Are some organisation design concepts redundant?

A tweet last week from @NickGMRichmond, reads, ‘Great evidenced based provocation, “are some leadership concepts redundant?” see https://www.oxford-review.com/leadership-concepts/ … the same is probably true of managing change and organisation development concepts. What do you think?’

I read the Oxford Review piece he linked to, which tells us ‘A new (2018) study by a team of researchers has conducted an extensive review of research literature to discover the extent of construct redundancy in the literature around leadership behaviours.’

I tracked down the source paper  ‘Construct redundancy in leader behaviors: A review and agenda for the future’,   and George Banks, one of the research team, kindly sent it to me. Their abstract reads, ‘Leadership remains a popular and heavily researched area in the social sciences. Such popularity has led to a proliferation of new constructs within the leadership domain. Here, we argue that such construct proliferation without pruning is unhealthy and violates the principle of parsimony. Our purpose was to examine construct redundancy via a comprehensive review of task-oriented, relational, passive, and inspirational leader behaviors as well as values-based and moral leadership behaviors.’

You might wonder why I’ve tried to locate the source document before I answer Nick’s question?  I’ve found that the whisper effect often amplifies any distortion as things get handed on.  I saw some distortion from the source article to The Oxford Review question is, ‘There are too many leadership concepts… but which ones are redundant?’ and then on to Nick’s question ‘Are some leadership concepts redundant?’  Both questions are useful but are likely to generate different discussions and outcomes, and they may well be different from any questions posed in the source document.  Whether or not this matters is also a question.

As a diversion, I also looked up the difference between ‘concept’ (Nick), ‘construct’ (source paper) and ‘concept/construct’ used interchangeably (Oxford Review).   Concept is a loose term representing a cognitive grouping that cannot be defined readily. ‘It has come to refer, in common usage, to any idea, process or thing that cannot be defined readily in another way.’  ‘Constructs are a way of bringing theory down to earth, helping to explain the different components of theories, as well as measure/observe their behaviour.’  Thus, leadership is the concept and leadership behaviour (the topic of the source document) one of the constructs within leadership.

At this point I decided that rather than quibble over concept, construct, either/both.  I would re-interpret (distort further?) and interpret Nick’s question as ‘Is there stuff we use to do organisation design work that is redundant’, thinking about this in three categories:

  • The process of designing – models, methodologies, approaches
  • The outcome of the process – the design (popularly believed to be an org chart)
  • The tools organisation designers use in the design process

The process of designing:  organisation designers often refer to a model e.g. Galbraith’s Star Model, McKinsey 7-S, Burke-Litwin, etc.   PeopleWiz consulting has done a nice job drawing on one of my books to construct a slide share comparing 5 popular models.  I think all five of these could be contenders for redundancy (though I did not get far with making this suggestion about 2 years ago).  None give sufficient visual attention to the organisation in an interdependent system of other organisations. There’s the missing piece of interconnectivity, not across the elements, which is there, but across to connected systems.

Many of the phased approaches to org design, I’d also put on the list as redundant.  It’s too easy to think that a design proceeds in an orderly phased way from contract, assess, design, plan to transition, transition, sustain (or similar).  Often, design approaches are much more of a chaotic muddle, working from someone’s new ‘org chart’, backwards and forwards (iterative?) towards a moving target, and trying to rescue processes, people and things-beyond-the-org-chart to include.   However, I often present a phased approach saying that the value is similar to that of a lifebelt in turbulence.

Organisation design attracts some some methodologies like requisite organisation or Viable System Model, or holacracy each with their aficionados.   I’d nominate some of these for redundancy as, in my view, they are too prescriptive in their application and thus are not fit for purpose in many organisations.   Now, I’ve written this I think some criteria for things being put on the redundant list would be helpful but I’m relying on experience (or bias?) as I’m on a time crunch.

The outcome of the process – the design:  believing that an organisation design is only an organisation chart is a belief ripe for redundancy.  It is much more than that.  An analogy is a vehicle in motion.  No-one would agree that only the external shell is the vehicle in motion.  The vehicle is all its processes and systems together with a competent driver, and able technicians to keep it in motion.

Many of the standard org charts might be heading towards redundancy.  As self-employment increases, automated processes do more routine work, self-organising teams grow in number,  and the rise of co-working spaces continues, an array of ‘lines and boxes’ representing ‘an organisation’ will lose value and focus of attention because we won’t really know what an organisation is.

The tools organisation designers use:  My blog – a toolkit of toolkits lists around a dozen toolkits containing checklists, frameworks, diagnostics, surveys, cards, etc  of the type organisation designers use.  Beyond the tools, designers use techniques of Large Group Interventions, focus groups, workshops, and so on.  Without trawling through them in some detail it’s difficult to highlight some that might be redundant.  It’s easier to look at those which are on the up – tools and techniques related to designing using software and data like Orgvue, Orgmapper,  intelliHR, and organisational network analysis.  I think it’s quite likely that these, combined with some of the data analytics, AI, and behavioural science tools will supersede many of the tools we have used up till now.

