Each day I get an email from giving me a quote on a reason to be grateful I can't remember when or why I signed up for them but I enjoy them and often they have some linkage to whatever I happen to be working on.

A few days ago, (21 December) invited readers to 'rededicate ourselves to our vision of a peaceful, thriving, and sustainable world … One way we can do this is with practices which connect us to our core values, reminding us to live them – as best we can – in all areas of our lives. In this spirit, we invite you to join us this holiday season in lighting candles for 12 days to illuminate our individual and collective connection to the values of Grateful Living.'

Curious, I looked at the list of the 12 values. December 23 was 'compassion' which piqued my interest. It's a word, or maybe even a value, I've noticed that is creeping into organisational usage.

Huffington Post, for example, offers us 10 Principles for Designing a Mindful and Compassionate Organization. They are all laudable principles. You can't really argue with 'Use Constraints Appropriately: Whether explicit or implicit, organizational policies (design principles, meeting protocols, governance procedures, etc.) should be a help, not a hindrance.' But perhaps easier to say than to do.

Greater Good has developed a quiz to help you diagnose whether you work in a compassionate organisation That struck me as odd. If you are in a compassionate organisation wouldn't you know it without taking a quiz to find out? However, I then guessed that it might be less for the individual employee and more for the researchers to aggregate the data and discover whether there are any patterns or trends in organisational compassion. As they say, 'A new field of research is suggesting that when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line.'

This 'new field of research' is gaining ground. Harvard Business Review, in an article Why Compassion Is a Better Managerial Tactic than Toughness (May 2015) links readers to several studies all suggesting (with some variations on what 'compassionate' means) that 'The more compassionate response will get you more powerful results'.

In an earlier (2004) article, Compassion in Organisational Life, University of Michigan researchers explore compassion in organizations. They 'discuss the prevalence and costs of pain in organizational life, and identify compassion as an important process that can occur in response to suffering. At the individual level, compassion takes place through three sub-processes: noticing another's pain, experiencing an emotional reaction to the pain, and acting in response to the pain.

The authors build on this framework to argue that 'organizational compassion exists when members of a system collectively notice, feel, and respond to pain experienced by members of that system. These processes become collective as features of an organization's context legitimate them within the organization, propagate them among organizational members, and coordinate them across individuals.'

In a beautifully understated and cautiously academic way they too find that compassionate organisations bring overall individual and collective benefits, among them 'we expect that developing a capacity for the processes of organizational compassion is likely to increase, rather than reduce, an organization's resilience.'

For organisations worried about bullying, harassment, well-being, stress, staff turnover, and other symptoms of individual and collective distress, fostering and enabling individual and collective compassion in organisations would be helpful. (Even without these symptoms compassion is a value worth nurturing).

If you're wondering how to nurture compassion in yourself or your organisation take a look at the Charter for Compassion's tool kit. It's designed to build compassionate communities and you can see the list of participating cities who have committed to building them. Another learning path is offered by Stanford's Medical School Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Training who offer an 8-week training and also a downloadable e-book that gives preliminary background reading.

Do you think compassion is an organisational value worth fostering? Let me know.

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.

In a trice or in 14 years?

Last week I went to the dentist and he finished the visit saying 'See you in a year'. My response was 'Well, a year will pass in a trice'. This was a phrase that he'd never heard and I had to translate for him. Later that day I read an article on Language trends run in mysterious 14-year cycles. I concluded – because the dentist is much younger than me – that 'In a trice' is neither in the current cycle nor several past ones.

Then someone sent me a Guide to learning Mandarin –the civil servants' language. 'It is no accident that Whitehall officials are known as Mandarins. Their language is often as hard to understand as anything spoken in Beijing.' The guide has 11 lessons, the first opening with 'Mandarins always appear straightforward, friendly and helpful when offering an opinion, asking you to do something, and so on. Do not be taken in! The following translations will help you understand what they really mean.'

Here's one example 'Draft Please! means: Graft for hours producing a coherent and impressive letter so that I can fulfil my teacher-fantasy by needlessly amending it.'

The 10th lesson in the Guide is a masterclass by Lord Butler written in 2004. So, if the language of the Civil Service runs in 14 year cycles we can expect a revised lesson soon.

The thing about the 14 year cycles is that the researchers hypothesize that 'word prevalence … is related to changes in the cultural environment' but it could equally be that as word usage changes so does the culture. Think how many new words are added to the English language each year (see a 2016 list here) and how the UK culture is changing.

What this flurry of stuff on language reminded me of was the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey who in their book How the way we talk can change the way we work put the view 'The places where we work and live are, among other things, places where certain forms of speech are promoted or encouraged, and places where other ways of talking are discouraged or made impossible … these forms of speaking … regulate the forms of thinking, feeling and meaning making to which we have access, which in turn constrain how we see the world and act in it.'

