Agreeing what organisation design means

Last week I asked if being a Certified Organisation Design Professional is an individual or organisational value-add which provoked a bit of discussion with one person tweeting ‘not before we agree on what organisation design means … ‘

That gave me pause for thought.  What does organisation design mean?  The original tweet statement is ambiguous and open to interpretation.  Is it about the philosophy of organisation design – what it means in the great scheme of things, rather like the question ‘what does life mean?’

Or is it a practical question that is more about scope – what would be in a ‘package’ of organisation design if we were buying it.  Which, of course, is what people are doing when they buy organisation design consultants’ time and expertise.

Or is it about the words themselves – a definition for the phrase ‘organisation design’.  Or is it something else that relates organisation design to meaning?

I couldn’t just drop the question because during the week it came up in various meetings I was in.  Not as the blunt question – what does organisation design mean? – but more as a subtle probing and poking, first as I ran a pilot of a one-day organisation design course for line managers, second as I worked with a colleague to develop the outlines for 5 x 30 minute tip-sessions for general awareness about organisation design, third in a discussion with the Organisation Design Forum Board who are working on their annual strategic plan and fourth as I ran a 1 hour intro to organisation structure charts – what they do and don’t tell us.

Focusing on the conversation with the ODF Board, this went in the more philosophical direction.  Organisation design means designing good work in a context that retains the human spirit where efficiency and effectiveness metrics are balanced with positive social contribution.  Socio-tech thinking came up as an something to explore further in this part of the discussion. Developing this idea that organisation design means fulfilling a business (say efficiency) imperative with a social obligation to people led the discussion towards ethics and another question.  Does organisation design mean adherence to a code of ethics?

Out of curiosity – according to an article in the current issue of HBR a great attribute to have –they say we should cultivate it – I wondered how an actual philosopher would tackle the question ‘What does organisation design mean?’  This took me down several interesting routes – I learned about analytic and synthetic methods, about instrumental and intrinsic value and got lost in the maze of possibilities.  Sharply pulling myself out of wandering I thought we could hand the question to a research student interested in philosophy and organisation design.

If the question is more about the scope of organisation design – what is in the ‘package’ of it that gets sold by consultants to clients, there are plenty of examples to share on what people put in their packages.  Take a look at Change Works Designed Organization (TM) 7 step approach, for example or Kates Kesler’s Five Milestone Design Process or Axelrod Group’s Conference Model® for organisation design.   (Note the principals in these organisations are members of the ODF Advisory Group).

Each of these consultant’s packages of organisation design – what it means to them differ.  I wonder if we have enough conversations with clients on the question ‘what does organisation design mean?’ in respect to the various ‘packages’ on offer in order to find one that is a good match.  Whether we could agree on the ‘right’ package is a moot point – the philosophy investigation led me to thinking that what organisation design means is subjective rather than objective.

If the question is more about the definition of organisation design – again there are lots to choose from: Take Nicolay Worren’s blog ‘What is organisation design?’ From this a reader learns that OD means more than ‘boxology’, involving ‘the creation of roles, processes and structures to ensure that the organization’s goals can be realized’.  The Center for Organizational Design says, ‘Organizational design is a step-by-step methodology which identifies dysfunctional aspects of work flow, procedures, structures and systems’.   McKinsey describes organisation design as ‘going beyond lines and boxes to define decision rights, accountabilities, internal governance, and linkages’.

It’s striking that what these definitions have in common is they are about the ‘hard’ aspects of the organisation – coming from the roots of systems theory.  They are not about the ‘soft’ aspects that come from the roots of social and behavioural science and form the basis of organisation development.   The two fields are distinctly different.  I saw these distinctions played out in another experience I had last week.

I spent Wednesday in the day-surgery ward of a hospital. Not me having surgery but someone I was accompanying.  From my companion status I was able to observe how the organisation design – systems, processes, decisions made, technologies, hierarchies of staff, protocols followed, floor layouts, and so on played out in the course of the day.

But I also observed that we (patient plus companion) felt safe in the process, cared for and treated with kindness and dignity – the interactions of the staff between themselves and with us spoke of development activity that complemented the design activity.

Synthesising these various lines of enquiry leads me to suggest that to answer the question ‘What does organisation design mean’ we have to look from at least the three perspectives I’ve discussed:

  1. What does organisation design work mean in a more philosophical sense for organisational stakeholders and how can our work have a positive outcome and meaning for them?
  2. What do we mean by the process of doing organisation design – what’s in the ‘package’ of it and what is the methodology we use?
  3. What do we understand by the words ‘organisation design’ in order to arrive at a (systems) definition of it that does not blur the design with development?

Whether we can agree any of these three, I don’t know.  Also, I’m not sure what the value would be in agreeing in order to underpin an Organisation Design Certification.  If the process of certifying is rigorous (see my questions on the Certification) and focuses on the design rather than the development aspects of organisation this may be more valuable to organisations and practitioners than getting to any objective agreement on what organisation design means.  (Though perhaps, I’m wrong in assuming that agreement implies a objective interpretation and application.)

