Who is Responsible for Organisational Redesign?

Tony Golsby-Smith argues that it is leaders and leaders alone who can spearhead organisational transformation and embedding innovation capability in the firm


Only leaders can design and construct a new kind of organisation. Why? Because only they have the authority and the overview to look at the organisation as a whole. They are the ones who can imagine and play with the key interactions of the organisation, and reshape them. They are the ones who can imagine new markets and new value offerings that are presently not being offered. They are the ones who can introduce a common language right across the organisation. If you delegate the work of redesigning an organisation below the leadership team, you lose all of these possibilities. I am not saying it is preferable that leaders do this; I am saying that only they can do it. At lower levels of the organisation, it is impossible. I do not mean that it is intellectually impossible; I mean that it is systemically impossible. Others can dream of large scale change, but they have no authority over the whole system, and more often than not, they don’t have the perspective over the whole system.

Without this kind of sponsorship, the best efforts of others in the organisation will wither and die. They need the ‘roof’ of protection of a leadership team that has a vision for the dialectical organisation, and can advocate and protect it.

But you need more than individuals advocating the new dialectic, you need a leadership team to do this as a group. The only viable way to achieve this is via conversation. Leaders need to have the opportunity to explore design thinking and its relevance to the organisation. They cannot have this imposed upon by them either by their CEO or one of their peers. Of course it is a risky approach because you are opening up a fragile new initiative to disagreement; creating a dialectical organisation that focuses on both delivery and design will destabilise traditions and familiar ways of working. It also implicitly challenges the sets of skills that made many operational leaders successful, so they are likely to look on design thinking as a threat — personally as well as organisationally. This means that you are opening up a Pandora’s box by inviting a leadership team to dialogue over such a controversial issue, but in my view the rewards are well worth the risk. People only really engage in things if they feel that they have had a chance to explore the new thing and debate its merits. The conversation process has its own way of defusing disagreement and getting doubters on board. It also is the only process that is flexible enough to allow subtleties to be explored, confusions cleared up and a common language to emerge.

The point is that there is simply no substitute for a senior team getting their mind around innovation/design and its implications for their organisation. They will have to be advocates for this change in the coming journey, and so they cannot delegate the creation of this vision to others. It is too important and too risky.

By Tony Golsby-Smith
Illustrations by
Huw England


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