The real work is (often) not about the system

My work with my clients who have built their own businesses often looks like org design and work systems.

But that’s just the surface.

Someone who is talented and entrepreneurial enough to build a business from their own kitchen table to being able to cover the lease agreement for offices that house 30+ staff has no trouble understanding the work.

That’s not the issue, and heading to another seminar, or listening to someone like me describe what has to happen is not going help.  It’s the equivalent of reading more recipe books as a method to get some food on the table.

The challenge is to see this work as the business priority.  And there are multiple signals available that can be used as a way to put this work off until later.  Cash flow is a great one, and might even be the case.  Organising a group of people to do great work is definitely no longer an issue if we can’t make payroll.  Pressing needs of what we might call ‘pillar’ clients is another.

Read more…

A Talk – Designing for Quality Leadership

Adam ACSA May 2017

Something different this time around – a talk!  I spoke recently at the Leadership, Culture and Governance Symposium put on by Aged & Community Services Australia in Adelaide.

The topic – Designing for Quality Leadership   The point?  Leadership depends as much on your organisational design as it does the people in the jobs, so….stop fidgeting and start building something! 

Click here to watch.  Goes for about 40 minutes, and sorry about the hissing at the start – that blissfully goes away at 4:15.

It’s the stuff we teach in detail in our workshops and our online learning so you can design departments and enterprises where people can do great work.

And…if you’d like to see what was on the screen, or want the super-quick version,  click here to see the slides.  I’ve written short explanations on many of them so they make sense even without the presentation itself.

Feel free to download and distribute the slides to those who might be interested if you think it might help create a conversation that makes your place better.

Thanks to Derek Dittrich from ACSA and Tim Levett for the video production.

As always, if there is anything I can help with, just let me know.


Why do you use this ‘requisite’ stuff?

“So you’re telling me you want to help me to get my 1,500 people to align behind delivering the strategy I’ve put in place and you’re going to use thinking from the 1950s?”

It was a fair point!  I’d known Mary for a while, she loved to learn by challenging.  “Let me ask you this.” I ventured carefully.  “Would you say gravity existed in the 1950s?”


“And would you say it’s a relevant principle to be observed by those doing work that involves things falling?”


“And do you know when Newton first put forward his concept of gravity?”

“Well I know it wasn’t yesterday” said Mary.  “When was it?”

“It was the late 1600s.” I answered.  “So anyone using gravity is using principles that were first written about over 300 years ago.  And they are still using them today.  So I wouldn’t call that an old theory, I’d be more likely to call that a well-founded and useful theory”.

“But Einstein showed that a lot of Newton’s work wasn’t quite right didn’t he?”

“Sure….if you’re getting near the speed of light Newton doesn’t hold up so good.  And particularly if you’re Neo and you swallow the red pill.  But remember, when we’re choosing principles, it’s about which ones work best in terms of explaining and predicting what’s going on.  And Newton’s law of gravity does a pretty good job in most cases.”

“OK….so what’s this got to do with the price of eggs?”

“Well, let me go back one more step first.  Did gravity exist before Newton?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, were things floating around all over the place until that supposed apple happened to hit Newton on the scone, then suddenly he wrote stuff down and things stuck to the ground?”

“I see what you’re getting at.  Connect the dots for me”.

“The principles we use explain why organisations are going the way they are and predict how they are likely to go in the future in terms of letting their people deliver effectively and allow them to use their full capabilities.  The principles were always there.  A guy called Elliott Jaques pieced a lot of it together, others such as Gillian Stamp, another researcher named Luc Hoebeke and countless more all combine to uncover the principles of how human capability works within organisations, and how to arrange and organise things so people can do their best work.” Read more…

Different Level…Different Bang for Buck


There’s an easy way to distinguish the different work at successive levels in the organisation.   Look at the bang for buck each level is expected to contribute, not just in terms of ‘what about’, but ‘by when’.   Including a timeframe allows us to set up middle and executive management that can add real value, while allowing the frontline to get on with their work.

It works like this for the first three levels in the organisation, which are all about delivering:

1a) Frontline: Deliver bang for buck today, or in a matter of weeks. Read more…