My view is that the way we think about organisations and their place in societal functioning and thus the way we ‘design’ them is both due for, and is undergoing, significant shifts.  There’s lots that will become redundant in the way we do it.

But I wonder whether this is ‘a good thing’.  Consider ‘Some elementary principles from reliability engineering, where engineered redundancy is a valued part of systems design. … For example, a central tenet of reliability engineering is that reliability always increases as redundant components are added to a system’.  Should we instead embrace what may appear to be redundant stuff in our design process, outcomes and tools?

What would be your criteria for things to go on the organisation design redundancy list?  What would you put on the list?  And should we embrace redundancy in organisation design work?  Let me know.

Image: Diagram of Electro-Hydraulic Control System

Shall we give up on job design?

Last week I was asked if I’d be interested in giving a conference keynote session on ‘The job design of the future – what will roles look like in 10 years?’  Unfortunately, I can’t make the date that it’s on, but before I realised that I started to think about the topic.  In two ways it’s relevant to me:

First, I have a 13-year-old friend who may be looking for employment in 10 years’ time, I say ‘maybe’ because there may not be roles/jobs as we know them today.  His brother is 9 and I read that ‘By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. (Watch a video that went viral on this in 2008 and read more in an 2018 interview with the maker here).

Second, I know I will not be in the type of job/role as I am today as I’ll be making ‘A proactive transition from one role or situation into the next.’ I will not be wearing the ‘label old or done’.  Instead, I’ll be ‘a free agent who gets to decide what’s next. Do I want to start a new career, go back to school, start a business, join a non-profit?’

In between those age ranges I have friends in each decade and they’re all facing questions like ‘will AI, robotics, etc. be doing all the work?’, ‘How will I be financially viable?’, ‘What skills and experience do I need to keep pace with stuff?’ ‘What’s a career that’s right for me?’ ‘Are there careers anymore?’ etc.

There are countless books, articles, blogs, and opinions on types of jobs that will be required (or not) in the future.  Nesta, in their 2017 report, for example, envisages 6 hypothetical roles that could exist in 2030: restaurant owner, care worker, 100 years counsellor, immersive experience designer, green construction and aerospace engineer. Hmm – these roles exist now – so what is changing?

Futurist Thomas Frey, predicting for 2040 says that ‘common jobs will be framed around common technologies like drones, robots, and blockchain as opposed to professional categorizations like nurse, teacher, or engineer.’ He reminds us to ‘Keep in mind we’re automating tasks out of existence, not entire jobs. As our tasks disappear, new tasks will get created, and jobs, work, and entire industries will be redefined.’

He offers 20 job categories we’ll see in 2040, including:

  • asteroid mining (jobs include asteroid scouts, asteroid surveyors,  asteroid mining ground crews)
  • drone command crews (jobs include drone command centre operators, drone taxi ground crew, drone programmers)
  • CRISPR, biohacking, and programmable healthcare gurus (jobs include algorithmic dietitians, CRISPR biotechnicians, biomanufacturing organ designers).

Similarly, McKinsey in a 2017 report tells us that:

‘Even if there is enough work to ensure full employment by 2030, major transitions lie ahead that could match or even exceed the scale of historical shifts out of agriculture and manufacturing. Our scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate.’

The conference question asked ‘The job design of the future – what will roles look like in 10 years?’ From our currently available knowledge we may be able to hazard a guess on what roles will look like, as Frey, McKinsey, and Nesta (among others) have done.  But we can’t be sure that these guesses will be correct.

The challenge for us is how do we design jobs right now that will help people cope with future job roles, many of which may not currently exist.  There are lots of jobs that exist now that didn’t exist 10 years ago – driverless car engineer, cloud computing specialist and YouTube content creator among them, what were the people doing these roles today working as ten years ago?   Did the design of their jobs help them move into these new roles or did they have to retrain, or are they all new entrants to the workforce?  What are the new demands on their skills/experience?   What is it in current job design that has the seeds of future jobs in it?

The UK’s CIPD in answer to the question ‘What is Job Design?’, says ‘Job design is the process of determining what a job comprises, how it is carried out, and how it relates to other relevant jobs. This includes deciding on the duties and responsibilities of the job holder, the methods to be used in carrying out the job, and its fit within the organisational structure.’

To me this description implies someone deciding what someone else is going to do in an environment that is known and stable, it doesn’t imply autonomy, choice, collaboration, human/tech interaction and a VUCA environment.   I wonder if we can afford to take a pedestrian and traditional approach where the ‘purpose of job (re)design is to optimise the work process and improve productivity by reducing repetitive elements within and between jobs, as well as increasing responsibility and challenge through techniques such as job enlargement, job enrichment, job rotation and other non-monetary means.’

In a fast-moving environment is it appropriate to use techniques of ‘careful job analysis – gathering information about the job, including its content, purpose, and required outputs. This analysis should form the basis of a job description and person specification/job profile.’  Alternatives to traditional job design are several:

Take a look at job crafting – an employee driven approach to job re-design.

Think about designing around contributions statements or a capabilities spec rather than a job descriptions .

