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Leader as Organization Designer


Like designers of buildings, organization designers must leverage what we know (the science) of organizations and systems with what is possible and not yet imagined (the art) to develop solutions that address many constraints and the needs of multiple stakeholders.

There are two main types of organization designers — formal leaders and informal leaders who help them. Formal leaders include those leading existing organizations that need to be redesigned and entrepreneurs who are designing the organization for this first time. These are the individuals with the power and responsibility to change how the organization operates. Also, there are a variety of organization designers who are informal leaders such as internal subject matter experts (SMEs) and external consultants who help the formal leaders.

Both formal and informal leader organization designers must be able to lead across functional boundaries to be successful. Organization designers are found at all levels of the organization, and their design efforts range from processes to systems to the overall structure and business model. What is needed to achieve sustainable excellence is for leaders to become architects of their organizations and [re]imagine and [re]invent them to create value for multiple stakeholders.

As Gary Hamel noted in his book The Future of Management,

“What is lacking is not insightful analysis, but truly bold and imaginative alternatives to the management status quo—and an army of innovators who have the stamina to reinvent management from the ground up” (p. 40).

The implications for leaders as organization designers might be,

“Successful leaders in the future will have to become architects of enduring organizations by designing systems that create sustainable results for multiple stakeholders” (Latham, 2012).

The mind of the organization designer is multi-dimensional and includes perspectives from multiple disciplines. The organization designer integrates practical, creative, and human dimensions to develop holistic designs that create value for multiple stakeholders. The organization designer is practical and incorporates engineering and business mindsets. At the same time, the organization designer uses research to inform the technical design of systems to produce the value intended. Also, the systems must make financial sense. In other words, they must deliver value — more value in output than the input. The organization designer also incorporates the human dimensions of both individuals and groups.


As part psychologist, the organization designer incorporates insights from psychology into the design of systems. The organization designer is also part anthropologist integrating how individuals work together and develop cultural norms. Finally, the complete organization designer is a creative designer that incorporates the possibilities of art and design into developing new and imaginative designs. This multi-disciplinary perspective informs the two essential organization designer competencies of leadership and design. Regardless of position or title, organization architects (leaders, entrepreneurs, and those who help them) must master two skills — leading transformation and organization design.


The journey to sustainable excellence is challenging and uncertain. Most change efforts fail to achieve their objectives mainly because leaders fail to set the example and personally see it through. The first step in the journey is for leaders to begin with themselves. As Gandhi proposed, you must become the change you want to see in the organization. Only then will you be credible.

Setting the example requires you to understand and apply the five key components of the leading transformation framework: forces and facilitators of change, leadership system, leadership style, culture, and the individual leader. The Leadership Framework presented here is based on the experiences of CEOs who led successful organization transformations that created sustainable value for multiple stakeholders (Latham, 2013a, 2013b). The flexible framework includes a design framework to help OAs [re]design the organization one design project at a time.


Leaders today face many challenges that require the design or redesign of organizational structures, systems, and processes to achieve and sustain high performance. Reaching your organization’s full potential demands organization and managerial systems that are custom-tailored to your unique situation. Best practices from other companies, consultants, and business books often work, yet they seldom achieve the high levels of performance possible with a “bespoke” (custom) solution.

The Design Framework guides you through the five phases of discovery, design, develop, deploy, and iterate (D4 + I) using a flexible approach for designing or redesigning any organization system, process, or practice (Latham, 2012). While the framework components are presented in sequence, the actual use of the framework is often an iterative give and take between the individual components. The first eight discovery components provide a springboard to the creative design process.

Organization system redesign is a common strategy deployment activity. Unfortunately, many organizations are much better at strategy development than they are at strategy deployment. The Design Framework increases the odds of successful and sustainable strategy deployment. The remainder of the book is organized around these two frameworks.


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