Some people say organizations don’t actually exist because they’re not physical things, but rather concepts or collections of concepts. However, there are a lot of physical things or artifacts that communicate what an organization is and how it works. So if we think about an organization as information, then there are many artifacts that represent the design of the organization and the main ideas and concepts. Everything from understanding the needs and requirements of our stakeholders, including the customers, to the strategies that we lay out and visually display with business models and goals that we write down and track, along with systems and the way we describe our systems, and the metrics or scorecard that we use are represented by a variety of tangible artifacts. So the design of the underlying concepts, the artifacts that communicate those concepts, and their interconnections are organization design. The most important design issue is the alignment of the individual components or artifacts and the information they contain so that the organization is consistent and coherent.
Along with the tangible artifacts of stakeholders, strategies, systems, and the scorecard is the culture. For a lot of people, culture is a pretty squishy concept and difficult to get your “arms” around. People often think culture is squishy because values are vague and they can’t see values directly. So when we talk about designing culture, we’re talking about designing things in a way that is consistent with the values that we want people to exhibit in the organization. The artifacts that we have the ability to design that both influence culture and are manifestations of culture include the rituals (practices and processes), symbols, and heroes.
How do we do things in the company, how do we have meetings, what are those rituals, and we often don’t call them rituals, because that’s what anthropologists call them as opposed to business people, but that’s what they are. These include the practices and processes of the organization. How we do work, make decisions, etc.
We also have symbols, everything from reserved parking slots to the type of office you get, to, in years past, separate washrooms and eating facilities for different categories. Those are really important symbols. Those tell you things about the values of the company.
We hold certain people up, and we tell stories about founders, sometimes, or the great engineers that are the famous ones in the company. We tell stories about them, and they’re held up and revered. The values that they’re behaviors represent are part of the culture. When you choose your heroes, they should be the people that are displaying the values or behaviors that are valued. If you really want those values in your organization.
So organization design is not like designing a single physical object, but we use some of the design thinking and design tools to design the organization artifacts and how they fit together, from the systems and how we operate to the heroes that we have and the criteria that we use to select those heroes? All those things are designed, whether consciously or unconsciously. What we’re proposing is that you do that consciously and you think it through and then test it and adjust it.