Consider role charters BCG says ‘Role charters are not job descriptions, even though they may seem similar. … [they] are active, living documents that are meant to imbue corporate strategy and vision into the daily work and purpose of the organization. They describe roles as they should be, as well as the collaboration required among them. Role chartering is generally conducted during the course of a corporate reorganization or transformation and is an integral part of BCG’s approach to organization design.’

Experiment with self-managing teams where roles change in line with employee wishes and agreements and roles are fluid and designed around outcomes.

Focus on designing skills/capabilities/abilities development pathways, not describing tasks or activities, as it is the non-machine possible, human-centred, transferable skills that people need a good stock of in order to be able to cope with changing jobs and job content.

Tim Rayner suggests six human abilities that ‘currently can’t be replicated by machines’:  empathy, ability to make a person feel acknowledged and cared for, ability to think critically about human life and society, ability to establish trust, ability to create art.   On some of these – empathy and art – machines are catching up. I would have ‘curiosity’ on a list of human abilities that are difficult for AI to emulate but even that is being eroded. (Perhaps knowing what human skills are not machine capable is itself an identification skill).

Maybe we could be even more radical and dispense with job design and job descriptions of any type altogether.   Perhaps doing that would let loose the productivity and power of employees and really gain their engagement and motivation.

Our traditional approach to job design needs, at minimum, a radical overhaul and perhaps retirement.   What’s your view?  Let me know.

Image: Artist quits day job to pursue passion for beautifully quilled paper art.

Does everyone (in organisation design) need a mentor?

Years ago, I had a book by David Clutterbuck called Everyone Needs a Mentor I couldn’t find my copy when I just looked for it, so maybe I gave it away at some point.  Or maybe I stopped thinking everyone needs a mentor so didn’t need the book anymore.  The book seems to be out of print now – I could only find used copies on Amazon UK.  But the blurb reads:

‘Mentoring is the most cost efficient and sustainable method of fostering and developing talent within your organisation. Talented employees can be stretched to perform even better by exposure to high performing colleagues. Experience can be passed on more effectively one-to-one. Employees from groups that are under-represented in the organisation can be supported and developed by talking to others who have overcome similar barriers.’

Anyway, I’m newly curious about mentoring as over the last few months several people have asked me if I would mentor them in organisation design stuff and I’m not sure what I think about these requests, leading me to start to investigate to see if I agree with Clutterbuck (again?) or have a different view.

My investigation finds that the European Organisation Design Forum and Organization Design Forum ‘are launching our pilot Global Mentoring Scheme.’ (with a fee for the mentee to be introduced to the mentor.)  Like Clutterbuck’s view of mentoring, the purpose of the EODF/ODF scheme is to:

assist the learning, development and network of community members including promoting continuous professional development in the field of Organisation Design’.   It will ‘introduce mentees looking for support of experienced Organisation Designers in specific or generic OD related issues. The scheme is aimed towards newer Organization Designers or those wishing to refresh and or learn new skills/knowledge from others within the field.  It will give mentors the ‘opportunity for those wishing to spread their knowledge and or support to newer entrance to the OD world or those that wish to diversify their knowledge base. In doing so it will increase individual and intra-organisational networks and connections and strengthen the missions of ODF & EODF respectively.’

Rachel Parker tells a lovely story of setting up her own business and ‘hitting the wall’.

‘A single question floated through my mind: “How am I going to handle this?” I felt like a failure.

And then I called Gail. … If anyone could talk me off the ceiling—if ANYONE could help assuage my acute anxiety—it would be her. She did everything I could have asked her to do during that phone call. She was supportive, encouraging, and educational.’  She ends the piece asking ‘Who are the mentors in your life? … Make finding mentors as much a priority as finding new business. Schedule follow-up calls with your mentors regularly, just as you would with a potential client. … securing this kind of support is as important as your business plan.’

I agreed to meet one of the people who’d asked me to mentor him.  He then asked me what I would I like him to bring to the meeting.  As I didn’t have a specific answer and had been asking myself what, if anything, I should bring to mentor/mentee meetings, I started Googling ‘what do mentors do/say?’ My search didn’t reveal what encouragement, advice, support or challenge mentors would give around organisation design – I am left with more generic, but still useful information which is applicable to both mentees and mentors.

They nearly all suggest the mentor asking a starting question of the mentee on the lines of “What do you want?”  As one writer points out, ‘Sounds trite? It is. But that’s about as basic as it gets. You must know this …  before you [mentee] can reap the benefits of mentoring.’

Developing this idea, Vineet Chopra, and Sanjay Saint, in an HBR article explores ‘What mentors wish their mentees knew’, offering 6 habits of ideal mentees. Including Clarifying what you need, being engaged and energising and minding your mentors time.

Jo Miller has 40 questions a mentee can ask a mentor grouped into four categories:  stories, self-awareness, skill building and situations.  This could be developed for organisation design mentees – for example they could ask their mentor:  ‘What do you wish you had known before taking on your first organisation design project?’  Or I’ve heard that taking a stretch organisation design assignment could help my career trajectory. What are the pros and cons?”  Or What do you see as some of my organisational design blind spots and how can I improve?’ Or ‘What lessons have you learned along your organisation design career path that you feel would be helpful for me as I consider my own future?’

