The last couple of years I have been exploring design, particularly architecture and product design. I am motivated to learn more because I can see how it can guide and improve my work with organizational people systems. In this post I want to explore a few of Dieter Rams design principles and how they might apply to designing people systems.
Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer and academic. He was chief of design at Braun for 40 years, and for the furniture company, Vitsoe. I was introduced to his work when my husband installed Vitsoe cabinets and shelves in his home office about 12 years ago. They are so simple, beautiful and well designed. They are extremely well made and functional. Even though they are wall mounted, when you move, you take your Vitsoe with you.
I think of Rams as the best kind of visionary because he is practical. He started thinking about the environmental impact of products long before it was fashionable. He didn’t want products to need to be replaced because he understood how wasteful it is. One of his principles is that products should be designed to last. Though I find all of Rams ten design principles relevant to my work in organization development, I will start with a few and perhaps do a follow up post on a few more.
When I work with a team or an individual, I want to make their job easier, to make an impact on their performance and their business success. They are taking precious time away from their day-to-day work for an hour, a day or more, and what we do together must be useful to them. This requires a lot of collaboration and planning up front to figure out what they really need, which may be very different than what they say they want in our first meeting.
Rams believes that the aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness. However, only “well executed products can be beautiful”, so quality really matters. For my work this means that the organization design, process or practice needs to be thoughtfully introduced, explained and implemented. It needs to appeal enough to the participants that they take the risk to engage in using it. When they do practice, they have the requisite coaching and support to get started, and it works as promised. They are motivated to keep practicing.
One specific example from my work is designing performance management systems. I have collaborated with many clients to create or update their system and process. Performance management too often involves complicated, long, detailed processes and forms. Most are automated and connected to the HRIS system. But it’s not uncommon for managers and employees to be frustrated with them. They can easily become a “check the box” exercise. If they are complicated and time consuming, the focus becomes about completing them and turning them in. It’s easy to miss the real point of this important organizational ritual.
The main goal of a performance management system is to ensure that the organization is fully acknowledging the value creation and enablement of all its employees. If well designed and executed it serves as a structured, equitable process for recognizing and rewarding the contribution of all employees, based upon qualitative and quantitative data. It can better align compensation with contribution, and help identify employee’s development needs. If your system is working well, managers and employees use it because they see how it benefits them and the organization. And it allows them to celebrate, in a more formal way, all of their contributions.
I see more innovation and improvement with performance management systems. When I work with a client on this type of process, I want whatever approach they choose to align with their expectations and outcomes. And I want the system to be well thought out, meaningful to managers and employees alike, easy to use and worth the effort.
Good design is needed everywhere. And it is even more important when organizations are trying to evolve, improve, change or transform an institutional system. Any change is difficult enough. Good, well executed design has the potential to make change efforts more successful. Well designed and implemented people systems and processes can help create more productive and meaningful workplaces, and ultimately improve organization performance.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 21 years ago to collaborate with leaders, teams and organizations to create more productive, effective, and human people systems and practices. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
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Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.