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Organization design blog

Transformation is a team sport

05/23/16  4:46 PM 

Like many organisations intent on using new (digital) technologies to improve business performance, we've got a strapline running that 'Transformation is a team sport'. The 'rules' of the sport include three that are particularly relevant to organisation design:

1. Working across silos: 'knowing that your customers care less about the different lines-of-business within your company; they simply care about a consistent user experience'. To get to this means structure, systems, process and measurement changes, not to mention associated cultural changes.
2. Leadership evolving to accompany transformation: this can be a stretch when leaders see nothing as 'broken', but have yet to be convinced that what they do see is anachronistic. To help leaders evolve means steering a careful course that avoids the sensitivities that something is 'wrong' instead offering a low risk suggestion that opportunities are being missed. It requires sets of subtle approaches and not a big bang transformation approach.
3. Recognising that 'business transformation is not just about use of mobile, social, cloud and analytics solutions, but also about the entire ecosystem of connections (systems and people), starting with employees'. This means involving employees in the transformation work a 'movement not mandate' approach that is counter-cultural in many organisations.

During the week I was working with a group discussing how we could act on the strapline and three questions each related to one of the rules above arose:

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Charting the future

05/16/16  5:02 PM 

Several conversations this past week have involved questions on when the 2020+ organisation design will be unveiled. What people appear to have in mind is a traditional organisation chart at 'now' complete with hierarchies, layers and spans, and role descriptions, etc. and then a chart at 2018 showing the transition with the same level of detail and then a third chart showing 2020+ chart, again with the same level of detail.

Trying to develop this model organisation chart for four years out requires all kinds of information – a lot of which is not currently available – to play into it. This includes having:

1. Clarity on the business strategy e.g. is it predominantly focused on customer segments, on service delivery via business lines, on regions, on partnerships with third parties, on efficiency gains
2. Agreement on the type of organisation we want to be e.g. 'one' organisation, multiple organisations down business lines each competing for resources, several devolved organisations with a central 'holding company' ...
3. Agreement on the style of organisation we want to have e.g. is it non-hierarchical, collaborative, inclusive, expertise based
4. An assessment of the appetite to change things which are hard to change including policies, work flows, supplier contracts, performance metrics (organisational and individual) etc.
5. An assessment of the risk leaders are prepared to assume in any re-design for the future

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Work and transferable skills

05/10/16  1:58 AM 

Last year (2015) the UK's Department for Work and Pensions reported that 'The employment rate for people aged 50 to 64 has grown from 55.4 to 69.6 per cent over the past 30 years, an increase of 14.2 percentage points. The employment rate for people aged 65 and over has doubled over the past 30 years, from 4.9 to 10.2 per cent, an increase of 5.3 percentage points.

Lots more in that age group, says another report, would like to find work but face a number of age-related barriers that: 'range from a lack of practical skills, such as IT proficiency and a limited ability to navigate job search and job applications online, to more emotive responses to employment, issue such as confidence, motivation and a belief that employers routinely discriminate against older jobseekers'.

The lack of practical skills is an interesting one and is relevant not just for older job seekers: the expectation that people will need to work for longer than in the past combined with impact that technology is having on the both work content and location mean that workers of whatever age need to keep their skills honed. But it could be much more valuable to keep your transferable skills honed than your expertise skills honed. Expertise can become redundant. Transferable skills less so.

Watch the video of Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott talking about their new book The 100 Year Life. They talk of a world of in which people are going to start work later [in life], take career breaks and spend time in their 60s and 70s acquiring new skills.

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Utility players v generalists

05/03/16  1:40 AM 

I've read a couple of articles this week on a no-growth economy. One, for example, Stunted growth: the mystery of the UK's productivity crisis comments that 'global demographics are changing, with the supply of new workers set to slow and the older share of the population rising. The future is of course inherently unknowable, but the reasons for longer-term pessimism on economic growth are starting to stack up'.

Another, Exit from the Megamachine (thanks to Hannah B for this link) tells us 'In the twenty-first century, however, the five-hundred year-long expansion of the mega machine is reaching insurmountable limits'.

At the same time we read in the popular (UK) press this week that 'Retirement really COULD kill you: Researchers find those who work past 65 live longer'. (As an aside, I couldn't quite grasp the next statement that said: 'Working a year past 65 if healthy led to an 11% lower risk of death', I thought that everyone, regardless of health, is at risk of death).

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Can organisations learn?

04/25/16  4:07 PM 

I repeatedly hear 3 phrases in my organisation: 'We've done that before', 'what's the problem we're trying to solve?', and 'who shall I ask?' I hear each of them several times a week and have tended to treat them as discrete items. But maybe I'd be better reflecting on them as a collective in order to tackle the challenge I have this coming week of facilitating a session on learning organisations.

A 2011 article on learning histories that states that 'The essence of a learning organization is that it actively identifies, creates, stores, shares, and uses knowledge to anticipate, adapt to, and maybe even shape a changing environment. The driving concern [in doing this] must be reflection, communication, and collective sense making for action across its personnel'. It seems obvious to suggest that if we are to achieve our target of 'business transformation' we need to become a learning organisation.

The learning organisation is not a new management studies concept: Peter Senge was the 'guru' of it when I first came across the ideas. In 1990 he published The Fifth Discipline explaining the term and the thinking behind it. At that point helping organisations becoming 'learning organisations' was taken up by any number of consultants. HBR had an early article on it in 1993 and published several over the next couple of decades. But then the idea seemed to fade from agendas.

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Trellises and vines

04/18/16  4:29 PM 

My balcony currently has no plants on it but I have a vision of a small green jewel that I can look out on, sit on, smell bee-loving plants on and generally enjoy in any spare moment I happen to have.

With this end in mind I contacted various people listed by the Society of Garden Designers but as I don't have 200 acres for landscaping they wouldn't help. So I called in on spec to the local flower shop and asked if they knew anyone as I have no clue as to how to convert my empty open-fronted box into a green jewel. John turned up and suggested trellising and various types of evergreen vines. With this idea, and thanks to ready access to the web, I started to investigate.

That same day I read the following: "Imagining today minus the Net is as content-free an exercise as imagining London in the 1840s with no steam power, New York in the 1930s with no elevators, or L.A. in the 1970s with no cars. After a while, the trellis so shapes the vine that you can't separate the two." Clay Shirky, who studies the Internet.

This made me think. Here I am able to find potential balcony vine and trellis info, do rapid research, buy stuff for more or less immediate delivery – my behaviour is being shaped by the structure of the internet.

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    Naomi Stanford
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