In programmes like Yes Minister or In the Thick of it we can see the Civil Service world parodied. And in Scott Adams work we see the master of management-speak exposure. Most organisations and professions have their own language that regulates how speakers see and act in that world.

So can changing the organisational language help change a culture? I think maybe so as do Kegan and Lahey who take the view that leaders 'have exponentially greater access and opportunity to shape, alter, or ratify the existing language rules' and also that leaders 'have a choice whether to be thoughtful and intentional about this aspect of their leadership'. For example, Kegan and Lahey leaders could help change 'from the language of rules and policies to the language of public agreement'. They give 6 other types of languages and practical suggestions on how to change them.

But if leaders are not instrumental in changing the language as an aspect of changing the organisation, can it still be changed? I think it's worth trying (would it be easier in organisations where the mantra is 'everyone's a leader'?)

One of my colleagues drew up a list of words and phrases in common use that he felt constrained transformation and proposed trying to eradicate them in order to transform the organisation. By encouraging a community of people to talk and act a new language this might help bring about cultural transformation and perhaps in less than 14 years.

Do you have experience of conscious language change used to help transform your organisation? Let me know.

The value of events

The past week seems to have been one of events in that I attended a change management masterclass hosted by Kogan-Page: People-centered Organizational Change: Strategies for Success. I went to a book launch of Mark and Anna Withers' new book Risky Business: Unlocking Unconscious Biases in Decisions. I spent a day on an Agile Awareness course, and I went to the European Organisation Design Forum event at the Wellcome Trust.

No one has yet asked me what was the return on investment of that time (no money changed hands) or how I would evaluate the benefits of the events. However, those are the sorts of question I do get asked so I thought I'd better have a shot at answering them.

There are various methods of evaluating training effectiveness the four stage Kirkpatrick model is one, the CIPD suggests a similar, but five stage one, another is Brinkerhoff's Success Case Method. Businessballs has a short piece summarising the most common methods and also offering access to a toolkit.

But two of the events I went to were not training in the conventional sense – they were more networking and information sharing. So how do I evaluate these events? There are some interesting blog pieces on evaluating social networks.

For example, an HBR blogger discusses four questions that help you work out the value of a network: who is in it? How well does it connect? Is there functional communication? Who are you talking to?

Another blogger offers 'Beckstrom's Law' that says 'the value of a network is the net value of each user's transaction summed up for all users. At its core, the concept is about transactions: The value for users is the total benefits from all transactions in a network minus the cost of those transactions'. This lost me.

Heading for a simpler approach than any of those offered and one that encompassed all four events I asked myself three questions:
1. Did I learn anything from any of the events that I could immediately use or apply? (Practical value)
2. Did I learn anything that increased the value of any skills, knowledge or experience I already have? (Added value)
3. Did I learn anything that piqued my curiosity, that I could come back to, that I thought would be valuable at some point though not now? (Investment value)

The answer was that for all four events I was able to answer the three questions positively. So here are some examples of the value I got by category:

Practical value

  • Links to a 3 min video The Gubbins of Government: How new technology will change the mechanics of government services that I can use in training courses.
  • A reference to EngageforSuccess an organisation that promotes employee engagement 'as a better way to work that benefits individual employees, teams, and whole organisations'. It has info, contacts, and links for immediate application into some culture work I am doing.
  • Adding to my collection of info and tools about managing change is the work of Julie Hodges that I hadn't come across before. I've just downloaded to my Kindle a sample chapter of her book Managing and Leading People Through Organizational Change: The theory and practice of sustaining change through people. In the talk she gave she shared a number of useful tools and techniques that appear in the book.

Added value

  • In my organisation design work we do a lot of stakeholder involvement activity, but at one of the events the role of the Board and Non-Executive Directors was raised. I'm not sure I pay enough attention to them in the day to day OD work we do. Bringing them into the conversation could be very useful.
  • In all four events I met people I knew from past work, networks, or communities. Just renewing acquaintance, catching up with them, sharing stories and having a laugh in the breaks is energising and fun. I went home (four times!) feeling uplifted by the contact with them.
  • One of the speakers mentioned two white papers published by the Change Management Institute one is about the future of change and the other about evolution and themes in change management. They both build on a view I hold that traditional programmatic models of change are well past their 'sell-by' date. The reports offer new approaches based around change as a process that is participatory, experimental, emergent, and 'people-powered' dispersing through organisational networks. More fuel for my fire in these.

