By Peter Norlin. In the last post, I proposed that time always plays a critical role in determining the success of any process that requires people to learn and change, and we must manage time especially carefully whenever we intentionally plan to design and introduce a new organizational culture. Culture shaping is arguably the most complex change initiative that people will encounter in the workplace; thus, to enable an organization to navigate through a transformation of this complexity, during the meta-design phase we must take the time we need to build a scaffold for the next key step: the culture design process itself. When we build this scaffold, we are consciously constructing the context that will, in turn, determine the design of the innovation-rich workplace culture we seek. And how do we construct this context? By specifying certain important factors that will influence the organization design process.
And what are these factors? They are determined by the decisions we make about the purpose, parameters, and people that will ultimately come to frame this particular design process. These decisions include:
- Purpose—What is the reason for this culture change? Why did we decide to design this culture now?
- Parameters—What is the container for the design? Where are its boundaries? What are its limits and constraints?
- People—Who are the designers? Who will be involved in making decisions about the target culture? And about how we create it?
Let’s briefly consider how our answers define the context for our organization design phase.
Purpose: “What is the reason for this culture change?”
This first question is always the most important, since the answer identifies the reason that we are choosing to launch this design process now. And I’ll also be direct and propose that clarifying and articulating our purpose is the single most important step in any human endeavor. Unless we know why we’re doing something, it’s tough to maintain our own personal energy and commitment to any goal, and unless groups of people are able to clearly agree on their shared purpose, it becomes almost impossible for them to focus and align their efforts in order to succeed collectively. Often, a design team begins its work together by working to reach consensus in their answer to this question, and answering it signals a transition from the meta-design phase into the next phase: beginning to design a workplace culture where innovation can thrive.
Parameters: “Where are the boundaries of this design?”
The answer to this question enables us to specify our scope of work as organizational designers. In order to be spontaneous and creative as we design, we must also know our limits and constraints, and this means we must be clear about where our accountability begins—and ends. What we are also doing, as we identify our customers’ expectations and negotiate agreements for outcomes that are mutually-satisfying, is drawing a blueprint that outlines the internal domain that will contain the culture we design. When the boundaries surrounding this container are clear, we literally know where we stand. This becomes especially important in situations where the boundaries of design begin to shift or blur, which, in my experience, they frequently do.
People: “Who are the designers?”
The most effective, productive organization design processes are intentionally co-creative activities, and they typically are driven by design teams of leaders and employees who have a strong, visceral, vested interest in the outcomes from a design or re-design. The most successful design teams are, I’ve found, those that also include a microcosm of those organizational levels and groups who will be affected by the design phase, especially when they’re partnered with design consultants who are experienced, respectful, and collaborative.
When chartering a microcosm design team, two criteria are essential: appropriate demographic representation (i.e., the microcosm is clear and balanced), and persuasive individual profiles (i.e., members are competent and committed). Since the structure and membership of the design team ultimately determine the quality of the design, whatever time is required to assemble the right team is always well spent.
In our next post, we’ll explore the first steps in the culture design process.