Ants on a picnic basket is an apt visual metaphor for large-scale organization design projects using familiar big-name consultants. The problem with the metaphor is that it’s too cute. It masks the significant consequences of external actors crawling over your organization to design a new operating model that you can presumably implement. A central problem with this approach is that it treats your organization as a purely technical system. This point of view interferes not only with the process of changing your organization from current to future state but also with your organization’s ability to continually respond to non-routine demands in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous operating environment.
Demand more from your consultant.
If culture shift and organizational agility are outcomes you want, then you don’t want ants on a picnic basket. You need a consultant that takes a collaborative approach to organization design consulting. This is accomplished with far fewer consultants and far more participation from your organization.
A Reason to Believe Our Approach to Organization Design Consulting
Here’s what the executive VPs of one organization say about a lesser known, but more effective approach available to you through ON THE MARK:
- “They didn’t come in with a pre-packaged solution but instead worked closely with us to develop a tailor-made model that fit our specific needs and goals.”
- “We’ve seen significant improvements in efficiency, productivity, and improved team dynamics.”
- “They [ON THE MARK] understand that at the heart of any organization are its people, and they put great emphasis on ensuring the changes made were not only beneficial to our business operations but also to our employees.”
Leading up to its partnership with OTM, this organization had grown through acquisition, but it hadn’t integrated its acquired businesses into a single coherent operating model. Without that coherence, the organization lacked a broadly understood business direction capable of orienting the whole business to a common future. There was no common flow of value-creating work through the organization around which units and teams could be organized. There was little communication across work units to enable cross-selling business opportunities—or even the ability to show up as a single vendor to its most important customers.
With these acquisitions came leaders, managers, and line workers new to the organization. They had no internal social network and little-to-no understanding of the broader organization in which they were now a part. The result was a collection of disintegrated brands and disintegrated people operating under a single ownership umbrella.
The outcome of this organization’s engagement with OTM’s approach was a bespoke operating model that fit hand-in-glove with the business’s unique aspects. By way of design process itself, leaders at all levels developed social capital that enabled strong lateral capability as well as agile, collaborative problem-solving. This, in turn, created an engaged and committed organization that was designed and understood by its members at all levels and that was able to shift from its current to future state with minimum delay and disruption. It took only three external consultants. No need for ants on the picnic basket.
Why Does OTM’s Approach to Organization Design Work?
This alternative approach to consulting works well for several reasons—the same reasons ants on a picnic basket inhibit effective change in your organization. Here are the top three:
- The process used to design an organization must reflect the desired outcome. Said another way, if you want your employees to understand the organization and behave in proactive, engaged ways, you must involve them in the design. Use the design process to enact the behavior you want to see in the future organization. If, instead, you want employees who work to order and wait for leaders to tell them what to do, then design at the top and/or have external consultants do the design work and then push the design into the organization. The design process you choose is highly consequential.
- People support what they help create. If you want your people to own the design and commit to the change needed for moving to a future operating model, then use a proven strategy to involve your organization deeply in the design. Deep participation, and the subsequent ownership it generates, is particularly useful when the organization must solve design issues that weren’t foreseen earlier in the design process. Organization members are prepared to engage and resolve issues, not kick them upstairs for leadership and external consultants to solve. When you involve people in design, they own it. The difference is vast.
- Integrate social change with technical design. Change the social organization at the same time as designing the technical organization. This approach redefines change management and the resources needed to overcome resistance created by the traditional, top-down approach itself. It’s also faster. Many leaders are accustomed to the sequential ‘design it then change it’ waterfall project plans. Integrate design with change, and you need fewer external change resources to push the change into place.
More Benefits Ants on a Picnic Basket Will Never Create
Lift System Blindness. Assembling members from disparate parts of your organization to participate in collaborative redesign lifts system blindness. Conflict is replaced by understanding, cooperation, and jointly agreed remedies. This is a result of an organization doing its own design work, together. We’ve all heard the parable of the blind men and the elephant. I’m touching the tail. You’re touching the ear. Each of us thinks we know the elephant. We’ve fallen into the pattern of system blindness. This describes the common situation where workers in one part of the system do not understand other, complementary parts of the same broader system. Real collaborative design resolves this problem.
Internal Commitment. Engaging your organization in redesign leads to internal commitment among members. The reasons are found in involvement, valid data, and dialogue. The assembly of a broad design team, from top leaders to front-line workers, and with representation from across organizational boundaries, produces real data and real involvement. The data about the good and the bad in an organization forms a foundation for effective, honest, and open dialogue. This means that the group, working as a collection of interdependent stakeholders each with their own vantage point, collectively defines design objectives and methods to achieve them. The agreed choice is not coerced or pre-determined, but freely made based on consensus decision-making processes.
Lateral Coordination. Your lateral organization makes your organization work. Most organizations depend on spontaneous, recurring, and informal interaction among members. Participative design processes build these informal, lateral networks within organizations. Each design participant becomes more well-connected in the network. They become more effective at sharing data and at connecting those who have organizational issues to solve with those who have relevant information and skill. The result is that your organizational network becomes tighter, more capable of transmitting information across the network, and more responsive to external change.
It’s Time to Demand More
It’s time to demand more from your consulting relationships. The first step is to know there are alternatives to the big, marquee names in the consulting industry. Their brand awareness is so significant that many leaders don’t know that fundamental alternatives exist. Accordingly, the big consultancies price high, bring the ants onto your picnic basket, and in doing so often fail to create the change they promise. If you want to redesign your operating model and build an adaptable and agile organization—and if you want to create the engagement and commitment needed to change—you must engage with consultants who operate in fundamentally different ways. And leave the ants to the real picnic baskets.
Dan Schmitz: Dan has 16 years of holding various managerial-level positions at Clorox. Prior to OTM, he founded a small consulting firm providing solutions in transformation. Dan also holds an MBA from Kent State University and a master’s degree in Organization Development and Change Leadership from Pepperdine University. He is a Certified Organization Design Practitioner (CODP).
Source Note: ‘System Blindness’ is a phrase pulled from Barry Oshry’s 1995 book titled, Seeing Systems—Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life.