top of page

Organisational Design and The People Contribution

If the board or senior management team were asked to define “future sustainable success” and prioritise the “critical success factors” what will determine this and what would be the level of congruence between the individuals? How important is it to have clarity and alignment around these issues? How does the people contribution fit into this? Without this, as a common starting point, how can there be a strategy that focuses on where we need / want to be, recognising where we are starting from with clarity over the process and priorities involved to get there?

The word “change” presupposes things were done wrong in the past (reflection on existing management) and that someone else (often not connected with the organisation knows better). This is not a great place to be starting from. Compare this with, “we want to build on our success and become even better”. How does this second phrase impact on the mood of those who are asked to engage in the process? Another important distinction between the two phrases is that the first is an event that takes place infrequently and is almost separate to day-to-day operations, whereas the second suggests an ongoing process that is focused on continuously learning and improving which is more integrated into the day-to-day operations.

An important note never commence on a change process if you are not fully committed to follow it through and live by it, as to do so will result in negatively impacting the credibility of leadership and will diminish confidence / trust in future initiatives.

If one was to distill every management book ever written into a few basic competences, what would they be? Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said “if you want me to talk all day, give me five minutes to prepare. If you want me to talk for five minutes, I will need all day to prepare”. Here is our attempt at being concise.

1. Strategic decision making and implementation.

2. Best systems, processes and practices.

3. Effectiveness of the senior management team.

4. Maintaining the commitment and motivation of the people.

5. Continuous review, learning and improvement.

A High-Performance Machine

A high-performance machine can have the best design, structure, systems, policies, procedures and practices but unless it has the right lubricant it will not perform to its potential, will require high levels of maintenance and have limited life expectancy.

The mood, attitude, thinking and behaviour of staff are the lubricant within the organisation that will maximise efficiencies. If the mood is negative it is like having grit or dirt in the machine. Performance will be poor, and time and effort will be diverted to deal with negative people issues rather than continuous learning and improvement.

Copying the components of a well-designed engine and achieving best practice in terms of systems and processes is to a certain degree the easier part. Creating a culture whereby everyone buys in and wants to see it work to its potential with alignment in thinking, behaviours and performance is more difficult, but more often than not, this is the difference that can make the difference.

For many global organisations the real definition of success might be to be "the preferred choice for future capital investment and the allocation of product streams". If that is the case it will have a significant impact on the identification of the critical success factors. Resourcefulness, reliability and reputation could be the most important critical factors and staff mindsets are central to all of these.

When we think of the engine there is no doubt there is a lot of thought put into every aspect of it and nothing is left to chance. We start with having a clear view of what we expect from the engine, the type of outputs we need and desire. We then do very specific detailed specifications of what is required to give us that level of performance and ensure through design and planning we put in place whatever is needed to achieve these outputs.

When it comes to the lubricant however, it can be a different story and much can be left to chance particularly in the area of the type of thinking, mood and behaviours involved.

A Basic Strategy

If we apply the same principles to the lubricant as we do to the engine, we would have the following basic strategy:

  • Clarity on the desired contributions from our people and the type of mood, attitude, thinking and behaviours that are required to achieve these.

  • Only select people who are most likely to naturally fit, think and behave in this manner.

  • Understand what is required and where people need to be in order for them to want to and give of their best.

  • Design a culture and environment with policies and practices that are aligned with and support where people need to be.

  • Ensure leader styles, behaviours and practices that create and develop the type of relationships that are required. Leadership effectiveness is measured by how the leader shows up and the impact they have on the mood, thinking and behaviour of their people. Leaders should recognise and accept that they are responsible and accountable for the mood, thinking and behaviour of everybody on their teams.

  • Develop practices for open and trusting relationships and the sharing of ideas on all the components of the people contribution, a continuous self-improvement and feedback loop.

  • Ensure metrics focus on the factors that impact on “the means to the end”, outcomes and impact rather than inputs and box ticking.

