Organization design: a toolkit of toolkits

Need a tool?  Look in the toolkit?  But which toolkit and which tool?  I’m often scrambling around looking for exactly the right tool for the piece of work that I’m engaged in.  I’ve got a very extensive toolkit myself garnered over the years.   At some point I’m going to categorise and order them so I don’t have such difficulty locating them when I’m looking.  I know I have them somewhere.  I’d like a virtual pegboard with the painted-on outline of the tool, so I can easily spot which ones are missing from their peg.

I also have a number of off-the-shelf toolkits: do-it-yourself starter kits as it were.  Here are ten of them with brief notes. Each one is free and downloadable.   I’m not specifically recommending one over the other.  Like any off-the -shelf pack they all have some useful bits and some that you may not use but come as part of the kit.   (See also my blog ‘Skateboards and Speedbumps’)

1              Virtual crash course in design thinking. This is a Stanford D-school, 90 minute  online version with video, handouts, and facilitation tips.  It goes step by step through the process of facilitating a design challenge.  I first used it with a group of 30 to redesign our organisational room booking system.  People loved the interactivity and the fact that they were able to collectively redesign the system from a user perspective in ways that we can take forward.

2              Brains, Behaviour, and Design toolkit   Someone told me about this toolkit around 5 years ago and I’ve used elements of it in many workshops. It’s billed as ‘five tools to help designers apply findings from the field of behavioral economics to their practice in order to provide a head start on framing research as well as developing new strategies for solving user problems.’ The tool I use most frequently – and have used it this week – is the one on Losses and Gains.  It’s really helpful in situations where people’s only focus is on their loss of something in a situation – for example, their own desk if we’re moving to hot-desking.  Having a discussion on what they might gain gives another perspective.

3              The Iriss toolkit has been designed to support people to consider community and societal issues particularly in health and social care.  But don’t be put off if you’re not in that sector.  It’s got a wide range of tools that are easily adaptable to other contexts.  The D-Cards (Difficulties, decisions, deliberations) tool comprises nine ‘think’ cards for planning and preparing for difficult discussions, and 13 ‘activity’ cards which present methods that can be done in a group. ‘The cards explain what the process is, it’s purpose, how to engage in this process and what we thought did and did not work when engaging in this process.’

4              IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit You can download a free pdf of the design kit by signing up.  I downloaded mine several years ago (mine is second edition) and haven’t checked if the one currently available for download is the same as that or not.  However, mine is in three chunky sections:  hear, deliver, create, each with instructions, methods and case studies.  I’ve found the the P.O.I.N.T. technique useful.  In this you translate problems and needs identified in storytelling (one of the methods) into insights (also a method) and Themes. P = Problems, O = Obstacles, I = Insights, N = Needs,T = Themes

5              NHS Developing Together OD Toolkit – in this toolkit OD means organisational development.  It’s extensive, well-written and practical, without neglecting the theory.   It takes as a start-point that OD is “an interdisciplinary and primarily behavioural science approach that draws from fields such as organisation behaviour, management, business, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, education, counselling and public administration”.   This makes it a complement to the organisation design approach.  It’s well worth browsing though and I like all the additional references that it lists.

6              Frog Design Collective Action Toolkit.  This is lovely toolkit – well designed and presented.  It ‘uses an action map with activities arranged into six areas. All you need is motivation and enthusiasm to get started.’  Each of the six action areas has a number of immediately practical tools.  One group I worked with had great fun with the ‘Knowledge Hunt’ tool which asked them to ‘Find out what your team already knows about your group’s challenge— and what else you’d like to learn.’  It led to lively discussion, a lot of learning and several avenues to explore further.

7             DPSA Guide and Toolkit on Organization Design.  This is one from the Government of South Africa and is good for people looking for an organisation design phased methodology focused on structures.  It’s very detailed with 290 pages each phase described by process, tools and execution.  It’s got 76 excellent tools categorised by design phase, plus some helpful ‘Decision Points’  e.g. Decision point 1 ‘Is it a structural problem?’.

