Management Transformation by Design.

Management Transformation by Design.

Leveraging design as a method to lead a transformation process in the management and leadership of companies is always a more efficient and successful way to achieve an organization’s business goals.Let’s break down the different factors of management and design, to understand the overlapping space between these two terms.

Why Design & Management?

First, let’s define what Design is. The word “design” is overused in many organizations with a lot ambiguities and misinterpretations. The word Design, if not contextualized (ie: visual design, business design, product design, etc..), has a very holistic meaning in the way it solves system-based problems both when we refer to a Product as a system of characteristics, material, production process, etc.., as well when we consider an Organization as a system of people, services, outcomes, etc..

“Design-Thinking today has become a marketing term, more often used as a business product to sell workshops to teach people how to work together, how to share knowledge, and more. Let’s leave this brand/definition out of this conversation. (pls)”

Instead, let’s talk of Design as “a way of thinking,” or how I prefer to simplify it, “as a way to make choices and/or actions,” an operative protocol, replicable, scalable and measurable.

Design as a roundtrip journey.

Design is a roundtrip journey, often forgotten, with two distinct journeys:1 — A journey to a destination (seek a vision & frame the problem) — This process is all about discovering how to add value to the system, along a path made by ideas, prototypes, mistakes, failures, successes, learning, discovery, etc..

2 — A journey to back home (Make the vision happen & solve the problem) — A process all about how to change the system to lead to the new value, along a path by open minds, re-framing, re-organizing, educating, etc…

Here is where Design becomes helpful in management (as a system) transformation.

About Management & Organizations.

According to Frederic Laloux, the author of Reinventing Organizations: A Guide for Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, “The days of the top-down hierarchy as the dominant organizational framework are numbered. Despite its continued preference by the current power elite, the bureaucratic management model is rapidly becoming both limited and obsolete now that the technology revolution has spawned a major inflection point in human history by unleashing the extraordinary and unstoppable phenomenon of distributed intelligence.”Using a color-coded typology inspired by the work of Clare Graves, and made popular by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics, Laloux outlines the evolution of four types of organizations over the last ten millennia and describes in detail the attributes and characteristics of a fifth and radically different emerging new organizational form.

Organization type — colors characteristics

Each form of organization has different behaviors, systems and assumptions. The first four (Red, Amber, Orange and Green) are considered the historical types. From Red to Green, the quantity of bosses decreases progressively.The Teal organization is a revolutionary new management model that operates from the premise that organizations should be viewed as living organisms, and therefore, function more like complex adaptive systems than machines. Accordingly, this organizational form is a structure of flexible and fluid peer relationships in which work is accomplished through self-managed teams. In Teal organizations, there are no layers of middle management, very little staff, and very few rules or control mechanisms. Instead of reporting to single supervisors, people are accountable to the members of their teams for accomplishing self-organized collective goals. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the elimination of controlling bosses typically enables a better controlled organization because, Laloux points out, “peer pressure regulates the system better than hierarchy ever could.”

Current Management & Organization Scenarios

Thanks to the Internet, there’s a new worldview, and it is revolutionizing the way we build organizations. Through dynamics, behaviors and complex system patterns we learn everyday by seeing platforms such as Amazon, Google or Facebook working and interacting with a distributed form of knowledge and consciousness, which are becoming more and more common in the management of any company.Of course, each modern company / organization never fits completely into a specific color type, but we can identify each management system as a combination of colors as shown below (example of companies A, B, C):

Challenges to Start Transformation & Changes

Initiating a transformation process in these complex scenarios can become a challenge.Management with a strong hierarchy is faster to transform (change the Head) but at the same time is extremely fragile and resilient to return to the original way of working and thinking at the first impediment. Management with highly distributed decision making power and self management requires a lot of time to make changes at the system level, and a lot of energy at the 1-to1 level to change perspectives, but is definitely more solid and responsive at any impediment during the change.Both require different strategies and processes, and both require consistency and a systematic approach. What works for one doesn’t work for the others, and a high level of transformation processes fail at this point.

How to Trigger Changes?

To trigger changes in these forms of sophisticated management organizations one must start with a change of the “way of thinking” for all the actors of the system. A collective change of the “way of thinking” not only triggers an organic “change of doing,” but empowers the bosses in that area of the company with a more hierarchical organization to change their groups, stimulating conversation and knowledge exchange.This ripple effect of external actions and the organic internal reactions, is the perfect way to approach this type of management structure with a hybrid form of organization.

Transformation by Design.

The transformation process is based on a basic cycle of three factors:

  1. Seed (open minds) — Introducing a new way of thinking, perspectives and everything else that’s inspiring; triggering new questions and identifying new opportunities.
  2. Define (How we work) — Re-frame what we do, what are the problems we are trying to solve and the solutions we can or should achieve.
  3. Test (what we do) — Translate on the business table the new way of working, how to sell, how to change day-by-day activities, etc..

Transformation Cycles

A systematic solution requires a systematic method. The scaling process will produce additional knowledge about the impact on the new organization’s system on the company’s business (re-frame). These discoveries will define the next scaling cycle strategy (new vision).Seeding, Defining and Testing are part of the incremental transformation cycle to scale up the new system:Cycle 1 = to see different ways to work in different contextsCycle 2 = to adjust and consolidateCycle 3 = to scale up

In the most sophisticated and autonomous area of the company the scaling cycle will impact with an increase of the frequency of changing behaviors, in the other areas more hierarchical, we will observe an increase in the size of the change behaviors.


Why do transformations by Design have a better impact on companies?Because they are inclusive, empathetic with each single member or the system, they are holistic, repeatable, scalable and measurable, but more importantly, they are focused not to design an outcome, but to design FOR an outcome, an outcome organically defined and owned by the organization itself.

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