The forthcoming Organisation Design Forum Conference (October 19 -20) offers a forum for discussing the question.  Maybe I’ll give it a go.

What do you think organisation design means? Should we agree on it?  Let me know.

Image:  Do we all agree?

And now I’m Certified

‘Thank you for your CODP application and supporting materials. The review committee has evaluated the application and documentation combined, and found that you have provided all necessary means, as well as met all requirements for certification. Therefore, I am happy to inform you that the committee has granted you the certification – you can now refer to yourself as a Certified Organization Design Professional.’

That’s the email I got a few days ago.  It came as the result of evidencing that I met the criteria for certification and sending in the application payment.  (The 2018 payment is $150:00 but it is going up in 2019.  So, if you are interested in applying – go for it now to get the current rate).

The criteria info states:

‘As an organization design professional, you can become certified if you meet a set of criteria divided into education and practice – both criteria are estimated based on your achievements through the past two years.

You might be asking why I decided to apply for Certification?  I asked myself the same question – after all it’s a time and money commitment that is currently (as it’s a new certification) of uncertain value.  And, in applying I’d be making myself vulnerable to peer review.

The rational part of me kept telling myself I’m already over-committed to stuff and l need to practice saying ‘no’ to taking on anything that will take time – I didn’t need the added pressure of applying for Certification.  But as Mark Rowlands says, in his wonderful book, Running with the Pack ‘there was a small, sneaky, irrational part of me that always knew I was going to be standing at the starting line of this race’.  Though in my case it wasn’t in the starting line of a race, but the starting section of the application form.  (Helpfully this is ‘Your full name’ so I felt confident on that question).

The small, sneaky part of me that over-ruled the rational part of me did it by presenting four reasons why applying would be ‘a good thing’ to do. I’d be:

  1. Participating in a new venture that which is worth supporting
  2. Contributing to an effort to professionalize organisation design
  3. Reflecting on what I have learned and developed in the past two years
  4. Testing and learning from the application process and criteria for myself

I’ll discuss each of these in turn.

Participating in a new venture that is worth supporting.  Organisation design is what academics call a fragmented field that (adapting from a paper on knowledge management) ‘lacks a common conceptual core; it is cross‐disciplinary, it addresses a wide variety of organisational phenomena, and it has difficulty distinguishing itself from many related areas of organisational/consulting practice’.   In my view, any effort that in the words of the Organisation Design Community (ODC) helps ‘research, practice, and learning intersect to produce valuable design knowledge and applications’ is worth supporting.  The Certification is a new part of the several activities orchestrated, individually and collectively, by the ODC, the Organization Design Forum, and the European Organization Design Forum designed to do that.

Contributing to an effort to professionalize organisation design.   A definition of ‘a profession’ that I agree with says: A Profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.’  Over the years I’ve been involved in the field there has been no recognised endorsement of professionalism although there are numerous short and long programmes that teach organisation design (see my blog on this).  However, now organisation design is the ‘hot topic’ it’s time that it became a recognised ‘profession’ with a code of ethics and a process for quality assuring the practitioners in a way that gives confidence to buyers of organisation design work.  Note that this is early days on the ‘professionalizing’ road and the handbook of certification explicitly states ‘Certification does not warrant or guarantee the individual’s expertise in the field of organization design, nor does it signify that the individual is equipped to manage a given project within the field.’

Reflecting on what I have learned and developed in the past two years.   I’ve been in the Organization Design field for over 20 years and I think I have expertise in it.  With this, I’m conscious that, in the words of researcher Elizabeth Jones, ‘Expert professionals act at a level of automaticity with knowledge that enables efficient, effective and unselfconscious practice. They must also extend the theoretical and research knowledge that informs their practice and engage in critical enquiry into their own practice. Through these processes, professionals acquire new knowledge and skills as they develop a well-elaborated and improving theory of practice.’

My rational self pointed out that completing an application form hardly constitutes reflective practice.  (For more on that read the classic, and excellent, Donald Schon book,  The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action).  However, it did require me to look back over two years, see what I’d been writing about, working on and learning.  In that look-back process I did get some insights on how my practice has changed.

Testing the application process for myself.  Having got myself across the start line of form completion and completed the name, education, etc sections I tackled the 4 questions that form the meat of the process:

  • Describe your general experience with organizational design
  • Describe below how you meet the education requirement by providing information in the table with educational activity you have participated in
  • Using the table below, please describe in detail how you have achieved 1040 hours practical organizational design experience within the past two years
  • Describe how your background has supported your work as an organization design professional

This turned out to take quite a bit of time and effort (as my rational self had predicted).   Sifting through files, memories, and documents for the right combination of practical, theoretical, educational and developmental information resulted in a couple of trash-bags of documents I don’t know why I kept so long, a re-ordering of my on-line files to make info retrieval easier, and finally some paragraphs I felt happy enough with to submit.

