Whether called a redesign, restructuring, or reorganization, for most employees organization design is synonymous with the appointment of leaders into new roles. The announcement email typically begins with “I am pleased to announce my new leadership team….” Regardless of the thought that went into the change or the attempts to describe the rationale behind it, the announcement is often seen as a reshuffling of responsibilities with some new faces and old. The focus is immediately on vertical reporting relationships, rather than intended new ways of work.

To avoid this, we coach our clients to separate out the communication of the organization model and the leadership team appointments. We’ll start with a few definitions:

Organization Model

– This is a high-level, graphic view of the value chain; how structure, process, and people are intended to interact. It depicts relationships between organizational components. It is comprised of various structures that indicate how work is grouped together and power is allocated for decision making and control. The model also shows the lateral connections between groups.

Leadership Team Configuration

– The role of the leadership team is to guide the work of the organization as envisioned by the model. However, it is a distinct and largely tactical decision. Many variations of leadership team structure can successfully lead the same organizational model. Decisions by the leader on positions and who and how many sit on the exec team depends on a number of factors:

    • Where the leader wants to spend her time – internally and hand-on, or externally with the board, customers, or partners – influences the number of direct reports and the use of COO type roles.
    • The maturity of the available talent on the leadership team – what level of organization complexity can they handle – impacts how roles are configured and layered.
    • What capabilities need to be built and require increased management attention and visibility will determine what needs to sit on a leadership team at this point in time (e.g., quality, China, business development).
    • What management positions need to be made bigger or placed at a certain level in order to attract the required talent into the organization.

Best Practice

After the organization design work is done, common practice is to communicate decisions to the broader organization. We suggest breaking this communication into two separate events.

1. The organizational model: Even if some or all of the audience has been involved in the design work, start at the beginning. Share the case for change, the design criteria used, the organization assessment findings, and the models considered. Present the model and the rationale behind each of the units. Speak not just to structure, but the other elements of Jay Galbraith’s Star – what processes, metrics, and people practices will need to change in order to realize the benefits of this new model. Let the audience digest the model and understand it. Let those who haven’t been a part of the design work go on the thought journey so that they can see not just the conclusions but why they were reached. Stop short of showing the leadership team structure and the people in those roles. This presentation is best done in person or webinar format.

2. Leadership team structure: The leadership team announcement typically follows within a week or two after the organization model presentation. Separating the two helps the staff understand that the two are connected, but not the same. The organization model is the goal – usually a 24 month vision that you are organizing towards. The leadership team structure and new reporting relationships are just two enablers of that model. And, they will change and evolve over time as new talent comes into the organization and capabilities develop.
In this way, your organization’s employees will be able to see how subsequent adjustments in reporting relationships and roles are in alignment with the underlying model, and not “new” organization designs in themselves.

Amy Kates
Managing Partner