Organisational improvement projects, which involve the design of a new structure or model, invariably create “change”.
Typical change challenges faced by individuals include being re-evaluated, moving to a new team, following new reporting lines, adapting to new ways of working and simply going through uncertain times.
Of course, the design (of a new organisational model, governance system, set of values, leadership framework, etc.) is not an end in itself but a way of achieving business goals such as better performance, faster growth, better co-ordination between departments, faster decisions, improved team collaboration.
Change agents recognise that organisational change can help establish a culture of continuous learning and growth by creating opportunities for people to capitalise on their strengths, and develop outside of their immediate working domains. In some cases, analysis of the core problems suggests a new organisational structure, creating opportunities for promising executives. In others, such as in the merger of two companies, the need to find a “third way” to do things provides more opportunities for high potential employees.
Organisations that focus on cultivating a pipeline of high-performers have a track record of consistently moving them into challenging roles. Such companies know how to use the opportunities created by organisational change to develop people regularly and systematically through stretch assignments.
The role of the leader
The study of leaders who excel at developing talent suggests they see change in their organisation as an opportunity for a renewed focus on understanding each team member´s motivators, career aspirations, strengths and limitations and to recognise individual performance more consistently.
Displaying interest, insight and respect for other people and being perceptive of their attitudes and motivations is a strong leadership capability that creates a culture of mutual respect and understanding, and can be used to guide performance.
Based on this, as well on the new needs of the team and the business, leaders can develop a customised development approach for each individual and encourage them to seek “stretch” roles to accelerate their development.
Examples of opportunities created in times of change are secondments, interim roles, a role change involving leading a new function or geography, running a strategic or high visibility project. Simply rotating individuals in different part of the changed organisation can help bring promising employees to the attention of other executives in the company, through broader exposure and visibility.
Talent-led organisational design
A proven method to plan the talent implications of organisational change is to formally assess the suitability of each member of the leadership team to the new roles and responsibilities created by changes to the organisational model. This can be done through a combination of well-structured competency-based interviews, or assessments, and reference checks.
The Primary Colours® Model of Leadership, developed by David Pendleton and Adrian Furnham (2012), is a model that can be usefully applied in the assessment, selection and development of leadership teams. The Model is predicated on the assumption that it is highly unlikely that any one individual can excel in all leadership capabilities.
The competencies against which the individuals are assessed need to reflect the strategic issues and challenges suggested by the change the organisation is facing, as well as calibrated for the role in question (e.g. identifying the types of critical decisions and challenges that the individual in the role will face).
Conducting an in-depth diagnostic of the strengths, development areas, and aspirations of each member will help understand the most viable options to populate the new structure, and can sometimes influence a more realistic design. This approach encourages business leaders to augment their capability with a balanced leadership team and bring in external expertise where it is not available in-house.
Provided the assessment programme engages and supports the executives, as opposed to being imposed upon them, it also ensures greater buy-in of the new design, while building momentum around the future development of the organisation and its executives.
Regis Soublin and Grahame Russell
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