8            State Government Victoria, Organisational Design: an ideas source book.  This is another government’s guide to Org Design.  It takes a different tack from South Africa’s in that it is not as prescriptive and instructional, rather, saying ‘the publication has been developed to provide information, insights and advice that may be useful for organisational leaders working in any public organisation and thinking about adopting or abandoning any type of design’.  It’s an ‘ideas sourcebook’.  Striking (and welcome) is the statement ‘The fact is that there is an increasing number of organisational forms that cannot be simply illustrated by an organisational chart.’

9           Mind Lab Methods Cards This is a set of cards presenting Mind Lab’s ‘most used methods for policy and iterative design processes’.   The one on cultural probes is useful for gaining insight into ‘aspects of peoples’ daily lives, attitudes and values that do not emerge from traditional interviews’.  This is helpful in organisation design work when we are trying to work out the ‘say-do’ disconnects that pepper organisational life and that are part of the current design whether acknowledged or not.

10         Design Thinking Bootleg this, like the Virtual Crash Course mentioned above, is also from the Stanford D-school. It is ‘more of a cook book than a text book, and more of a constant work-in-progress than a polished and permanent piece.’ That said it is a good resource for some tools not commonly used, but that I’ve found are helpful, in organisation design work, like ‘Powers of Ten’ and ‘Why, How Laddering’.

11       Others I use which are also free and downloadable: HRBP Organization Design Toolkit ,  Good work ToolkitKelly Sears Organization Design Toolkit


What toolkits are in your toolkit?  Let me know.

Image: Estate sale tools

Organisation design masterclasses

One of the frequently asked questions I get is about organisation design training.  Where to get it, what it’s about, is it accredited and various similar things.  I’ve written about it before,  but it seems timely to add a bit more to the topic, especially as I’ve been asked to facilitate a series of organisation design masterclasses.

I paused for a moment as I typed the word ‘masterclasses’ wondering if it is a gender-neutral word or is there some equivalent that is more politically correct if it is not gender neutral?

The pause extended somewhat as read a few things on the topic of gendered language – some of it completely incomprehensible e.g. this extract from Feminist Visual Culture:  ‘It is about the language of public critique, where there is a Deleuzian libidinal economy at work which values the process of reaching different plateau in design, in contrast to the prevailing emphasis on the orgasmic end-product, or what Akis Didaskalou has called the ejaculatory mode of the design masterclass.’

I’m fairly certain that the design masterclasses I facilitate will not be in the ‘ejaculatory mode’ but …

Moving on.  We’re planning a series of seven two-hour sessions (I’m now avoiding the word ‘masterclass’ just in case) that build on the foundation of a two-day overview of organisation design of the sort many providers run.  (See the CIPD one here).   Each session is designed to take a closer look at a specific aspect design work, building more knowledge on an area that is usually only touched on in a foundational course.  Here are the topics.

1: Skills development for organisation designers

Organisation design is about understanding how people, processes, work, and culture interact within and across organisational boundaries.  Much of this interaction is mediated though technologies including social media, automated processes, and robotics.  This session looks at three skills and knowledge areas – design thinking, data analysis and interpretation, behavioural science  – that organisation designers should develop to help them design with these complex interactions in mind.  (We’ve assumed some systems theory knowledge).

2: Designing across organisational boundaries

As organisations becoming interdependent – through supply chains, contractual agreements, technology platforms – it becomes harder and harder to know where the boundaries of an organisation are.   Design work must, as Rob Cross notes, ‘be virtually continuous and requires the ongoing creation of direction, alignment, and commitment within and across organisational boundaries.’  This session explores organisational boundaries:  the technology of organisational network mapping, using data to see patterns of interactions, and identifying the business processes that cross organisational boundaries.  Being able to ‘see’ workflows in operation leads to better design and design outcomes.

