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Jane Sunley

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Organisation design: the key to better talent management


Organisation design provides L&D with an opportunity to align development with business strategy, says Jane Sunley.


Organisation design (OD) involves the review and re-organisation of a business's structure, roles and responsibilities. It also looks at how this aligns with process, rewards, metrics, development and the review process.

OD is a title sometimes used to encompass the broader fields of attitudinal and behavioural solutions to effectiveness, such as leadership behaviours, team effectiveness and other development based activity. Done well, the elements of the talent strategy are in turn aligned which in turn leads to joined up talent management.

"Establishing internal goals and resources aimed at the achievement of a joined up, strategically aligned "people stuff" is just good business sense that is today essential."

OD allows for the clarity of strategic aims and objectives which support all parts of the organisation. This evolves on a continuous basis with the core plan at its heart. As a result it removes the need for knee-jerk initiatives or change that is not linked with strategy and therefore viewed with cynicism or fear by team members.

Put simply, the objective here is to create competitive advantage in the marketplace through having the right talent, within the right structure and circumstances, giving the best possible performance.

Organisation design may involve strategic decisions, though is more about finding ways to deliver strategy effectively and consistently. The OD process provides an opportunity to take a big picture view of the whole business and its goals, putting into place a robust plan for achieving alignment and best performance. This is clearly communicated throughout so the organisation can understand the changes and these can be managed through effectively and with care. As an overview, OD involves:

  1. Definition of the business case - clear picture of strategy and design objectives.
  2. Strategic definitions and decisions - the fundamental construction of the organisation - major roles and reporting structure.
  3. Design of processes, roles, measures and reward systems, followed by team and other implementation tasks.
  4. Aligning support for this plan, for example, leadership capability, development initiatives, communication.

OD has generally been delivered into larger organisations by specialist consultants. We would argue, however, that establishing internal goals and resources aimed at the achievement of a joined up, strategically aligned "people stuff" is just good business sense that is today essential.

In some organisations there may be internal resources to drive this through; others may continue to draw on external specialists. Either way, it’s important that this is not just something that is "done to" the organisation, instead it must be internally driven and a smart way to align the business, for which there is responsibility throughout the organisation.

Learning and development

Our research of 2,500 people showed that people were disheartened by being sheep-dipped into the standard company courses irrespective of whether they and/or their role required that specific method at that time. There are four key reasons this approach happens:

  • Failure to align development activity with the strategic aims of the organisation.
  • Failure to accurately identify individual development needs and learning styles on an ongoing basis.
  • Taking a top-down approach rather than enabling people to drive their own progress.
  • Lack of systems to ensure (1) and (2 ) and (3) can happen consistently given the fast pace of business change.

Smart organisations are finding ways to enable the individual to drive his or her own progress as the top-down approach of yesteryear just doesn’t cut it in today’s rapidly changing business scene. Generational change has also made development that is "done to someone" outmoded. People want to be in control of their working lives nowadays. They know where they aspire to be and the skills and development required to get there. However, they need to be able to do this in the following conditions:

  1. A clear understanding of their role, responsibilities and critically, how this fits in with, and contributes to, business strategy.
  2. How relationships work within the organisation with regards to roles, teams and individuals.
  3. Very clear values, guidelines and non-negotiables.
  4. Trust and respect.
  5. Guidance (as required).
  6. Ongoing, open and honest feedback.
  7. Knowing where and how to access development and support.
  8. Robust review mechanisms.

In our view this is impossible without a joined up approach to talent management and a consideration for OD - it’s simply not feasible for learning and development to stand alone any more.

Following a successful operational career within hospitality management,  Jane spent a number of years as MD of a specialist recruitment company, which she co-founded. In September 2001, she formed learnpurple where she is CEO. This enabled the creation of talent toolbox, an award winning managed software service for talent management, which is now a separate business in its own right. Read Jane’s blog at


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