Minimizing Personal Agendas During Organization Design

The president of a large corporation opened his directors meeting by announcing: All those who are opposed to the plan I am about to propose will reply by saying: I resign.

— C-suite humor

One of the challenges of planning an organization design is getting all the stakeholders organized and on the same page. Even though executives and leaders are really smart people, they can also be very ego-driven and motivated to improve their positions. So sometimes they have not-so-hidden agendas, trying to exert control over the process, undermining others, and generally behaving badly and not always playing nice in the corporate sandbox.

Often people simply want to preserve the status quo because it’s familiar, predictable, and non-threatening. Whether the motive is a power grab or fear of change, as a realignment facilitator you need to keep everyone working together toward the common end goal of improving the organization as a whole. Following are some proven strategies that can help keep that process on track.

Provide a precise roadmap. Specifically state what issues need to be addressed, how the redesign will benefit the organization and its stakeholders, and what part everyone will play in achieving that goal. Setting the stage gets people dialed into the process, especially when their candid input and opinions are crucial to finding the best solutions.

Ensure there is good sponsorship. Every organization design needs champions who help maintain forward momentum, set expectations and milestones, and keep everyone in their lane. If someone resists change and tries to mark their territory, the sponsor needs to step up and douse the gamesmanship. This can be done privately, one-on-one, or by making it clear that everyone is expected to transcend their personal interests on behalf of what the organization needs to succeed.

Stress the big picture. While it’s true that any organization redesign is disruptive, redirecting people’s focus away from the personal impacts and toward the strategic benefits for the organization will help facilitate the needed changes.

Utilize a process. If you ask five people individually how to do something, odds are you’ll get five very different answers because each person has a unique perspective, opinion, and set of experiences. A better way is to have an alignment leader get everyone together and say: We value your expertise and want your input so we can collectively agree on the best action plan to achieve our goal. Besides direction, a process also provides a framework that helps take some of the emotion, personal opinion, and bias out of the mix.

Through all that collaborative planning, clear goal setting, and consistent sponsorship you can achieve synergy, which is when people work together to produces a result greater than the sum of their individual efforts. As a rule, people are only willing to invest the time and commitment when they believe the outcome will provide a significant upside. Once you show how a new design will accomplish that, it lays the foundation for a common goal. When the majority of people in an organization share a desire for the same strategic outcome, and they realize those goals will be achieved more quickly and efficiently when they all work together to make key contributions, therein lies synergy.

There are great examples of executives coming together with purpose and humility to tackle tough strategic and organizational challenges like how to evolve the company’s business model, grow into new markets, create differentiating capabilities that competitors can’t easily replicate, and even drive operational efficiencies. Unfortunately, for every extraordinary leadership team that rethinks their organization design, there are an equal number of teams who fall prey to personal agendas that get in the way of creative thinking and bold decisions. If better organization design decisions weren’t enough reason to set aside personal agendas, at least do it so the process can move forward quickly. The faster decisions are made and a go-forward direction is established, the faster the organization can pivot and avoid a long period of upheaval and instability.