Charting the future

Several conversations this past week have involved questions on when the 2020+ organisation design will be unveiled. What people appear to have in mind is a traditional organisation chart at 'now' complete with hierarchies, layers and spans, and role descriptions, etc. and then a chart at 2018 showing the transition with the same level of detail and then a third chart showing 2020+ chart, again with the same level of detail.

Trying to develop this model organisation chart for four years out requires all kinds of information – a lot of which is not currently available – to play into it. This includes having:

1. Clarity on the business strategy e.g. is it predominantly focused on customer segments, on service delivery via business lines, on regions, on partnerships with third parties, on efficiency gains
2. Agreement on the type of organisation we want to be e.g. 'one' organisation, multiple organisations down business lines each competing for resources, several devolved organisations with a central 'holding company' …
3. Agreement on the style of organisation we want to have e.g. is it non-hierarchical, collaborative, inclusive, expertise based
4. An assessment of the appetite to change things which are hard to change including policies, work flows, supplier contracts, performance metrics (organisational and individual) etc.
5. An assessment of the risk leaders are prepared to assume in any re-design for the future

6. Pointers on the trade-offs we would need to make e.g. is an efficiency gain more important than 'good enough' customer service or should we be providing excellent customer service that may be less efficient – but perhaps more effective?
7. Timelines on what new technology will be ready for use and when
8. Forecasts on the skills people will need to have to work with the new technologies including social media as well as business delivery technologies, and information on what skills they have now that could be developed/converted
9. Insights into how the social media technologies will change the organisational dynamics (both internally and externally). See 'Leader as Architect' for more on this
10. Support for recommendations on what work will become redundant as jobs change to exploit the technology
11. Confirmation of the funding availability for such things as new product/service development, maintenance of assets, investment in skills development

Without this information any chart we produced would be of no more value than a comfort blanket i.e. it would have an emotional value, but no practical value in terms of being either useful or usable, but maybe that's ok? However, I think not. (See one critique here of the well-worn story – in the absence of a map, any map will do – and another here).

Rather than giving in to the demand for a chart, and assuming leaders are willing to have a dialogue, listen and work jointly to achieve the goal there are at least three approaches likely to yield better results than the lines and boxes one:

  • Agreeing that developing a 2020 organisation chart is not a sensible use of resource – better to offer a clear strategic direction by addressing points 1 – 6 above and then 'shepherding' all the ongoing local design in that direction. (See Five Questions Every Leader Should Ask About Organizational Design).
  • Accepting that re-design is much more than the lines and boxes and (depending on answers to questions 1 – 6 above) developing a plan to get to a communicable (but not fixed) design that recognizes the elements outlined in the McKinsey article Getting Organizational Design Right.
  • Developing a blueprint or framework that describes the intent using a business capability or similar approach – see Putting the Capability Model to Work and then do one or both of the previous two approaches.

Do you think you can chart the future? Let me know (how).

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