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The silence of the ‘Design’ conversation…

in the forest

The challenges confronting organisations and leaders of today have never been more complex: COVID-19, wars and crises, supply-chain disruptions, economic tightening, digitalisation, other prevailing issues and the biggest challenge, ‘the unforeseen’. Designers and other professionals have much to think about to better understand and withstand this new and uncertain environment we all face and witness daily. Many of us need to upgrade ourselves with new and essential knowledge and understanding of how to work with the complexities we face. Businesses certainly do. Leveraging industry experience and practised successes to generate new thinking in terms of Organisation Design (ODes), its use, value and future contributions to the world of work.

Much is talked about the critical role that HR and Organisation Development play. But scarcely do I see or hear the much-needed and deeper debate about the role of Design in countering today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Lots of Design work is happening within the corridors of our Management and Design Consultancies but what I am not seeing is an active dialogue amongst our communities. Learn and explore in detail how Design can positively contribute and, in many cases, lead these Change and Transformation initiatives that we hear frequently being devised and concocted within many organisations across the UK and wider afield.

The time is right to seek new ideas for shifting the Design paradigm from the traditional re-structuring mindset of HR generalisation to the more radical approach of transdisciplinary thinking and practice. The education (in some cases re-education) of ODes is as important right now as the practice itself. Perhaps more important. The approach we take at Wicked People when we enter a ‘Design situation’ is one of practice but also education. We strive not only to help organisations to overcome their points of tension and leverage identifiable opportunities but also to educate leaders and other professionals, HR and OD (Development) in the principles, MethodOLOGY, disciplines, approaches and practices of Design. Fusing Design and Development into a one-model approach has served us well and produced telling results by helping organisations to slowly ‘insource’ their previous stance of ‘outsourcing’ their Design needs/demands.

Our OD&D model and Design Methodology below consider all aspects, considerations and constraints of the modern business and provides a progressive and logical engagement. Not only does it deliver widespread value, but it is also simple in its construction and understanding. It is bound in academic rigour, balanced with the vigour of practice/action with flexibility in mind that makes it work in any context.

OD&D Model

We place learning for value & meaning and change & transformation at the centre of our OD&D model as they are core considerations for both Organisational Design and Development. This model is slightly reminiscent of an input-output model: the ‘inputs’ are Diagnostic (we have devised our own methodology), Constraints, and Environment; the ‘outputs’ are Change Choices, New Organisation, and Culture.

The inner learning wheel consists of what we perceive as the key elements of management: Strategy, Organisation, Process (Design) and Performance, Productivity, and People (Development). These are driven by:

Our systemic success factors:

  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency
  • Efficacy
  • Ethics

Our system capacity:

  • Viability
  • Vitality
  • Virtuosity

Our attitudes (values):

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Courage

What is uniquely different about our OD&D model is that it is brought to life through adopting a Systems mindset and taking an Action (Research) Learning approach to all engagement elements, context-free.

All of these together are our ingredients for success.

Figure 1 – Our OD&D Model

Design Methodology

Many initiatives of organisational design aim at improvement. Little wrong with that as such. But that is a somewhat limited scope because it changes something that already exists favourably. Innovation is truly new; it adds a unique quality to a situation and helps to evolve into something commercially different, helping to create a new vision of the future.

Our Design methodology provides a logical sequence of Design activities that are easy to grasp and take people with you and rigorously developed over many years of experience and research that provides a ‘new look’ Design. Our 3-step approach: Initiate, Innovate, and Instigate (Establish), provides an effective platform of Transparency, Communication, and Participation (TCP). This engagement approach helps leaders, senior staff, and colleagues to take collective responsibility and provide the Design freedom allowing for innovation and improvement to take place.

The outer two triangles – Initiate & Establish – are the entry points of the Design process. The first helps to understand, shape and agree on the initial design boundaries. The right-hand triangle is the process of translating the new/revised models into real terms, handover accountability to the organisation’s senior leadership and finally transitioning into the new way of working.

The central aspect of the model is where real work and action happens. Using the diagnostic elements of the OD&D model (Strategy, Organisation & Process) and stepping through the three project stages of Map, Model & Re-design (in some cases re-wire). Mapping the current and future, modelling new ideas and opportunities, and re-designing to create choices.

Figure 2 – Our Design Methodology

Both of our presented models are bound in Action (Research) Learning and adopting a systems mindset and practice.

Some quotes to consider.

“If you want different results, do not do the same things”

Albert Einstein

“To manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behaviour taken separately”

Russell L. Ackoff

In many respects, these quotes separate the value differences between Design and Development.

To summarise, Design takes a whole system approach, whereas Development tends to look at the separate parts of a system and less at how these parts interact.

Parting Question: is it about time that we bring Design into our conversations when we talk about Change, Transformation and ultimately, Innovation?


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