Covid-19, organisation design for next steps: toolkit

Someone emailed me saying he was helping an Exec team ‘bring coherence to their crisis response and recovery planning, using the opportunity to accelerate some of their future organisation design.’

This coincided with a discussion I was having, with some others, around the idea of simple, relevant toolkit that we could have available within a couple of days to help leaders do just that (‘bring coherence … design’ ).

I set to work using some of the tools and ideas we’d discussed.  Here’s the basic outline that I’ve sent to my colleagues to consider – my comments to them in italics:

Covid-19 design for next steps:  toolkit

Intro: (on the lines that I think we are all now becoming utterly familiar with) There is no going ‘back’ to as we were, the future is completely unknown and uncertain.  At this stage everyone – including leaders – must recognise, accept and be clear that in choosing current and future organisation designs there is no right answer that will ‘solve’ the problems or give us the opportunities this crisis presents.  (This is quite a step for people who want ‘the answer’ or certainty).  We simply have to to work for the good of all, learn as we go, be open to others views and experiences, and be comfortable in not having the answers.

Anyone working on designing their current and future organisation design, needs to be:

  1. Using collaborative strategies with multi-disciplinary teams
  2. Practicing holistic and systems thinking rather than linear or mono-dimensional thinking
  3. Redefining ‘success’ as no longer doing things in the right order, but rather doing enough of the right things at the same time.
  4. Identifying the many possible entry points for interventions, launching multiple parallel interventions and learning in ‘real time’ to ensure the appropriate sequence and mix of activities.
  5. Accepting that outcomes are not right or wrong. They are simply better/worse or good enough/not good enough. (The determination of outcome quality is not objective.)  (I’ve adapted this from some work I did on wicked problems).

To help you in your designing here are some immediately usable tools and resources.

There are six themes, each with two tools.

Each theme has a short description and each tool is presented in the same way:  Why this tool? How to use it (instructions).  What to do with the output. Links to relevant information/resources.  (For now, I’ve just sent you the theme descriptor, together with the tool names.  Once you’ve ok-ed the basic idea I’ll work up:  why this tool, the instructions, what to do with the output, relevant info sources. NOTE:  I have some of the tools – the non-hyperlinked ones, others will be developed from the hyperlinked info.)

Themes and tools

Operating context:   During uncertain times, it can feel like everything is uncertain or unstable.  These two tools will help you assess the context –organisational, societal, financial, etc. that are taking place due to Covid-19 and answer the questions What future outcomes do you have a fairly clear view of?  What outcomes are you not certain of at this time?  Where uncertainty lies, what do you know about the possible future outcomes?

Operating models (business, target):  It’s easy to rush into action trying to get things ‘back to normal’ or to the ‘new normal’.  Spending time to consider what’s been learned so far in response to Covid-19 – what’s worked well what hasn’t, what you’d like to keep that you’ve newly put into operation and also to reflect on your pre-Covid operating strengths and weaknesses.  Going ‘back’ no longer seems like a good option. (See, for example Move Fast and Try Not to Break Things.)   Consider carefully what your new operating model should be.

Value Chain mapping:  Principle 3 in the article 10 Principles of Organisation Design (Well worth reading. Will go in additional resources)  is ‘Fix the Structure Last not First’.  This is an instruction ignored by many as they head to re-jig the organisation chart.  A better approach is to map your value chain i.e. the set of activities that an organization carries out to create value for its customers.  The Covid 19 situation has probably seriously impacted it.  Use this map to examine all of your organisation’s key activities, and see how they’re connected. The way in which value chain activities are performed and the way the organisation is structured to perform the activities determines costs and affects outcomes.

Covid-19 redesigns offer an opportunity/challenge to rethink your value chain and structure to deliver it effectively and efficiently.  a good description of value chain analysis is here.

Restructures:  types of structures.  Determining your structure (aka organisation chart) means thinking about your value chain, business processes, culture you want to foster, etc.  Different structures ‘do’ different things e.g. encourage or discourage collaboration, enable quick or slow decision making, build silos or recognize interdependencies, etc.  Redrawing your organisation chart on the back of an envelope or after a brief discussion in a leadership team is neither a responsible approach to organisation design, nor is it likely to achieve the intended outcomes.

  • Tool 7: Structure comparisons
  • Tool 8: Questions to ask about structures (Both these tools are in my book. There’s a whole chapter in it on structures.)

Assessing your organisation design:  If you have arrived at a proposed design, or designs, then before rushing into it take the time to conduct a thorough impact analysis of the design(s) on the existing organisation to confirm whether your design solution(s) can be implemented effectively.   The impact analysis is not just a tick box exercise, it involves critical thinking on the proposals.

Leading organisation design:  It’s important leader of organisation design have honed skills in scepticism and critical thinking.   The infodemic on Covid-19 and its implications on our organisations and their operating context is hitting us hard and there’s no shortage of consultants offering advice.

This crisis has been/is being so profound that it has created, and is still creating, the necessity to think differently.  Leaders absolutely have to seize that opportunity.   There are two main mindsets we can navigate this crisis with: growth and fixed. Having a growth mindset is now an essential.

What’s your view on this quick toolkit for now.  Is it useful, relevant?  What tools are in your current Covid-19 organisation design toolkit?  Let me know.

Image: Systemic Design Toolkit

3 thoughts on “Covid-19, organisation design for next steps: toolkit”

  1. This is really helpful – it’s mirroring a lot of conversations I’m having at work. Looking forward to looking at the tools in more depth to think how they might be of use… Really helpful post, thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this helpful and thought-provoking guide

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