Will new Premiere Christy Clark Reorganize the Civil Service?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2011

Will new Premier Christy Clark reorganize the civil service to fix organizational glitches? Here’s a word to the wise.

Organizational structure matters. It is the tool through which strategy is executed. It  defines how responsibility and resources are allocated, collaboration occurs, and accountability is assessed. Getting it right makes all these functions work better.

Changes in structure are costly. Each significant change incurs costs for moving offices, changing stationery, altering policy documents, re-orienting staff, creating new reporting relationships, and making revised plans. In large organizations it can take a year or more to fully implement a major change in structure. Productivity inevitably suffers during this period. This is one reason for using other means to align resources in government – cabinet shuffles and government changes risk driving so much change in the civil service that departments may be in a perpetual state of upheaval, never actually delivering the theoretical benefits intended by the reorg.

Every organizational form has inherent strengths and weaknesses. Senior managers often reorganize out of frustration with the inherent weaknesses in the existing structure. But they forget that reorganizing to fix weaknesses in the current structure will inevitably expose others.

This is often the first step in what management consultants call the “reorganization pendulum”.  The pendulum is typified by the classic sequence of decentralization followed up a few years later by recentralization; and again back to a revised form of decentralization several years later. And that’s not the only version of the “pendulum”.

Each such reorganization aims to fix problems that were inherent in the previous structure. Each can cost as much or more than the problems it aimed to fix!  Yet most of these problems can usually be remedied in ways that don’t require expensive reorganization.

I recall one discussion at a management consultancy about a new project consultants had taken on at a client organization. One consultant asked “Didn’t we just do a reorg for that company 3 years ago?” The answer was, “Yes, but this time we’ll call it something different.

The right reason to change the organizational structure is that the existing structure does not fully support a new strategic plan. The correct decision sequence is strategy -> process -> structure. But too many senior managers ignore process, and even more restructure without any consideration of strategy.

Let’s hope Christy Clark and her new head of the civil service have more wisdom than to reorganize the civil service without a strategy, and then if they do reorganize, they get expert help from someone with deep expertise in structure and organization development. And let’s hope they’re fully aware that time-consuming and expensive organizational changes may not be left in place long enough to achieve the hoped-for benefits.

Copyright 2011 Knowlan Consulting Group Inc.

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