Developing Organization Design Capability in Change Partners (Part 1)

Often in an organization, a business leader will recognize that a change they want to make 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, the leader and their change partners must have a certain degree of organization design capability. If the leader or their change partner lacks expertise, they must acquire it through training and experience or engaging 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 explore why we should train change partners in organization design. We can use a story to illustrate this.

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 sales growth. The company has already cornered the global market for it. A few years ago, the organization’s leaders decided they needed to expand their offerings in order to facilitate growth. They decided to start making specialty chemicals.

Upon implementing this plan, they succeeded 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.

This was an excellent start, but the organization didn’t have the systems and infrastructure in place to meet their goals. They still had the same sales force selling the original chemical almost exclusively. There was no separate and special sales force for the specialty chemicals. Before our training, no one sat back and realized that such a thing needed to be a priority.

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.  The next step 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 Organization Design Capability Building

Ask these four key questions before determining a course of action to train change partners. The answers will help 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 in all aspects of organization design or do they only need to understand specific elements? Will they need to help explain the change process to others? Will they need to be able to do the organization design 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 the change partner needs to do, we need to define how they will operate. Will they work by themselves or coordinate 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 calls for 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 further develop their capability once the initial training period is over? After training is complete, change partners should practice their new skills in a controlled environment. For example, they can shadow a project with someone experienced in this type of work. They can then try to do it on their own, perhaps with some coaching behind the scenes.

Making Change Happen: Pairing Change Partners and Alignment Leaders

The Alignment Leader and the change partner serve different roles. As such, we must build change capability in each. The organization is best served if they each understand their roles and play them well.

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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