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Organization design blog

Too many direct reports

10/24/16  5:37 PM 

Last week I was talking with someone with 'too many direct reports'. I've been here before and commonly the statement comes with a request to know what the 'right' number of direct reports is that someone should have. Fortunately this wasn't part of the conversation I had in this instance.

The start-point was to find out more by completing the sentence, 'I have too many reports – to ..... what?' We discussed 'to control', 'to pay sufficient attention to each of them', 'to run successful meetings with', 'to develop their skills', 'to manage my own work-load', 'to know what's really going on', 'to focus myself on the strategy and big issues', 'to network with my peers', 'to develop my own skills and knowledge' and so on. We were trying to find out whether the issue is actually too many direct reports or it feels like that because of other things. (See a book QBQ! The Question Behind the Question for good tips on this type of conversation).

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Questions for OD practitioners

10/18/16  12:49 PM 

On Friday and Saturday I was at the EODF conference, and was honoured to be labeled 'special guest' and give one of the six keynote presentations. Although nerve-wracking it was a good reflective experience for me.

I wrote about the challenge I'd set myself last week.(Being on the edge of inside). Briefly it was about what made my heart sing and my heart despair in the work that I do. I turned those parts into a 20 minute presentation of 10 slides each with one or two images rather than wordy bullets about what I was going to say (in case I didn't stick to the script).

Fortunately a couple of days before the presentation I asked a colleague if he'd be willing to listen to the presentation and offer feedback and comments as a rehearsal. He did a great job and in the course of our discussion I realized I'd left out something I'd promised to people which was to 'pose some fundamental questions for reflection on organisation design theory and practice'.

This was a useful activity for me in thinking on my own OD practice and, ready for the conference, I came up with the following (in bold):

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Being on the edge of inside

10/11/16  1:52 AM 

I set myself a hard task when I sent off my paragraph to the European Organisation Design Forum saying what I would talk about at the annual conference coming up this week.

Naomi will discuss with us the hard but rewarding day-to-day work of designing an organisation capable of moving from a risk-averse, hierarchical, very traditional paper-based 'analogue' organisation to a 'digital' one without any service loss or disruption. She will offer insights into what makes her heart sing whilst at work, balanced by the occasional journey home in despair. Along the way she will pose some fundamental questions for reflection on organisation design theory and practice.

To get myself thinking on it before Friday arrives and I stand in front of an audience I decided interview myself. As follows:

Q What makes your day to day work hard?

The hardest part is trying to get a grip on the context. If you've ever seen House of Cards or Yes Minister or Yes Prime Minister or The thick of it you'll get the idea. They're don't seem to me to be satires. They feel like documentaries. For a newcomer to the British Civil Service, as I am, it's the biggest challenge and one that many experience.

The whole environment and context is hard. The legacy of stuff, the antiquated technology, the risk averseness, and the sheer 'buggeration factor' as former Prime Minister, David Cameron described it make organisation design and development work really challenging.

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Better tech, better organisation?

10/03/16  4:59 PM 

This week just gone was peppered with discussion on new types of organisation designs and questions on whether traditional organisations can morph to a new design – flat, networked, nodal - or are they destined to stay hierarchical, bureaucratic, several levels structures?

Lee Bryant asks 'What is the use case for organisational structure?' He says that 'the rise of social technology in the workplace creates new possibilities for how we organise work.' But reading through various fascinating links he adds to his piece and from these to further links to other articles on the topic it seems that the new possibilities aren't being realised.

Certainly I've noticed the big, long established organisations I work with having huge difficulty in exploring or adopting any of these new possibilities.

Reasons for sticking with the way big organisations typically organise work in hierarchies, bureaucracies, management layers, and rather inflexible systems could be due to the desire for 'legibility.' Small organisations can be flat and flexible because they are 'legible', as they get bigger and more complex that 'legibility' decreases and a desire to 'simplify' in order to return to legibility takes over. The drive towards simplification is evident in many management ideas – seven steps, five principles, four box grids, etc. Venkatesh Rao in A Big Little Idea Called Legibility explains the inherent dangers of it and also offers four reasons why it remains attractive.

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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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    Naomi Stanford
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