In another HBR article, the same two authors – Chopra and Saint –  mentioned earlier, write about 6 things every mentor should do, including ‘choose your mentee carefully’, saying: ‘Beware the diffident mentee who expects the mentor to keep the relationship going, or the mentee who insists on doing things their way. A mentee should be curious, organized, efficient, responsible, and engaged. One way to look for these traits is to test prospective mentees.’  (I think you could substitute the word mentor for mentee and it would be just as sensible advice).

The suggestions for testing the potential mentee are interesting, ‘For instance, we often ask mentees to read a book and return within a month to discuss it. Similarly, we sometimes give a candidate a few weeks to write a review of an article in a relevant area. In a business setting, you might ask a prospective mentee to prepare a presentation in their area of expertise, or join you on a sales call or at a strategy offsite and write up their observations. This gives you a good sense of their thinking process, communication skill, and level of interest. If they don’t come back or complete the assignment, you should breathe a sigh of relief — you have avoided taking on a mentee who lacked commitment.’  (It occurs to me that the mentee could similarly test the mentor).

What I’ve got from this brief investigation is an awareness that:

  • Mentoring is not to be undertaken lightly -it is a commitment on both sides that requires a good relationship and both parties to learn from it.
  • Mentees and mentors should choose each other carefully.  If they don’t gel it won’t work for either party.
  • Mentoring around organisation design (or any technical topic) might need more preparation than general development mentoring.  On this, I wondered whether I could develop a question bank of questions that mentees could ask organisation design mentors, or talk with people who’d been in an organisation design mentee/mentor relationship and write a few case studies to help others.
  • If it works it can be a mutually fruitful and enjoyable experience.

What’s your view on mentoring – does everyone in organisation design need a mentor?  Let me know.

Image:  Mentor, Connie Geerts

Breakthrough thinking on organisation culture

Someone in a session I was facilitating last week on organisation culture remarked that what we were talking about was nothing new and challenged us to consider what the breakthrough thinking is on it.   She was asking the question, ‘What are the sudden advances in knowledge or technique that would help us approach organisational culture differently than the way we are currently?’

It’s a good question.  But one hard to answer.  We tend to think of ‘breakthrough thinking’ in relation to health or science, not organisational culture.  This week’s New Scientist, for example, has a Special Report on ‘the breakthrough drugs that keep you younger for longer’.   And the film ‘Longitude’, that someone else happened to mention this week, in a different discussion, is about the breakthrough of the clock method of ship navigation.  ‘A stunning technical breakthrough came when English carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison built five prototype sea clocks between 1735 and 1772.’   For a more recent scientific breakthroughs read ‘A Brief Explanation of three of Steven Hawking’s scientific breakthroughs’ or Bill Gates selection of  ’10 Breakthrough Technologies 2019’.

But look more closely at these examples and you’ll see that the ‘breakthrough’ is usually a culmination of painstaking research, false hopes, failures, multiple lines of investigation over many years, and a working through of Sam Becket’s lineEver tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’ that finally produces results.

Of course, there are some eureka moments that are instant breakthroughs. An article in Smithsonian Magazine tells us Sometimes, however, a commonly held understanding really is overturned in one fell swoop. As science fiction writer Issac Asimov is said to have quipped, the exclamation that heralds such discoveries isn’t really “Eureka!” but “That’s funny.”’  But even those are in a context when, as author Richard Gaughan says ‘preparation, opportunity, and desire come together,’ coupled with the fact that they occurred before ‘watchful eyes and scientific minds trained to observe them’. In these instances, ‘the result can be an accidental discovery that changes our understanding of the world.’

If we want to think of culture ‘breakthrough’ – in relation to the way we hope to manage or change culture (assuming that this is do-able – a discussion point we took up) then we need to consider the conditions that would give rise to the ‘breakthrough’ and the watchful eyes and minds trained to observe it.

Rebecca Solnit in her book ‘Hope in the Dark’, examplifies the watchful eyes and trained mind of a culture observer.  She asks ‘Who, two decades ago, could have imagined a world in which the Soviet Union had vanished and the Internet had arrived? Who then dreamed that the political prisoner Nelson Mandela would become president of a transformed South Africa? …  few recognize what a radically transformed world we live in, one that has been transformed not only by such nightmares as global warming and global capital, but by dreams of freedom, of justice, and transformed by things we could not have dreamed of. We adjust to changes without measuring them, we forget how much the culture changed.’

She instructs us to ‘Turn your head. Learn to see in the dark. Pay attention to the inventive arenas that exert political power outside that stage or change the contents of the drama onstage. From the places that you have been instructed to ignore or rendered unable to see, come the stories that change the world, and it is here that culture has the power to shape politics and ordinary people have the power to change the world. You can see the baffled, upset faces of the actors on stage when the streets become a stage or the unofficial appear among them to disrupt the planned program.’

