Some people say organizations don’t exist because they’re not material things but rather concepts or collections of concepts. However, there are many physical things or artifacts that communicate what an organization is and how it works. So if we think about an organization as information, then many artifacts represent the organization’s design and the main ideas and concepts. A variety of tangible artifacts represents everything from understanding the needs and requirements of our stakeholders, including the customers, to the strategies that we layout and visually display with business models and goals that we write down and track, along with systems and the way we describe our methods and the metrics or scorecard that we use. So the design of the underlying concepts, the artifacts that communicate those concepts, and their interconnections are organization design. The most critical design issue is the alignment of the individual components or artifacts and their information to be consistent and coherent.
Along with the tangible artifacts of stakeholders, strategies, systems, and the scorecard is the culture. For many 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 that are consistent with the values that we want people to exhibit in the organization. The artifacts that we can create that influence culture and 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 heroes, and they are held up and revered. The values that their behaviors represent are part of the culture. When you choose your heroes, they should be the people displaying the values or behaviors that are valued if you want those values in your organization.
While organization design is not like designing a physical object, we use some design thinking and design tools to create the organization artifacts and how they fit together. These artifacts range from the systems and how we operate to the heroes we have and the criteria we use to select those heroes? All those things are designed, whether consciously or unconsciously. We’re proposing that you do that intentionally and think it through and then test it and adjust it.