In getting to this point I also ended up with ten questions about the Certification:

  1. Do trainers facilitating the accredited courses need be certified practitioners? (I think not).
  2. Who supervises the reviewer panel?
  3. The requirements for course accreditation are very detailed.  Are the reviewers looking for this type of information in the individual practitioner certification?
  4. How much value does individual certification process and the course accreditation process add to organisations wanting organisation design skills?
  5. Are there bursaries for people/organisations who can’t afford the certification/accreditation fees?
  6. Is three years too long before individual re-certification given the current pace of organisational change?
  7. Should the assessment process be more rigorous – for example the requirement to submit a portfolio of evidence?
  8. Should there be more emphasis placed on the ‘reflective practitioner’ in the assessment process?
  9. Should people being certified also agree to conform to a code of ethics? (Note: the ODC members agree to adhere to the Academy of Management Code of Ethics.  The ODF and EODF do not have a response when the term ‘ethics’ is entered into their search box).
  10. Is there a plan to start quality assuring the practitioners?

As I’m an Advisory Board Member of the EODF and ODC I can pick these up with the ‘relevant authorities’.

Meanwhile I can happily report that the certification process focused my mind on what matters in my OD work, encouraged me to reflect on my OD practice, and provided a lovely review point of the highs and lows in my recent OD career.

Do you think a Professional Certification in Organisation Design Practice is an individual or organisational value-add?  Let me know.

Puzzling over the hidden matrix

I’ve been puzzling over a matrix organisation again.  (See my earlier blog Matrix structures: the pessimism advantage) Talking about a matrix seems to elicit the Marmite response – love it or hate it.  Apparently whether you love or hate Marmite is down to your genes.  I wonder if the same can be said for a matrix organisation?

Marmite has an Australian equivalent, Vegemite, and they’re similar but different. That’s true for matrix organisations too.  There are similar but different ones.  I found a useful definition of terms on this:

Matrix  Any organizational structure in which the project manager shares responsibility with the functional managers for assigning priorities and for directing the work of individuals assigned to the project.

Balanced matrix   A matrix structure in which the project manager and functional managers share roughly equal authority over the project. The project manager decides what needs to be done; functional managers are concerned with how it will be accomplished.

Strong matrix  A matrix structure in which the project manager has primary control over project activities and functional managers support project work.

Weak matrix  A matrix structure in which functional managers have primary control over project activities and the project manager coordinates project work.

A formal matrix organisation of the type defined above is usually shown on an organisation chart as two dimensions – vertical and horizontal – with, for example, function or product on the vertical axis and project or geography on the horizontal.   The intended purpose of this dual reporting is to increase lateral co-ordination at the levels below the leadership team.

Nicolay Worren in a 2012 blog asserts that ‘When you examine a particular firm more carefully, however, you usually don’t find that people report to more than one boss (formally), although they of course may work for multiple managers in a variety of different roles. Yet this [reporting to more than one boss] was the defining feature of the matrix organization when it was first conceived.’

(If you feel so inclined, you can take a quiz testing your knowledge of matrix structures – which could feel rather similar to taking a blind Marmite/Vegemite test).

What that list of types of matrix doesn’t show is one which I, like Nicolay Worren, think is the most common – the ‘hidden matrix’ as he calls it:  ‘By that I mean governance processes and authority relationships that cross the formal units, but which are not shown on the official organization chart (and that are usually not deliberate)’.

In the Marmite/Vegemite test, the idea is that there’s a ‘winner’.  You like Marmite more than Vegemite or vice versa.  You’d think that this form of competition should not feature in a formal matrix organisation in which one-person reports to two ‘equal’ managers.   But  in practice people favour a hidden matrix (where they are working for, not reporting to, multiple managers) over a formal one because they favour whatever will allow them to get their work done in order to meet performance objectives.  Often the hidden matrix develops as a sensible workaround to a faulty formal structure whether it’s matrix or another structural form.

Many organisations now comprise several dimensions, for example:  functions, projects, geographies, and sectors (industry or product or service).  Add in governance systems and then add in an element that requires collaboration with a completely different organisation if the product/service is to be successful delivered and you have six dimensions to structure. How can these be structured?  Could they, for example, be structured as a formal matrix, like a mathematical one of rows and columns?

In this multi-dimensional organisation it is inevitable that the hidden matrix will be hard at work, aiming to combat some of the shortcomings of any formal organisation structure.  However, a hidden matrix also has shortcomings.

Worren outlines three difficulties with the hidden matrix:

  • It creates a difficult role for the middle manager.
  • It makes it difficult for top executives to assign real accountability to a sub-unit.
  • It introduces a conflict of interest, or a goal conflict.

