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How can HR lure stakeholders into organisation design?

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Enticing stakeholders to hop aboard the organisation design journey is tricky for HR, especially in the wake of previous failed attempts. Seeing stakeholder engagement as a process, rather than an event, is key to success, argues Garin Rouch and Dani Bacon from Distinction Business Consulting.

4th Aug 2022
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How do human resources practitioners convince a large group of opinionated professionals to embark on a journey into the unknown? A journey where your companions will have conflicting views on the route, possibly fatigued from four similar arduous journeys that failed. A journey on which some of the travellers will have to be jettisoned if they prove surplus to requirements along the way.

That's the scale of the challenge you face as you embark on organisation design. One critical success factor will be how you engage stakeholders in the process and leverage their skills, insights and energy.

It is possible for strong HR departments better engage stakeholders to ensure that organisation design starts strong, maintains momentum and delivers on its promised outcomes.

But it requires leveraging your unique insight into how to get things done. 

Treat stakeholder engagement as an organisation design process

Stakeholder engagement is a process, not an event, in organisation design. It’s about more than just getting buy-in for your ideas or decisions.

The process involves regular dialogue throughout the organisation design process. This includes gathering and synthesising data so that it can be used to inform design decisions. It also involves working through the inevitable snagging list that you will have to work through post-implementation. 

Do this well and you will have a group of people with a deep understanding of the decision-making process. These people can take this back into their day-to-day roles and reach people in a way that you could never hope to through top-down communication. They can spot where there are misunderstandings and see if attempts to communicate about or execute the decision are struggling to land.  

Manage stakeholder expectations

Be crystal clear on what you want from your stakeholders and how they will be involved before you engage with them in the organisation design process. Purpose, strategy and operating model are often decided before stakeholders are involved. It’s essential to seek clarity from senior leadership on what’s in play and what’s non-negotiable. 

A good stakeholder engagement plan will articulate how you’re going to surface new perspectives and challenge the assumptions of the original commission.

  • Do you want your stakeholder’s perspective on the status quo or their feedback on the proposed designs?
  • Are you looking for their informed consent?
  • Are you trying to gauge how committed they are to the new organisation design or what might cause their commitment to drop?
  • Are you curious about their beliefs and fears about the new design?

You can use a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative methods such as focus groups, surveys, interviews and field studies. 

Also, make sure to acknowledge contributions along the way. Explaining to your stakeholders how and why their contributions are being factored in – or not – can help your stakeholders feel valued and maintain their active involvement.

When people feel decision-making processes are fair, they provide a higher level of cooperation based on greater trust and commitment (Chan Kim and Mauborgne 1998).  

Be inclusive

Too many organisation designs are deemed too confidential or sensitive to widely involve stakeholders. Everybody knows it’s happening and the wait for the announcement often takes months.

We would always advocate leveraging the collective IQ of the organisation.  It will ensure a better answer by drawing on the combined knowledge and brilliance of all human minds we are working with. A 2020 CIPD report found that openness in organisational decision-making was strongly associated with employee commitment and wellbeing.

Many organisations are embracing continuous design, acknowledging that the context is always changing and therefore the design needs to always evolve to reflect this. Your stakeholders hold valuable insights to assist with this. 

Many people still hold the mindset that widening inclusion and participation are costly, bureaucratic and will slow things down. Restricting the people involved may be expedient in the early stages of the design process but adds time overall.  

When people are active participants, it means the good work on implementation has already begun and hasn't been pushed towards the end of the process. You know who needs to be involved, and who has the capacity to torpedo it. You can involve the marginalised people that have a valuable unvoiced perspective that could help senior leaders make an informed decision.  

Most organisations are too big to involve everyone. By inviting some but not others creates issues around inclusion. Bringing together a diverse working group, where people can nominate themselves and are then voted in, can give legitimacy to the process.

Help people develop an enterprise mindset

Your stakeholders can help expand the range of design options being considered and offer ideas as to how these will impact operating models.  

But the final decision on the design you are opting for should not be purely subjective. Organisation design can often go off course when things are based on people’s opinions. As the reality of change becomes clear, people often start to feel insecure about losing resources or status and may seek to exert their influence on the process.

What is best for the organisation can subsequently be lost, and designs often drift into ‘satisficing’ – choosing the least worst option that is politically acceptable for everybody. 

Work with your stakeholders and senior leaders early in the process to develop criteria that capture the needs of the business to objectively assess your options. 

Final word

Stakeholder engagement can be challenging but it is vital that HR departments leverage it effectively if they want their plans to be successful. At best, failure to do so will mean you miss valuable insights to make your design the best it can be. At worst, your stakeholders could start to actively resist efforts to implement or actively work to derail your design.

Interested in this topic? Read 'HR's role in a new organisation design.'

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