3: Networks and why we need to think about them

Organisations comprise numbers of different networks of people both formal and informal.  These networks are not visible in a standard organisation chart but their health or ill-health are critical to organisational operation.  This session discusses the social networks found in organisations and proposes that organisation designers need insights into network theory as applied to social systems in order to understand and improve the organisation’s design.   Participants will learn how to apply these insights into their work.

4:  Self-managing teams their design and organisational value

Changes in social structures, access to information, technologies, and other factors are challenging traditional organisational hierarchies, based on hierarchical leader power and authority.  Self-managing teams are increasingly being seen in organisation.   This session examines what they are, how they work and the reasons for introducing (or not) self managing teams into an organisation design or redesign.

 5: Designing and redesigning culture

It is hard to know whether culture can be changed by conscious design, or whether it can only be nudged, or shaped by design work.  This session looks at the question ‘Can culture be designed?’ And, if so, what aspects of it to focus on.  Should it be the behavioural aspects – language, norms, values, and practices more commonly associated with organisation development, or should it be the business processes, systems, policies, and rules, related to the formal organisational architecture, or should it be both?   Participants will look at the various ‘levels’ of culture: organisation, business unit, and day-to- day and consider six conditions that foster the likelihood of designed culture change succeeding:

 6:  Developing credibility

External organisation design consultants are commissioned to work on design projects largely because organisational leaders feel they do not have the internal capability to deliver the work.  Thus external consultants come to an organisation already credible and perceived to have expertise.  However, internal organisation design consultants, often have to earn credibility, in order to be commissioned either to do the work, or work as equal partners with external consultants.  This session offers some techniques and insights to help develop credibility.

7: Organisation design toolkit

Any craft requires the tools of the trade, and organisation design is no different.  There are a bewildering number of models, approaches, inventories, diagnostics, ‘canvases’ and assessments.  Additionally, these are available for myriad different ‘audiences’ – leaders, executive teams, board members, managers, supervisors, front-line staff, and others.  The difficulty for a practitioner is knowing what tool to choose for the purpose in hand, and then how to apply it in order to get a successful outcome.  In this session there will be opportunity to review a number of tools, skim some useful resources, and learn how to build a personal toolkit.

What masterclasses would you offer organization designers?  Let me know.

Image: Masterclass icon

HR Business Partners or not

Which job roles will change/be created/cease to exist in 2018?  There are lots of predictions on this.  See, for example, MIT’s thoughts on five roles that will see increasing numbers of people required to fill them.   Or the BBC’s  ‘will your job be automated?’ predictor – where you enter your job title and it gives the automation likelihood.  The page is dated 2015 so I suspect the likelihood of some of the jobs listed being automated is increasing.  A more recent (March 2017) paper from PWC reports ‘Specifically, based on our own preferred, methodology, we found that around 30% of jobs in the UK are at potential high risk of automation and around 38% in the US.’   Generally, there’s as much dissension as agreement on what jobs will be automated.   Where researchers do seem to have agreement is that the work  ‘that taps into our social drives’ will not be automated. Andrew McAfee, one of MIT’s academics and IT expert, says:  I just don’t see anyone, even really great innovators, coming up with technologies that could just substitute for the people who are currently doing those very, very social jobs.

A job that I’ve been looking at over the last several weeks is the HR Business Partner role.  It doesn’t seem to be on any automation list, so it may be a social job, but, depending on whose view you are reading, it is predicted to:

Grow stronger,  but only if the role is ‘strategic’ HR partner which is currently ‘at best unquantified, at worst ill-defined and poorly understood.’

Grow weaker, as the roles ‘evolve from the initial concept of HRBPs to a new generation of HR roles that will help the function formerly known as Human Resources better contribute to the deployment of the business strategy, bring more value to the organisation, and take advantage of the possibilities offered by technological innovation.’

Change, because ‘business partners have become so embedded in the business and so distanced from central HR that they’ve taken the business’s typically much more short-term-orientated demands to heart to the extent of ignoring or overriding the overall business need for strategic change.’

Die, because ‘HR doesn’t seem to think of itself as an integral component of the business. HR people are not even trained anymore to understand the mechanics of business at work.’