These are almost identical difficulties to those identified in a formal matrix (one person reporting to two managers).   A research paper identifies multiple negative issues:

‘… the risks of loyalty conflicts and unclear accountabilities; and localised claims to authority (authority bias) and decisions and actions taken in isolation lead to the risk of poor decision-making. Overlaps in responsibility and authority can result in power struggles and conflict, leading to the risk of slow response time. Preoccupation with sectional interests and infighting can result in a tendency toward anarchy, leading to the risk of control problems. Dual reporting, role ambiguity and conflict, and competing objectives and priorities can lead to personnel issues, such as the risk of staff stress and turnover.’

My current puzzle is to do with multi-dimensional organisations.  I’m puzzling over  how to develop a formal structure and whether the ‘hidden matrix’ can emerge/be visible within a formal structure,  in a way that people understand, that marries the hidden matrix with the formal structure and that makes work more efficient, effective and enjoyable in practice.

This would not be such an issue if people were less interested in the visual organisation chart and more interested in enabling work to get done effectively and efficiently.   We could show organisational relationships, work flows, and interactions via network mapping or similar systems maps and then potentially adjust workflows and interactions in response to what we see.  However, the current reality is that the majority of people cling to the idea that they need an organisation chart and that changing the chart will solve organisational issues.

That tendency aside, assuming that a formal organisation cannot be structured easily from the multi-dimensions and that the hidden matrix organization, inherent in any formal organization structure brings problems and risks, what can be done to make the hidden matrix visible, and the formal organization more accommodating of the matrix within it?

In the case I am working on, I’m going to recommend we do six things:

  1. Brokering conversations about the attributes of the hidden matrix and the relationship of it to the current organisation structure
  2. Developing the positive attributes of the hidden matrix
  3. Minimizing the negative attributes of the hidden matrix
  4. Assessing ways of making the hidden matrix visible
  5. Encouraging people to stop looking at, then changing, organisation charts i.e. reporting lines as the sole means of solving issues
  6. Identifying and then reporting on measures of organizational structure performance

Hidden matrix structures are here whether you love them or hate them. We’re not looking for a winner but for an ability to work with, what two researchers called the paradoxes of a matrix:

  • increased frequency of lateral communication vs ambiguity over roles, responsibility, and conflict between functional managers and project managers;
  • improved motivation and commitment vs heightened conflict among employees; and
  • high ability to process information vs decision strangulation and slow response times.

How would you approach making the hidden matrix visible in order to make a formal organisation structure more efficient, effective and enjoyable?  Let me know

Image: Antony Gormley, Matrix II


Developing the transition plan

(Each of my blogs in August is an edited extract from my book Organization Design: the Practitioner’s GuideThis is the fourth – from Chapter 6)

Imagine that in the design phase the high-level design team has determined that the organization should no longer be a bureaucratic hierarchy, but be a ‘flatarchy

The characteristics of this flatarchy are very different from those of the current organization. As part of the design work, the design team has developed a ‘from–to’ description

Your task now is to develop the detailed design of the ‘to’:  how many people, what are their skills, what will they be doing, how will they be working, what technology will they be using, what work processes will they be following?

Start by arranging a ‘kick-off’ meeting with the people who worked on designing the high-level model and the people who are going to take this model and work it into a detailed plan for the transition that takes the organization from current to new design.

Think of the kick-off meeting as like passing the baton in a relay race between one team and the next. The difference is that the designing group tends to be one team (although that is not always the case) and the planning group tends to be several work teams, (although, again, this is not always the case).

The kick-off meeting should:

  • Review the work that has happened to this point.
  • Confirm the chosen high-level design option (consider retesting the design for workability and capability to deliver the future state).
  • Log any amendments, new ideas, issues and concerns.
  • Identify obvious areas of work to close the gap between the current and new design
  • Setup teams to work on each area of work with a designated team lead.
  • Do a very high level scope of each team’s work and develop the broad-brush initial actions and outputs envisaged by each work stream. Use activity cards or a Kanban board to keep track.
  • Schedule the next few meetings.

Each team’s task is to work out what, for their part of the system, has to happen to move from the current state to the new organization design. Their work must align with the work of each of the other teams to deliver something that is more than the sum of the individual parts.

Working through this gap-closing exercise to carry out all the tasks and activities needed and putting them into a project plan with milestones and resources required takes time and is an iterative process that starts during the kick-off meeting. Judging how much time is reasonable to allow for transition planning depends, among other factors, on:

  • the scale and complexity of the design project;
  • the level of comfort staff feel with more or less depth of detail and planning; and
  • whether stakeholders are willing to start transitioning some aspects of the design ahead of others.

Borrowing some of the methods of agile methodology and applying them to the transition planning is one way of speeding up this phase and entering the transition phase.  For example, the concept of ‘minimal viable product’ is helpful. In software development, this relates to a point when a new product is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users.

For this phase of organization design, consider what are the absolutely key things that have to change in order to move from the current to the future desired state (determined by impact, or consequences of not changing, etc.)  Plan these first, and then start to action them as you continue with the transition planning.  Starting to act as planning proceeds prevents people from getting stuck in the planning.

