In the organization design field, we often use the phrase, “Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they’re getting.” In other words, if you want different results you have to change some aspect of your organization design.
This principle has led to some big trends in the marketplace that are radically transforming the way organizations do work, and the way they create and deliver value to customers. Take digitalization, for example. By using a combination of data, analytics, technology, and certain user platforms like mobile phones, the process of digitalization can help a company create an experience that will allow the customer to realize greater value at an exponentially more efficient scale.
One need only look at the way the travel industry has transformed itself digitally to realize the profound improvements in value digitization can bring about when done well. In the old days, the only way you could purchase an airline ticket was to visit a live travel agent. Now, most travelers never speak to an agent unless they have a problem. Nearly every aspect of the transaction takes place on a computer or mobile device. We’ve digitalized—and, to a large extent, automated—the whole process to create a fast, easy to use, and seamless experience. As a result, the sites and applications belonging to the travel industry are some of the most used of any in existence.
The Search for Perfection
Transforming work process through digitalization is just one way to align a company with its value-generating goals. In our book, Mastering the Cube: Overcoming Stumbling Blocks and Building an Organization that Works, we use a Rubik’s cube analogy to illustrate an organization in the process of strategic alignment. Each side of the cube represents one of six organizational systems leaders have available to them as they develop new capabilities in their organizations.
Depending on the organization, a company might be looking to change a work process, an incentive, a talent possessed or offered, its structure, or some other “side of the cube.”
For some, this process becomes a search for perfection. However, such a mindset can be both misleading and dangerous. The notion that there is some “perfect way” out there to set your organization up to win can create rigidity of thought, which in a constantly changing world ultimately will lead to stagnation and decline.
In reality there is no such destination as “perfection.” There are only gradations of better and worse. The real power to improve lies within the journey itself. And the real journey consists of constant evaluation of your organization, and posing the critical question: “What adjustment, if any, should we be making at this stage in the game?”
However, that can be a tricky question. You can’t solve a Rubik’s cube by aligning one side at a time. To bring the cube back into alignment requires a strategic solution that takes overall patterns into account. When analyzing specific trends within a business, such as sales numbers trending down, there is a tendency to start getting very granular and reactive and looking at the small picture instead of keeping the overall strategy in mind. When that happens—like paying attention to only one side of a Rubik’s cube—it is easy for an organization to start falling out of alignment.
Working the Cube
In the spirit of constantly looking to improve your organization design, it is important to remember that just as each twist of the Rubik’s cube either helps or hinders the ultimate solution to the puzzle, each action or decision made by an organization will either take it towards or away from its desired goals. So a related—and critical—practice is for leaders to continually take the big picture approach and ask: “Is our organization getting more and more aligned with the results we want to get, or is it in some ways drifting further and further out of alignment with those results?”
I apply this principle a lot at home: if I see my teenager spending too much time on their device I can easily conclude that I’ve got an unmotivated and lazy child, or I can look and see if there’s something else out of alignment in the way their life and our home is set up that’s causing them to go there.
In the event that an organization begins to trend in an unwanted direction, the next question to ask is: “Are we re-shaping our organization by looking at the six elements of the cube in a continual way to become increasingly more aligned to our strategy?”
These six elements, or organizational systems, include:
- Work Processes – the tasks that employees perform every day to create and deliver value.
- Structure and Governance – how the company organizes people to come together and deliver the capabilities to fulfill its strategy.
- Information and Metrics – including both the measures and data used to run the business as well as the technologies that store, share, and analyze this information.
- People and Rewards – all the practices involved in recruiting, developing, performance managing, and paying people.
- Continuous Improvement – the system that stewards organizational learning and renewal and in so doing keeps an eye on the efficiencies of the other systems.
- Leadership and Culture – culture includes the shared assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, and norms of the workforce. Though leadership behavior and organizing choices can affect and mold culture, leadership behaviors and expectations that are out of line with existing culture are unlikely to meet with success.
Constantly assessing your organization’s strategic alignment is more a matter of mindset than procedure. Once the mindset is in place, it tends to happen quite naturally during, for instance, strategic planning, or during regularly scheduled business reviews or discussions.
If you are already looking at your results once a week or month or quarter, any time those results aren’t living up to your goals should trigger the question, “Are our organization choices still optimally aligned for us to achieve this, or has something changed that might require us to consider a change in our organization design?” Most of the time you will likely end up staying the course unless the trend becomes sustained, but getting into the habit or pattern of looking at it through the alignment lens can be very helpful in keeping your organization aligned for success.