Formal leaders of organization design projects

The context for organisation design typically raises a number of challenges for formal leaders i.e. those who have formal authority, control of resources, and use of organisational structure, rules and regulations. In essence they are having to simultaneously:

1. Balance the demands of the 'day job' with the demands of the project.
2. Manage a range of competing 'important' and 'urgent' priorities, tasks, and activities.
3. Help staff cope with what is inevitably seen as yet another change. (In some organisations this is called managing 'change fatigue'.)
4. Satisfy the need of the business for a fast change that also gets things right.
5. Get the timing right on leadership issues – knowing when to push and when to let go.
6. Motivate stakeholders who do not report to them but whose input is critical to the project.
7. Work effectively with other leaders both inside and outside the project.

This is a hard thing but doable if the leader

Has a clear grasp on what the vision, mission and purpose of the project is. This may sound obvious but when someone is given a leadership role in a project that is already underway, it is easy to leap into action without properly understanding the project's objectives.

Determines what work needs to be reprioritised or resources reallocated. This involves discussions within the business and may involve renegotiating personal performance objectives and balanced business scorecard measures, and taking steps to reset performance expectations. Leaders who try to take on large pieces of project work in addition to a current workload without making agreed adjustments are not doing anyone a favour.

Clarifies and establishes the boundaries of the project role. Usually it is up to the leader to get some statements from stakeholders about the edges of the role so people are not going into the organisation project with untested assumptions. Consultants and contractors coming into project leadership roles must be diligent in deducing how consistent insiders are in their view of the role and its deliverables.

Establishes levels of accountability and responsibility. These are not the same thing. Check that there are clear linkages between accountabilities and responsibilities and/or clear methods of resolving issues that may arise in trying to deliver outcomes using resources that the leader is not responsible for.

Securing resources. This includes appointing an effective deputy who is fully briefed and engaged in both the project and the day-to- day work. It also means making sure the leader has enough time in which to plan, to eliminate duplication of activities, and to communicate consistently and regularly with stakeholders (both in the project and in his/er day-to-day work)

Mobilises other the formal and informal leaders to work together This is a hard trick to pull off, particularly for people brought in specifically to turn around a project in trouble. It is a matter of achieving the right balance of getting on with those you have to work with and getting on with achieving the objectives of the project – all within a short period of time.

Builds trust quickly by being both credible and competent. Beyond leadership style people look for certain behaviours before they start to trust their leaders. Staff observe what leaders pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis for example:

Recognises and reduces the fear people may have. Even people who trust their leaders may be fearful, for all sorts of reasons, at the thought of an impending organization design change. Fear has a stultifying and demoralising effect. People's fear of uncertainty, disruption and unknown outcomes may inhibit them from asking questions, participating in the design work or expressing a view about it.

Uses power wisely. Leaders who consistently use the same power source(s) usually fail, sometimes spectacularly, in achieving their mission

Works skilfully with 'followers' The way leaders do this depends on their style and there is no best leadership style – what will work in one situation may not work in another. Knowing this, it pays to be alert to the nuances of different situations, and to behave consistently in similar ones. Random and unpredictable behaviour only confuses and alienates people – the opposite of what is required in an organisation design process.

Is conscious of the interests and motivations of other leaders in the programme or project
Morgan (1997) in his discussion of organisations as political systems suggests that "People must collaborate in pursuit of a common task, yet are often pitted against each other in competition for limited resources, status, and career advancement". Organisation design projects by definition shake things up – coalitions change as the project progresses. In most cases there are some leaders who feel that they will either win or lose from any proposed design and will then act to preserve their own interests at the expense of organisational interests. Being able to build what John Kotter calls a 'Guiding Coalition' that balances both collaboration and competition becomes essential to project success on the basis that 'Efforts that don't have a powerful enough guiding coalition can make apparent progress for a while. But, sooner or later, the opposition gathers itself together and stops the change".

If you would like to read more on the leadership of organization design projects look at my books: Organisation Design: the collaborative approach, or The Economist Guide to Organization Design. Both discuss this topic in more detail.

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