Another agile concept that can be usefully applied during this detailed design work is that of ‘sprints’. One organization introduced a hybrid of agile methods, including sprints, to OD projects and explained the approach through a series of ‘Rough Guides’ – one for each phase of the design method. The Guide to Transition Planning opens with the statement:

We are increasingly familiar with agile methodology and terminology. Agile is an alternative to traditional PM, typically used in software development. It helps teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work, known as sprints.

This Guide shows you how to use the agile methodology and terminology in the transition planning phase of an OD piece of work.

In this approach, transition planning teams work in a series of sprints with daily stand-ups.  An OD lead and the project manager hold daily stand-up meetings with OD leads from the work streams. The OD team members keep track of consistency across the pieces of work and, as the detailed planning proceeded, liaise with the project manager on what should go on the plan.

At the end of each two-week sprint the teams meet in a workshop to review progress on the design, discuss what they have learned and/or tested, and agree the objectives for each team for the next two weeks. Usually after a 3 or so 2-weeks sprints most aspects of the high-level design have been detailed, tested further, verified and validated, and an implementation plan is ready to be signed off.

In a more traditional approach, each team lead reports weekly to the project manager and OD lead, who co-ordinate, monitor and support their activity. A straightforward and useful way of capturing weekly progress is through ABCD reports, where A = Achieved this week; B = the Benefit this activity has brought to the project implementation planning; C = any Concerns or issues that have surfaced during the week; and D = the planned activity for the coming week (to Do).

This is a simple format for keeping the detailed design teams on track and feeding information to the project manager that will go into the plan. Each team lead completes it for their team. The team leads circulate their updates to one another for discussion at a weekly face-to-face or telephone meeting with the project manager and OD consultant. Following the meeting (when actions have been agreed), the project manager consolidates the information in one document and circulates it to the project steering group members, along with the plan on a page from the starting phase to refer back to and discuss/amend in the light of reported progress.

As this detailed planning work proceeds, the project manager focuses on three things: ensuring that each work stream is delivering to target, populating and updating the transition plan, ensuring alignment with any parallel initiatives or other work going on in the organization that will affect the new design but is outside its scope.

Making the connections with interdependent projects and work is helped, not only by formal governance, but also by encouraging informal collaboration and transparency across the organization and asking questions, for example: ‘Are we making the connections?’, ‘What are we missing?’, ‘What are the possible impacts of what I am doing on other aspects of work I know about?’ Also ask employees to raise an alert if they see a ‘join the dots’ opportunity that may be being missed.

The ‘product’ coming out of the detailed designing usually includes the following:

  • a developed, articulated and communicable vision of the new organization;
  • clearly described and agreed business objectives and measures;
  • the detailed organization structure (levels, layers, spans, linkages, co-ordination mechanisms);
  • mapped core business processes/workflows with interdependencies and hand-off points;
  • defined units of work that feed into roles and jobs;
  • descriptions of the jobs and person specifications with decision and authority levels;
  • descriptions of ways of working (behaviours, principles, protocols);
  • a transition/implementation plan that closes the gap between the current and the new design state with a timeline and metrics.

How do you do the detailed planning to move from a current to a new design?  Let me know.

Image: Planning v improvisation

Evaluating organization design work

(Each of my blogs in August is an edited extract from my book Organisation Design: the Practitioner’s GuideThis is the third – from Chapter 8)

In organization design work there is often little appetite to evaluate whether the work has led to performance improvements.   But there are many benefits in doing an evaluation, for example:

  • It focuses the OD work on the context of the business strategy, because it forces people to answer questions like ‘Why did we do this?’, ‘How will are we achieving the return on investment in doing it?’ and so on.
  • It defines improvement in both qualitative and quantitative terms, and ties it closely to achieving business objectives using measures that feed into the overall organization performance measures.
  • It puts the design work in a timeframe and helps the client see what outcomes might be expected as ‘quick wins’ and what results will take longer to achieve and measure.
  • It places accountability for improvement in the hands of the line manager – which usually means a close eye is kept on progress and quick decisions are made if called for.
  • It fosters sharing of learning on successes and failures in OD work
  • It enables issues to be identified and action taken as needed.
  • It identifies where there are opportunities to take things further and deliver greater benefit than originally thought.
  • It suggests routes to building organizational resilience: that is, ‘the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, and respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper’ (Denyer, 2017).
  • It assesses whether and how the design is solving organizational problems and adding value as it does so.

Assuming agreement to conducting an evaluation, follow these seven steps:

Step 1 – Agree the evaluation need

  • Work with the business unit to help define what success would look like, not just at this point but into the next year or so. Because the context is changing all the time, there is a need to judge whether the design is on the right course to meet the goals set at the start, and if it will continue to do so as new goals emerge – or, if this is looking doubtful, what action to take.
  • Make sure that the sponsoring manager considers how the new design contributes to the overall organizational strategy and goals – and what other interrelated factors need to be considered when making OD changes in their area. This is important because it helps people remember that their piece of work is one element in a whole system. Clients often forget that what they do in their part of the organization is interdependent with other parts.

