Resources for organization design

I was working with a client group the other day who'd got the high level design ready and were working to detail the operational design and implementation plan. We had a discussion on the resources required to move from the current to planned redesign and they came up with the following

Tangible resources required
Intangible resources required
The right politics
'The moment'

It seems like an eclectic list but for their project it made sense. What is interesting about it is that it specifies intangibles that are needed: things that they felt could be derailers and that needed intentional activity to obtain. Sometimes it is difficult to work out what resources, either tangible or intangible, are needed and if this is the case a good approach is to try out Gary Klein's pre mortem exercise.

However it is done, focusing on what resources are needed to achieve a successful transition is an essential step in the planning process. It may be that in some cases a workstream devoted to obtaining resources would be appropriate while in other cases each workstream might be responsible for obtaining specific resources. In any event, for each of the resources required in a particular project ask five questions:

1. Why is this resource necessary – can we do without it?
2. Have we already got this resource and if so where is it?
3. Can/should we obtain it internally and if so how?
4. Can/should we obtain it externally and if so how?
5. How do we mobilize the resource once we have acquired it?

One of the issues around obtaining resources is that control of them is often tied to an organizational power base, or bases. Leaders and others can choose to give or with-hold resources depending on their view of the benefits or dis-benefits of the organization design, their standing in the organization, the political and social systems they engage in and so on.

Working with this 'shadow side' of the organization takes awareness of and ability to operate within five dimensions according to Chris Rodgers (citing Egan) in his book Informal Coalitions

1. The impact of real-life messiness and informality on a planned organization design which confounds the idea of how a plan should work
2. The perspectives and idiosyncrasies of individuals that can run counter to organizational expectations or wants
3. The operation of the organization as a social system 'with its in-groups, out-groups, social routines and rituals, all of which distort the inter-relationships and decision making processes implicit in a transition plan
4. The organization as a political system which recognizes that the organization reflects a diverse range of viewpoints, motivations, and self-interests leading to competing coalitions of people, each seeking to define the organization's agenda and to shape its course of action
5. The cultural assumptions of the organization through which many of the above characteristics become embedded and taken for granted ways of operating – whether these are outside people's awareness or known but undiscussable.'

Peter Senge, in The Dance of Change, describes these aspects of the organization in terms of ten key challenges for organization consultants and designers that manifest in statements like

'We don't have time for this stuff'
'We have no help'
'This stuff isn't relevant'
'You're not walking the talk'
'This stuff is '
'This stuff isn't working'
'You don't understand what we do'
'Who's in charge of doing this?'
'We keep re-inventing the wheel'
'Where are we going and what are we here for?' (Senge, 1999)

Obtaining resources requires the ability to meet these challenges. Resource fulfilment is not just a matter of asking for it: it requires influencing ability, lobbying skills, business savvy, and attentive listening, among other attributes that make for effective operation in the shadow side of the organization. Thus it behoves organization designers to hone these characteristics whilst maintaining authenticity, ethical standards, and self-efficacy.

Asked to identify what the key resource shortage and requirement is many leaders will say that it is the time to work on the organization design whilst maintaining business continuity. This is a very real resource issue and one that Senge writes with insight on. He points out that a design project will fail if people do not commit time to it and makes a number of suggestions on how to think differently about time in order to make it more flexible and available. Here are eight of the many strategies he presents that have proved effective to those managing and working on OD projects.

  • Integrate initiatives: combine several different initiatives, even if they started with different champions and participants. The goal is to share the resources, enable progress on key issues and mitigate risks associated with interfaces, overlap, and duplication.
  • Block off time for focus and concentration: Organise working and design sessions in blocks of time. A one-day workshop is far more intense and productive than two half-days. Time blocks encourage people to reflect and concentrate. A block of time makes better use of this scarce resource than short bursts of time.
  • Trust people to control their own use of time: Those asked to work on the project have to manage their own resource balance of keeping their 'day-job' going and doing the design work. Allow people to schedule themselves and reward them on results. Letting people schedule their own time builds motivation and trust.
  • Recognize the value of unstructured time: People who work on design projects must keep the pace up. They have to meet deadlines and targets. Too tight a focus on this is counter-productive. People's productivity increases if they meet each other casually to compare notes, see how things are going, and discuss concerns or issues. Without the pressure to rush into a decision or produce immediate results they can sometimes solve problems and gain insights to the benefit of the project.
  • Build the capability to eliminate unnecessary tasks: This not only saves resource it frees up resource for other purposes. Encouraging people to stop doing things may seem counter intuitive but many tasks are done because they always have been not because they serve a useful purpose at this point. For example, stop the generation of reports that no one reads. Cancel regularly scheduled meetings that have no specific purpose or decision-making role.
  • Say 'no' to political game playing: Lobbying and influencing stakeholders to support the project might involve politics and game playing but keep focus on the interests of the organization and the customer. Maintain integrity and demonstrate openness and fairness in dealings. (Unfortunately, in some organizations, this approach may be a 'career limiter').
  • Say 'no' to non-essential demands: Check that what is done makes the best use of people's time. If something non-essential is in the schedule does it need doing? Distinguish between urgent and important. Cut out the non-essentials to give people more unstructured time.
  • Experiment with time: Ask questions about time use in your organization. In useful book QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life, the author suggests that personal accountability begins with asking a "what" or "how" question, contains an "I" and focuses on action. Try this with questions about time use. Answer the questions 'What if our purpose is vital, how can I avoid wasting the time we have to get there?' Assess the problems with time flexibility – what controls the amount of time availability in the organization?

Since obtaining resources for organization design work is challenging in a number of ways organization designers are often in the position of working out how to deliver a project with fewer resources than required, with a shifting context in terms of potential resource allocation, and a potential political minefield around the whole resource issue. This calls for workarounds, creative thinking, and judicious deployment of the resources that are forthcoming. Although it may feel easier to focus on the explicit, tangible resources required and aim to get these, the implicit, intangible resources are often more useful in driving to a smooth transition.
What are your thoughts on what resources are needed for organization design work?

Note: This is an extract from my forthcoming book. Organization Design for HR Managers.

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