ORGANISATION DESIGN – No-one likes us, we don’t care


These are obvious signs of a dysfunctional organisation

These are obvious signs of a dysfunctional organisation

So what has the signature chant of a notorious band of English football  hooligans have in common with the world of work, and in particular the much-needed but equally unloved part of our essential HR toolkit ?

Well, with both you’lll find no tea and sympathy (for this is true, hairy arsed, systems based, hard as nails, high impact HR), an adherence to the chaos theory and the simple fact that nobody wants to go near either of them !

And it goes like this. As a function we fight more fires than the Oregan Fire Department does in a lifetime. We often embrace short termism to our collective bosom (for that is mostly the way of 83% of HR) as a necessity and reach for tactical day-to-day ‘doing’ as a means of either personal survival or the absolute reach of our ever increasingly outdated capabilities. Not only do we give up the ground to the highly paid consultancies whenever there is a need identified for our own function but it’s simply the cry too often from the boardroom that we carry too much fat, inefficiency and cost. A million process flows are created stretching the length of the proverbial channel, headcount is determined by pure ‘above the line’ transactional activity and the FTE delta is recounted once the function is outsourced to an inch of its life, complete with repeatable HR scripts in hand and a one way ticket to lowcostville, South East Asia. As the pleased as punch HRD delivers less cost than before and gets high fived in the process, our close friend ‘value’ is left outside the celebration party with his nose up against the window pondering how any of this relates to creating a dynamic organisation, or how we can move ‘bad money’ (think Accenture consultancy fees and Executive Search bills as two examples) into ‘good money’ (the investment required to build sustainable capabilities that define the future of the enterprise). And of course in the midst of this expensive game none of the players surface some of the Spanish customs that has taken root in the HR organisation as a result of a now entrenched but increasingly lazy custom and practice, such as :

– Has Accenture found out about the unwritten seasonality of the big annual performance cycle. For anything up to 6 months a year the modern-day equivalent of WW1 trench warfare sees entire HR departments move employees on a spreadsheet by mere fractions via endless committees to justify forced ranking. During this time they, and their clients, have a large ‘do not disturb’ sign planted next to them. The success of these annual company manoeuvres are now measured by ensuring that all employee expectations are managed downwards whenever the whole charade closes out.   

– Has E&Y found how training budgets ride a rollercoaster of early cycle enthusiasm for training products to a realisation that well, nobody has the time to down tools, the products are all classroom based, and when Q3 arrives and budget savings must be found, ergo slash training along with travel and call it strategy. Like hedgehogs, training people apparently retreat to small boxes full of hay until the early part of the following year.

– And finally, has Deloitte found that recruitment equally responds to the schizophrenic annual paranoia of the Q1 budget frenzy to the Q2 post bonus backfill bonanza to Q3 ‘hire any bum quickly’ before the budget is pulled. And finally in Q4 recruitment teams convince themselves that the sourcers produce value in creating distinct and separate spreadsheets of unsearchable content against gut feelings they have on next year’s talent forays. The RPOs are asked to put outsourced recruiters into containers at the right temperature so that they are fresh for the start of the new manic season. And remember, when we are cutting budgets in Q4 we don’t talk about growth agendas in the business – it’s an unwritten mantra ! So we approach the new cycle with no plan, pipeline or inherent forward looking strategy apart from feed the high street agency monster with mountains of distressed hiring requirements.

In short, we don’t tackle what value really is to the business, how a business strategy requires an underpinning organisational system that fits its agenda, and we protect tactical shoe shuffling and sacred cows in the hope that we all look busy and we aren’t called out. Repeat cycle ad nauseam.

Over in start-up world the picture can be equally depressing if allowed. The entrepreneur kicks off an idea, the idea gets traction, the revenue streams ramp up and hey presto more people are hired than you can count on your toes and fingers and a sizeable organisational agenda takes root. The entrepreneur, all vision, hard work, great ideas and commercial savvy looks over the hill and vows to fight the evil of corporate bureaucracy and in particular the sort of people and behaviours I’ve just described, or as they are called in SME world – corporates ! At its worst the disconnect between building an organisation that doesn’t support quickly enough the scaled up strategy can mean retrenchment, loss of revenue and a shuddering and sobering stalling point in the organisations’ early life. It doesn’t have to be that way.

There are 3 levers that any business leader can change in an organisation of any size – the business strategy and vision, choosing the players in the executive team and designing the organisation. All of these levers are equally important but whilst HR leaves the visioning to the business, facilitates the executive team hiring through expensive search firms, they do least with the Organisational Design. Too often they typically expect, lazily, that the new hires will sort out their organisations themselves or has years of tactical order taking made this a proverbial blind spot ? Whatever the reason we need a rethink and a long hard look at ourselves to break out of this cycle that often ends in “why do they not take HR seriously ?”  :

1. Let’s do what any good OD requires – step back and look at the business, get away from transaction and challenge the systems in place especially if they are counter intuitive to a successful enterprise. Instigate the debate based on some internal and external data points and speak in the board’s language.

2. Promote the discipline of Organisation Design. The skills and competences required should be placed firmly into the HR practitioners’ toolkit. It’s in the CIPD’s profession map but once again major organisations and HRDs out there are just ignoring that particular call to action. Utilise insight and data to explore trends ahead, impact analysis on increasing spans and control and add value to this hugely important agenda.

3. Explore how to create the environment where we can move some of these unwritten rules that have taken root as described above. They provide in-built redundancy to the function that never gets tackled by the external consultants, compete against initiatives for us to be taken seriously as a commercially savvy unit and are protected by people brought up in that environment. Not easy but change must come. This one is critical and has a huge impact on our value inside the business going forward if we choose to grab it. We can decide to fumble around permanently with the tactical outcomes of organisational dysfunction or we can grow a competence that tackles the design problems rather than chasing the symptoms. It’s a learned skill set but one we have totally ignored as discussed. That must change.

So, HR leaders, the next time your organisational misalignment comes over the hill like a Millwall hooligan mob, all tooled up and looking to batter your business vision to a pulp, do you stand beside Jay Galbraith and his ilk, feel the rush and meet it head on ? Or do you run, seeking the warm comforting embrace of your old transactional HR model, sitting safely in front of your PC compiling a to-do list of humdrum tactical minutiae ?

Time to choose HR. Your credibility depends upon it !!

Until next time…..

p.s The author would like to point out that whilst burdened with too much testosterone and an obvious passion for upgrading OD into the HR toolkit, he is in fact a lover and not a fighter and this blog should in no way be seen as encouraging any reader to partake in mindless, football-related violence.


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