This is all very confusing – particularly if you are an HR Business Partner, someone who thinks they’d like to be an HR Business Partner, an HR Leader re-designing their operating model, an employee wondering what products and services to expect from HR, a CEO deciding whether or not to ‘give HR a seat at the table’ (8 million google responses on the inquiry ‘HR seat at the table’), a consultant advising on the yes/no/maybe of HR BPs in an HR operating model.

Or perhaps it is not so much confusing as complex.  Because there isn’t a right answer.  And this is the one thing that the various writers and researcher on this topic agree on.  They all are of the view, exemplified in this comment from the CIPD that ‘there is not one model for delivering HR that is suited to all organisations.  How an organisation should structure is HR functions depends on its organisational strategy, wider organisational structure and the requirements of its customers and the organisation it is supporting.’

In considering the merits, or not, of an HR BP role, each HR leader with his/her colleagues has to work out first what’s best, or at least ‘good enough’ operating model for the combination of factors in their particular circumstances, and then whether or not HR Business Partners feature in the delivery of the operating model.

One place to start determining the right HR model for your organisation is to read through the differing perspectives presented in the UK’s CIPD paper Changing Operating Models. It’s 3 years old (February 2015) but a lot of it is still relevant and points to still to be explored aspects of HR including models for networked organisations.  And it contains a piece from Dave Ulrich, attributed with introducing the HR BP model.

Another place to start is the IES White Paper, (2015) HR Business Partners: Yes Please or No Thanks. In this one there is the common-sense suggestion that to get to the ‘right answer’ on both HR operating model design and HR BPs ‘What we probably need instead is better internal dialogue between stakeholders on what the optimum balance might be between HR’s role and line managers’ responsibilities. HR for its part needs to consider its structure in the light of this debate’.

Specifically, on HR Business Partners the IES notes that: ‘whilst organisations have to decide whether business partners are worth the investment, they also have to settle on their conception of the role and make sure it fits business needs, manager requirements and their own staff capability. If this critical thinking is not done there is the probability of continuing customer and colleague frustration and frequent questioning of the value of the role.’

What’s your view on the HR BP role?  Let me know.

Image: What do applicants say about your firm?

Gratitude: a missing business capability?

It’s just over seven years since I last wrote about gratitude (November 2010). In response to those two blogs someone recommended me Angeles Arrien’s book Living in Gratitude, which I then went out and bought.

It’s a book of ‘gratitude practice’, ‘designed to carry you through a full calendar year, month by month.  Each month presents a theme and then offers reflections and practices to ‘foster increased understanding of how the chapter’s concepts are at work in your life and to inspire you to cultivate gratitude through action.’

During 2011 I worked through the book, and this year I’ve decided to do so again.  Why? Because I’m intrigued by the ongoing research that suggests that ‘gratitude and other positive emotions [bring] benefits ranging from personal and social development, to individual health and well-being, and community strength and harmony’ (Barbara Fredrickson).

Positive psychology researchers like Martin Seligman, Robert Emmons , Barbara Fredrickson and their colleagues in related behavioural and neuro sciences have broadened our knowledge of the value that feeling and expressing gratitude brings.

See, for example, Neural Correlates of Gratitude (2015) that sought to test the hypothesis ‘that that gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind. And notes that their findings ‘may provide important insight into the means by which gratitude is associated with improved health outcomes (Huffman et al., 2014), benefits to relationships (Algoe et al., 2008) and subjective well-being (Emmons, 2008).’ – all useful attributes in a workplace.’

Or another piece, Why a Grateful Brain is a Giving One on the neural connections between gratitude and giving – which suggests that ‘gratitude seems to prepare the brain for generosity.’

What effect has the research and the publicity around the benefits of gratitude had in the workplace? It seems, at best, minimal. ‘Research has also found that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else: On a given day, only 10 percent of people say “thank you” to colleagues—and 60 percent of people report that they never or very rarely express gratitude at work.’

