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Organization design blog

A bit of a Brain-Teaser for you....

09/26/16  3:58 PM 

This week I got these questions:

  • What are you noticing about the practice of organization design recently? What are the implications?
  • How would you best design a corporate centre for a new organisation which doesn't have 100% clarity on what its delivery arms will be specifically doing yet?
It seems to me that taking a stab at the first two questions might help with the third question. So here goes.

I'd already given a bit of thought to the question 'What am I noticing about the practice of organisation design?' in prep for a conversation over the weekend with Organization Design Forum colleagues on it and their views both changed and added to mine. I'm noticing:

a) An accelerating desire to learn about organisation design i.e. there seems to be recognition that it's more than re-jigging the traditional organisation chart. I mentioned in an earlier blog that Deloitte in its Human Capital Trends 2016 has organisation design as its top trend. (But think through why you want to follow a trend). People are looking for skilled organisation designers. I first started facilitating organisation design programmes for the CIPD in 2007. That year we ran 1 course and it was undersubscribed. When I stopped teaching it in 2014 there were 5 or 6 courses running per year, all fully-subscribed. That may not count as evidence of accelerating interest in the topic but it is an indicator.

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Bringing purpose to life (thx Pete)

09/19/16  4:43 PM 

On Tuesday I went to a discussion on 'Bringing Purpose to Life'. I was attracted by the ambiguous title. Was it about bringing purpose into our personal lives, as in 'The Purpose Driven Life', or was it about how to turn a company 'purpose' from a statement like into something 'alive' and inter-actable with? Or was it something else? It turned out to be a bit about both and more.

Pete Burden (@peteburden) facilitated the conversation. His view is that 'Purpose is an important topic. It comes up regularly in leadership and management conversations. Having a purpose can help, but it can also be tricky.'

What is 'tricky' about purpose? Pete gave a rich introduction well-laced with references. Purpose is often abstract, static, and reified. You see purpose statements on laminated plastic credit-type cards as wall posters. What makes a purpose 'come alive' is not the statement itself but the constant interplay of subjective, emotional, relational, social conversations – both formal as in 'Steering Groups' and informal as in 'gossip' related to what people think the purpose is. He suggested that 'meaning is internalised via dialogue' and 'actions related to purpose are contingent on the situation.

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The knife edge of organisational change

09/13/16  1:39 AM 

I still haven't managed to cure myself of my habit of saying 'yes' instead of 'no'. There's lots of advice on how to say no which I seem unable to take, though I did manage it twice last week which felt as if I might be able to learn how.

In an alternative to saying no Adam Grant recently wrote a book called Give and Take which is all about the benefits and value of helping people. There's a compelling NY Times interview with him Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? So maybe I can pat myself on the back for giving stuff rather than feeling overwhelmed by stuff resulting from my incapacity to say no.

Anyway this is what I tried to tell myself as I knuckled down over the weekend to meet the deadline of submitting the material for a one-day workshop I'm running in October. I looked at the now published, introductory paragraph I'd written months ago and was a bit shocked when I discovered I'd opened with the sentence 'Being on the knife edge of organisational change can be challenging'.

I wondered what that meant – my past self didn't seem to have left many clues for my current self to work on in a way that my future self could then deliver on the day. (Watch Dan Gilbert answering the question 'Why do we make decisions which our future selves so often regret?') The thought that I should have said no to the invitation to facilitate momentarily outweighed another thing I tell myself to do which is to give things a go.

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How many organisations? How many people?

09/06/16  2:25 AM 

I don't know why it's crossed my mind to count the number of organisations involved in taking the three of us on holiday. Here we are sitting in a hotel in Istanbul looking at the Marmara Sea from the hotel balcony. It's glorious.

But what has it taken to get us here? The list organisations with direct involvement includes: Megabus, Transport for London, Uber, British Airways, Expedia, Istanbul Transport, PayPal, First Direct, Passport Office, (for one-day expedited passport issuance as one party member didn't notice her passport expiry date), Insure and Go, and the Turkish evisa organisation.

The list of indirect involvement includes organisations behind various websites that we've consulted on currency exchange, weather, info on Istanbul, flight comparisons, hotel reviews, travel experiences, safety in Istanbul, and so on.

Then there are the add-on organisations who touched our travel in some way: suitcase manufacturers, telecoms providers – getting our devices working here, retail outlets in the airport , the third parties providing snacks on British Airways, the organisation making the check-in kiosks, air traffic controllers, security checkers, passport and border controllers, cleaners of locations ...

Each of the direct and indirect 'customer touchpoints' comprise a web of systems, processes, policies, compliance, interactions, interdependencies and other connections that together make our holiday logistics work. Beyond these back office 'technical' aspects of it, are the 'human' aspects of making it work - how many people does it take to get one person safely to a holiday destination with luggage and connected mobile devices? I'm guessing that it must run into several thousand.

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Operating, and other, models

08/29/16  4:23 PM 

We've been posed the question in our organisation: 'what are we seeing as emergent problems' that are giving rise to 'noise around the operating model'. This has led to several reviews gathering steam.

I think before we set off on different tracks we should work from a common understanding of what an 'operating model' is and even better what our current operating model is. This is important because there are several competing views around conceptualizing an 'operating model' and we don't have a single model used consistently in our organisation. So identifying 'noise' could mean we were hearing completely different things and wouldn't be able to agree which to pay attention to.

Additionally, there is further confusion around related terms and relationships. For example: is a business model the same as an operating model? Is a target operating model different from either of these? Where do business capabilities fit? How is organisation design linked to any of these?

I'm going to attempt an explanation of the different terms. I've presented them in what looks like an ordered sequence of steps to take. In reality each is inter-related with the other and if you are an established enterprise you could 'start' at any one of the steps as you already have at least an implicit business model, a strategy, an operating model, and an organisation design. Making these explicit, if they aren't, enables you to see where to do things differently in the future which case you are heading towards a 'target operating model'.

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A word not much heard in the workplace

08/22/16  4:00 PM 

Years ago (1987) Roger Harrison wrote a 'Focus Paper' published by the Association for Management Education and Development called 'Organisation Culture and Quality of Service: a strategy for releasing love in the workplace'. I read it when I'd just taken my first private sector job after a previous career in teaching and it made a big impression on me.

In part this was because I had a liking for Kahlil Gibran's piece on Work 'Work is love made visible ... And all work is empty save when there is love' (which has helped me through some career choices).

I've still got my original copy of that Focus Paper and nearly 40 years later what Harrison said then rings true now. 'Business organisations are tough places to nurture tender feelings ... much of the business world is unable to support movement beyond the values of action, competition and strength'.

In 2008 Harrison wrote a follow up paper which someone sent me at more or less the same time that I was sent a link to Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge's blog 'Is love an important ingredient for organisation development?'

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    Naomi Stanford
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