In our first journal we introduced you to our organisation effectiveness model, and a number of queries about it prompt me to expand upon it further.
For example, I was involved recently in delivering a session to a group of Chinese HR Managers, who were undertaking a programme with the Judge Business School at The University of Cambridge. Through an interpreter, I introduced this model to the group and asked what they thought of it.
Not simple enough to be a model” was the response.
I then went through the different components, checking as I went that they applied in the Chinese organisation, and yes they did. When we had covered them all, I explained OE Cam’s view that if we are to do the right ‘people’ things for the effectiveness of an organisation, we need to understand and explore the relationships across these components, didn’t we?
The Chinese HR Managers were quick to agree, which allowed me to reassert the usefulness of creating a model, acknowledging that the complexity of organisations and their component relationships is hard to illustrate simply. Perhaps a more accurate description of this diagram is an OE ‘portal’ – a gateway to understanding the dimensions of organisation effectiveness.
We have combined decades of experience and insight in this portal and it illustrates our knowledge and understanding of how organisations work. It is a representation of the dimensions of organisation effectiveness that are common to all organisations. Think of it as an eco-system, with not only the components but also the flows amongst them. You will quickly realise that your own organisation has its own unique version of those interdependencies.
How well the organisation works depends a lot on how aligned the components are, how much they mutually reinforce one another.
For example, our operating model may be based on ‘speed to market’ which is supported by our brand in terms of image. But if our governance requires multiple layers of sign-off, then you can guarantee high levels of frustration and possibly turnover with key employees.
What our portal represents are the tangible and intangible components which work together to deliver a more or less effective organisational outcome.
But we know, as you do, that organisations are dynamic and those interdependencies are forever active and changing their effectiveness as a result. Having knowledge and understanding about the interplay among these components underpins our work with our clients, whether at the individual, team or organisational levels.
Getting to really know your organisation starts with a few broad questions to get the overall sense of it. There is merit in asking people at different levels too:
- What does the organisation do, what is it for and what does it aim to become? (Strategy)
- Broadly, how does it work,? (Operating model)
- Who is in charge? (Governance)
- What do people do to create the products or services? (Processes)
These tend to be the core questions which inform us of most of the tangible components that make up any organisation.
When we dig deeper we bridge into the less tangible, usually by asking:
- How do people know what to do and do it? (Performance management and reward).
- Who keeps an eye on everything? (Leadership)
- What is it like? (Values & culture)
- What kinds of people work there? (Competencies)
- What sorts of jobs are there? (Role design).
To understand how the organisation is seen in a broader context, we delve into:
- What is its history? (Past experience)
- How aware is everyone of direction? (Shared purpose and behaviours)
- What do insiders and outsiders think of it? (Trust & Social capital).
From these perspectives and the information gathered by such questions, we can build our understanding of the organisation’s effectiveness. And when we ask these questions of people at different levels of the organisation, it enables us to get a real sense of the place.
What interests us in the information is looking for the inconsistencies across the organisational components. Some of our clients are alert to this too and we suggest they start with spotting inconsistencies between, say:
- Espoused and actual behaviours;
- Stated operating model and how roles are designed and defined;
- Misunderstandings perhaps about authority and governance;
- Broken dependencies perhaps across processes;
- Roles and their match or not with the competencies we seek to hire.
We also look at the influence of power and politics, or indeed their absence, to see their effect on how these components are allowed and enabled to interact. Our goal is realistic – not to achieve 100% alignment, but certainly to increase the degrees of alignment to improve effectiveness while making explicit those areas of trade-off and imperfection which must be tolerated and actively managed.
Our interest focuses on people and we believe that effective organisations are made so by the collective understanding and actions of its community.
Of course, the community’s cohesiveness is affected by the economic /commercial, social, legal, environmental and technological world within which it operates. These external drivers and pressures affect the organisation and require its leadership to constantly attend to the relationships between its components and the importance attached to each, in terms of resources and primacy.
At the same time, the individual worker, at whatever level, is also affected by that external world and makes their own decisions and adjustments which manifest in the work context, further affecting the mix and being affected by it.
In our first journal, we assert that, “Organisation effectiveness combines the hard and the soft – a shared sense of purpose and direction coupled with the individual behaviours to make it a reality. In between, the structure is configured to enable the capable to flourish, the right talent to be developed, relationships and networks strengthened and values embedded. In short, tomorrow’s connected organisation.”
This focus on the connected organisation holds true beyond technological and information connectedness with which we are all familiar. At all levels, from the individual worker to the team or work unit, the customers and suppliers, the partners and stakeholders, there needs to be connectedness.
Leading, managing, influencing and guiding people in a dynamic situation is a complex and often messy business. It is easy to lose sight of some of those components, to assume their falling into line, to underestimate the part they play in holding our organisational community together.
An illustrative example of a disconnected organisation, based on a fictitious services organisation, may reveal to us:
- Strategy to move towards being highly customer-focused, from being highly process and procedure focused;
- Work processes and systems created to support this move, with training to introduce them (so far so good!);
- History is vested in long service employees whose ‘bible’ is adherence to procedures;
- New jobs being designed and described emphasising the importance of adherence to procedures and rules, thus also supporting the previous technical competencies;
- Governance still draws decisions upwards, reducing scope for personal responsibility and building sound judgement.
What does this suggest might be happening?
There may be some confusion here, as employees experience no more leeway in terms of responsibility for making trade-offs to support the right outcomes for the client – though that is what they are told will be the case with the introduction of the new systems and processes. The new job descriptions, if they are not balanced with requirements for exercising judgement to deliver the best for the client, will encourage a continuation of rule-following.
We can argue that the organisation is in transition, so we can expect there to be confusion. But what should the leadership be doing at this point? Though they may be tempted to learn as they go and catch the issues as they are thrown up, effective leadership would take a strong directional stance, making clear the need for the new ways of working, the new skills applied, and let go of some decisions, with support and guidance on hand. If they equally support both the old and the new, employees will become disheartened and clients will not get the kind of service they have been promised. This lies at the heart of change leadership, a time when many organisations become ‘disconnected’.
So, in terms of the OE portal, we are pleased as punch that we have created it and are sharing it with you. You can use it yourselves to examine your organisation from a range of perspectives, to consider the connections that need strengthening or changing, to think differently about your agenda for leading or managing change.
It also indicates something of what underpins OE Cam’s ability to suggest where an intervention may best work, to identify the component(s) that will make most difference, soonest and cost-effectively.
By way of illustration, consider this disguised version of a real event:
Client leadership says to us: “Our competencies generally are not fit for where we are heading as an organisation. Maybe we need a series of development programmes and a recruitment drive to build capability.” We look around (quite deeply in fact) and see that the topmost leadership lacks political awareness of their own role in modelling changed behaviours, in driving different performance measures and it has disempowered the next level down by indecisiveness and lack of direction.
In our view, the components most in need of attention are the leadership, governance and performance measurement, while their starting position is an expensive organisation-wide sweep of development and recruiting new talent – all competencies!
Food for thought?