One of the current tenets of organisational culture is that it is shaped and ‘owned’ by leaders.  See, for example, Boris Groysberg et al’s, HBRs article The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.  The authors tell us:  ‘For better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked. Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades. Over time an organization’s leaders can also shape culture, through both conscious and unconscious actions (sometimes with unintended consequences). The best leaders we have observed are fully aware of the multiple cultures within which they are embedded, can sense when change is required, and can deftly influence the process.’

The article goes on to state that ‘Our work suggests that culture can, in fact, be managed. The first and most important step leaders can take to maximize its value and minimize its risks is to become fully aware of how it works. By integrating findings from more than 100 of the most commonly used social and behavioral models, we have identified eight styles that distinguish a culture and can be measured. …  Using this framework, leaders can model the impact of culture on their business and assess its alignment with strategy.’

Suppose we took a different view from that of Groysberg et al.  Suppose we recognised that culture cannot be ‘managed’ but is emergent via the complex systems described by Solnit?  Suppose we used watchful eyes and turned our heads and saw that culture lies not in organisational leaders’ power/hierarchy structures, or 8 styles, or a framework, (or iceberg model) but in the inventive arena outside these boundaries: would that result in an organisational culture ‘breakthrough’ in the way we approach it?

I wonder if we are stuck in the way we think about organisational culture and whether there is a ‘breakthrough’ possible on it?  Maybe we could use the set of questioning assumptions exercise that I find useful if I feel I’m getting hidebound or the person/people I’m working with are.  (I think these originally came from Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life:

  1. What assumptions am I making about the issue, opportunity, challenge  topic …?   What assumptions is my client/are others making?
  2. What am I assuming, based on previous experiences, that may not be true now?  What is my client/are others assuming?
  3. What am I assuming about available resources?  What is my client/are others assuming?
  4. What limitations am I assuming to be so—and what surprises might I find? What is my client/are others assuming and what surprises might they find?
  5. What am I assuming about external circumstances? What is my client/are others assuming?
  6. What am I assuming about what’s impossible–or possible? What is my client/are others assuming?

As I said, the challenge of the question ‘where’s the breakthrough thinking on organisational culture?’ is a useful one.  I don’t know the answer – I doubt if it’s going to be a ‘Eureka moment’ but it may well happen through painstaking research, failures, and trying again, and questioning our assumptions about it.

Have you seen breakthrough approaches to/thinking on organisational culture?  Do we need to be looking for them/it?  Let me know.

Image:  Black hole photo revealed in astronomy breakthrough

Can we measure the outcomes and benefits of organisation design work?

On a recent 2-day organisation design programme we started to discuss the outcomes of organisation design work – how we identify them and how we know that these are creating the intended benefits and business value.

We agreed with one writer’s definitions and statements that:

Outcomes, at the most general level, are changes in individuals, organizations, communities, or governments, depending on the goal and reach of the activities being examined. Evaluation is a process of systematic inquiry directed at collecting, analyzing and interpreting information so that one can draw conclusions about the merit, worth, value or significance about a program, project, policy or whatever it is that is being examined. Outcome evaluation, then, at its most general level, is a systematic examination of the outcomes (changes, usually benefits), resulting from a set of activities implemented to achieve a stated goal, and a systematic examination of the extent to which those activities actually caused those outcomes to occur. The intent of outcome evaluation is to assess the effectiveness of these activities with respect to the benefits achieved, suggest improvements and possibly provide direction for future activities.’

And liked another writer’s graphic + example illustrating the relationships between outputs, outcomes and benefits which goes,  ‘in a project designed to implement a document management system:

  1. The implemented document management system that users can actually use is the output
  2. This output results in certain outcomes, for example:
    • faster and easier access to the documents
    • fewer mistakes in archiving and retrieving documents
    • ability to control versions and having access to the latest revisions
    • ability to have reports that help us find solutions for other business problems
  3. And finally, those outcomes create benefits, or in other words, business value:
    • 2% cut in the operation cost

Note that in this example the measurement comes at the benefits realisation stage and not at the outcomes stage  – the ‘basket’ of outcomes yields the measurable benefit.  However, in many cases outcomes are also measured e.g.

Health outcomes involve changes in health status – changes in health of an individual or population, attributable to an intervention. Sometimes the population or group is defined because different outcomes are expected for diverse people and conditions. Measurement of health outcomes involves carrying out different measurements including, measurement of health status before the intervention, measurement of the intervention, and measurement after to try and relate the change to the intervention.’ and from a different author ‘The healthcare industry must measure outcomes to identify which treatments are most effective and provide the most benefit to patients.’

Generally leaders/managers have difficulty in being clear in what outcomes and benefits they are looking for in organisation design work.  (Saying ‘better teamwork’ or ‘cost reduction’ is insufficient).  To help with this I showed participants a list of benefits that organisation design work could realise.  I’ve found that discussing these helps identify and clarify the outcomes that leaders/managers are looking for.  The list is as follows:

Strategic Fit: Benefits that contribute to the desired outcomes of strategic objectives or make them achievable.