Investment value

  • Information and a book reference on Effective Altruism that has organisational possibilities (see Patagonia's donation of every Black Friday sale to grassroots environmental organisations).
  • A great question to ponder 'What do you not value that other people say you should value'? This one may also turn out to have practical value.
  • A reference to the United Nations report and rankings on e-government that I may be able to use at an event I am speaking at next year.

How do you measure the value of the events you attend? Let me know.

A seat at which table?

I'm repeatedly asked where should Organisation Design sit as an organisational function? The question means where, functionally, should the skills and attributes of OD report. It's a question I tackle in my – about to be revised – book Organisation Design: Engaging with Change. In it (2014), I said:

Although 'organization design' is often seen as vested in HR, and certainly required as an HR competence – it figures on the CIPDs HR Profession Map a new design is typically initiated and driven by the business. HR, with its focus being primarily on the workforce, is only one of the parties that enable new organization design success. Other support service areas, among them IT, finance, facilities, and communications are also typically tagged as enablers of new design success, and often work alongside the business and HR in planning and implementing a (re)design piece of work. …

Where, then, should the 'point' people with internal expertise to do the detailed technical work required to design and then keep an organization well designed be situated in an organization? Are they best placed as part of an HR function, part of a strategy department, as an independent unit reporting to a COO or CEO, or somewhere else?

The current predominant view seems to be that organization design skills are part of an HR function's services to clients and thus sit in HR.

A view gaining ground, however, assumes that organisation design:

  • Is integral to delivering the business strategy
  • Is needed for developing the capability of the whole system
  • Demands collaborative working on the design from a multi-disciplinary team having expertise including the integration and alignment of IT systems, work process improvement, and business analytics
  • Should be practiced by engaging and involving internal and external stakeholders through humanistic values. (See my blog on these)
  • Is more than an 'peopley' organisation chart and should be evaluated and measured quantitatively and qualitatively to assess value-add to the business

and places the OD function an independent, objective multi-disciplinary expert unit working with line managers and leaders who are also skilled and capable in organisation design.

Many organisations are heading down this route and are developing 'design thinking' capability. This is not vested in HR but in 'the business'. There are countless articles targeted at line managers and leaders that discuss this. See, for example, McKinsey's Applying design thinking across the business: An interview with Citrix's Catherine Courage or Design Thinking Comes of Age in a recent Harvard Business Review.

More of a 'how to' is Strategy+Business's 10 Principles of Organization Design aimed at business leaders/managers. Some of the 10 principles are more useful than others: 'Focus on what you can control', for example, is likely to give a false sense of security. I'd rather see a discussion around 'focus on what you can't control', which would enable discussion of unintended consequences and designing for ambiguity, involving designs that allowed for ongoing horizon-scanning and sense-making.

Similarly, the principle, 'for every company, there is an optimal pattern of hierarchical relationship' is a statement that organisation designers argue about. Read Elliott Jaques Levels With You which opens, 'The controversial Canadian theorist claims he can create the perfect organization. Has he found the key to management -— or merely a justification for bureaucracy?'

The Strategy+Business, 10 Principles, article concludes with the statement 'Remaking your organization to align with your strategy is a project that only the top executive of a company, division, or enterprise can lead'.

So is it time to take organisation design out of HR? Let me know.

Resisting change

Several things happened this week that tested my own resistance to change. I've often said that people are happy enough to change as long as they have had a part in the decisions and it is somewhat within their control. Often they are not party to the decision and neither is it within their control. As happened to me.

I talk of change in four categories (not ideal but serves to illustrate):

  • Continuous not very planned incremental change e.g. Organizational members leaving and joining an organization as part of normal staff turnover
  • Intermittent but planned incremental change e.g. Hand written letters, typed letters, email, social media
  • Continuous not very planned radical change e.g. Stream of policy changes, leadership changes, restructurings, acquisitions, etc.
  • Intermittent planned radical change e.g. Whole office move to new building

During the past week I've experienced all four types and for all my knowledge of 'change management' I find that this has not been a comfortable experience. Indeed, I observe myself resisting the changes in all sorts of not very helpful ways.

When I'm teaching people to work in situations where they feel resistance from others – individually and collectively I advise the following:

1. Accept that this is a period of emotional turmoil and that people may experience feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment, depression, betrayal and loss.
2. Suggest people seek emotional support from trusted friends, family peers and managers.
3. Allow people time to internalize and reflect on how they feel about the change.
4. Challenge them to avoid self-defeating behavior.
5. Stop them staying stuck in this stage

Now, feeling my resistance to my circumstances it's a good moment to see if I take my advice.

