A New Approach to Org Design

Apr 26, 2022

Responsibility for Work Process & Org Design

Where does the responsibility for work processes and organizational design live in your organization? Who is part of the meeting that decides which groups report to whom and how work should be executed in the business? In most organizations these discussions or rather the ultimate decisions reside at the top of the organization with the executive leaders and sometimes a Human Resource or Talent Management professional.

I've sat in these types of meetings watching as executives who've either never done the work or certainly haven't done it recently debate and discuss how the work "should" be done. (Note: There is that "should" word - anytime we use it we should throw a flag indicating something is amiss.) Don't get me wrong, these individuals are wanting to do their best for the business and their people. They want to figure out how best to execute the work to get the results they want and need for the customers and the business.

So, what's the problem?

Anyone who has ever had their job shifted, changed, or re-designed by their leadership team knows exactly what the problem is...they don't have the knowledge necessary to make these decisions. They are so far removed from the day-to-day work of the individual roles they can't possibly define or design the best way for the work to be accomplished. No matter how well intentioned, they are ill equipped to define the jobs or the work processes successfully.

What happens when executives re-design the org or the work?

In my experience, people do their best to appease and make the design work. No one wants to be accused of being "unaccountable" or "not being a team player" so they do their best to make it work. But often they expend more energy trying to figure out what the executive intended, and why the hell they intended it, than actually solving the real problems causing them to struggle in the first place. This leads to an abundance of frustration and ultimately complaining, blaming, and finger pointing. In short, ineffective outcomes and results.

In the end, the results they were hoping to accomplish are rarely actually accomplished. The people impacted are left even more confused about who does what and when leading to even more unclear expectations than existed before the change. Without clear expectations, frustration grows, mistakes increase, and balls get dropped.

Then the negative performance feedback comes, "you are not meeting expectations." Which is followed by employees complaining the expectations weren't clear in the first place and changed before they could even understand them! Let alone execute on them successfully. Rinse, Repeat. The cycle continues.

Conclusion: People are unhappy, Leaders are unhappy, results aren't what is needed or wanted!

The Problem with Defining Jobs and Org Design

I have always been one to struggle with titles, clearly defined roles, and job descriptions. Often, as soon as we would draft a job description or finalize a competency model - the role would change. A new initiative, a new product, or a new business entirely would require us to re-think our work. And anytime we re-think our work - who does what changes.

Have you experienced this before? Been told a job would be XYZ only to find out later it was really ABC? We can feel like it's a bait and switch, but I don't think businesses do this on purpose. Rather, those writing the descriptions (if anyone does at all) and designing the org structure struggle to keep up with what the roles are performing. The nature of work is changing so quickly that those who did the work in the past are long removed from the work being executed in the present. This makes keeping up with the work processes, flows, and org design let alone the job descriptions nearly impossible.

If we are honest, I am not sure any organization is really successful at accomplishing this objective anyway. Everything is changing so quickly it is a constant mess of work process diagrams, re-written and half written job descriptions (if at all), and org designs so complex no one can seem to navigate them. Let's just admit it - ITS NOT POSSIBLE!!!

We cannot clearly define roles and job descriptions. We cannot create perfectly defined and clear expectations. We can't clearly define lines of responsibility or have a straightforward org design.

Why not? Because the world of work is more complex than we have time to thoroughly document and organize. And the more we try to do so, the more of a mess it all becomes and the less successful we are overall.

What we might do instead...

What if we stopped writing job descriptions entirely? Truly they are a waste of time, energy, and effort anyway. What if we just stopped trying to create perfectly defined roles, with clear expectations, clear lines of responsibilities, and a clear and straightforward organization design?

What if instead, we EMPOWERED the people executing or performing the function.

What if we empowered them by providing clear outcomes that need to be accomplished and then trusting them to figure it out? If we set expectations for what is needed as a result of executing or performing their function - then we trusted the people doing it to figure out the best way to do it and who should have responsibility for which tasks or activities.

I truly wonder what would happen if we stopped putting everyone into well-defined boxes with clear titles and expectations and instead gave them the opportunity and responsibility for achieving success.

Instead of laying out perfectly defined career paths with step one, two, three - instead we allowed people to discover what they do best and find the best path for them!

Instead of re-designing organizations at the executive level, we allowed those executing the work to re-design the work in the best way to achieve the results.

What do you think might happen?

I'd love to hear what you think - both positive and negative - would happen if we shifted away from the past practices of well-defined organizational structures, roles, job descriptions, and work processes to an employee driven approach to clarifying expectations, defining responsibilities, and determining how best to get the work accomplished?

Want to discuss this topic and others like it further? Want to be part of a brand-new book being written right now on transforming the workplace? Check out our Evolving Workplaces Mastermind Think Tank!

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