Wisdom is built through experience and reflection; otherwise, repeated experience only creates habit.

How do you accelerate the development of a craft that normally takes decades to master?

This is the question that we set out to answer when Kates Kesler, a 10-person boutique top-tier organization design firm, was acquired by Accenture in 2020. For the first two years, we used an intensive apprenticeship approach – the Kates Kesler Fellowship – to develop a core group of 40 to be able to deliver on the standards that we’d worked so hard over decades to build.

In 2022 we merged with adjacent groups and launched the new global Accenture Operating Model & Organization Design practice, which brings together over 125+ practitioners from around the world. While our new colleagues were experienced and skillful consultants and offered much that our core group could learn from, we now had the challenge of quickly getting everyone using the same foundational methodology and to be able to advise our c-suite clients on the complex enterprise design challenges that the Kates Kesler brand stood for.

The answer has been to develop an apprenticeship at scale learning approach.

The Kates Kesler Fellowship

Throughout our years of developing c-suite-ready organization designers, we observed that an artful combination formal learning, project work, and active reflection accelerates growth. This approach has proven effective in part because it meets the learning needs for horizontal and vertical development. Horizontal development is about expanding one’s toolkit. Think models, methods, and frameworks. Vertical development is about building mindsets and behaviors, which can only come from repeated practice and reflection.

Both are necessary for creating great organization designers. To that end, we ensure that our learners are provided with the right knowledge and skills in a safe environment away from clients, as well as the opportunity to work on client projects with focused and supportive coaching and feedback – a true apprenticeship. We then provide them with the ability to reflect on their learnings through writing, speaking, and teaching opportunities.

This approach was proven with the Kates Kesler Fellowship, which showed that motivated consultants with a strong foundation of core skills could quickly learn to be world-class organization designers and c-suite advisors if they were allowed time to learn new concepts, watch others, apply learning, reflect, and practice again. Between 2020 and 2022, we took three groups of about 12 Managers and Senior Managers through a nine-month intensive learning experience. Project work was intentionally and thoughtfully configured and significant chargeability relief was provided to make time for formal learning sessions, self-study, and peer group coaching. Within a year after the completion of the Fellowship, we observed that the graduates were sought out by Accenture colleagues for operating model projects and are now considered experts for their level.

While the Fellowship is not scalable, we incorporated the most impactful elements from it into our formal learning approach for the new larger Operating Model & Organization Design practice. We believe elements of our approach, detailed below, may be relevant to anyone who is looking to develop deep domain expertise.

The Operating Model & Organization Design Academy

The Academy experience is a combination of project work, formal learning, and reflection.

  • Project Experience

    Practitioners must truly practice. Each consultant must develop their own library of experiences upon which to draw in future contexts. We have found these tactics particularly useful to accelerate the impact of project delivery work for building competence and confidence.

    • Number of projects

      Many practitioners find satisfaction in seeing a project through multiple phases. However, while it is useful for practitioners to have some end-to-end project experiences, we find that staying with a project for too long often results in diminishing learning returns. The organization design practitioner learns more from three projects in a year, each representing a different design challenge, than one that goes deep into detailed execution. “Getting in the reps” is essential to building that personal library of experience from which to draw on future projects.

    • Thoughtful sequencing of project work

      We consider personal development needs when staffing projects across all levels. When practice leaders spend meaningful time together looking at how best to match work and people, then projects can be used to accelerate development of expertise by repeating core elements while including new design challenges.

    • Variety of projects

      Even for those that want to specialize in one element of the work, it is useful to have opportunities to apply skills to a variety of situations. For organization designers, this means having a personal portfolio that includes enterprise, business unit, and function design work, experience across different industries, engagements with a variety of design challenges and level of complexity, and varying roles on the project team.

    • Some stability of team

      While people learn from teammates with different skills and experiences, we have found that some stability of team is desirable. If the design challenge is new, along with industry, then having familiar colleagues to work with reduces internal coordination costs.

  • Formal Learning

    All our formal learning has three components: theory-based frameworks, case-study examples, and practical tips on the art of application. We continually emphasize a foundational set of frameworks (for example: the Star Model, organization capabilities, diagnostics, business configuration, front/back organization, layers of leadership, center-led) and illustrate their application in real life.

    Having a common methodology allows practitioners to understand the universal patterns of human behavior in organizations and separate these from client context specific issues. Common methodology also allows teams to reduce start up time, work efficiently, and focus on the client. This deep shared understanding of the content can’t be gained solely on the job. Separate and dedicated learning time is necessary.

    We actively share all the content that we use with our practice members with other Accenture colleagues, clients, and our profession. We believe in the power of good organization design and in our methodology, and we share it generously in a variety of formats. This builds a dynamic ecosystem where everyone can communicate using the same terminology and frameworks.

  • Reflection

    Dedicated reflection is necessary for the proper integration of real-world practice with formal learning. We do this in two primary ways:

    • Teaching, coaching, and writing
      Every member of our team is expected to be an ambassador of the methodology and educate others. This approach pushes our team members to integrate their experiences – both formal learning and practical application – into teachable examples. Being able to explain why they did what they did in a client setting anchors their growth at the intersection of theory and practice.
    • Peer learning groups

      Project work is high pressure and hierarchical by nature. We have found that peer learning groups staffed by peer level coaches offer an effective and safe environment for practitioners to share and explore how the work manifests at their level.

Learning a craft can’t be rushed. But it can be accelerated by intentional project work, formal learning, coaching and feedback, and active personal integration and reflection.

Amy Kates, Leader of Learning for the Accenture Operating Model & Organization Design practice

Julian Chender, Manager and former Kates Kesler Fellow, Accenture Operating Model & Organization Design practice