Operating Model: Benefits that are derived from structural change, better resource management and decision making – e.g. more efficient centralisation, co-ordination and control of activities through clearly defined capabilities, roles, responsibilities.  Performance improvement through re-engineered, automated processes and shared centres of expertise.  A consistent system of new or amended policies, standards and working practices which enable investments in systems and tools to be leveraged at scale.

People: Benefits of a better motivated workforce e.g. flexible working and increased productivity through variety of work and career opportunities, professional support, training and development.

Quality of Service: Benefits to stakeholder groups, e.g. raising the customer experience through consolidation of volumes and services, standardisation of people assets and ways of working across many customers etc.

Budgetary Control: Benefits which allow for improved control through a framework within which the costs of introducing new infrastructure, standards and quality regimes can be justified, measured and assessed.

Risk reduction: Benefits which allow the organisation to be better prepared for future customer service provision, through greater access to a range of specialisms and expertise via a more skilled pool of professionals.

Economy:  Benefits that deliver a lower cost of service whilst maintaining quality, resilience and flexibility.

From the above, it’s easy to believe that measurement of outcomes and benefits ‘can be simple’.  For example, Jed Simms says it will be ‘if you just follow this 10-step process:

  1. Start with the end defined: Clearly identify your desired business outcomes, or where you want your business to be at the end of the project.
  2. Identify the benefits that come with achieving these desired business outcomes. Link each benefit to the outcome that will deliver it.’ And so on, up to 10.

But it’s not.  Toby Lowe and Rob Wilson talk about ‘The paradox of outcomes—the more we measure, the less we understand.’  Their argument is made in relation to social policy outcomes, but the foundation for the argument is based in complexity theory.

Their paper Managing the performance of social interventions. What can we learn from a complex systems approach?  Is well worth reading.   If we believe we are in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) then we should be willing to look at what we mean by ‘complex’, and be open to complexity approaches which, as they say, require us

‘to give up simple notions of cause and effect, and abandon reductionist approaches to understanding social phenomena. [Complexity] requires us to think differently about how we seek to make change in the world, accepting that the changes we desire are beyond our control. In Boulton et al’s (2015: 108/9) words: “to truly accept that the world is complex changes us. It fundamentally causes us to rethink how we approach the world, how we make sense of what happens, how we approach everything we do. … A key aspect of a complexity worldview is that the interaction of factors influencing a given context means that the future is irredeemably unpredictable. … in situations of complexity, cause and effect do not operate in linear fashion. … Non-linearity is hugely significant, because it means that what happens in situations of complexity is emergent: it is not predictable from the starting conditions of the situation.’

The linking of organisation design interventions to predictable outcomes and benefits is a linear approach where there is an assumption of cause and effect.  What is does not take into account is the continuous flux and shift in the conditions around the design work – people moving roles, new priorities, sudden constraints, external demands, and so on.  Even if carefully planned and executed our organisation design work is not happening in a stable vacuum – it is (usually) responding to a complex, emergent situation with multiple variables.  As Lowe and Wilson say, ‘Outcomes, which may have been desirable at the start of a process may not be suitable for a context which has changed. And the opposite is also true: outcomes which were undesirable or unforeseen may come to be seen as crucial.’

This does not mean we shouldn’t attempt to measure. Lowe and Wilson offer ‘starting points for discussion in this field by identifying the purpose of a complexity-friendly performance measurement system, and elements of both a conceptual framework and mechanisms by which this might function.’ Their framework ‘requires a different way of thinking about some of [measurement] core concepts, particularly ideas of accountability, trust and the locus of key decision-making.’

Are you measuring outcomes and benefits?  Is it useful to consider complexity approaches in this?  Let me know.

Image: Complexity of Life, Rick Stevens 2014

Block value

On Thursday I went to a networking event, billed as a forum for ‘sharing our latest thinking and inquiring together to explore the organisation development, design, leadership and change issues that are most relevant to your practice … also a great opportunity to connect with like-minded practitioners.’ We were discussing the question ‘How can you learn when there is no time for learning?’

It’s a useful question to ask, and we delved into discussing learning which is ‘as close to the actual work as possible, rather than something that happens ‘over there’, in a meeting or training session that people don’t have time for.’

The event came the week that I’d spent Wednesday afternoon doing e-learning courses.  Two mandatory ones, one on GDPR and the other on Display Screen Equipment, and two discretionary ones, which we’d been asked to do as a precursor to a face to face session on the topic.  Each e-learning programme took around 45 minutes.  (There’s a free online GDPR programme from FutureLearn here.  There’s a similar Display Screen Equipment course to the one I took here).

On Thursday morning I went to the 90-minute face to face session to consolidate the e-learning of the discretionary courses.

So, by the time of the evening event I’d experienced several training sessions that could be classed as ‘over there’, rather than in-the-job or close to the job.

