The Political Test of a Proposed New Organizational Model

 A few years go, I was assisting a firm in developing a new organizational model, working together with a colleague.

We first identified key design criteria, based on interviews with more than 40 managers.

The most important criterion was to design an organization that would help the firm achieve growth for one of the key products. It was also important to find a model with the right “balance” between different business areas.

At the same time, there was a need to simplify the structure, and reduce the number of management layers.

We then started developing a couple of alternative models.

It was pretty hard work, trying to identify a model that would meet the different criteria, while avoiding an increase in costs. But one evening, in a meeting with the VP of Human Resources, we thought we had found at least one possible solution.

We went through the criteria and could check off one after another. We concluded the meeting on an optimistic note.

But as we were about to leave, the VP remarked:

That question re-framed the discussion. Suddenly we were not talking about what you could call the “rational” criteria, but about the impact on individuals and whether the proposed model would get the support of a large enough coalition to be accepted (and once accepted, whether it would be implemented with some level of enthusiasm).

So we looked at the model, and considered the potential impact for each of those who currently held leadership position (and who would be candidates for key positions in the new model).

A simple count suggested that the balance would be negative: A lot fewer would move up than down in the management hierarchy.

So we went back to the drawing board. And in the end, we did produce three alternative models that were more attractive, both from the “rational”, and from the political side. One of the proposed models was then selected by the CEO. The subsequent implementation of the model went quicker than we had anticipated.

* * *

One word of caution here: I am not suggesting that you should “start with the people” in the sense that you should tailor the design to the personal interests of the current members of the management team.

The main design criteria should be derived from the strategy of the firm (see my book for a detailed description of a methodology you can use for this purpose). 

The political test is an additional step that you carry out, once you have a potential solution that fulfills the main requirements, and satisfies the key design criteria.

But it’s a step that you shouldn’t skip– if you want your proposed model to be implemented.

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