Organization Design Plus

We received a query from a University of Illinois professor regarding the content of a new class he will be teaching this fall. He wanted to know:

  • How has the organization and design of work in companies changed over the last 50 years? (job definitions; authority definitions, etc.)
  • What are the reasons for this change?
  • How do these impact the HR function?

WOW!!! That's a mind-blowing set of questions, isn't it? To do it justice would take a 600 page book -- which we could easily add to the other four books we are working on.

Having only 15 minutes to spare, here's what we whomped-up:

Regarding organization design, radical changes have occurred in industrialized (and industrializing) nations around the globe. These changes are primarily driven by technology and global, regional and niche competition -- and the interplay between technology and competition.

In the last two decades, organizational transformation has been profound. We've seen the demise of traditional bureaucracy and the emergence of a vast array of organization strategies, geared to a variety of external demands. Increasingly, the customer is in the driver's seat. Organizations have had to learn to quickly respond to market realities that can shift over night, due to the introduction of a new technology or strategy on the part of a competitor.

In order for organizations to survive in this hyper-competitive environment, they have had to become agile.

  1. They've had to view themselves as adaptive organisms (complex, adaptive systems).
  2. They've had to invent ways to stay continuously informed about their environment, and continuously gathering and leveraging knowledge a reflection of the rise of the knowledge-based economy (see, "The Third Wave" by Alvin Toffler -- and a plethora of books about the learning organization, knowledge management, intellectual capital, etc.)
  3. They've had to open up communications, and break down barriers between units and functions which have historically been territorial, resulting in the design of team-based organizations. Moving far beyond participative management, cross-functional and diagonal teams have become commonplace.
  4. They've had to wipe out as many organizational layers as possible to eliminate communication blockages, and elitism. The empowerment movement emerged in support of this effort.
  5. They've had to create forms of organization that are innovative, such as:
    • Federalist Organization
    • Fishnet Organization
    • Heterarchical Organization
    • Lateral Organization
    • Network Organization
    • Spaghetti Model Organization
    • Virtual Organization (also referred to as Hollow Corporation)
  6. They've had to use organization design to create a competitive weapon.

The very definition of "management" is transforming. Some companies challenge the need for management, as they turn to self-directed teams and self-organization.

HR has had to adapt to these new organizational realities. While many HR departments have been slow to do so, those in-the-know and in-the-lead have realized that they must work flexibly to complement the organization's agility, developing a business-oriented alliance with line management.

Specific changes in HR are driven, also, by the introduction of information technology. They use the Internet to recruit and learn, the Intranet to provide, gather and discuss employee information and knowledge, and cutting-edge HR systems to simplify most of their administrative chores.

You are opening the door to the future for your students. There are not mountains of information out there; there are mountain ranges!