Even when you’re flying high, it makes sense to plan ahead

In business, you always have to think ahead; if you are designing for now, you are already behind.

By Edwin O’ Hora

At present, we are (for the most part) observing signs of significant recovery in the economy and companies are back in a comparatively healthy position versus that of even five years ago.

With this in mind, now is a great time to ask yourself as a business — what do we need to do to make sure we stay relevant and competitive in the market.

Of course, strategy is central. The ability to conceptualise strategically and then make the correct choices on the back of this is fundamental to running a great business.

However, implementing strategy and bringing your staff with you on this journey is arguably harder.

I feel sometimes that organisational design doesn’t really get the plaudits that it deserves.

It’s not one of these sexy areas like culture where we seem to be constantly seeing new content and where everyone has an opinion and isn’t shy about sharing it.

I like to use the word ‘configuration’ as I think it better captures the sense of what a company needs to do to achieve strategy (right people in the right roles at the right times in an organisation that’s configured correctly to achieve its goals).

Design sometimes sounds like you need to pick the right ‘shape’ from a menu of options and then things automatically go the right way — this is a complete misnomer.

Stanford (2015) outlines some very solid advice for considering organisational design and configuration:

  • Design should be driven by the business strategy and the operating context (not the new IT system, a new leader wanting to make an impact or other non business reasons) — businesses need to look at their context — both internal and external.
  • Design means holistic thinking about the organisation — a design process needs to consider many many salient factors which should influence it and not be focussed on one team or department.
  • Design for the future, not for now — to the best extent possible, organisations should be looking five to 10 years ahead. If you are designing for now, you are already behind.
  • Design is as much an emergent through social interaction and conversations as it is planned — Talking to your people can have an amazing effect from the point of view of involvement and participation — asking your people what they think is a hugely underrated motivational tool.
  • Design should not be undertaken lightly — it is resource-intensive even when going well — don’t look to redesign your organisation because ‘company x are doing this or company y are doing that’ — redesign is a big job.
  • Design is a fundamental process, not a repair job — ‘patching things up’ rarely works with design — it should be accorded the resources it requires rather than being seen as a ‘tweak’.

Also, organisations struggle desperately to distinguish between people and roles. In any design conversation — the role needs to have primacy.

We shouldn’t be talking about ‘Mary’s job’ or ‘John’s job’ rather the role title — this can be difficult when people have long standing relationships with role holders.

Bringing people with you: One of the core principles of organisation development is dialogic communication — the ability to interact with and ‘hear’ people.

Increasingly, this is a central facet of ‘employee engagement’ which seems to be regularly featured in business pages as being central to organisations ability to achieve.

This is not about endless dialogue — it is merely about the ability to interact intelligently with employees.

It is always surprising to hear organisations be surprised by the fact that ‘its easier for people to change when we speak to them and, you know, all we had to do was talk to them — it wasn’t rocket science’.

The ability to engage meaningfully with your workforce is something that is hugely beneficial when your business landscape is challenged but this ability is fostered over years of credible interactions.

It’s never a bad time to work on your engagement ability with your staff — least of all when everything else is going well.

Edwin O’ Hora is the programme director for the IMI Diploma in Organisational Development and Transformation.

Edwin works with a range of clients in different sectors in the areas of growing organisations, making them scalable and developing and sustaining high performance.

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