Embracing Complexity in Organisation Design

Have you ever wondered why some restructures never deliver their intended changes? Or why some people are successful in roles whereas others aren’t?

Chances are that lip service was paid to the organisation design process.  Too often restructures are based on a doodle on the back of an envelope and do not take into account the nature of the tasks within roles, the relationship between them or the relationship between the organisation and its environment.

In our experience, using a comprehensive organisation design framework can deliver a sustainable and robust outcome.

Weve found the Levels of Work Model to be a useful structure for this purpose. Based on the work of Elliott Jaques, and further developed by BIOSS, this model identifies the nature of work based on the degree of complexity and judgement required at successive levels as the organisation engages with the challenges inherent in its environment and seeks to achieve its purpose.

The seven levels (or themes) of work describe the way in which the decision making and judgment required to succeed in a role become more complex based on the increasing unknowability of variables to be accounted for. 

For example, the nature of work at Level 1 is tangible and involves routine, repeatable and established tasks which are generally supervised and require minimal discretion. At Level  5, the nature of work is complex, strategic, takes into account multiple and disparate factors in decision-making and requires  judgement in the absence of clear discretion parameters and established processes.

In practical terms, this approach to organisation design means identifying the specific tasks undertaken across an organisation or function and working out where they are best positioned hierarchically within the structure based on their complexity. The beauty of this approach is that it establishes clear accountabilities between roles, minimises the risk of micromanagement through role compression and provides the right amount of discretionary space to allow individual capability to be realised.

Once the organisation design is in place, it is a matter of finding the right people to fill roles.

Career Path Appreciation, developed by BIOSS, is a tool which can assist in this process. Also based on the Levels of Work Model, it is a semi-structured, one-to-one interview exploring an individuals career history, preferred approach to work and the type of work complexity with which they feel comfortable. The outcome is a discovery of the optimum role for an individual by matching their capability to the appropriate level of complexity. It can also predict the maturation of potential capability over time enabling you to identify your leadership pipeline well in advance. When used in conjunction with other assessment tools, it can provide a robust means of effectively deploying talent now and into the future.

The combination of these complementary processes can be very powerful. With an appropriate organisation structure in place and the right people in the right roles, an organisation is primed to deliver on their business strategy with confidence.

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