Some Of The Biggest Challenges We Face As Org DesignersBlog


By Paul Tolchinsky

Recently I was asked to reflect on the biggest challenges I have faced as an organization designer. There are many approaches to change, as we all know. Some simple, others more complex. I think designing or redesigning organizations is likely to be the most complex of them all, and often incorporating aspects of the simpler, as well.
I thought about the question and reached out to several of my colleagues to compare notes. Were the challenges I experienced similar to those they experienced? Below are some of our thoughts, converged into our “hit list!”
First and foremost is getting clients to think broader than design teams or the leadership team “doing the design work.” They want to keep the projects close to the chest. Org design is just about drawing boxes and the structure, right? Sometimes it is fear of the unknown, at others is about power and control. Trying to get them to use some holistic approach is hard when jobs, people, career paths, etc. are at stake. How do we shift the paradigm; and also build ownership and commitment? Without engaging, is it even possible?

2. Related to #1, getting the change facilitation woven in early enough so that the org has time to get used to what was designed. Organization design is 100% about designing and 100% about managing the transition to something new. Focus too much on design OR development, at the expense of the other, always costs in the end. The hearts and minds of those impacted have to reach the same end, at the same time, as the design solution. If you have to create buy-in AFTER you have the solution, you have lost valuable time.

3. Keeping the client focused on day to day design all the way through the process – ticking and tying all the details and ensuring they are captured in job descriptions, scorecards, team start-up planning, linking and coordinating, etc. You have to design from the strategic, through the operation and into the daily details, if you are going to ensure behavior changes. We have had teams over the past few years who get to a point and are just tired and want to worry about the details post announcement. Everyone’s questions are about the “how to” details. You either create a process that enables those doing the day-to-day to decide moving forward, or you take the time, up front to clarify as much as possible, while leaving room for people to influence the final decisions.

4. Getting clients to see beyond structure. On a recent project we started with articulating the strategy, but the SVP just couldn’t understand why we were doing it and why it was taking so long. “Can’t we just lock everyone in a room and knock this out in 4 hours!” No one can design something they can not imagine, so how do we open up thinking and discover possibilities we had not thought of before?
On another project we needed to process map the work since it touched so many functions. The OD person had a hard time seeing that this was part of the design work. We need to know a little bit about everything to do this work well – strategy, process, structure, metrics, technology (especially requirements analysis and usability).

5. Doing good org design work is so dependent on the state of operational maturity and management thinking. Sometimes we just don’t have enough time to get them to a point to do more wholistic design. It is always amazing at the lack of some of the fundamentals….such as good role definition and performance management. Sometimes design work begins with stabilizing and improving what is, before we can really decide, what should be!

6. When all is said and done, how do we anchor or embed the organization design
(Strategy, Structure, Culture) into the new, so the next wave, next leader or fad does not wash it away? People will go to the ends of the earth to make that which they create happen; and sustain. Sustaining seems key, yet clients sometimes do not look that far over the horizon…much more short-term oriented.

7. Finally, budgeting design work is always a challenge. Some of us use a high
engagement model (few of us, many of them), others use lots of us, few of them (expert model) and aligning on our role, value-add and leveraging existing wisdom seems to be a never-ending conversation. I say 3 days, clients say’s why more than 1!? PLUS Preparations and planning etc. Why more than 1 consultant, why so long, why diverge before we converge?

I am sure many of you have experienced some or all of these. What have I missed?

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