Step 2 – Agree who the evaluation is for and why

  • Discuss the reasons for doing the evaluation: as well as determining whether the new design is delivering the intended outcomes, there may be a need to decide something, seize an opportunity, learn something new or to assess the return on OD investment.
  • Agree who the audiences are for the information from the evaluation (e.g., customers, bankers, funders, board, management, staff, customers, clients, etc.). This will help decide what evaluation tools to use and how to present the information from the evaluation process.
  • Consider the kinds of information appropriate to the intended audiences. For example, is it information to help understand:
  • Encourage people to question the metrics they are currently tracking: are they inputs, outputs or outcomes? Quite often effort goes into measuring the wrong things or measures something that will encourage perverse behaviours.

Step 3 – Choose the evaluation methods

Determine which of the three types of evaluation data to collect: quantitative (numbers), qualitative (words and observation), or mixed (numbers, words and observation). The choice depends on the context, as each type of data has advantages and disadvantages, and none is perfect. Any data captured should be valid, current, relevant and reliable.

  • Assess the tools available in the market for design evaluation. Some tools will be better than others for particular jobs.
  • Bear in mind when making evaluation tool choices:
  • From what sources should the information be collected? For example, employees, customers, clients, groups of customers or clients and employees together, programme documentation?
  • How that information can be collected in a reasonable fashion? Through questionnaires, interviews, examining documentation, observing customers or employees, conducting focus groups among customers or employees?
  • When is the information needed? By when must it be collected? What resources are available to collect the information?
  • Agree, at an organizational level, a ‘basket’ of measures that leaders can pick from so that you will be able to compare one organization design with another. This ensures some consistency across the organization.
  • Ensure you pick measures which can be tracked on an ongoing basis, preferably from before the design work began, through its progress into the new design and beyond. This means thinking carefully about measures that will be appropriate throughout the life cycle of the design.
  • Avoid measuring the same thing in two different ways, so review any measures that are already in organizational use (e.g. on leadership, innovation, collaboration, etc.) to check that they are the right ones, and develop measures that fill any gaps.

Step 4 – Agree how the tool or tools will be applied

Remember, almost any tool, quantitative or qualitative, can be applied in a number of ways. For example, the choice of a quantitative survey raises a number of questions: should it be paper-based or web-based? Should it be administered to a sample of the population (what type/size of sample?) or to the whole population? Should it be at one time point or several time points, or should it be a continuous real-time data collection?

Step 5 – Prepare the ground for success

Be aware that there can be unexpected consequences of applying an evaluation tool, as the context is usually complex. For example, deciding to do a skills-level analysis could result in trade union intervention if it was felt the results of the analysis would be used to select individuals to make redundant.  Identify and manage the risks of things going wrong.

Step 6 – Decide who will do the evaluation

Selecting the right people to evaluate the outcomes of the design work involves finding those who are some or all of the following:

  • members of the department/consultancy conducting the review;
  • people with working knowledge of the business area under review and its processes;
  • people with relevant technical knowledge;
  • strategy planners with knowledge of the organization’s business strategy and the OD’s contribution to it;
  • people involved in meeting the objectives of the new design but not directly involved in its design and planning.

 Step 7 – Agree how the evaluation findings will be communicated and to whom

Evaluation yields different types of information and knowledge to share with other project teams and with stakeholders. Many large organizations describe themselves as ‘siloed’ and have difficulty learning from their own members. Communicating evaluation findings to the different stakeholder groups, using a variety of communication channels, helps spread good practice and develop common values and consistent approaches.

There are some common problems that may be encountered in evaluating but these can be minimized by:

  • harmonizing the measurements across business units (preferably in the assessment phase);
  • establishing protocols for capturing and retrieving design work documentation
  • making formal agreements with departments/BUs to participate in the review process (as part of the business case).

Done systematically, the evaluation will yield actionable information on things that must be addressed to optimize the new organization design.

Do you evaluate your organization design work outcomes?  If so, how?  Let me know.


What triggers organization design work?

 (Each of my blogs in August is an edited extract from my book Organization Design: the Practitioner’s GuideThis is the second – from Chapter 4)

Organization design work starts in many different ways. Sometimes a practitioner is presented with a new organization chart and told to ‘make it like this’; sometimes it can be a casual conversation that results in a piece of work; at other times, it can be a feeling or statement that something needs addressing (an opportunity or a problem); and frequently it can be a planned piece of work developed out of a particular strategy – for example, a merger. Sometimes it is the practitioner who starts the conversation: ‘Does this need design work?’, and sometimes it is either the client or someone else in the situation who raises the question.