So, were the e-learnings and the face-to-face course a good use of my time?   Tim Urban, of Wait But Why points out that ‘Most people sleep about seven or eight hours a night. That leaves 16 or 17 hours awake each day. Or about 1,000 minutes. Let’s think about those 1,000 minutes as 100 10-minute blocks. That’s what you wake up with every day.  Throughout the day, you spend 10 minutes of your life on each block, until you eventually run out of blocks and it’s time to go to sleep.’

He says ‘It’s always good to step back and think about how we’re using those 100 blocks we get each day.’  He asks us to ‘Imagine these blocks laid out on a grid. What if you had to label each one with a purpose? You’d have to think about everything you might spend your time doing in the context of its worth in blocks. Cooking dinner requires three blocks, while ordering in requires zero—is cooking dinner worth three blocks to you? Is 10 minutes of meditation a day important enough to dedicate a block to it?’

I remembered that post (which took me 2 blocks to find again) after I’d spent the time on e-learning which makes me suspect that my unconscious surfaced it because I was thinking that it wasn’t worth the roughly 24 blocks I’d just spent. I didn’t feel I was learning anything new but had to go through each page in order to take the end test.

I rather like that idea of taking 100 blocks per day and throughout the week seeing if the ten minutes I was in at the time was worth it.  But I thought of a refinement of that activity after the networking event.  What if for every ten-minute block I wrote down what I’d learned in the ten minutes it represented?   Would I learn something every ten minutes?  It sounds a bit of a stretch, but maybe.

That thought took me to the SELF Journal – that someone recommended to me a while ago.  It’s a 13-week approach to achieving your goals.  You ‘use the SELF Journal to prime your mind toward the positive.’ Each evening you complete a section on lessons learned during the day.  ‘The Lessons Learned section should be considered an opportunity for reflection on what did not go as well as expected and an opportunity to improve on that area in the future. What will you do if you encounter the same obstacle again tomorrow?’

So, although suggesting that you prime your mind to the positive, the lessons learned section is about ‘what did not go as well as expected’.   However, ‘Over time, you will begin to naturally see the opportunities for improvement as you go about your day. This will pattern a new behavior for how you consider problems and actionable solutions where you wouldn’t have been able to before.  Consider reviewing the Lessons Learned lists throughout the weeks and months to see how much you have grown and learned.’

The common theme between the networking event, the 100 blocks and the SELF Journal is the process of reflection, and learning from that reflection.

There’s an excellent, practical guide to reflective learning from the Open University.   It says that the two most important aspects of reflective learning are that it is deliberate and it is focused on the future. ‘For learning to happen, you need to use your thinking to affect future actions. The three points you need to consider are: generating and evaluating new idea, reflecting upon events and situations, reflecting upon relations.’

The guide’s author discusses three methods of reflective learning. Making the point that ‘There are many more methods … the important point is not to seek out some ‘correct’ form of reflective learning, but to seek out a method that works for you.’

Combining the ideas of reflective learning, in-the-job, and the worth of blocks of time, I decided to see what I was learning in the (typically) 7 meetings per day I go to, each one lasting 45 -60 minutes.  Some are meetings I’ve called others I attend as a participant so I could reflect on my own meetings skills and those of others.

A recent HBR article pointed out that there is little reflection on the value of meetings.  ‘The goal should be not to kill all meetings but to eliminate the ineffective or unnecessary ones and improve the quality of those that remain …. It’s up to managers to make positive changes by objectively assessing and improving their own meeting skills.’

After only a couple of days, I feel I’m learning through meetings – so even in cases where the meeting content may not be worth 6 ten-minute blocks, the process of reflecting on the meeting process, style, relationships, tone and outcomes is.  Some things I’m finding help the reflection are the left hand/right hand column exercise – doing it as the meeting proceeds, an article on ‘Plan a better meeting with design thinking’, and a meetings cost calculator which helps focus the thinking!

What have I learned so far? I’m learning to develop better ways of helping people on the phone feel included in the meeting (whether or not the meeting is ‘mine’) and when I’m the one on the phone learn to participate more effectively,  (if you haven’t seen it, watch the 3-minute video – A conference call in real life) .  I’m learning to notice when and why my attention sidles off the meeting – lured by tech bleeps and alerts.  I’m learning to practice listening more attentively to what other people are and are not saying.

The question I’m now reflecting on is how to keep up this level of reflection and still do the work?  Maybe I’ll have time over the Easter weekend to tackle it.  It must be worth 6 blocks to do that.

How many blocks do you spend on reflective learning in your work day?  Are they worth it?  Let me know.

Image: Wait but Why

Internal consulting models

Here’s a brain-teaser that arrived in my in-box recently: ‘Today, some folks here were discussing the role of cluster leads, that we have in our organisational structure. Cluster leads were appointed when we started self-organizing, categorizing all work that came in into “projects”. Each cluster lead looks after a category/ group of projects and is supposed to integrate and find synergy among/between the projects.  Today, we evaluated that role and realised that the intended purpose has not worked well.  Have you any thoughts … about how to practically structure a way of working in, what I think of as, multiple dimensions?   We want to be able to:

  • Guide our customers/clients/end users (e.g. leaders or practitioners) in reaching the right person to respond to their needs
  • Enable internal sense-making, knowledge growth and information sharing across projects
  • Assess and anticipate the possible/likely future needs of our clients’

The question came from someone in a large enterprise’s internal consultancy.  The consultancy offers consulting, research, and leadership development around organisational change and transformation.   Any of these 3 service lines are delivered either within a particular business unit or across business units.

