Organisational Structures For The Future

Governments and most businesses will readily understand the term ‘infrastructure’. It is a collective term for roads, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications networks, supply pipelines etc. It is all to do with movement and these networks are all ‘hard’ i.e. they are made out of steel, concrete and copper and they can all be touched.

Infrastructure is not quite the same as structure in an organisational context. Structure implies rigidity, a silo mentality and in many cases an adherence to the past (especially in terms of behaviour). The new Organisational structures of the future will be more like infrastructures, offering support rather than controlling. Unlike the past, future (infra) structures will be wildly different, varying according to culture, market niche, company size etc. They will of course all have one common theme – people.

People will be connected together in all sorts of ways. They are the valuable assets of the organization and must be looked after by Human Resources, connected by IT and rewarded by the boss. But there is more due to our dependence on intangible assets such as creativity, know how and culture as well as social interaction to create and exploit ideas.

For our businesses to function successfully, these things too must move around. Attempts have often been made in the past to codify these ideas, transmit them to another place and then try and extract both the message and the meaning of what has been received. Try having an email exchange with an angry colleague and you will understand the problems.

We also want things to travel in ways that are not constrained by boundaries and which certainly do not travel in straight lines. Just like the ripples on a pond we might wish some things to be broadcast, such as company culture. And like a networked computer system we will need some sort of storage and perhaps some form of maintenance function to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

When thinking of communicating within a corporate environment we often think of sending things out (pushing) or receiving from others (pulling). What about when things just sort of slosh about, and proceed at their own pace or when disruptive events occur and we need a system that repairs or heals itself? We need a new type of infrastructure, one that is invisible and which connects everybody to everyone else. It must allow meaning, intuition, creativity and emotion to flow with no bottlenecks and no burst pipes. What we need therefore is the right sort of ‘network’ – a soft infrastructure rather than a hard structure .

Based on concepts such as coaching, action learning and knowledge agents this might be somewhat strange, but it is all possible. Can we afford not to create such infrastructures in our organisations or in society in general?

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Public Sector Innovation

This article is based on thoughts and observations rather than research, and is meant to stimulate some thinking on the topic. There will be some generalisations and hence some exceptions can be found also. In this context I define the Public Sector as everything that is not Private thus education and Not For Profit are included also. Innovation is taken to be some sort of system where processes and behaviours are changed to create value and improve output rather than the shiny new gadget that has just come from a high technology start up company. So is there such a thing as Public Sector Innovation?

The big question is ‘Does the public sector innovate?’ and the straight forward answer is no it does not because it cannot. I know of examples of medical innovations within the National Health Service which are exceptions to the rule but the system as a whole does not innovate.

One argument that I often encounter when challenging people on this issue is that their work is governed by rules laid down by government, both local and national. If you provide a service then those rules normally prescribe what happens or must happen at the point of service delivery not what goes on within the body providing the service. So the world is your Oyster as far as Innovation is concerned.

So what prevents Innovation? First of all there are hundreds upon hundreds of self imposed rules or boundaries (see my article on Innovation By Breaking Rules) which are justified by statements such as ‘That is the way we have always done things’. Why is that? What can be changed, rearranged or replaced to improve the quality of what is being delivered? How many people challenge the boundaries?

Targets are a huge issue. I encourage readers to read ‘Freedom From Command And Control’ and ‘Systems Thinking In The Public Sector’ by John Seddon who has a lot to say on this matter. Badly formed targets only encourage behaviour that is designed to meet targets, not to improve service delivery or create value. Many organisations (including private sector) have experienced the touch of Business Process Reengineering (BPR) gurus who have stripped down and rebuilt public sector systems that work poorly. John Seddon talks of ‘value demand’ (demand on a public service) and ‘failure demand’ (demand by way of failure such as complaints or having fragmented information). Our streamlined front/back office systems are candidates for large amounts of ‘failure demand’ and hence wasted energy (but they do meet their targets!!).

Another complex issue revolves around Human Resources and the Unions. I shall not blame either party but simply illustrate a situation that needs resolving. In much of the public sector, HR has been centralised as Employment Law has become more complex thus responsibility for some soft management issues has been withdrawn from the front line (and some managers may have welcomed this). HR has become more about Employment Law and not getting the best out of the workforce.

Even when an employer wishes to reorganise the workforce they come against the Union who are quiet rightfully there to protect the rights of workers. They often start their negotiations from the point of view of ‘change is bad’. Another factor that does not assist is the fact that public sector recruitment and working revolves around the job description and person specification which HR would dearly love to change and the employee and the Union would not (unless there is some compensation). Why is this so? Why can’t contracts of employment describe behaviours and responsibilities rather than actions and qualifications?