A 2017 Academy of Management Review article, (published online 2016) The Grateful Workplace: A Multilevel Model of Gratitude in Organizations the authors concluded, their well-researched paper,  saying:

Most people believe that gratitude is a desirable positive emotion (Gallup, 1999).  Nonetheless, there is a fundamental lack of attention to what gratitude “looks like” in organizations and to the organizational practices that enable employees to experience gratitude on a daily basis. As noted by McCraty and Childre (2004), “In the absence of conscious efforts to engage, build, and sustain positive perceptions and emotions, we all too automatically fall prey to feelings such as irritation, anxiety, worry, frustration, judgmentalness, self-doubt, and blame” (242). By making gratitude a fundamental part of the employee experience, leaders and managers can leverage the benefits of gratitude for employees and the organization as a whole.

This type of finding led to the Open Ideo/Greater Good Science Center to launch a challenge with a $40k prize for ideas on ‘How might we inspire experiences and expressions of gratitude in the workplace?’ (Their prototyping kit for this is useful irrespective of the challenge)

A challenge is one approach to encouraging gratitude in the workplace.  Another is to think of it as a business/organizational capability.  In my 2010 blogs on gratitude, I noted that ‘Although there’s a certain amount on ‘happiness’ in organizations. There’s very little that I’ve found so far on the topic of gratitude as an organizational capability.’  Having spent the last week working on a ‘map’ of business capabilities – a topic I’ve also written a blog about –  it’s striking that there are none expressing capabilities outside the realm of a business process.  For example, the ‘map’ that I’m looking at, under the broad business capability ‘People Management’, lists workforce planning, people & talent management, internal communications, and some others.  But doesn’t ‘people management’ need some capability around empathy, compassion, or gratitude?

The many definitions of business capability allow for capabilities that are more people and less process oriented.  Take this definition, which says:

A business capability (or simply capability) describes a unique, collective ability that can be applied to achieve a specific outcome. A capability model describes the complete set of capabilities an organization requires to execute its business model or fulfill its mission. An easy way to grasp the concept is to think about capabilities as organizational level skills imbedded in people, process, and/or technology.

A ‘complete set’ of capabilities could (should?) include some mention of the less documentable capability that is inherent in people.

Gratitude is one to consider, but not the only one.  Norm Smallwood and Dave Ulrich in their article Capitalizing on Capabilities discuss the key intangible assets:

‘organizational capabilities … You can’t see or touch them, yet they can make all the difference in the world when it comes to market value. … They represent the ways that people and resources are brought together to accomplish work. They form the identity and personality of the organization by defining what it is good at doing and, in the end, what it is.’

They say there is no magic list of these capabilities: their 11 include collaboration, learning, efficiency, and learning.

What’s your view on gratitude as a business capability?  Let me know.

(The Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley, has an interesting ‘Grateful Organizations Quiz’) 

Image: An outlook of gratitude may lead to better health

Designing brave

A book my daughter gave me that I’ve started to read time and again to my mother is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. It came out earlier this year and it’s brilliant. The mini-bios, a hundred of them with lovely illustrations, are all of brave women.  Each one, in her own way, defying convention, stereotyping, social expectations, and her own boundaries to demonstrate where bravery, combined with learning, and persistence can take you.

The two (women) book authors themselves show those qualities.  They ‘were told they’d never get the book off the ground, but managed to launch one of the most successful literary crowdfunding appeals ever.’

The fun thing is that the carers in my mother’s care home (90% of them women) enjoy the stories too.  Yet, when we talk about the stories they laugh, disbelievingly, when I suggest they too are brave.  But I think they have brave stories to tell – most of them are from other countries leaving behind families and cultural ties – to work for low pay, cheerfully, lovingly and hard in an underfunded care home with very difficult people to care for.

Are they right to laugh when I say they are brave?  Is bravery, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder:  a subjective attribute?   In calling the rebel girls or the carers ‘brave’ am I making the wrong call?  I’m asking myself this because, in a couple of months, I’m facilitating a conference session ‘Exploring workplace bravery’.  This means I have to design and develop something thought-provoking, engaging, and creative.

