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Book Review: Guide to Organisation Design by Naomi Stanford

Book Cover Guide to Organisation Design by Naomi Stanford

The Economist Guide to Organisation Design by Naomi Stanford is a very well written and documented handbook on Organisation Design. Its subtitle Creating high-performing and adaptable enterprises immediately hints at the focus the author gives to the book, which is not just a list of methods and tools, but rather gives direction on a sound methodology to design organisations.

I cannot compare this second edition with the previous ones, but it is evident that there is an effort to have a contemporary view on the topic of organisational design, including most recent trends and ideas.

This Guide is not meant to give all the tools that are needed for a practitioner to be able to actually perform an entire OIrg Design project but gives a very sound idea of the sequence of event. It turns to be the perfect tool to be used with managers especially before starting a change journey. As well as it is a very good tool for all those HR professionals that never had the chance to have formal training in ord Design.

Already from the beginning, Naomi Stanford is very clear about what Organisation Design is (or should be). Bold is mine.

Six principles underlie effective and reflective organisation design:

  • Organisation design is driven by the business strategy and the operating context (not by a new IT system, a new leader wanting to make an impact, or some other non-business reason).
  • Organisation design means holistic thinking about the organisation: its systems, structures, people, performance measures, processes and culture, and the way the whole operates in the environment.
  • Designing for the future is a better bet than designing for now.
  • Organisation design happens as much through social interactions and conversations as through planning.
  • Organisation design is not to be undertaken lightly: it is resource intensive even when it is going well.
  • Organisation design is a fundamental, continuing process, not a repair job.

I can’t agree more about each one of these statements. Especially on the link with business strategy, as well as on the fact that it is not a repair job. The book is also very clear that Organisation Charts are only one aspect of the work (something we’ve already spoken about).

Organisations that are designed with the close involvement of stakeholders are more likely to be effective than those that are designed in a closed room by a few people.

Naomi Stanford, The Economist Guide to Organisation Design, page 35

Particularly interesting is chapter 4, which looks at the planning and sequencing of the Organisation Design work. it focuses on the Business Case for Change as a key milestone for the initiation of such an endeavour. Chapter 5 looks at measurement, an often neglected phase in many “homemade” organisation design changes. Chapter 6 looks at stakeholder engagement, an essential component of driving adoption and change. Chapter 7 and 8 look at leadership and culture, the two elements that “make or break” the change once the organisational design is being implemented.

The last chapter is dedicated to Continuous Design, the idea that Organisation Design essentially never finishes. Which is the main reason why it is important to study Organisation Design. As an HR professional, and as a Manager, with the rate of transformation that is happening in the external environment, you need to constantly assess and adapt your organisation over time.

Formal case studies as well as frequent practitioner tips, give the book a lively rhythm and practical touch, making it pleasant reading.

To summarise, it is the perfect book for any manager or HR professional who needs to understand what Organisation Design is. For sure important ahead of a change effort or a redesign, I do think it is relevant for any Manager also to learn how much all the elements of organisations are connected. Way too often we see the negative impacts of adding a layer to an organisation, or changing a model, without the relevant considerations of all its ripple effects. We need to treat organisations as live organisms, and as such, we need to understand them thoroughly.

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I am an experienced and innovative HR professional dedicated in improving the way organizations achieve results through their people. Over the years I have worked on many projects in different HR domains, gaining a deep understanding of all key HR processes, from Talent Management to Recruiting, from Organizational Design to Leadership Development, from HR Transformation to HR & Payroll Systems implementation at International level. Working with Fashion Brands, leading retailer as well as, through consulting, international brands in industries like Banking, Manufacturing, Professional Services at both Headquarter and local level. Last but not least I consider myself an eclectic and creative personality, with many interests ranging from technology to arts and poetry.

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