Designing An Organization Built to Change

Complete MBA for Dummiesby Genevieve Taylor

I picked up the Complete MBA for Dummies a few years ago, curious as to whether one could actually get a Complete MBA through reading a 414-page (including the index) book. While I can’t answer that question, I was struck by the first chapter. They said that the thing each organization needs to be prepared for, to expect, to relish, is… (drum roll please)…

The Prospect, the Countenance, the Reality of Change.

It was, to say the least, very confirming.

The truth of it, in these days, with the rapidity of change, the complete turnover of technology (where did the analog system go?), most businesses, non-profits, and everyone else are aware of the need to be prepared for change.

And yet, we still have trouble adjusting for change, building for it, preparing for it. Oh, maybe at the beginning of an organization’s life, when everything is being created, it is easier. Structures are malleable, and people are open. But, as Terry Taylor says…

Nothing Fails Like Success.

Success breeds satisfaction, rigidity. And while we don’t need to imitate Mao with a Cultural Revolution (aka purge) every 10 years, we do need to keep the learning curve fresh for ourselves. Keeping the Learning Curve – essentially, the ability to innovate, fresh is one of the key reasons that so many large organizations have attempted to create smaller entrepreneurial organizations within.

Surf the Wave

So, how can you design an organization so it is fully ready to surf the wave of change?

How can you ready your people? How can you predict curves and swoops of change, and take advantage of it through strategy and precise action?

The Reconfigurable Organization:

A fantastic book, Designing Dynamic Organizations,suggests the Reconfigurable Organization as a strategy. It says that there are five components to organizational design, and how you handle each of them will directly impact your ability to maneuver change – and have negative consequences if you fail to do so.

The five components of organizational design:

  1. Strategy – The strategy for the organization must be integrated into the organizational design. The direction of the company – its goals, its vision, the reality of the economy, environment, and market must all inform how an organization is designed.
  2. Structure – The authors refer to the structure as the home, the body of the organization. How functions are organized, and how roles are defined, will have a subtle and not-so-subtle impact on how energy in the organization is channeled, how work is accomplished, and on the focus of the organization.
  3. Processes and Lateral Capability – Specialization of function, while it has its obvious strengths, naturally creates boundaries and barriers to collaboration. This can be overcome by looking at the interpersonal communication networks, informal and formal, the technological networks, and by specifically naming integrative roles that, as the authors point out, form the “glue” of the organization.
  4. Reward Systems – How people are rewarded signifies how the organization measures success. What types of results and behaviors is the organization looking for? How can it encourage those by what it measures, incentivizes, and discourages?
  5. People Practices – Depending on what the organization needs, the skills, competencies, and resources of its people could significantly change. How you are selecting, developing, and what you are giving feedback on should evolve in tandem with the how the organization evolves.

The authors make the point that if any of these pieces do not reflect the organization’s current needs, it could lead to confusion, friction(inability to execute), gridlock (no collaboration), internal competition, and low performance. Any of these problems sound familiar?

Their solution? The Reconfigurable Organization – an organization that by its very design is ready to change and evolve with the organization’s needs; that encourages collaboration and execution. They point out –

If change is constant, why not design the organization to be constantly and quickly changeable?

Redoing Org Structure

The Reconfigurable Organization is characterized by…

  • Active Leadership
  • Knowledge Management
  • Learning
  • Flexibility
  • Integration
  • Employee Commitment
  • Change Readiness

Designing Dynamic Organizations walks you through the process of organizational re-design, discussing everything from focus groups to the design process. They are thorough, accessible, and really intending the group for leaders and practitioners, pointing out that top leaders and HR Directors will find this very useful. It is the best book I have found on looking at how an organization can be designed to meet the needs of its most fundamental asset – its people.