This means exploring my own views in order to present an opinion for people to challenge, critique, and work with.  My exploration has taken me, among other places,  to definitions – of boldness, bravery, courage, to asking a philosopher and an ethicist, to a Brene Brown book , and Robert Biswas-Diener’s book on courage .

Then from the exploration comes wrestling my point of view.  I’ve got a lot more terrain to go, but now I have some work-in-progress pointers to work up, each offering good discussion possibilities:

  • Although it’s interesting to learn that courage and bravery are rooted in different languages – courage in Old French, and bravery, not Old French but no real agreement on where. For my purpose, I don’t think it’s worth quibbling on the difference.  Many writers   use the two words synonymously – although others see big differences between them.
  • There isn’t much written on brave organizations. There’s a lot more on brave individuals who may or may not act with social and community support.  But I wonder if there are brave organizations: perhaps some of the activist or humanist organizations speaking out in their differing ways and countries against various contraventions of the Declaration of Human Rights might be brave organizations:  Doctors without Borders comes to mind as one or Human Rights Watch.  But maybe they simply employ some brave people and are not collectively organizationally brave?
  • Some roles and professions require obvious and continuous either physical or mental bravery: fire-fighters, lifeboat crew, tiger tamers risk their lives.  Doctors, judges, care workers, make life and death decisions risking the lives of others.  You can look at a list of jobs that will give you the typical adrenaline rush that accompanies bravery here.
  • Bravery in the roles just mentioned implies both being willing to take risks and/or doing so within a humanitarian moral framework that the risk taker is seeking to uphold. I mentioned the Declaration of Human Rights, but there are many similar moral codes for example six medical virtues (one of which is courage), or The Ethos of the Royal Marines.
  • There’s a lot about brave leadership – but much of this seems to be looking at the senior levels of organizational hierarchies. Look, for example, at the Kellogg School of Management Brave Leader Series. Or the speech ‘Leadership and Bravery’ given by Dame Louise Casey at the UK’s Local Government Association conference 2016.  She ends it saying ‘You are the civic leaders that can help deliver what the country now needs. None of what lies ahead is or indeed need be beyond us. But it will require us to be leaders and to be brave.’ There are many lists of the characteristics of brave leaders. One I like tells us that a brave leader embraces change, stands up for what is right – no matter the cost,  backs herself and her team, even when the going gets tough, takes  calculated risks, tries new things, and charts new territory.
  • Bravery is not just for leaders or heroes, though. ‘It’s also needed for everyday life, for those times when we stretch to express a strength and a courage we didn’t know we had. It’s a resource we draw on whenever we stand up to deal with a crisis, take action to better our lives or to stand up for our opinions and for others.’  And in this aspect organizational protocols and policies too often fail, or choose not, to support people doing just that.  You can see that in some of the experiences and analysis of the #MeToo community.

Where I’ve got to now, is that bravery is expected in some designated occupations, that brave leaders have certain characteristics – of the type shown by the rebel girls I opened with – that bravery is not only for designated occupations, leaders and heroes, but for ordinary people in day-to-day work, and there are many more stories of individual bravery than organizational bravery.

This leads me to ask whether we could design a brave organization and if so, would we want to?  What’s your view?  Let me know.

Image: Be Brave, Create, Repeat

Job descriptions: dead or alive?

In Dubai this past week someone asked me what the value is in job descriptions (JDs).  (I was facilitating an org design programme, not taking a vacation).  They pointed out that a job description doesn’t indicate how a person does the job, or what he/she does once in the job.   I was on the edge of saying that they are of no value.  Which, like some others, I mostly believe.

For example, I enjoyed reading Leandro Herrero’s idea that ‘The job description is dead. It is replaced by a Lego box, no instructional manual and a map.’  In an earlier post he made the point that ‘The job description, and the label associated with it, are very often a mental prison.’

