Organisation design career paths

Last week we were asked to develop career paths in organisation design. Career paths show what 'a prototypical career looks like in terms of sequential positions, roles, and stages. They outline common avenues for moving within and across jobs in ways that facilitate growth and career advancement'.

Our discussion revealed that it is difficult to describe a 'prototypical' career in organisation design – do you think yours is? – and more difficult to think of what one could be like: there is no common entry route to organisation design, it doesn't belong in a specific job family or profession, and there are multiple exit routes from it into a variety of disciplines.

No common entry route
As 'design thinking' gains ground it's becoming apparent that organisation design is part of a 'design family'. All members are informed by the basic principles of learning from people, finding patterns, defining the design, making things tangible, iterating relentlessly. If you want to know more on design thinking there's a good toolkit here.

You can see these principles play out across the many types of design jobs in your organisation – user experience design, service design, graphic design, product design, business design, web design – and in my organisation design work we too use these principles.

Additionally, we know, as Dave Miller, a recruiter at the design consultancy Artefact, says, 'Over the next five years, design as a profession will continue to evolve into a hybrid industry that is considered as much technical as it is creative. A new wave of designers formally educated in human-centered design-—taught to weave together research, interaction, visual and code to solve incredibly gnarly 21st-century problems-—will move into leadership positions. They will push the industry to new heights of sophistication.

You can see this happening. For example, Indra Nooyi (CEO, Pepsico) talks about how she Turned Design Thinking Into Strategy and she is one of many recruiting design specialists to lead business and organisation design thinking.

Not the preserve of a specific functional area
In the past organisation designers tended to have come from a background in management consulting and/or HR. However, as we move towards 'design thinking' organisation designers will increasingly come from other backgrounds and experiences and probably will want options for career development across, rather than within, functional areas, thus bucking the system of career paths that tend to be developed within a function or profession.

So, what does this say for organisation design career paths – should we develop them within a functional area (if so, which one?) or should we develop them across functional areas, or should we bring design thinking to bear on career paths and re-think then altogether, or even consider that careers are dead? I'm not convinced (yet) that careers are dead. But I do think they need a fundamental re-think.

Multiple exit routes from organisation design
Some large organisations may be able to accommodate career progression within an organisation design career 'lattice' but, if not, possibilities of exiting organisation design into other fields include:

  • Moving into general management consulting – internal or external – extending opportunities into field where organisation design skills could be applied and/or by developing sector expertise or other expertise.
  • Gravitating towards the human side of design like change management, behavioural sciences, or ethics
  • Heading for the business side of design – business strategy and design, business capability development
  • Developing related skills for example in some aspect of user experience design or service design
  • Developing a deeper expertise in some aspect of organisation design and then applying it more generally – for example evaluation or evidence based designing or designing through data.

How have you developed your organisation design career and where do you think it will take you? Let me know.

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