Organisation design jottings: service design, leadership, rebels, hybrid, stories

Naikan practice asks you to reflect, daily, on three questions:

  • What have I received from __________ ?
  • What have I given to __________ ?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________ ?

Last week, that beginning 25 October, I received a lot.  Each day and each meeting gave me something to think about.  What I gave or what troubles or difficulties I caused during the week, I won’t go into here.  Instead, here are some of the things I received.   I’ll discuss by topic rather than by day.

Service design:  this came up in four different meetings in the week.  Two were specifically on service design – concepts, approaches, principles, methodologies, and two others were about the relationship of service design to organisation design.

I’m doing some work with Scottish Government on Education Reform, and in the course of this met with members of the Scottish Service Design Team.  They have a well-documented approach to service design,  beginning with the vision ‘that the people of Scotland are supported and empowered to actively participate in the definition, design and delivery of their public services (from policy making to live service improvement).’ 

The team says, ‘While we don’t have all the answers, we think we should start with a set of founding principles and build from there.’   I was particularly interested in their principle 2 (of 7).  It reads, ‘We design service journeys around people and not around how the public sector is organised.’

I’m not sure how you can implement a service – however good its design is – if the service journey is not designed to work with the design of the sector/enterprise. 

This point came up again in a webinar discussion, on service design, based on the persona and related case study of Severin the Service Designer. In the case he is being asked to develop an app to help a customer make an overnight train journey on ‘Intersection Railways’.  As I listened, Severin met many obstacles and disappointments as he failed to take full note of the organisational context in which he wanted to implement the app, and omitted to involve other functions e.g. marketing, in his thinking.   Click on the links to the webinar slides and/or watch the webinar video.

On service design related to organisational design I had a discussion with Marc Fonteijn who runs the Service Design Show where we were talking about a possible webinar that explained to service designers what organisation design is, and the second time in a discussion with enterprise designers Milan Guenther and Pascal Dussart on the possibility of constructing a persona and case study around ‘Odile the Organisation Designer’, showing the gap and/or the bridging of the gap between service and organisation design.   (Assuming there is a gap – what do you think?)

From these discussions I’ve added the sample chapter of two books: Good Services, Lou Downe,   and Service Design from Insight to Implementation, Andy Polaine. 

Leadership:  Sharon Varney’s new book Leadership in Complexity and Change, arrived for me to review. She asked me to do this, saying, ‘Although the title is leadership, it engages with the notion of pro-active org design that you were exploring at The Henley Forum conference a couple of years ago.’ The book came as I was reading Leandro Herrero’s post Is leadership so elusive or only in the hands of academics?  I often enjoy his thoughts and give him a thumbs up for them.  In this blog, he’s taking issue with academic platitudes on leadership, making the point, “It is frustrating that people who are portrayed as ‘leaders and experts on leadership’, generate platitudes of such a magnitude which I would not tolerate from junior consultants applying for a job with us.”

I know Sharon, and I was fairly confident that her book would not be a butt of Herrero’s frustration, but I did have that fleeting moment of ‘I really hope it isn’t’.  I was reassured, looking first at her list of references, and then at the index and content pages, that it was going to be a useful, interesting, non-platitudinous read.  And it is.  I’m not all the way through it yet, so the review will come soon, but from where I’ve got to so far it does live up to the promise that it unpacks complexity science carefully and in a way that usefully informs leadership practice.  (I enjoyed her statement that ‘this is a book about leadership that does not talk about leaders.  The reason for this is that leadership emerges between people, rather than existing in individuals’)

Talking systems:  Thursday brought a webinar discussion with Mark Cole of the NHS London Leadership & Lifelong Learning Team, (and author of the book Radical Organisation Development). The topic?  NHS Talking Systems – Revisiting the challenges of system and hybrid organisation design.  You can listen to the discussion here.   I talked at one point about encouraging rebels in the system, mentioning Corporate Rebels and Rebels at Work.  Mark made the points that being a rebel means a) they must have a recognisable cause b) they must be connected to others – I guess, though he didn’t say so explicitly, with the possibility of generating a movement around the cause.  His view is that it is easy to get side-lined or moved on/out of the organisation as a lone rebel. In this connection, someone mentioned Sam Coniff’s work Be More Pirate  (another sample chapter on my Kindle!)

Hybrid: Someone else raised the question ‘How can we navigate the bias or unfairness perceived in permitting certain staff groups to do hybrid working?’ (We talk about it at 44.47 on the video).  It’s a question I frequently get asked and it’s one I’ve written about too.  One way of addressing the question to look carefully at how work is done and then take some time to really think about other ways of then doing it differently – use spurs to thinking like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards. Some work that appears non-amenable to remote working may not be. Another approach is to place hybrid working (the ability to work remotely) as a benefit in a basket of benefits that are on a par.  People could then choose which they wanted to take up.  Hybrid working does not have to give a perception of bias or unfairness.

Stories of workers and death:  The conversations I’ve been having with Glenda Eoyang and colleagues on the topic of death in organisations is crystalising.  We now have a date for a public conversation on the theme. ‘Stories of workers and death: Pathways toward wellbeing’.  It will be on Sunday 23 January.  The discussion we had on the way to arriving at this, was a wonderful dance of swirling and turning our ideas and the possibilities with a final emergence of something do-able that could be a lot of fun, a worthwhile experiment, a door to new thinking, and so on.  I left the call feeling energised.   (Info on the public conversation to come).

What have you received from others this past week that gives pause for reflection on your organisation design practice?  Let me know.