Currently in the UK, we are getting ready for significant cuts to spending in the public sector which should spur us on to trying something radical to maintain services to ratepayers and taxpayers. The current economic climate presents a possibly unique opportunity to sow the seeds of Innovation. The danger is that the public sector will be made weaker by simply chopping off bits and not reorganising the remnants or outsourcing to organisations that are still based on a front/back office system that has high failure demand. The justification is that this is what happens when public sector spending is cut.

The conclusion regarding the question ‘does the public sector innovate’ is still ‘no it does not because it cannot’ but also that ‘it does not because those in charge (politicians and civil servants) simply will not’. We can do something about it, if somebody will let us.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Innovation By Breaking The Rules

There are rules, and there are rules as many pioneers tend to say. Don’t worry, we are not going to break any – for now!

I was reading and article recently that stated that in order to innovate we must challenge or disrupt at least one of the fundamental principles or rules that we operate by in our chosen sector. I thought about this for a while, thinking it might sound radical to some people, and then decided that the statement was perfectly true. We need to be breaking the rules.

If you just think for a minute or two about all of the rules that we conform to as a) individuals and b) groups then you will be surprised at how long the list is. Your list might start something like:

  • I begin work at 9am and leave at 5pm
  • I only work Monday to Friday
  • I must get my timesheet in by 5pm on Friday
  • Only senior managers can use the car park
  • We must answer the telephone within 5 rings

… and the list goes on. Try creating your list and see how many are a) self imposed b) could be broken without affecting anybody else c) could be broken by everyone to make life better (or improve profitability). What could this new found freedom to act and think give you or our business? Perhaps time to create new products or services or simply improve existing ones. Don’t just ask questions about how you work, ask about industry sector, materials used, supermarkets supplied etc.

We all conform to rules and create boundaries which we then become constrained by for no good reason. Try breaking some rules and see what happens, don’t think of it as breaking rules, just think of it as stretching boundaries. If you are the nervous type who does not want to act and then ask for forgiveness later try telling your boss or colleagues that ‘If we broke rule x or rule y then it would be possible to …’.

And one final thought, if you do not wish to be branded an anarchist, tell people that you are performing Boundary Analysis rather than rule breaking!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Only We Can …

Only we can … I notice that a number of people play this game in their workshops but here is my version. It can be used in a number of different ways and can also be used solo or in groups.

If you are having issues with a current product or service then you might try to produce statements such as:

  • Only we can deliver product xx within 24 hours
  • Only we can produce xx at a cost of less than £5
  • Only we have the technology ….

This should not be too difficult, especially if you are already having some success but if you cannot find statements of the above type that describe why your products and/or services are unique then you are probably flogging a dead horse and should consider cutting your losses.

It is then time to use this technique in a different way. You might have already created some new ideas which are still in your head or are just scribbles on a piece of paper. Try the same exercise but using knowledge of your capabilities and resources create statements of the form ‘Only we could …’. This might require some knowledge of your competitors as well so some digging will be required. Once again, if your product or service ideas fail this simple test then perhaps they are not worth pursuing.

All is not lost though. One final exercise is ‘If only …. then we could …’ so you might generate statements of the form:

  • If only we had a new machine we could produce xx at a cost of less than £5
  • If only we had a new van then we could deliver within 24 hours

So you can work out your unique advantage assuming that you can meet the conditions of your ‘If only …’ statement. This is a little easier and can usually be carried out with the aid of a calculator. If you are a larger business then you might wish to involve employees from all areas and at all levels in this exercise. Be realistic though, ‘If only we had infinite resources, we could do anything’ is not an option if you are trying to make a decision although it might be good for generating some wacky ideas.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
My Innovation Handbook is FREE for you!
Simply enter your full name and email address in order to receive a copy of my Innovation Handbook. You will also be subscribed to my monthly newsletter. You can amend or cancel your subscription at any time by clicking on the links in the newsletter.
Thank you for subscribing
If you have signed up in order to get a FREE book or report then you will shortly receive an email giving you the URL of the page for downloading the PDF file. If you do not receive such an email within a few minutes then please get in touch and a copy will be emailed to you directly.
Need a simple guide to Innovation?
Enter your details below to grab a copy of my Innovation Handbook and receive regular news and tips on Business Creativity & Innovation.
Thank you, please check your Inbox
You will shortly receive an email giving you the URL of the page for downloading the PDF file. If you do not receive such an email within a few minutes then please get in touch and a copy will be emailed to you directly.