Developing Organization Design Capability in Change Partners (Part 1)

  |  October 11, 2017

Organization Design Capability Change Partner

Often in an organization, a business leader will recognize a change they want to make, which requires organization design skills to implement. For example, the need to improve a supply chain will require a redesign of the supply chain organization. To achieve desired results in this or a similar situation, both the leader and his or her change partners need to have a certain degree of organization design capability. If the leader and/or his or her change partner(s) do not have adequate expertise in this area, it then becomes necessary for them to acquire it through appropriate training and experience or engagement of external partners.

The process of building organization design capability is similar for the alignment leader and the change partner. However, there are important differences. Part 1 of this article will address organization design capability development in change partners. In Part 2, we will take a look at what is needed to train alignment leaders in organization design.

Building Organization Design Capability in Change Partners

In a previous post, we addressed the role of change partners in transformational change, and what makes a successful change partner. Before we go farther, let’s briefly explore why it’s important for change partners to be trained in organization design. This is best illustrated by a story.

We have a client who is the primary supplier of a particular in-demand chemical. This chemical is profitable but offers very little room for growth in sales since this company has already cornered the global market for it. A few years ago the leaders of the organization decided they needed to expand their offerings in order to facilitate growth. So they decided to start making specialty chemicals.

Upon implementing this plan, they did succeed in bringing several innovative specialty chemicals to market. However, they were not able to realize noticeable commercial benefits from doing so. At a loss as to how to win in the specialty chemical business, they hired us to train 50 of their leaders on the principles of being a good alignment leader.

While this is an excellent and necessary start, in their case the organization did not yet have the systems and infrastructure in place to meet their goals. For example, no one in the sales force is set up to sell specialty chemicals. They still have the same sales force selling the original chemical almost exclusively, with no separate and special sales force for the specialty chemicals, because before our training no one sat back and realized that such a thing needed to be a priority.

So now these leaders have started to turn to their HR partners and say, “I realize we’re not set up to sell specialty chemicals, can you come help me figure out how to set up our organization to do this?” What they’re running into is that those HR partners don’t know how to do it either.  So the next step for them is to help these change partners quickly get up to speed on the skills they need to develop an organization capable of selling specialty chemicals.

Guidelines for Building Organization Design Capability in Change Partners

Asking these four key questions before determining a course of action to train change partners will help to ensure that the organization design training received is adequate to the situation.

  1. What do I want the change partner to be able to do? Do they need to be fully proficient and capable of any and everything, or only specific aspects of organization design? Do they need to be aware, so they can help explain the change process to others? Or, do they need to be able to do it on their own in select circumstances but rely on an external partner if they get into something more complicated?
  2. How are they set up to deliver the work? Once we know what they need to do, we need to define how the change partner will be set up to operate. Will they be working by themselves? Or are they delivering their work and service in a way that is coordinated with others? Will they be leading a team directly or working as an advisor to team leaders?
  3. How do we give them the skills? What other resources are available to help the Change Partners acquire and apply new skills? Training a change partner in organization design thus calls for a focus on a combination of practical skills and hands-on work. This is important to consider when selecting training methods. In many cases, face-to-face training methods are advantageous, as well as intense how-to learning and hands-on methods that encourage responsive thinking.
  4. How do we help them to master those skills? What opportunities can we give the change partner to develop their capability further once the initial training period is over? Once training has been completed, it is also essential to provide opportunities for a change partner to practice the learned skills in a controlled environment. For example, they could be given the opportunity to shadow a project with someone experienced in this type of work. Once they’ve had that experience, they can then try to do it on their own, perhaps with some coaching behind the scenes.

The reason we need to build capability in both the alignment leader and the change partner is because they are different roles. If they both understand their roles and play them well then the organization is well served.

In Part 2 of this article we will explore the role of the alignment leader. For now, suffice it to say that once an alignment leader has teed up a change initiative, he or she will need help actually doing it. A change partner who knows how to get the work done is then engaged with that alignment leader to make change happen.

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