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Organization design blog

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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What do other organisations do?

08/15/16  4:17 PM 

Threaded through the books I've written are stories about how real organisations design and redesign. People like to read about exemplars, examples, comparators and case studies. The organisations I've discussed illustrate both what goes well in organisation design and why this might be so, and also what doesn't work and what can go wrong.

These examples of real organisations are what give the book a shelf life. A company that's an exemplar of good practice one year could take a terrible dive the next and vice versa. All of us writing about Volkswagen or Toyota have seen the highs and lows play out. This makes picking the organisations to mention in a book a bit of a gamble (unless I want to keep writing new editions or have a continuously updateable book).

I am about to write a third edition of one of my books, and the reviewers of the current edition have variously suggested that I illustrate points with more industry sectors, more types of organisation (private, public, partnership, etc.), more global organisations, more sizes of organisation, and fewer UK based one. That's quite a list to consider.

Previously I've taken rather a scattergun approach – finding the stories in the moment that I was writing the chapter. But this time I thought I'd be more systematic. So today I started to work on what organisations to talk about in order to cover the reviewers' (sensible) suggestions.

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Evaluating organisation design and development work

08/10/16  1:45 AM 

To Kiran: Thanks for your email about how to evaluate the effectiveness of organisation design and development work. I take it that by 'evaluate' you mean passing a judgement on whether the design/development activity has delivered whatever it was supposed to deliver? Evaluation is something I've never really cracked because it is virtually impossible to show any cause/effect connection between organisation design work and what then happens in the organisation.

Even if you start off a project with measures of success, critical success factors, and clear objectives that the work is supposed to deliver then the time lapse, context changes, and the fact of intervening all mean that what you judge at the 'end' may bear little resemblance to what at the beginning you thought you would be judging.

We just had a research project done for us on evaluating our work. The researcher made some excellent and thought provoking points. As she said, 'It is critical to understand that OD & D is not just about org charts in terms of hierarchy and reporting lines but also about the relationships and interactions of work and people throughout the organisation and across any partner organisations'.

This implies that what you choose to evaluate is 'a political process' which depends on 'who is looking' at the evaluation: a Head of Finance might judge effective organisation design in a very different way from a Head of Research and Development, or the Head of Customer Experience.

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The Post Brexit world

08/01/16  4:52 PM 

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. (Alan Watts)

A friend in Brazil and a friend in the US have each asked me this week 'How are things with you post Brexit?'

It's a difficult question as I don't know the answer. On many day to day levels things seem the same as a pre Brexit world. It's rather like having a birthday; the movement from one year to the next is usually not that remarkable.

On the other hand it is very different. Every day since June 23 there have been predictions on what the UK will be like post Brexit. Beginning with dire warnings and now laced with indicators that 'together, they hint at how the British economy is doing after Brexit'. (Not so well).

Organisation designers could be in much demand at this point. For example, the UK Government's full list of new ministerial and government appointments: July 2016, includes:

  • A totally new Department (Department for Exiting the European Union)
  • A merger of The Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to form the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • Almost total change in the Ministers heading Departments which will inevitably have an impact on the way the Departments operate
The Government has a method of handling this type of thing through the Machinery of Government guidance which has an interesting infographic outlining the mechanics of the process. From this, I see that 120 days from start (is this referendum result day or day Theresa May became Prime Minister?) things 'could' have settled into 'business as usual'. So maybe the pre-Brexit and post-Brexit worlds will feel as similar as moving from aged thirty-three to thirty-four.

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Burning, bumping and what does good look like?

07/26/16  5:17 PM 

We're having an ongoing conversation about how we can 'transform' the organisation. We're pretty much agreed that things have to change. But there is some disagreement on whether there is the 'burning platform' or whether we even need one of these in order to 'transform'.

I think a 'burning platform' is a competitor for Lucy Kellaway's guffipedia (in fact, I just suggested it) and go along with Chip Heath's view that: 'That is one of the silliest pieces of business jargon. The idea of the burning platform is that people only change when they're scared. But fear, as an emotion, creates tunnel vision'.

Failing being able to see the burning platform our other tack is to keep asking each other 'what problem are we trying to solve here?' This is almost as pointless as searching for the burning platform, especially when things aren't 'wrong', but are in, my brother's phrase, 'bumping along'.

If there are no burning platforms, and we can't adequately answer 'what problem are we trying to solve?' Are we fine as we are?

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    Naomi Stanford
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