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Organization design blog

Big data informing and uninforming?

07/17/16  4:30 PM 

There's an inherent promise in the idea that 'big data' will help us unlock various mysteries, solve all types of problems, and see or understand things from new perspectives. At a meeting I was at last week on 'Big Data in organisation design, development and workforce planning' this seemed to be the line we were taking.

By 'big data' I think we meant the vast amounts of structured and unstructured information amenable to being captured and coded into a computer where it is stored, manipulated and analysed through skills of data scientists who have expertise in machine learning, computational analysis, maths and statistics. But don't worry if you aren't sure what 'big data' is – take a look at an article that offers the varied definitions from 40 big data scientists.

For organisation design work using 'big data' and data visualisation is useful for developing scenarios and models, costing changes, assessing impacts of various changes that could be made and so on (See Rupert Morrison's book Data Driven Organisation Design for more on this.)

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Try not to thingify

07/12/16  5:15 PM 

The opposite of a systems approach to organisation design and development is a 'thingifying' approach. (And many thanks to Fiona for giving me the word). This considers viewing something problematic going on in an organisation as a 'thing' to be addressed. Philosopher Theodore Gendlin explaining, another philosopher, Martin Heidegger's essay 'What is a thing?' says:

'The "thing," as we have things today, is a certain sort of explanatory scheme, a certain sort of approach to anything studied. ... It is an approach that renders whatever we study as some thing in space, located over there, subsisting separate from and over against us and having certain properties of its own. It is as obvious as "that orange-colored chair over there," or "an atom," "a cell," "a self," "a sense datum," "a body."'

I come across thingifying a lot in my day to day working life, particularly in relationship to leadership and culture. If we think of leadership as a 'thing' in the definition above we reach for 'tools' to fix it. You can get any number of leadership tools. Here's one that you can use to assess your leadership skills. You score yourself and depending on your score get some ideas to improve your skills. For example if you score between 35 and 52

'You're doing OK as a leader, but you have the potential to do much better. While you've built the foundation of effective leadership, this is your opportunity to improve your skills, and become the best you can be. Examine the areas where you lost points, and determine what you can do to develop skills in these areas'.

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Human and high performing organisations

07/04/16  4:45 PM 

One of my colleagues has posed us the question 'What can and can't we do in the service of creating a more human and high performing organisation?' I started by wondering what she meant by 'creating', 'more human' and 'high performing'. That got me nowhere but led me to a different question: can organisations be human without being high performing or high performing without being human? I think so. (And I don't mean 'being human' as in the TV series). The issue lies in being both human and high performing.

My book on organisational health covers a lot of ground on this and so do several of my blogs. Looking back through them one I wrote in 2011 is still relevant. It is about creating and using positive energies and emotions. Positivity leads to individual and organization health and high performance.

5 years ago in that blog, I referenced Margaret Wheatley's interview in strategy+business. This reinforced my view that creating positivity requires leadership activity. She made the point that 'In a time like this of economic and emotional distress, every organization needs leaders who can help people regain their capacity, energy and desire to contribute'.

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Creating a community

06/27/16  5:19 PM 

We all know that the UK population voted on its view of community on Thursday, about which I am not going to comment, except for noting that whatever the size of 'community', there are certain things that identify a group of people as being a community:

  • Feelings of membership: feelings of belonging to, and identifying with, the community.
  • Feelings of influence: feelings of having influence on, and being influenced by, the community.
  • Integration and fulfilment of needs: feelings of being supported by others in the community while also supporting them.
  • Shared emotional connection: feelings of relationships, shared history, and a "spirit" of community.

But as two people contacted me last week with questions about 'community' I thought I'd be topical – and give them a response. They asked:

1. 'What I am looking for is anything that would stimulate the debate about is there a transformation leadership community, if there is who are they and what distinguishes them as a community and how do we create that?'
2. 'We are keen to start a conversation with the wider organisation design community about next steps in building our community and developing our collective capacity – can you give us your views on this?'

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The Ship of Theseus

06/20/16  4:27 PM 

The other day I read something about a broom that someone had used for 20 years and during the period it had needed 7 new handles and 8 new heads. The question was 'Is it the same broom as it was when it was bought?' Apparently this is a variant of the philosophical paradox the 'Ship of Theseus'. (90 second explanation here. 8 minute explanation here).

It seemed relevant as I'm gearing myself up to write the 3rd edition of my book Organisation Design: Engaging with Change. The first edition was published in 2004 and the second in 2014. Although I'd promised myself and my family I'd never write another book after that second edition I let myself be persuaded by the editor who assured me that 'I would expect updating for a third edition to be a smaller job than it was previously. The jump from first to second edition saw a big overhaul of the text (given that almost a decade had passed), while I imagine that the crucial changes this time around would be more manageable.'

The editor asked me to suggest what I would do differently in a third edition – which was the easy bit - and then sent these ideas + a copy of the second edition to 5 reviewers asking whether a third edition should go ahead.

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Different perspectives

06/13/16  4:06 PM 

I spent last week walking the Great Glen Way in Scotland. It's a glorious route and we were lucky with both the weather and the lack of midges. If I believe all the research then I should be back at work this week more productive, thinking more positively, being more creative, and with a fresh perspective.

Not only that, walking is supposed to have miracle benefits too so, in theory, I will be well able to deal with whatever has happened in my week off but I can't tell yet as I am writing this on Sunday evening, before I switch on my work laptop to find out what has been going on. I'm taking comfort in the statement that '[Work] life won't fall apart if you take two weeks off -— in fact your work might actually improve'. (I wonder, does it hold if you only take one week off?)

Although I can't tell whether my productivity and positive thinking has improved I can talk about the fresh perspectives. I came home with three:

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    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
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