Monday, August 18, 2008

Designing a high-performing business.

How organizations get created or designed is often a bit of a mystery. Here are five insights about designing high performing organizations that I’ve learned over the years through my professional practice:

- Designing a high-performing business involves specifying job content and task assignments, allocating roles and responsibilities, and defining the relationships between them. Without a disciplined way to do this, designers usually make choices based on their previous experience, their personal opinions, biases, unvalidated assumptions, and/or a desire for more personal power. These are poor alternatives to a proven process of open, collaborative investigation using validated data.

- The designer's basic assumptions determine the behaviors, activities and relationships of the people who end up working for the business (e.g."I trust people to do their job" v/s "I have to watch them all the time"). Traditional assumptions produce traditional performance and predictable problems ("That's not my job"). You can only generate different behaviors and better outcomes if you think differently and use other models and design processes.

- Design begins with a clear vision about what you want your business to become in the future. In today's world, this vision determines direction, not destination. The race to the future will belong to the swift and the adaptable, so design choices must encourage flexibility and agility. As Santayana observed, “No specific hope about distant issues is ever likely to be realized. The ground shifts, the will of mankind deviates, and what the father dreamed of, the children neither fulfill or desire.”

- Design isn’t so much a process of invention as an ongoing process of discovery and collaboration. Good design is always conscious and comprehensive, looking to find the best use for all available resources. It’s built on knowledge, insight and intuition about patterns and relationships inside and outside the firm. It doesn't look for ”the answer,” but selects the most sensible alternative for a given place and time, knowing that when the current context changes, another answer will be more appropriate.

- Searching for a “silver bullet” that will painlessly resolve all existing difficulties is a distraction rather than a step in the right direction. Adopting other people’s solutions won’t work unless you understand exactly how they’ll help you address and avoid the real causes of your problems.

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