Organization design competency frameworks

What skills and capabilities do you think an organisation design practitioner needs? I've been looking at the CIPD's HR Profession Map. Apparently it 'captures what successful and effective HR people do and deliver across every aspect and specialism of the profession, and sets out the required activities, behaviour and knowledge.'

It covers 10 professional areas and 8 behaviours, set out in four bands of competence. You can download it which is what I did – but only the professional area of organisation design, because someone had asked me to comment on an in-house competence framework for organisation design.

I'm a little sceptical of professional areas, prescribed behaviours, and bands of competence. It sounds wonderfully structured and woefully inadequate to describe the messy life of a real organisation design consultant. I can't imagine (or, perhaps better to say, remember) what my organisation design path has been and I wonder if I thought about it whether it would resemble steady progression through the CIPD's framework? I doubt it.

Anyway, I took a look at the organisation design one but was stopped at the beginning because the document headers are just Band 1 – 4 with no explanation of what each band meant. I went back to the CIPD and downloaded the band explanation. I discovered that Band 1 is delivering fundamentals, Band 2 is adviser, issues-led, Band 3 is consultant co-operative partner, and Band 4 is leadership colleague, client confidante and coach. There are no arrows and circles showing how in practice you go backwards and forwards between the bands however experienced or inexperienced you are.

I then looked at the areas of 'what you need to do (in addition to core activities)'. These are: assess current need and operating model, design, implement and review. You also need 'Knowledge' and there's a page on what you need to know.

OK – so now I was armed with a 'strawman' with which to compare the framework I was asked to comment on.

But before I launched into the review, I couldn't resist looking for confirmation of my scepticism on competency frameworks. They seem to me to be rooted in a different age, before social media, technology, big data, neuro-stuff, and all the things which reveal that networks, interactions and 'emergence' trump the safety of progression through bands.

I did find quite a lot about the shortcomings of competency frameworks used as leadership development tools. For example, 'Competency frameworks, models, instruments and thinking have long been ingrained and utilized in management and organizational life. Not surprisingly they have been transplanted both swiftly and seemingly easily into the leadership domain. While there certainly have been discomfort and critique from academic and practitioner sources, nothing has emerged strongly enough to date that would provide an alternative mode of framing and translating both leadership and leader-ship development in the different contexts that seek to make it visible'. Leadership as Practice: Challenging the Competency Paradigm

(As an interlude I got lost for a short while on Dilbert cartoons on the topic of competence which was amusing but non-productive )

Then I re-read Alan Meyer's useful article on Emerging Assumptions About Organization Design, Knowledge And Action. In it he has a table with two columns; established assumptions about organisation designs and emerging assumptions about organisation designs. This seems to me to sum up my concern about competency frameworks for organisation designers – the (admittedly only two frameworks) that I've seen are for an era of established assumptions where we are fairly sure that, for example: 'fit and congruence constitute fundamentals of good designs. Designers must align components of designs with each other and with environments.'

Challenging the established assumptions are the emerging organisation design assumptions. In this case the challenge is that 'Organisations face multiple environment and these environments evolve continuously. Designers should avoid rigid configurations of components and tight alignments with environmental elements.' In the table there are four other established and emerging assumptions.

A second table considers organisation design knowledge and it's equally interesting. In this table an established assumption (of the five presented) is that 'Credible design knowledge comes from collecting objective data from large numbers of organisations, conducting systematic analyses of these data, and calculating quantitative relationships between design attributes and outcomes'. Challenging this is the emerging assumption that 'Credible design knowledge comes from field research, open ended conversations with practitioners and naturalistic observations. … '

Right, now consider the CIPD's framework that specifies in band 4 of the 'assess current need phase' that you need to 'Anticipate need for changes in structure, accountabilities and spans of control to maximise efficiency and fulfil organisation strategy'. And in Band 3 of the design stage states that you have to be able to 'Develop a business case for redesigning the organisation including options and recommendation; proposing a design solution that better aligns structure, process, reward, metrics and talent. Both these are clearly based in established assumptions – which, in fact, the entire framework is.

This is not to rubbish the framework, because as the article I mentioned above on leadership competence frameworks says 'nothing has emerged strongly enough to date that would provide an alternative mode of framing' and I think that's where our puzzle lies: we don't know what skills and knowledge we will need to successfully support the design of organisations that challenge the established assumptions.

New and emerging business models are successfully taking on established business models. Look at Uber versus the licensed taxi industry. Challenging Uber with established assumptions about how things work is not being very effective as licensed taxi drivers and city policy makers are finding out.

If we are working with established organisations who face competition from who knows where and what form – and they all do – we cannot rely on our skills and knowledge gained from using established assumption competence models.

We need emerging assumption skills, knowledge, and behaviours which are unlikely to be amenable to frameworks with levels and bands. The thing is how in this new order do we start to identify what are the activities we 'do' and what is the knowledge we should look for? Some people are looking towards product, service and visual designers, others are looking at architects and city planners for insights, and others are looking at anthropology, ethnography and social/neuro sciences – there are multiple fields which organization designers could draw from to develop new skills and knowledge that will help with new business models and emerging assumptions.

Looking back over the last few months at what I've been drawing on I find lots from various sciences. I have been getting New Scientist for a more than a year. I get Science Daily each day. I worked with an architecture company for two years and learned some of their approaches. Synthesising all this I think I'm doing a lot more in the way of observation, translation, interpretation, and seeing patterns. I'm learning to go with the idea of designing organisations to principles that avoid pronouncement e.g. on layers and spans, or levels or grades. This crashing my established assumptions and working with emerging ones involves unlearning what I knew and learning what I don't know – a skill in itself I guess.

What skills and knowledge do you think organisation designers need? Let me know.

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