The way we do business has dramatically changed in the past 30 years: We work in decreasingly hierarchical workplaces; we often interact in flexibly changing work-groups, projects, or team settings; we overly rely on technology;
and we are frequently geographically dispersed while collaborating. Despite these drastic changes, what has stayed exactly the same is the way we think about our organizations and how we structure our work processes within them.
For some companies, the typical organization structure seems to be the best solution for the moment, of course. And a good indicator that you have found the best solution for your company is that everything is working just fine. In our work with organizations, however, we consistently hear the same burning issues from our clients prior to the engagement:
- silo thinking
- lack of engagement
- lack of innovative energy
- stalling information flow
- loss of market share
- reduced customer satisfaction rates
- high staff turn-over
- rising frustration and friction within the organization
- lingering stagnation
- under-performance or mediocrity of the entire organization
In many companies these issues are so overwhelming that they have been actively tackled over years. The issues are usually approached from an HR perspective and the logic, of course, makes perfect sense: If we are losing customers, we need to train and develop our people better. If we are losing market share, we must learn to be more creative and find better marketing, sales and product solutions, and so on and so forth. The people factor, at first sight, just seems the easiest to address and affect. Often times, however, even the best HR and Learning & Development initiatives do not produce the desired effect. So the problem continues and aggravates over time.
Organization design and identity
There is an abundance of research that indicates that the structure under which we work significantly influences the way we think of ourselves and of the organization. Since the organization design directly impacts a company’s identity, it is paramount to approach pain points not only from an HR-, but also from an organization design perspective.
This becomes clear when we look at another type of organization and their burning issues: Successful start-ups often achieve their best results in their initial phase with largely unstructured forms of organizing. They mostly begin to lose the desired effect somewhere in the third to seventh year of their existence. While many successful start-ups understand that they may have to put more structure into the organization, they are often afraid of losing their identity along the way. In other words: While the fully-structured, mid-sized companies hope to get their vibrancy and organizational identity back, successful start-ups often fear their vibrant identity will be lost when they implement a real structure for the first time.
Creating unique organization designs to support outstanding performance
As organizational identity and structure are tightly linked, it seems illogical to think that all companies could work effectively with the same organization design and the same “best practices”. There are many proven forms of operating available, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. But we do need to make understanding the unique identity and success factors of an organization our priority when we think about how to impact the organization in the future. By including an organization’s unique identity in the equation, we can start building the best platform for vibrant and outstanding work. And remember, outstanding really doesn’t only mean better and more economically successful, it also means different and truly unique.
Things to consider for creating a unique and authentic organization design:
- The identity of your business: What makes you, you?
- Your business objectives: What do you do?
- Your processes and procedures: How do you do what you do?
- Specific interplays of your identity, business objectives, and processes: How do you do what you do best?
- Core success factors and values of your business: Which factors have to be supported by and highlighted through the new, unique design?
- Efficiency: Which factors keep your organization vibrant and resilient over time?
If we produce very detailed answers to these questions, the chances of every company coming up with the same way of organizing their work is as unlikely as finding two companies with the exact same identity. However, the way you sequence this thought process is paramount to your success. If we put efficiency top of the list, company identity will be lost along the way. On the other hand, if we make identity number one on the list, efficiency takes on an entirely different meaning. Just to name an obvious, but often ignored, example: It is simply not efficient to streamline every process down to a T if your organizational identity lives and thrives on innovation and creativity.
When is it time for you to rethink your organization design?
In sum, if you are experiencing any of the issues listed at the top of the article, or a combination of them, it is time to rethink your organization design. Why? Because a good organization design supports your natural energy and information flow, helps resolve friction, builds effective customer relationships, highlights your internal and external identity, and thus helps your natural branding. It is simply not the other way round.
Erika Jacobi is the President of LC GLOBAL®, a change and innovation consulting firm with offices in New York City and Munich, Germany. For more information log on to www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on YouTube.