In previous times like this I've headed for songs, words and poems that acknowledge disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. and offer alternative ways of thinking about it. Chet Baker singing Look for the Silver Lining is one I listen to and also for an instant pick-up Chin Up is a lovely singalong from Charlotte's Web. In other dark times I've found Theodore Roethke's poem that begins 'In a dark time, the eye begins to see'… Acknowledgement and acceptance do help. See zen habits on frustration, or some of Rebecca Solnit's work.

Talking over the situations has been helpful and led to several new avenues for exploration. One person suggested rather than aim for 'resilience' with the aim of 'bouncing back' instead take the situation presented as an 'offer' and in the moment, improvise around it. This has taken me into a whistle stop tour of improv. I looked at Keith Johnstone's work, listened to his TED talk and then Steve Chapman's work.

Someone else led me towards the Alternatives to Violence Project which works to develop attitudes and skills for handling conflict and violence well. (Note: I am not feeling violent but the techniques of interaction and communication in conflict work well in change resistance).

Allowing myself and colleagues time to internalize and reflect on how we feel about the changes relates to sense-making – a concept I came across years ago in Karl Weick's book 'Sensemaking in Organisations'. I've just come across a recent (2014) excellent Academy of Management paper on the topic.

It opens saying 'Sensemaking is the process through which people work to understand issues or events that are novel, ambiguous, confusing, or in some other way violate expectations. When it works sensemaking 'enables the accomplishment of other key organizational processes, such as organizational change, learning, and creativity and innovation'.

Taking (or giving) the reflective time is often organizationally counter-cultural. But I'm having a go at making time to consciously sensemake in order to ward off self-defeating behaviour and knee jerk reactions. As sense-making reveals ways forward then I can take action.

Getting stuck in a stage of resistance is not my typical stance and trying some new (to me) approaches for letting go will be energizing and interesting.

How do you in your organization design/development role manage your own resistance to change? Let me know.

Tufte and Elephants

Last week I was in Washington DC. I got the bus from the airport to Wiehle Reston metro station where you get the Silver Line into the city. There on the station plaza are two colo(u)rful sculptures one of an elephant and one of a donkey – the symbols of the Republicans and the Democrats respectively. On my return trip on Saturday the elephant looked bigger and the donkey distressed.

On Wednesday, reeling, I went to an Edward Tufte workshop on Presenting Data and Visual Information. Years ago I got his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and I came back with the course 'party bag' of another copy of it + three other beautifully presented books he's constructed. Read a delightful review of them here.

He opened the day – no hello or introduction as they are one of his bugbears 'people don't need an attractor, they've already arrived' – with a Stephen Malinowski musical animation before moving on to discuss the National Weather Service, weather forecast page which he used to illustrate his fundamental principles of analytical design (Chapter 5 in Beautiful Evidence).

Beyond the principles I came away with multiple new ways of seeing and things to try out. For example:

He's scathing on PowerPoint presentations. He thinks 'stacked in time' information penalizes the reader or viewer – far better to have it 'adjacent in space'. And he is ferocious on PowerPoint produced pie charts and dashboards that he condemns as 'chart-junk'.He praised Amazon's Jeff Bezos for doing away with PowerPoint and instead running meetings with 6-page narratives. Am I bold enough to take this approach in the next meeting I present at?

He recommends scrolling – not page turning to lead people through info. I've just completed someone's online survey that follows this principle and now I'm aware of it I noticed how much easier it is to keep going rather than having to press 'next page' every bundle of questions.

He told us not to segregate information but keep the flow by reducing all visual impediments. He pointed out, for example, the redundant colon in the label 'High: 62 F' on the weather forecast.

He thinks lines and boxes interrupt flow (he's no org chart man). Here's what he says on Gantt charts: 'About half the charts show their thin data in heavy grid prisons. For these charts the main visual statement is the administrative grid prison, not the actual tasks contained by the grid'. Good, I can add that to my case against the use of the 9-box grid.

He's insistent on leaving the reader to pick out the information he/she is interested in. He was humorous on the way George Miller's paper 'The Magical Number 7 + or – 2' has been (erroneously) interpreted as suggesting that people have a limited capacity to interpret text. As he pointed out the weather website one is info dense but viewers have no problem finding what they're looking for. He firmly stated 'never accept an argument that lots of info will confuse the user.' He mentioned the New York Times and Washington Post as other exemplars of visual presentation and pointed out that in any news report every 4th paragraph there is a 'human interest' quote. Now I know that I've been seeing it!

Towards the end of the day Tufte talked about Streams of Story in his book Visual Explanations – highlighting Barbar's Dream in which the 'graceful winged elephants of kindness, intelligence, hope, love … drive out the demons of anger, ignorance, fear. It's a powerfully told story in exquisite visuals. We might hope the elephant at Wiehle Reston station would take to it heart.

What/who do you recommend as exemplar visual data and information presenters? Let me know.