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Getting radical: Designing Adaptable Organizations

Published by OrgVue

How do we design an effective organisation now that continuous change is the norm? A research report written by the Corporate Research Forum (CRF) addresses this unprecedented challenge, drawing on insights and leading practices of experts in the field. The report highlights the need for a process of continuous organisation design, one that is driven by in-house HR teams and seeks to adjust designs in response to evolving strategy. But with only 39% of research participants feeling they have strong organisation design skills within HR, there is a skills gap for HR to bridge.

Dealing with Radical Change: what should businesses do?

At the Amsterdam report launch event (slides from the day can be found here), a senior audience came together to discuss this topic. Geoffrey Matthews, co-author of ‘Engaged,’ talked through the changes experienced by Nestle over a series of years, moving from national fiefdoms, driven by local market requirements to – when introducing Nespresso – a product-led global marketing design. Meanwhile, Amy Kates, co-founder of Kates Kesler Organization Consuting, drew on her 25 years of coaching C-Suites on organisation design thinking to share an evolved version of Galbraith’s Star model – adding ‘capabilities’. The expertise, stories and years of experience were superb.

Figure 1. Evolution of the Galbraith Star Model

Figure 1. Evolution of the Galbraith Star Model

The challenge is what can help guide us when the level of change is even more extreme. The question was asked: how do you design an organisation when the past is little guide to the future – when radical change is needed, and the activities, roles and headcount all have to move dramatically?

Attendees at the OrgVue-sponsored CRF breakfast told fascinating stories, in terms of the challenges their business are facing and the company’s response:

Several companies described setting up initiatives to cannibalise their existing businesses; others described a continuous, lower intensity pressure to tweak the business model, to continue to optimise and find performance improvement.

HR needs to play a more central role in organisation design

The role of HR was described as selling change, communicating change, driving change. In the right circumstances, HR is a key part of the Leadership team, with value to add on the culture and mindset that will support change in ways of working.

One company described the move to self-service as empowering for managers and liberating for HR. For example, giving line managers the right systems let them be responsible for recruitment end-to-end. HR was then freed up to analyse future capability and quantify gaps.

Breakfast attendees then used a set of labels to prompt discussion of the business strategy, business unit by business unit: for example, to ‘cannibalise’, ‘gradually improve’, ‘grow strongly,’ stay ‘steady as she goes’ … or be the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ – these are shown as cards below.

Process cards to facilitate discussion around HR's role

Figure 2. Process cards to facilitate discussion around HR’s role

For attendees wanting to follow up and lead a discussion inside their company, send an email to giles.slinger@orgvue.com – we can send you a set of the OrgVue discussion cards. We also have initiatives active now with

With thanks to the executive breakfast participants, and to the CRF for organising another great conference.

Download the  full CRF research report on Designing Adaptable Organisations for Tomorrow’s Challenges here.