Designing Organizations That Are Built to Change FALL 2006 VOL.48 NO.1 REPRINT NUMBER 48107 Christopher G. Worley and Edward E. Lawler III Please note that gray areas reflect artwork that has been intentionally removed . The substantive content of the article appears as originally published . SMR220
As the pace of global- ization and social change quickens, exec- utives are correctly calling for greater agil- ity, flexibility and innovation from their companies. Largely ig- nored in these pleas, however, is the simple fact that organizations have been designed to seek sustainable competitive advantages and stabil- ity. Indeed, buried deep in the managerial psyche, and bolstered by decades of theory and practice, is the assumption that stability is not only desirable and effective but also attainable. In their classic book The Social Psychology of Or- ganizations , Daniel Katz and Robert L. Kahn note, “One can define the core problem of any social sys- tem as reducing the variability and instability of human actions to uniform and dependable pat- terns.” The popularity of process improvement efforts, from total quality management to Six Sigma programs, provides ample evidence of the consum- ing desire for stability and predictability in today’s organizations. In fact, those are the very qualities rewarded by the financial markets. It is not surprising, then, that most large-scale change efforts fail to meet their expectations. A major problem is that many of those efforts have focused primarily on developing more effective change models or seeking the latest approach for overcoming resistance to change. But even the most advanced change models will stumble when they face organizational designs and management prac- tices that are inherently anti-change. The truth is that the effectiveness of change ef- forts is largely determined by organizational design, or how a company’s structure, processes, reward systems and other features are orchestrated over time to support one another as well as the compa- ny’s strategic intent, identity and capabilities. In a world that is perpetually changing, an organiza- tion’s design must support the idea that the implementation and re-implementation of a strat- egy is a continuous process. However, a number of traditional organizational design features tend to discourage — and not encourage — change. Thus, to transform themselves into organizations that are “built to change,” companies need to rethink a number of these basic design assumptions. Managing Talent Job descriptions are emblematic of stability and as a result are a poor fit for any built- to-change organization. Of course, job descriptions can be updated (although companies tend to be slow in doing that), but why go to the trouble of specifying job responsibilities in the first place only to have to tell employees that their latest assign- ment comes under the rubric “other duties as assigned”? Instead of telling employees what their jobs are, built-to-change organizations encourage people to find out what needs to be done. In lieu of
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