Chris Rodgers offers an escape from the JD mental prison by suggesting that instead of JDs we have Contribution Statements .  He tells us that:  ‘This sets out to answer the question: What specific contribution is the role intended to make which, if performed excellently, can make a significant difference to organizational performance and/or capability?’   It therefore begins by stating the role’s purpose – to make clear why it exists at all – and then sets out the performance aims for which the role-holder is accountable.

This focus on outputs (contribution and results) rather than inputs (resource usage and activities carried out) is an invitation to escape from the ‘activity trap’ of rigid job descriptions and procedural straight-jackets that too often limit performance – and ambition.

Another writer – agreeing that job descriptions are dead suggests that we begin by asking Why does this job exist? And then via discussion uncover ‘the three to five key accountabilities about how this job should be done’.

A further writer believes that ‘using impact descriptions versus job descriptions makes a significant positive difference.  Impact descriptions help both your team and your candidates to understand that every role exists to impact the organization in some specific way. Our roles make a difference, move the needle, and change the game.’

There are several others in these veins – Google ‘is the job description dead’ for more.  And, of course, I thought they were right.

But then I wondered:

a) how far my response was culturally conditioned.  How do other cultures respond to job descriptions?

b) As I enjoy  Herrero’s posts, and others, slating JDs am I succumbing to the psychological trait of confirmation bias. (See also here).  Preferring to read others confirming what I believe.

Maybe.  To test this, I took another tack and googled ‘Are job descriptions alive?’  Google’s algorithms instantly gave me links to jobs at Alive, a non-profit aimed at ‘lighting up later life’.  It looks like a great organization it points out that ‘There are now over 400,000 older people living in residential care in the UK. Alive is the UK’s leading charity enriching the lives of older people in care and training their carers.’

I instantly got worried, thinking that Google knows more about me than I imagined – I’ll have to protect my data better.  (My mother is 101, in residential care).

On a temporary diversion from job descriptions I looked at the blog on session replay scripts, published by Freedom to Tinker.  I am right to be worried.  Their researchers say, ‘You may know that most websites have third-party analytics scripts that record which pages you visit and the searches you make.  But lately, more and more sites use “session replay” scripts. These scripts record your keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior, along with the entire contents of the pages you visit, and send them to third-party servers.’

Back to job descriptions.  UK employers aren’t legally obliged to create a job description for a role.  I don’t know if there is a legal obligation in other countries?   Whether they are of value or not , in the main, I found that HR sites are in favour of producing job descriptions and give advice on how to write one.  The UK’s CIPD, for example, quotes research that finds that ‘Poorly defined job descriptions drive staff turnover’.

The US HR body SHRM is firm ‘A job description is a useful, plain-language tool that describes the tasks, duties, functions and responsibilities of a position. It outlines the details of who performs a specific type of work, how that work is to be completed, and the frequency and the purpose of the work as it relates to the organization’s mission and goals.’

But organizations in favour of job descriptions also point to the requirement to keep them current, and offer advice on how to update them.  See for example, How To Revive And Renew Your Job Descriptions  and ‘At year’s end, don’t forget to update your job descriptions’

So maybe I am biased, and job descriptions are sensible and suitable.  However, I’m still not convinced of their  value to individuals, although I can see they may have organizational value.  And, even on this count, they have pros and cons as Susan Heathfield’s blog suggests in 5 Positives and 5 Negatives about Job Descriptions.

What’s your view of job descriptions? Let me know.

Image: Science job descriptions

The accountability conundrum (again)

Tomorrow’s Organization Design Forum’s peer-to-peer consulting session in which I’m in the hot-seat has been drifting to front-of-mind over the last couple of weeks: prompted by first, a coaching session on how to frame the question in a way that the peer group can tackle it, and then by getting a Zoom invite to the actual session that proved to me that I’m actually in the hot seat.

The way it works is rather like a fish-bowl exercise, but virtually.  I sit in the ‘middle’, and briefly outline my conundrum.   Five consultants the discuss it.  We follow the ‘Ace-It’ formula. Other people ‘watch’ the session in action, commenting only via the chat box.

