Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

There are myriad examples in the psychological literature describing how humans make assumptions that are quite illogical and fly in the face of facts. These assumptions are largely based on convenience and lazy thinking. In the world of organisations and leadership, the one that I like a lot is the restructure.

Hands up all those who have experienced an organisational restructure or two in their careers. And leave them up if they had minimal or no impact on organisational capability or function whatsoever, other than perhaps providing a vehicle for rearranging personnel. In fact, it is for this latter, rather thinly veiled human resource management process, that restructuring is probably most useful. It certainly has little use for anything else.

Interestingly, public sector organisations seem to be the most prone to this disease of periodically rearranging the deck chairs, sometimes in epidemic proportions. However, private sector organisations are not immune from catching the disease. The illusion (or should it be delusion?) seems to be that by restructuring will lead to improvement, a more comfortable feeling or, more likely, impression that all is in control. Often it is the result of a new CEO who needs to pee on the corners of the patch to claim his or her turf. It often is a means to replacing the unwashed with one’s own acolytes. Restructuring is often used when an organisation is faced with a large new project, product or imperative. Other times a restructure results when fortunes are failing. And sometimes it just seems the thing to do. Whatever the case, the restructure does not substantially change anything other than the organisational chart.

More often than not, restructuring is executed badly, like many change processes. There is often lack of consultation with people and no deep involvement. It is usually managed ‘top down’ rather than ‘bottom-up’ and, overall, is mostly poorly planned. Worse is that it is not associated with any sense of fitness of purpose, a vision. Usually, employee engagement is diminished by restructuring and a wave of cynicism sweeps through the organisation.

Pretty well everyone by now must have seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk on the What, How and Why of what we do. If not, have a look-it is a great presentation. It is the Why that drives success. It is the emotional driver, the thing that makes us get our of bed in the morning with a rush of energy, not just because of a full bladder. We can tell people What we do and How we do it, which is how we sell things but it is the Why of what we do that motivates, that results in creativity, flexibility, adaptation and innovation.

Rather than mindlessly restructure, it is far better to concentrate on vision, purpose, the Why. Then restructuring can make sense, once everyone in the organisation has ‘buy in’, which they will if it has been planned well and using the right principles.  All of which are well documented.

Nonetheless if the homework has been done well (which it is often not) then there will be only one choice. The new organisation for the 21st century is much flatter and flexible, with small autonomous ‘business’ units in which people can be creative, innovative and largely organise themselves. It will involve participative democracy, open systems thinking and devolvement of responsibility and accountability. Each ‘business’ unit will engage with its own clients, manage it’s own projects and be self-managing. The new model will be based on psychological and neuroscience research, rather than using myth and magic of the old paradigms of command and control, which are artefacts of the industrial revolution.

Anything other than this is nothing more than just moving the deck chairs around and a waste of effort, time and money. And credibility and employee engagement.

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