If you are a leader in any organisation, large or small, now is your moment. Now is a time to ensure survival, manage towards recovery, enhance the organisation’s resilience, and operate with more effectiveness than your enterprise might ever have done. For many of you, achieving these aspirations will require a restructure, and this short article aims to give you vital clues on how to proceed.
I have split this article on restructuring into four key concepts:
- It takes more than a structure to make a difference;
- How you make decisions matters;
- Technology enables new ways to organise;
- Yet many of the old lessons still apply.
I will take each one of these themes and provide you with some practical (and research based) insights. Most of these insights relate to the nature of your operating model, not the change management required (which of course is also critical).
It takes more than a structure to make a difference
Organisational structures are ways to distribute activity, decision making and authority. Yet, organisations do not function on structure alone. A great structure with poorly trained personnel, poor equipment or poor leadership can still fail. Before you start on structure you need to be able to articulate what you want to do across multiple domains. For example, Bevington Group assisted on a financial services enterprise change involving structure, role, process, technology, policy, skillsets and critical measures. This led to a highly positive re-rating of the company by the market (literally moving from pariah to market darling) as rapid changes could be seen in revenue, cost and customer satisfaction. One of the secrets to success was certainly that it considered all the elements of the Bevington Group Operating Model wheel (shown below).
How you make decisions matters
During the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis many organisations found that they could make decisions faster. Yet this new-found super-power is in real danger of dissipating as we settle into a new normal and leaders return to their silos. For example, after the Christchurch earthquake teams of all types (both public and private) collaborated brilliantly in the first weeks and months of the disaster. Yet, 6-8 months later, slow and cumbersome decision making was, once-again, the norm.
So, if you really want to keep better, faster decision-making, you will need to make it a conscious part of your operating model design. This is likely to mean clear accountabilities, effective measures, rewards for real collaboration, and ways to point everyone in the direction of your ultimate goals. Remember, collaboration does not always mean consensus, but it does mean listening to alternative perspectives.
Technology enables new ways to organise
Even before the crisis hit, technology was reaching a new point of inflection. There are now thousands of companies developing artificial intelligence and robotic software. Added to that is the plethora of collaboration tools that had emerged before the crisis and are now proving to be essential to our “bunkered-down” lives. It is not just the video-conferencing tools that are helping us collaborate, but a range of shared working tools. For instance, file-sharing technologies allow many of us to work in parallel on the same file, and digital task management helps us coordinate our activities to do so.
So, digitisation has accelerated as a consequence of home-based working. It will make many organisations feel more comfortable with staff working from home. It could change our perception of Activity Based Working (notoriously the hot-desking associated with this approach). Yet, the changes can be so much deeper than that. They can, and will, lead to ways that organisations deal with their customers, patients, members and stakeholders.
For example, off-shoring will now seem substantially less attractive than automation. This was already a trend, but the multiple failures of off-shored services during the crisis will only enhance the preference to automate rather than off-shore. In the short-term, I am already seeing a wave of “re-shoring” in advance of automation. This is because, during the crisis, enterprises discovered that they had failed to maintain control of the processes, retain intellectual property or continuously improve the services. It is a common experience to find that much of the work conducted off-shore could have been process-improved or automated out of existence. So, off-shoring business cases will be tougher to prove.
Furthermore, we will reorganise the way we engage with our customers. Consider health-care professionals such as GPs, who have started to work more remotely. In some cases, they will be able to assess, diagnose and treat (with the help of electronic scrips) without physically examining the patient (especially if it is a pre-existing condition that is being managed on an ongoing basis). This leads to the potential for entirely digital practices where the GPs do not need to co-locate, but can serve the same cohort of patients from disparate locations, potentially thousands of kilometres away.
Yet many of the old lessons still apply
While there are undoubtedly new opportunities arising from the current pandemic, I think that, at best, only half of Australian enterprises will be able to take advantage of them. The main reason is that old lesson – “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Many organisations will be too risk averse to grasp the chance for radically more productive, collaborative and innovative models of deciding and operating.
Deep change requires at least a measure of risk taking. Leaders need the courage and energy to take their organisations to a new level which is more robust and sustainable. However, that does not imply approval of absurdly risky plays. The other old lessons on trial-and-error also apply: develop your concepts quickly, test them, learn from the results, and deploy thoughtfully. This balances courage with prudence. Remember, in the words of my favourite philosopher, Seneca, “Courage without prudence is a special type of cowardice”. Yet equally, in the words of Peter Shilton (one of the world’s most capped soccer players) if “you stand still there is only one way to go, and that’s backwards”.