The world in which we work is changing quickly. Business leaders are more frequently evaluating their organizations’ operating models and structures to keep pace with dynamic environments and emerging competition, as well as to meet evolving customer needs. This means that organizational design initiatives are happening with increasing frequency — and the stakes for getting them right are incredibly high.

Organizational design is the process of aligning and optimizing an organization’s capabilities, culture, structure, processes and technology, people and talent practices, and metrics to drive the achievement of its strategy and goals. Each of these areas is critical for the full system to operate in an organizational redesign. From a talent perspective, success occurs when employees are equipped with the new skills and mindsets that allow them to take on the new roles, work and culture that power the changes required to drive organizational success. This can only happen when the organization aligns its talent and expertise to drive the design of its future and accelerate the speed of adoption of the new behaviors, skills and mindsets needed to enable that future state and drive culture shifts.

Saving a Seat for L&D at the Organizational Design Table

At its core, organizational design is about creating a holistic, aligned system through which work is done and organizational strategy is attained. To build that complex system, organization design is typically broken into a series of interconnected focus areas that build on each other. This process should be driven by a multidisciplinary team of experts, including sponsors, leaders and subject matter experts (SMEs) from across the organization, HR leaders and business partners, organizational design/development, learning and development (L&D), change management, and talent management to maximize the success of the new design.

As a L&D practitioner, you play a pivotal role in organizational design by equipping employees with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the shift to new ways of working, expected behaviors and culture change.

L&D plays a role in each step of organizational design:

  • Strategy: Understanding the organization’s strategy and the anticipated outcomes of the initiative at a deep level provides L&D experts the information needed to create learning solutions that will propel the organization toward meeting its goals.
  • Culture: If culture shift is part of the change, L&D should also be involved in creating solutions to enable the new culture and behaviors.
  • Organizational capabilities: An organization’s L&D team is often comprised of experts on the organization’s current talent strengths and opportunities. Business leaders are the experts on what future capabilities are needed to advance the organization. Collaboration between the two groups enables a full view of current and future talent capabilities that will drive the future state vision and strategy.
  • Organizational structure: L&D will need line of sight into the future state structure of the organization to begin planning for future knowledge, skill and ability needs.
  • Processes and technology: In this phase of organizational design, L&D needs to understand updated or new processes and technologies, conduct training needs analysis and plan for training to ensure compliance with the new ways of working.
  • People and talent practices: L&D should be involved in talent conversations because the team will be involved in new employee onboarding, as well as upskilling existing employees to prepare them to work in the new reality.
  • Metrics and measurement: Lastly, in this phase, training and learning metrics (completion, proficiency, etc.) can be good measures of adoption, change success (process compliance, etc.) and how the initiative is measured and reported.

This means that as a L&D leader, you should be involved from the beginning of an organizational design initiative through to the end. Being involved in the solution design early reduces project risks and ensures a more holistic organizational design solution, leading to a better outcome.

Ideally, the organizational design project lead is pulling all critical players to the table at the start of any engagement such as this. However, we all know that doesn’t always happen. As a L&D expert, it may be up to you to get yourself a seat at the organizational design table.

As a L&D practitioner, how can you make sure you are a part of the action? First, we recommend that you come prepared with a strong elevator pitch, or a persuasive speech that creates interest and conveys your ideas, on the importance of L&D in the organizational design process. This will help you convince the right people to let you pull up a chair.

Because organizational design impacts employees directly, change management should already be sitting at the table. If they’re not, they need to be involved to ensure successful adoption of the change. L&D is often included as a component of preparing employees for the change, so you should have some advocates for why you should also be involved in the organizational design process.

A 2020 article, “3 Ways Learning and Development Can Affect Change Management,” made the case for how L&D can have a strong impact on change management by arguing that ”[L&D] can engage from end to end in the design, development and delivery of the change management program, not simply the training portion of it.” A comprehensive change management approach should include L&D as a strategic partner, involved throughout the process, to ensure strong readiness to adopt the change. This is true not only for organizational design changes, but any transformation.

It is best not to wait until a change management practitioner comes to you, though. If you know about upcoming changes, get involved. Start by inserting yourself in the changes you know about by creating a business case to demonstrate why L&D should have a seat at the table. Is it because significant upskilling is needed? Are there significant process changes as a result of changing ways of working? Are roles changing because of the new organizational design? These are all areas where L&D specialists can provide incredible value to ensure the workforce is positioned for success when the change is implemented.

Strategically, it would be ideal to advocate for a change in the culture and practices of your organization. In close partnership with L&D and change management leaders, gain leadership buy-in with your business case and elevator pitch so that your organization’s leaders fully understand the value of an integrated approach. If your company has a strong learning culture, it will likely be easier to gain buy-in from leadership. However, if your company’s culture is less learning-focused, this may prove to be more challenging. If this is the case, we recommend partnering with change management or another influential team of experts (such as sponsors, leaders, and SMEs from across the organization related to the organizational change, HR leaders and business partners, and talent management) to assist with your business case and advocate for your involvement.

Organizations with more advanced capabilities may find it valuable to consider a structure similar to a program management office (PMO) where change management, program management and L&D are on the same team to ensure strong alignment across all disciplines. This integration can ensure fluid exchanges of information, which can be critical in a rapidly changing environment. It ensures everyone is working toward a shared objective and allows for work to occur in a more agile way by having more visibility to plans, upcoming changes and barrier points across the three teams, who can be proactive and course correct when needed.

Research conducted by Prosci (2016) has shown that 58% of participants that integrated program management and change management met or exceeded their project objectives. Because L&D should be well connected to change management, it can be argued that a strong partnership across all three disciplines in an organizational design initiative will increase the ability to meet project objectives and ensure a best-in-class experience for affected employees.

Benefits of Sitting at the Organizational Design Table

There are many benefits of having L&D practitioners involved in organizational design decisions that can help form your business case:

  • A holistic view of the organization’s organizational design strategy and its expected outcomes will enable the entire project team (including change management and L&D practitioners) to be better equipped to support, coach and grow employees through organizational changes.
  • A clear understanding of the knowledge, skills and resources employees need will ensure they are successful in the change and enable future organization growth.
  • Aligning desired behaviors and skills with organizational goals at the beginning, rather than retrofitting your strategy to the implementation plan later, minimizes impacts to the project timeline and ensures better end-state outcomes.
  • An L&D view of stakeholders’ learning needs will inform change management tactics and ultimately inform the organizational design implementation. All components are interconnected and should be documented in the implementation plan.
  • Enable leaders to be leaders of change. Training professionals support leaders through the change by reskilling them to lead in the new organization.
  • Setting employees up for success will ultimately increase employee engagement and satisfaction throughout the change, which will mitigate resistance, increase the speed of adoption and decrease the likelihood of turnover.

Go Be the Life of the Party

Hopefully, you now have all you need to get an invite to your organization’s next organizational design initiative. By inviting the right teams to priority initiatives, your organization will see increased speed of adoption, accelerated goal attainment and higher return on investment.