The info that has gone to the five consultants says: ‘The ask for Naomi to hold this session came out of a high level of interest shared during one of our monthly virtual conversations (ODF Advisory Group) around an article she wrote Accountability – Is it a Design Concern? featured in EODF’s monthly newsletter.  People suggested that I do a follow-up blog but it turned into this live session instead.

The conundrum I’m posing to the consultants is:

Work process flows almost always cross organizational boundaries, either internal boundaries or between organization boundaries.  This can create difficulties, bottlenecks, and failure points at the intersects and hand-overs.   Assigning a single person accountability for the process flow does not allow for the fact that the accountable person may not have control over the people along the flow.  These people may be working on other flows, have different priorities, and different performance measures.  Along the flow, people may have the power to slow or stop the flow.

Imagine a design that assumed a collective accountability to maintain process flow.  How could this be designed?

Last week I wrote a blog and also ran a session on Hierarchies and Networks. In these two forums I asked whether ‘the very differently principled networks and hierarchies co-exist in one organization’?  I think they do, along with the informal networks that are in both.

In response to that blog Nicolay Worren sent me his excellent – still in draft – paper The “hidden matrix”: Reporting relationships outside the formal line organization. In this, he talks about some research in which he has found that ‘Even though the organization does not formally have a matrix organization, the decision rights have been distributed in such a manner that employees will require the approval of people who are not their line manager, who is outside their own department, and may not be hierarchically superior to themselves.’

He is wondering, similarly to me, about mixing of structures in one organization – one of which is often consciously designed (the hierarchy) and the other which equally formal but not usually consciously designed – the network or, in Worren’s case, the matrix.  He doesn’t speak much about the informal networks in both.

I’m intrigued to find that a network can be expressed mathematically as a matrix but I’m not going to pursue the difference between them in organizational design terms right now.  Another intriguing take is in the article To Matrix, Hierarchy or Network: that is the question.   It’s not directly about organization design but there are great parallels that might be usable in design work.

Pursuing the network route for now, RAND researcher, Paul Baran, began thinking about the optimal structure of the Internet. He envisioned a network of unmanned nodes that would act as switches, routing information from one node to another to their final destinations. Baran suggested there were three possible architectures for such a network —centralized, decentralized, and distributed.

He felt the first two —centralized and decentralized— were vulnerable to attack, the third distributed or mesh-like structure would be more resilient.  And this is what he designed.  The Internet is a network of routers that communicate with each other through protocols – which might be an organizational proxy for decision rights, approvals, and distributed accountability.

The mesh like structure is what I think of when I think of networks, and I dug out my blog Of Nets and Networks  and found that the metaphor of accountability exists in physical fishing nets.  Each knot in the net is ‘accountable’ for the success of each other part of the net.  The knots are representative of shared and distributed accountability.  The way the fishermen work with the nets represents the informal network.  But maybe I’m carrying that too far?

Then my brother sent me a snippet that seemed to perfectly describe organizational networks – formal and informal in one go.  Except it was referring to consciousness:

‘In our brains there is a cobbled-together collection of specialist brain circuits, which, thanks to a family of habits inculcated partly by culture and partly by individual self-exploration, conspire together to produce a more or less orderly, more or less effective, more or less well-designed virtual machine, the Joycean machine. By yoking these independently evolved specialist organs together in common cause, and thereby giving their union vastly enhanced powers, this virtual machine, this software of the brain, performs a sort of internal political miracle: It creates a virtual captain of the crew, without elevating any one of them to long-term dictatorial power. Who’s in charge? First one coalition, then another…’   It’s from Daniel Dennett, (1991) Consciousness Explained, Little, Brown and Co.

I’m not sure how all this rumination has progressed my thinking on organizational networks and distributed accountability, in a way that will make sense when I sit in the hot seat tomorrow.  But it’s been an interesting exploration.  Do you think networks distribute accountability?  Let me know.

Image: How everything is connected to everything else