I’ve been noodling on the question since it came in.

It would be very hard to give ‘the answer’ to a question like this without knowing a lot more about the operational context and the more granular aspects of what isn’t working well (and what is working well).  However, I started to consider three angles on it:

  • The nature and structure of internal consultancies
  • The way ‘self-organising’ works and doesn’t work
  • The role of ‘cluster leads’ specifically their objective to integrate and find synergy between/among projects

The nature and structure of internal consultancies:  A research paper from Nick Wylie and Andrew Sturdy, Structuring Collective Change Agency Internally: Transformers, Enforcers, Specialists and Independents, discusses four types of internal change agency unit.

The question I got came from a change agency unit that closely resembles Wylie and Sturdy’s ‘Independents’.  This type of unit is established, ‘Where organisations identify the need for the persistent presence of a more generalist change delivery unit.’ The authors note that ‘The impact scope of these units tends to be localised as they deliver change through specific, often small, projects within business units.  At the same time, Independents are detached from core structures and operational areas and so operate largely outside of managerial hierarchies. In this way, Independents most closely resemble external consultancies because they are required to source their own work and often to be self-funding.’ In their structure ‘Independents can combine former external consultants and managers from within the organisation in an attempt benefit from both the exotic-outsider status and detailed insider-knowledge’.

Additionally, ‘they are sometimes involved in creating and managing links to external consultancies’.

The challenges that Wylie and Sturdy report that Independent units face are, the need to guarantee a pipeline of projects, loss of credibility over time and a great deal of their role being involved with relationship management activity.

With this information my questioner can follow some lines of enquiry that could work towards a structure and way of working that delivers more of what they want.  Questions I suggest are:

  • What can we learn from external consultancies on pipeline, credibility and relationship management? (Go back to their question at the top of this piece and you’ll see that these are the three things they want to be able to do, albeit expressed in slightly different words).
  • Are there things in the other three consulting models we could consider, learn from, migrate towards to achieve our objectives?

The way ‘self-organising’ works and doesn’t work: In my blog Self Organising Volunteers I talk about four conditions for self-organising

  • Understanding the concepts of self-organising
  • Agreeing authority level of the self-organising team
  • Selecting the individuals who will comprise the team
  • Ensuring you have the ‘appropriate conditions’ for self-organising

I won’t go into the detail of all of these here as that blog has the discussion plus links to other resources on each of the four conditions.   But it’s worth looking more closely here at the authority levels condition.  In his book, Leading teams: Setting the stage for great performances J. R. Hackman’s presents an Authority Matrix: 4 levels of team self-management.  He describes four team functions: executing the task, monitoring and managing work process and progress, designing the team and its organisational context, setting overall direction.  Depending on who has the authority for each function results in four levels of team organization.

  • Manager led teams who only have authority for executing the task
  • Self-managing teams whose members have responsibility not only for executing the task but also for monitoring and managing their own performance.
  • Self-designing teams whose members have the authority to modify the design of their own team or aspects of the organizational context or both.  Managers set the direction for such team but give members full authority for all other aspects of the work.
  • Self-governing teams whose members have responsibility for all four major functions:  team members decide what is to be done, structure the unit and its context, manage their own performance, and actually carry out the work.

My questioner could investigate how their self-organising stacks up against the authority matrix as it might be that there is something in the authority levels that is mitigating against their achieving their objectives.

The role of cluster lead: I haven’t seen a role description for a cluster lead, and it’s not a role I’m familiar with.  I found that cluster leads are fairly common in the humanitarian aid field.  The World Health Organisation has a detailed description of both clusters and cluster leads.  There a cluster lead ‘commits to take on a leadership role within the international humanitarian community in a particular sector/area of activity, to ensure adequate response and high standards of predictability, accountability and partnership.  Their key responsibility is to ‘ensure that humanitarian actors build on local capacities and maintain appropriate links with Government and local authorities, State institutions, civil society and other stakeholders.  … cluster leads have mutual obligations to interact with each other and coordinate to address cross-cutting issues.’  Substitute the labels around ‘humanitarian’ with a label representing my questioner’s organisation.  The questioner could then compare the two role descriptions (theirs and the WHO’s) and see if they could learn anything from that comparison.

In summary:  before heading for a ‘solution’ to a perceived issue, I suggest following some lines of enquiry to determine what the underlying causes may be.  It’s possible that some small adjustments to the existing model will make it workable.  On the other hand, the investigation may suggest a more radical rethink.  One of the points I make on organisation design training programmes is not to ‘solutionise’ to start.  It may seem like time is wasted in investigation and enquiry, but it is an investment worth making.

How would you advise the questioner?  Let me know.

Image: Internal Teams Need Better Positioning