come from meetings before any decision to go ahead can be made
6. Data needed to answer requests
7. Follow up meetings to review answers before any decision to go ahead can be made

The implications of this is that a) a lot of people spend time and resource getting stuck in the data sludge b) the issue is not resolved instead heading towards the plug-hole the swirl leads to.

What Bain doesn't go on to describe is that further implications are that, in my experience, at this point either someone gets frustrated by the lack of progress and hands the issue to a different group of people to resolve. They then work through steps 1 – 7 above.

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Legitimizers and mine detectors: external and internal consultants

11/01/16  8:05 AM 

I've been both an internal consultant and an external consultant at various times in my career. My preference is for internal consulting and I'm often asked why: people seem to find it curious as 'internal management consultancy has traditionally been seen as the poor cousin of its external counterpart', (and still is in many quarters).

I like it because I get to know the organisation as an employee: I experience it in a way that an external consultant can only approximate – its style, culture, leadership - and yet I also have to keep a certain distance from it. It's a tension that means I both consult and have to live with the consequences of the work that I do and learn from it in a way that external consultants don't. I like that insider/outsider role challenging though it is.

Reading lists of pros and cons of internal v external consulting you get a feel for the differences. They're well explained, for example, by Consultancy UK and 9 lenses. What's interesting is that in this kind of comparison they are presented as a kind of either/or. There seems to be a tacit implication that you use internal consultants for different types of assignments than the ones you use external consultants for.

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    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
    consultant and expert in organization design.
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