Business case for organization design

This week I got an email from someone who says "I have been asked to put together the business case for going down the organization design route to solving a number of organizational issues. The problem is that the executive team does not see that the organization design process is the best way to get them from current to future state because they think they can just write down the work priorities for their areas on the back of an envelope and then decide what to stop doing etc."

She then lists the organizational issues the group has identified need addressing:

• Approaching service delivery differently (but not specifying what or how)
• Making more effective use of our tightening resources
• Smoothing out the patchiness, peaks and troughs in workloads across the organisation
• Ensuring that we are not just driving financial change but also culture and values change
• Supporting the executives in spending time on the strategic things and not the lower level work
• Putting more focus on managing the business and how this impacts staff
• Developing wider, cross-organization thinking so that fewer things slip through the net

So what would go into the business case? I've been thinking about this during the week and it seems that there's a step that needs to happen before the business case. That is showing the executive that they are working in a system, and if they each go off and sort out their bit then there is likely to be confusion among staff and disconnected projects running the outcome of which will be financial cost and loss of employee productivity.

The back of the envelope approach is a classic response of people who are thinking about their patch and not the whole enterprise, and also smacks of political game-playing. In one organization I worked in we used to encourage managers to use "big hat thinking and not little hat". An executive team has to work at a whole enterprise level or it's not an executive team.

To help the team understand this, my tack would be to take one of the issues they want to resolve, say "Making more effective use of our tightening resources" and then individually in a 1:1 discussion ask each of the executive team what this means to them and how they would operationalize it in their area. With that information gathered, I'm guessing that it will expose the fact that there are several different views of what 'effective use' means that if acted on in individual business units would have a negative rather than positive enterprise impact.

I would then take this back to the whole team showing that individual efforts within business units would not have the desired outcomes.

Then rather than potentially irritating the executive team with the jargon of organization design I would suggest writing a business case based on a whole enterprise resolution of the problems rather than a piecemeal/business unit approach. So the business case title would be something on the lines of "An enterprise solution to enterprise issues". Included in this would be some background that noted the risks inherent in taking a 'small hat' approach including duplication of effort, risk of confusing employees, danger of spending more resources on individual effort that would be the case if a collective effort was made, and so on

Why do this? Because one of the things I've noted in my career is that the language you couch things in is critical. You may do exactly what you intended but the difference the words make counts. It's important to use the vocabulary and language of the people you are working with.

The business case would then follow the standard outline of
Project objectives
Approach, including how you are going to involve stakeholders, the roles of the project sponsors, the structure and operation that will deliver the proposal (e.g. steering group, programme manager, project co-ordinators, project stream leaders, the style and phases of designing and delivering the proposal
Key deliverables and milestones/timescale
Measures of success
Issues and risks (including dependencies and assumptions)
Costs and resources
Benefits to be delivered

Beyond the small hat/big hat challenge, and the language of organization design, executives often balk at the thought that it will all take too much time, and become a cottage industry rather than a swiftly and efficiently delivered project.

Tackling any organizational issues takes time (and it takes more time if you have to go back and re-work something that you haven't spent enough time on in the first place). There are eight strategies for helping executives meet the challenge of not enough time that I discuss with my clients. They are adapted from Peter Senge's book The Dance of Change. Then I make sure that what time I am asking from them is worth it from their perspective given that they are working to the guidelines below.

1 Integrate initiatives
Combine several different initiatives into one, even if they started with different champions and participants. The common goal is to enable progress on key issues.

2 Schedule time for focus and concentration
Re-arrange time to encourage focus, concentration, and intensive work. The same activities scheduled in a three day block instead of three one-day blocks can move along much further because people can focus together.

3 Trust people to control their own use of time
Allow people to schedule themselves and be rewarded for the results they produce instead of for being visible. Letting people schedule their time is a great trust builder.

4 Value unstructured time
Allow people informal slack time to encounter one another casually without rushing into decisions or being under pressure to produce immediate results.

5 Build the capability to eliminate unnecessary tasks
Many organisations now expect one person to do the same work that was previously performed by more than one. For example, clerical and administrative work, once handled by support staff is now done by the person who had the support staff – adding an additional burden of work. Some tasks can be eliminated.

6 Say 'no' to political games-playing
Check that what you do is not about giving bosses the answers you think they want to hear, but about delivering value to customers.

7 Say 'no' to non-essential demands
Check that what you do is essential. Distinguish between urgent and important. Cut out the non-essentials.

8 Experiment with time
Answer the questions 'If our purpose is vital, how can we avoid wasting the time we have to get there?' Assess the problems with time flexibility – what controls the amount of time you have available. Take meetings for example – answer these questions for yourself:

Does this meeting absolutely require my attendance?
What specifically will I contribute to it?
What value will attending this meeting add to my doing my job?
Who else could attend in my place?
What would make this an effective meeting?
Will I be able to exploit or develop any of my strengths and skills in this meeting?
Assess the value of the meeting before agreeing to attend.

So how do you make sure that what you offer your clients is in their language and makes good use of their time? Comments welcome.