High-Stakes Conversations

Organizations often have their own specific third rails—sensitive topics that are so highly charged that no one feels they can survive trying to address a problem or change needed. Sometimes these are long overdue changes where a powerful executive shuts down discussion. And so the organization continues irrationally behaving the way it has in the past, even though the marketplace or customer needs may have changed dramatically.

Organization design conversations can be high-stakes discussions. When we change the way we work and the structure of an organization, we often change resource levels and decision-making rights. People recognize they may stand to lose and that often creates a defensive and territorial atmosphere. Many individuals approach these discussions like a major negotiation. Agendas too often drive the conversation, resulting in suboptimal compromises.

Anticipating these struggles, some executives reduce an organization design process to a closed door meeting with maybe two or three other individuals. Key stakeholders are intentionally kept out when their agendas seem too tough to manage. Initially, this may appear successful as it tends to bypass some tricky dynamics. But in reality, these executives have exchanged a streamlined front end to the process for a solution that is often dead in the water. Without key stakeholders participating in the process, implementation often becomes an insurmountable change management obstacle.

Organization design discussions need to be centered on customers and the marketplace. They need to be centered on questions like: How do we work and organize our business to win in the marketplace? Who is our customer and how are customer needs changing? By structuring the conversations with tools and frameworks that encourage objectivity and a marketplace focus, we create a less political, less emotional atmosphere. Our discussions become more objective and customer-focused. We reduce individuals’ tendency to suggest self-interested choices when it is apparent that those choices conflict with customer needs. Skilled change leaders recognize the landscape and guide the process through a marketplace-centered discussion so that competitiveness isn’t hijacked by personal agendas.