Almost without exception, behind the question ‘Does this need design work?’ is a changed, changing, or predicted-to-change organizational context. It is this context of change that is the trigger for design work. The question ‘Does this need design work?’ enters someone’s consciousness either as a reaction to a changed context or as a recognition of a current context in flux or as a prediction of an about-to-change context. In the example below, a consultant was approached by a board member of a multisite educational organization in the Middle East. The consultant summarized their discussion as follows:

‘You are clear that the Institute does need to change. It is federally funded and has a commitment to operate efficiently, offer a high-quality educational experience to students, and create ecosystems of innovation and entrepreneurship that help take the region into twenty-first-century growth and productivity. The government has stated that your emphasis now has to be on building future-facing capacity, capability, and hard and soft skills in the local workforce in order to reduce reliance on expats. What you are looking for, at this point, is support in:

  • Taking the agreed strategy and, from it, developing an implementable operating model and OD
  • Developing the detailed implementation plans with success metrics
  • Executing the plans and measuring the benefits realized by the new operating model and OD
  • Ensuring that Institute staff, students and stakeholders understand the need for change, how it is to be achieved, and their role in making the change successful. [/]

In this example, the conversation on design work was triggered by the recognition of a political and economic context currently in flux, resulting in the need to create ecosystems of innovation and to reduce reliance on expats by building local capability.’

In most cases, organization members are able to identify current and short-term context changes, but they have a harder time with long-term horizon scanning. However, this is what is most likely to sustain an organization’s existence and keep it thriving. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, is well known for his rare skill in holding a long-term perspective, which has led to Amazon’s huge success. Amazon is continuously designed and redesigned with the long-term perspective in mind. Every year Bezos reissues his 1997 letter to shareholders stating his position on long-term thinking. The full letter is long, but its main point is that Amazon cannot realize the potential of its people or its companies unless it plans for the long term.

The desire to work to short-term around OD work is attributable to several factors, including the requirement to hit quarterly earnings targets, lack of management or leadership time to reflect and discuss a longer-term future, constant ‘firefighting’, being rewarded only for immediate results, and/or not caring about the future of the organization because current decision-makers will not be part of it.

Short-term design can be useful to help address an immediate problem – providing the problem is solved and is not just the symptom of the problem. Often, though, short-term decisions on design can compromise longer-term value and bring the risk of having to ‘unpick’ the work and redo it (See: Silverthorne, 2012).

One of the roles of an organization designer is to help clients and other stakeholders understand the risks of responding only to short-term triggers and to understand the value of taking a longer-term view. Ron Ashkenas, consultant and author, offers three points for developing and then optimizing designs that have a longer-term horizon (5–15 years).

‘1    First, make sure that you have a dynamic, constantly refreshed strategic ‘vision’ for what your organization (or unit) will look like and will achieve 3–5 years from now. I’m not talking about a strategic plan, but rather a compelling picture of market/product, financial, operational and organizational shifts over the next few years. Try to develop this with your direct reports (and other stakeholders) and put the key points on one page. This then serves as a ‘true north’ to help guide key decisions.

2    Second, make sure that your various projects and initiatives have a direct line of sight to your strategic vision. Challenge every potential investment of time and effort by asking whether it will help you get closer to your vision, or whether it will be a building block to help you get there. Doing this will force you to continually rebalance your portfolio of projects, weeding out those that probably won’t move you in the right direction.

3    Finally, be prepared to take some flack. There may be weeks, months or quarters where the results are not on the rise, or don’t match your (or analysts’) expectations. Long-term value, however, is not created in straight lines. As long as you’re moving iteratively towards the strategic vision on a reasonable timeline, you’re probably doing the right things. And, sure, you can always do more. But just make sure that you’re doing things for the right reasons.’

It’s important to keep communicating to stakeholders, as Bezos does, the reasons for taking a longer-term approach and to be continuously designing the organization.  It helps to back up the communication with narrative and quantitative information that ‘provides a holistic picture of the business, describing the economic, environmental and social performance of the corporation as well as the governance structure that leads the organization. By embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) data into financial reports, a company achieves an effective communication of its overall long-term performance’ (Silverthorne, 2012).

People in organizations weak at horizon scanning, future thinking and forecasting can look for help in various quarters. As Thomas Frey, World Future Society, points out:   ‘Since no one has a totally clear vision of what lies ahead, we are all left with degrees of accuracy. Anyone with a higher degree of accuracy, even by only a few percentage points, can offer a significant competitive advantage’

Whether your perspective is short-term or long-term, the thing to bear in mind is that:

‘Any organizational structure should be temporary. Organizations have no separate existence; they function as tools of the business. When businesses change their priorities … then organizations must be changed, sometimes even discarded. That is why it is so wrong to encourage employees to identify with the organization – they need to identify with the business. If you are a Bedouin, it’s the difference between the tent and the tribe. As for building an organization, I think [Henry] Mintzberg got it right when he suggested that two things must be settled – the division of labor and co-ordination after that. But again, any division, any organization is always temporary.’ (Corkindale, 2011)

Do you think organization design is triggered by changes in the external context?  Let me know.

Image Hot topic: trigger points – myth or magic?