Impact And Outcomes

Many organisations are very good at developing the ideas, concepts and principles / values that may be required in a generic model. They can also be extremely good at designing systems, practices, policies and procedures. However, sometimes the organisation can lose focus on “why” they are doing these things. More focus can be placed on implementing the policy or practice rather than on the impact it is having. If it is not achieving the desired outcomes it is not working. The relationship between individual leaders and staff is probably the biggest factor in determining employee contribution.

The key is about impact and outcomes - are people thinking, behaving and contributing in the best way possible? If the ideas and policies are not giving the desired contributions and outcomes then stop, listen to the people and try something else. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

The decisions made on “what” should be done are obviously critical to future success. “How” we go about doing the “what” is the most important factor in determining the people response and attitude. Deciding the “how” must be planned with equal emphasis placed on this as the “what”.

We believe this is an area that requires competency development.

The only way to predict the future is to invent it.

By inventing our own futures, we take control of our own destiny.

Competencies around designing and maintaining the best people contribution will be a critical source of future competitive advantage.

It will be the difference that makes the difference.

Key Attributes Of Where People Need To Be

Where people need to be in order to want to maximise their contribution and create a really resourceful organisation:

  • Aligned – know and buy into where the organisation is going and how it intends to get there. Fully understand their contribution and how it fits into the organisational goals. Understand and support the Performance Management Process.

  • Intrinsically motivated – by the tasks required within their specific role and the environment in which they work. Driven to succeed and enjoy what is involved.

  • Capable and competent – have the necessary knowledge, skill set and attitude. Both technical, personal and interpersonal to maximise their personal contribution. Understand the importance of mood to performance and can positively manage their own mood and positively influence the mood of others.

  • Energised and committed – want to be and give of their best. Driven to achieve and contribute to the overall sustainable success of the organisation. Excited by what they do and the idea of doing better.

  • Own ownership – take ownership over all own areas of responsibility and personal contribution in respect of goals and targets. Have wider corporate governance for the organisation as a whole. Accept personal accountability for results. Aware of the impact they have on others and positively work to improve the overall mood.

  • Continuous improvement – feel encouraged and seek out opportunities for using personal initiative. Committed to and actively engaged in continuous improvement. Continually review personal and interpersonal effectiveness.

  • Trusted – trust others and feel trusted themselves. Believe in the positive intention and contribution of others and demonstrate this by their behaviour. Believe they are trusted, and others behave to them in a manner, which is consistent with this.

These are the things we need to measure and find ways of improving our impact as leaders.

How Do We Create The Environment Whereby People Will Feel Like This?

People will only contribute, in a meaningful way, on the achievement of the above when they really want to. This drive and motivation is internally driven. We must create the environment, culture and relationships that encourage and ensure that everybody wants to give of their best all the time.

Managing the elements that contribute to the performance of staff is too important to be left to chance. The organisation must be clear on what they want and design the process that will give them their desired outcomes.

Leadership effectiveness is based on how they show up and the impact they have on the thinking, mood and behaviour of their staff (all of which determines performance), not on their intent. To be effective each leader must know the answers to two fundamental questions: a) How do I show up now and what impact is that having on my people? and b) what can I do to improve this? The answers to both questions can only come from the staff themselves. The leader must be able to ask these questions so that they get honest and open feedback.

An outcome-based people philosophy will contain language that reflects the purpose and reasons “why” we are doing what we do. Here is a typical value statement around the people contribution:

“Success comes from our people and our people are the means to sustaining future success. We will concentrate on our people and by this we will best achieve our goals. How leaders “show up” and the “impact” they have on the mood, thinking and behaviour of our people is highly significant in determining the effectiveness of the people contribution. Leaders are responsible for the mood, attitude, thinking and behaviour of their people. Leaders are responsible and accountable for consistently behaving in a manner which is congruent with these desired outcomes.”

Communications are designed to bring the people closer to “where they need to be” and provide them with the tools and understanding to be most effective. The meaning of communications is in the response you get, regardless of intention. Therefore, if one is not getting the desired response, we are responsible and need to do something different.” It is not working.

“e pluribus unum” – out of many one. This is the ultimate goal, to have everybody committed to and unselfishly working effectively and efficiently for a common purpose.

