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What if conversation design could save you from org design?

When I was seven, my mom caught me – hammer in hands – seconds from smashing my piggy bank to bits (I was jonesing for some Juicy Fruit, goes the story).

After disarming me, she lifted the pig up to show me I could simply dislodge the rubber stopper, and the coins would release.

Her solution was cleaner, simpler, and notably less damaging to the ceramic beast.

I see her influence as I realize just how many times I’ve talked a client into putting the hammer down.

My bias is never to smash the beast when a gentler solution will do.

I’m working presently on an operating model refresh with a professional services organization.

Roles and responsibilities are unclear, and the customer experience messy as a result.

The CEO is frustrated – holding a hammer ready to strike. But I convinced him to lay it down.

He came asking for redesigned org charts, complex process maps, and decision-rights matrices – all of which an organization can experience like a hammer to the head.

I’ve nudged him toward a different approach – cleaner, simpler, and less injurious to the beast.

Instead of an org redesign, we’re leaning into Conversation Design. Because how many of their internal operating issues could be solved – or at least massively improved – by the right stakeholders having the right conversations at the right moments?

We’ve crafted an engagement that will steer us away from an ocean-boiling, and toward a focus on the highest-priority opportunity areas.

In case your team or organization is experiencing unclarity, I’d love to offer you insight into how we’re structuring this six-week engagement. If you’re able to extract an insight, it’s our pleasure!

Here’s what our approach looks like:

  • We begin with design principles. What guardrails will we put in place that will inform and direct each choice we make in the operating model?
  • Next we focus on opportunity identification. Which pain points, if resolved, would have the most significant positive impact on the organization and the customer?
  • We move from there into Role Call – inviting the head of each function to capture the essence of their function in a single page: defining purpose, core deliverables, performance indicators, critical capabilities, and what the other functions can expect of them (kind of like a Service Level Agreement).
  • Next up? Conversation Design. What conversations must happen in order to resolve our priority pain points? We’ll use our Role Calls to determine whose capabilities and inputs are required at which points in the conversation, determining…
  1. What event or signal triggers Conversation #1? (i.e., a customer complaint)
  2. Who needs to participate in that Conversation? (i.e., Sales, Client Management, and Product)
  3. What questions must be answered? (i.e., what went wrong and why; what would a better outcome have looked like)
  4. What are our next steps and who will take them? (i.e., Sales to identify alternative solutions); Client Management to offer them and circle back with feedback, etc.)
  5. What will trigger Conversation #2? (i.e., approaching that customer’s renewal date)?
  6. And then we repeat at Trigger #2
  7. And the last bit? We’ll identify team commitments – challenging them to articulate the habits, practices, and actions must they all honor to bring their Role Calls to life.

From there, with the hard work done, we organize, document, and package up an artifact for the client who now has a simplified, self-created operating model in hand.

Does it sound clean and simple? We think so. Will it be more impactful in practice than swim lanes and RACI’s? Oh we believe so. Will it require a hammer? Heck no.