(2019-12-31) Can You Know Too Much About Your Organization

Can You Know Too Much About Your Organization? How much do you know about the end-to-end operations of your organization? A study I conducted of six project teams tasked with redesigning their organization’s operations. Some team members returned, as intended by senior management, to their prior roles and careers in the organization. Some, however, chose to leave these careers entirely.

Many took new jobs with responsibility for organizational development.

Given that team members were established, successful professionals who could have returned to their jobs, or accepted attractive lateral transfers or promotions, these post-project role choices were surprising. They took people off their relatively stable career paths in line roles and onto new, often less stable assignments in staff roles.

they downgraded the contributions they had made and could make from central managerial roles and came to see peripheral roles, in which they stood apart from the complex system that required redesign, as a place from which they could add more fundamental and long-term value to the organization.

The prevailing wisdom has been that centrally located employees — those high in the hierarchy and close to the core operations — are less likely to challenge the status quo.

This research shows that, when given the opportunity, centrally located employees may also be likely to push for change – but that, in doing so, they may also see their former roles as less important and useful as they once thought.

Two, and more importantly, it shows that dedicated, high-achieving employees largely assume the system in which they work will transform their day-to-day tasks into larger, long-term gains — that their short-term work is valuable for the whole organization. If employees see this is actually not the case, it may be difficult for them to return to their work in this system at all. (Bullshit Job?)

Despite being experienced managers, what they learned was eye-opening. One explained that “it was like the sun rose for the first time. … I saw the bigger picture.” They had never seen the pieces — the jobs, technologies, tools, and routines — connected in one place, and they realized that their prior view was narrow and fractured. A team member acknowledged, “I only thought of things in the context of my span of control.”

The maps of the organization generated by the project teams also showed that their organizations often lacked a purposeful, integrated design that was centrally monitored and managed.

They see problems, and the general approach, the human approach, is to try and fix them. … Functions have tried to put band-aids on every issue that comes up. It sounds good, but when they are layered one on top of the other they start to choke the organization.

Another manager explained that she had been “assuming that somebody did this [the process] on purpose. And it wasn’t done on purpose. It was just a series of random events that somehow came together.” (Systemantics)

It revealed two things: that there were many opportunities to improve the organization, but also that working within the current design as managers with line responsibilities might be a waste of their efforts

new understanding produced among the team members a sense of efficacy and commitment to consciously create an efficient structure to coordinate work

“They said ‘Well, you can’t.’ I said, ‘Why can’t we? … We can do anything we want. We made it up. We’ll make it up some more.’”

they felt a sense of alienation about returning to their central roles

You really start understanding all of the waste and all of the redundancy and all of the people who are employed as what I call intervention resources,” one person told us. “The process doesn’t work, so you have to bone it up by putting people in to intervene in the process to hold it together.

They also pointed to their own prior work as creating the problems they had observed on the map.

In the end, a slight majority of the employees returned to their role to continue their career (25 cases). They either were promoted (7 cases), moved laterally (8 cases), or returned to their jobs (10 cases). However, 23 chose organizational change (change-agent) roles. (Change Your Organization)

Interestingly, only half of the projects the teams originally worked on moved toward wider implementation in their organizations, frustrating those who participated.

It highlights just how infrequently we recognize how poorly designed and managed many of our organizations really are.

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