Why you need to design organisational influence

| November 2, 2018

Strategy execution does not simply happen. There is a multitude of influencing required from the Board and CEO to the coal face. A key role of HR Directors is to create awareness amongst leaders of the organisational nuances that affect their messaging.

The Corporate Longevity Forecast by Innosight shows that this challenge is becoming increasingly difficult as the complexity of business increases. Innosight suggest the average tenure of a S&P500 company will drop to just 12 years by 2027. Down from 33 years in 1964 and 24 years in 2016.

While in the first instance leaders might think influencing is about what and how they communicate, there is another fundamental influencer of outcomes for any organisation. The organisation’s design. Not just how it is structured. Even more important is the design of policies, processes and systems.

The Essence of an Organisation

Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon in his book Administrative Behaviour (1947) was one of the first to describe what an organisation is and how it works. Simon describes the basis of an organisation as being a well-defined purpose communicated to staff and other stakeholders that leads to a series of decisions being taken to fulfil that purpose.

Taken to the nth degree, an organisation is simply an assembly of people making decisions to act or not act. The quality of our decision making therefore defines our capability.

Simon went on to explain that a fundamental role of leaders of organisations is to put into place policies, processes and systems to influence decision making to maximise the likelihood that the best decision to fulfil the organisational purpose is made.

However, not everyone believes leaders are best placed to oversee their design.

The Magnetic Repulsion Affect

While leaders are trying to influence downwards and outwards to staff at the extremities of the organisation, staff at the extremities are trying to influence inwards and upwards. Management think they know best and staff often think, “Management has no idea what the real issues are, sitting up there in their ivory tower!”

Think of it as management has a magnetic rod pointed upward toward their north – “the big picture”, while staff at the coal face have a magnetic rod pointed downward to what is their north – “the customer”. You end up with two like magnetic poles (south opposing south) and you know what that means: the two poles repel each other. The flow of influencing is disrupted.

When you are designing your organisation’s policies, processes and systems, you need to be thinking about how best to align the poles so the magnetic waves are working for you and not against you.

Once that is accomplished there is another often misunderstood nuance that must be factored into a leader’s influencing of organisational outcomes.

The Organisational Creed

Organisations develop their own way of doing things. A form of organisational creed. A creed so strong that staff press on headlong without thinking past what is immediately in front of them.

A perfect example of running off headlong down a well-trodden path without pausing for due consideration is given in the book Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow.

The Soviets decided to secretly establish ballistic missile bases in Cuba that could easily target America. However, the Soviet troops simply followed the book when they started building. They did not camouflage them from the air and a U2 spy plane uncovered the plot and the Soviet mission began to spiral out of control from that point on.

As with any military force, there is a focus on doing a job efficiently and by the book. The forces implemented according to the manual – no camouflage. When the manual was written, the authors did not perceive of a need for camouflage as the bases were located in the Soviet Union.

To lead through these internal complexities a leader needs to stand in the shoes of staff at the extremities of the organisation, to understand how they have been programmed to act and to ensure they are consulted on the design of policies, processes and systems. Better still, staff at the extremities should be part of the co-design of policies, processes and systems.