Engagement, Alignment And Congruence

Leaders must get all the key people on the same page and put in place processes and practices that guarantee it will make the difference you desire. The process below is designed to ensure that everybody within the company is on the same track and is committed to the way forward. Anyone who does not get on the train will be left behind. We will fully support those on the train. Ways in which you can achieve this include:

  1. Conduct a staff opinion survey to establish a baseline on where things are currently at and help identify the key priorities that should be focused on. Consider using an external body to design the questions and conduct the survey to ensure maximum and honest returns.

  2. Conduct a brainstorming session with the senior management team to focus on the concept of success and the critical factors that will determine future sustainable success. Then to review the “means to achieving success”, the required people contributions and what is required to achieve and maximise the people contribution. The results of the survey will be used as a basis for this discussion, along with a series of questions (a template of which is below). In addition, expose the team to current best practice and leading edge thinking on leadership and getting the most from the people contribution. From this an action plan is put in place covering the following six months. It is critical that all management are aligned and committed to the way forward. Identify and implement new practices that will support the way forward.

  3. Conduct a management session with a view to institutionalising the values of the company. For each value a set of questions will be designed that will measure the degree of success by department currently existing. A competency model will be designed for each value that identifies and describes the leadership behaviours (and later staff behaviours) that support and promote the value. The leadership development programmes in the future will be consistent with and incorporate these behaviours. On a collective and individual basis targets will be set for the following 12 months in respect of the scores from the survey and the leadership behaviours involved.

  4. Develop the senior team so that they are equipped, competent and confident in achieving the targets and expectations of the company going forward. The desired outcome will be to get all of the management team on the same page. All of the management team will have a significant input into where we are going and how we intend to get there.

  5. Agree and circulate a communication to all staff announcing the process that is to follow, reasons why and principles involved. Put in place a structure to ensure regular and timely communications takes place. Initially this will involve communication on the survey, the results when they are available and the action plan that results as well as regular updates. It is most important that all staff can see that things are happening as a result of the survey process.

  6. Support the above process by ongoing communications and celebrating successes.

  7. It may be useful to develop a people and leadership charter that incorporates all of the above especially the elements associated with the values and behaviours. Values drive behaviours, behaviours never drive values. It is critical that time and effort is spent getting the values right, they should stand the test of time. Behaviours and rules need to be aligned with the values and continually reviewed over time.

This paper is designed to raise more questions and take the reader above and beyond the day to day demands they have in order to appreciate more the importance of strategic thinking and ensure we play a more active role in designing our organisations rather than letting them evolve through chance.

The question template mentioned earlier in this paper can be found below.

If your organisation would like to discuss and consider any of the thoughts and ideas in this paper, including the practical details around implementation and competency development they can be had by contacting Louise Murphy, Head of Learning & Organisation Development, at or on 087 205 3604.

Brendan McCarthy | Senior Partner

Stratis Consulting

‘Strategic Employment Relations’

M: +353 (0) 87 254 8167 +353 (0) 1 2936748

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general guidance only and does not constitute legal or specific case advice. The answers to specific situations will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. This is not a substitute for specific professional advice relevant to individual circumstances facing your business.

Questionnaire Template

Try this at home! Get all senior leaders to fill this out independently and then review the level of consensus.

  • How would you define success for this company?

  • What are the key factors that will determine future sustainable success? Expand and describe what is required and or the ultimate goal for each key factor.

  • What are the critical issues that need to be overcome in relation to each of these key factors?

  • What will be our best means of building on our capacity to deliver on these key factors?

  • How do we want our people to perform and what thinking and behaviours do we want from them generally and specifically?

  • Where do we need our people to be in order that they will want to and perform / behave in this way?

  • What do we need to do to create the circumstances where people will want to do this?

  • How do we need leaders to think and behave to best contribute to the desired people contribution?

  • What methodology and principles should we use in moving forward? What should we do next and how should we go about it?

  • What are the first things we should do?

  • What other ideas do people have for improvement?

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page