A leader’s role in organisation design and development work

(Each of my blogs in August is an edited extract from my book Organisation Design: the Practitioner’s GuideThis is the first – from Chapter 9)

Leaders play a critical role in three ways in relation to organisation design and development (OD & D) work: stating and explaining the ‘why’ of design or development; supporting people in making sense of the context that the OD & D work is responding to; and telling the stories of how it is going. Here I discuss these three aspects.

There is no value in doing OD & D work if the ‘why’ of doing it is not clear to people. Too frequently, unfortunately, the ‘why’ is not obvious – ‘if things are going nicely, then why change them?’ is a common response to proposed OD & D work. Reasons for doing OD & D work that are rather vague, for example, to be more adaptable’, ‘to be fit for the future’ or ‘to be more competitive’ are not enough to convince people that the value to be gained from OD & D is worth the effort.

It is an organization’s leaders to state the ‘why’ do an OD & D piece of work in words that are meaningful to stakeholders so that stakeholders understand how the new design will affect them.

Simon Sinek, who wrote a book ‘Start with Why’ , says that a ‘why?’ statement has two parts: first, a part that clearly expresses the unique contribution and second a part that conveys the impact of an organization. For example, the UK has a Financial Conduct Authority. Why? ‘To make financial markets work well so that consumers get a fair deal’. The organization’s contribution is ‘to make financial markets work well’ and the impact is ‘so that consumers get a fair deal’

Taking the same approach to an OD & D piece of work in the Financial Conduct Authority, asking the question, ‘Why do OD & D?’ might result in a statement like ‘To make our business quicker at identifying and responding to European Union regulatory changes so that citizens are well informed and prepared when the changes happen.’

A leadership team that spends time really thinking through the question ‘Why do OD & D work?’ – focusing on its impact on the work and the workforce – makes a big difference to the speed at which work can progress.

Explaining the ‘why?’ of  OD & D work helps people make sense of what is going on. Leaders often see more of the context, and have more of the ‘puzzle pieces’, than people who are focused on doing a particular task or role. Having access to the ‘bigger picture’ puts leaders in a good position to make sense of complex environments for themselves.  It is then the leader’s responsibility to help employees understand the ‘why’ make sense of it and put it into their own words so that within a short space of time a reasonably consistent and common view emerges of the reasons for the OD & D activity.

Sense-making is an important part of OD & D work.   People typically become anxious in situations that they are not expecting, or that come across as uncertain and ambiguous. They look to leaders to interpret and make sense of the situation for (or with) them. Failure to do this on the leaders’ part leads to heightened anxiety and multiple individual interpretations of the situation.

Deborah Ancona, director of the MIT Leadership Center at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains how leaders go about sense-making:

This sense-making ability is a particularly important predictor of leadership effectiveness right now. … It requires executives to let go of their old mental models and some of their core assumptions; to take in data from a wide variety of sources; to use the information they have to construct, with others, a ‘map’ of what they think is going on; and to verify and update the map – in part by conducting small experiments that provide the organization with more information.

Researcher Sally Maitlis found that leaders approach their role of supporting collective sense-making in one of four ways:

  • Guided, where they are ‘energetic in constructing and promoting understanding and explanations of events’;
  • Fragmented, where leaders are not trying to control or organize discussions but allowing stakeholders to generate alternative pictures;
  • Restricted, where leaders promote their own sense of what is going on with little stakeholder involvement; and
  • Minimal, when both leaders and stakeholders await some other interpretation of the issues.

If leaders of OD & D work take a combination of guided and fragmented sense-making approaches then stakeholders are more likely to feel involved in the design process. This is tricky to handle. The guiding sets the framework and the outlines; the fragmenting allows for local or individual interpretation within the framework.

Explaining the ‘why?’ and guiding stakeholder sense-making can be supported by storytelling. Be aware that although stories can be an effective and inspirational tool to make sense of what happens in organizations, or to inspire, provoke or stimulate change they can also be used to mask the truth or to manipulate.

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her Ted talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’,  reinforces this point, saying: ‘Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.’ She follows this by warning of the dangers of a ‘single story’ or (as a common organizational phrase has it) ‘one version of the truth’. (This phrase originally came from the technology world, in relation to having a data warehouse that was the single source of organizational data.)

Adichie goes on to say:

‘It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is nkali. It’s a noun that loosely translates to ‘to be greater than another’. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: how they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.’

For her, ‘many stories matter’ – a single story does not illustrate a complex situation. When telling stories, leaders should recognize that there are many possible stories about the same situation. Effective leaders, who are good as storytellers, neither abuse their power nor tell a single story. They tell many stories – drawn from guided and fragmented sense-making – and they tell these stories from a position of equality and respect, illustrating organizational complexity, a diversity of views, and their own responses to uncertainty. Stories told this way – that explain the why, and acknowledge uncertainty and anxiety – help to build confidence in, and an emotional connection to, the new design. They also demonstrate authentic, transformational leadership.

What would help your organisational leaders do effective OD & D work?  Let me know.

Image: Jane Ash Poitras