Jaimini Lakhani, Director, Lumiere


Management strategy expert Gary Hamel shared a thought-provoking philosophy at the Burberry annual ‘Top 150’ executive meeting I attended some years ago. He believes the factor most likely to limit the performance of an organisation in precarious times is its management model.  

Recent years have seen tremendous innovation in technology (iPhone, Amazon, Tesla), supply chain (drone delivery), finance (Bitcoin, Fintech, Revolut) and marketing (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). However, there has been a lack of continuous innovation in management and management processes.  

This is a problem. The start of the decade has already been unpredictable. The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented and potentially long-term challenges for businesses, alongside further geopolitical and economic turmoil, technological upheaval, never-before-seen workforce demographics (as five generations work side by side) and unpredictable consumer behaviour (uprooting high street retail). Can we rely on management thinking from decades ago to navigate us through these uncharted waters?  

In a competitive world, an innovative management model might be the only advantage an organisation can draw on. Identifying and implementing such a model requires specialist skills. Who should be driving this forward?  

The answer from my vantage point is to place organisation design and development (OD&D) capability at the highest levels of management. CEOs and ambitious executives should have access to this capability as they navigate the uncharted waters of the next decade. However, there are a number of challenges facing the OD&D community that mean the capabilities of OD&D practitioners don’t always add the strategic value they could in an organisation.

Defining organisation design and development

Explaining the value of organisation development and organisation design is complex, as there is no accepted definition for either discipline. New entrants into this field and even recruiters are often bamboozled by the plethora of definitions. This makes it difficult to embed these practices into the highest levels of management.  

According to the CIPD Advanced Award in Organisation Design and Development (source: Naomi Stanford and Linda Holbeche): ‘Organisation design is largely about the formal elements of an organisation, and organisation development is about the behavioural and social elements. They both note that there is no one, agreed “right” definition.’  

More important than the definition is the value that organisation design brings. For the seasoned organisation design professional, there is no mystery that organisation design requires ‘whole systems’ thinking to extract tangible business performance. The notion that whole systems thinking is essential was established decades ago and still holds true.  

In other words, organisation design requires an in-depth understanding of formal structures and systems – strategy, commerciality, operational elements and governance. It focuses on the future. This long-term outlook is essential – and is critical within the top levels of management.  

Organisation development complements this with a focus on behavioural and social science – that is to say, people, their individual styles and collective norms, and how they work within an organisation’s structures and systems. Expertise in developing leadership, people and behaviours helps employers ensure people can thrive within structures and systems.

How do OD&D fit together

To be successful, we must articulate the value and impact of organisation design and development. This is challenging when there are multiple definitions of each discipline and no defined skill sets.  

These are undoubtedly complementary, interweaving skill sets. And, importantly, organisation design requires an organisation development capability. Organisation design practitioners need an understanding of how people and styles might operate within the structures and systems before narrowing down on viable design options. Organisation design cannot thrive and fuel success without this understanding. 

Organisation design and development can deliver more value when the skill sets are brought together. They also thrive when they are strategic, multi-disciplinary and aligned with the mission and purpose of the organisation. It is entirely appropriate that any CEO would want to engage directly with this strategic capability. If they do so, they stand to gain the unique skills and expertise on systems, structures and people that are required for successful transformation.

How OD&D successfully work together

In the summer of 2012, I was nearing two years in my role as the first vice president of organisation design for Burberry. The CEO had decided to buy back the licence agreement from Interparfums that was responsible for making Burberry’s fragrances and beauty products. That decision would cost €181 million

In this critical time, the CEO wanted me to take accountability for designing the organisation and for my development colleague to fill that design with the best talent possible. Bringing design and development together, our mission was the critical lynchpin that would support Burberry’s success following a move that had ruffled investors’ feathers. The CEO recognised the importance of aligning systems and people with the mission of the organisation – key aspects of organisation design and development. 

We worked in close partnership across all initiatives to ensure that both organisation design and development were covered. Bringing these skills together allowed us to deliver a large-scale project successfully in a short timeframe, ensuring the operating models were viable and the required talent was in place. 

In 2015, when the British Council hired its first external CEO, the geopolitical landscape was in overdrive. As their first director of organisation design and development, I was tasked with injecting OD&D capability into a multi-million-pound transformation programme. 

This role also highlighted the importance of having design and development capability. Without this capability, the current transformation programme had stalled somewhat. This is often the case when local teams are not equipped to deliver change; operational matters take priority. In addition, in the long term, systems thinking brought by organisation design practitioners means transformation can adapt quickly enough to market needs. Having design and development capability to deliver on this ensures change-readiness, especially when transformation is focused on large-scale operating models. An organisation design specialist navigating change programmes must pull on development and change experts as part of any operating model alteration.  

In my experience, recognising the value of OD&D at board level, and bringing these capabilities together, is imperative for organisations to deliver on transformation.

Challenges for OD&D

Positively, organisation design and development seem to be gaining a higher profile. There are an increasing number of job adverts calling for ‘organisation design’ skills. Less positively, these job profiles are often confusing and ask for a vast number of skills related to organisation development and design. This includes skills from mastery-level facilitation, negotiation and consultation, to an in-depth understanding of strategic planning, change management, programme management and implementation models. Adverts often ask for the impossible candidate, highlighting that businesses aren’t always clear on the complementary, but different, skill sets that organisation design and development professionals can offer.  

Organisations often assume that someone with organisation development experience has design skills. While individuals can have both of these capabilities, in my experience, there is a lack of specialist design capability. When I have needed to hire individuals with strategic organisation design skills, for example, the ability to implement high-level operating models, the ‘organisation design’ on the CV largely amounted to HR and/or change experience. Change management often gets conflated with organisation design and development, making it even more complex to find the right skills for the roles.  

If hiring managers and senior leaders don’t understand the capabilities that an organisation design practitioner offers them, it’s up to us as professionals to communicate our value. Similarly, development professionals need to communicate the unique value they bring to an organisation. 

Valuing OD&D

During a breakout session at the CIPD Organisation Development and Design Conference in 2018, I was keen to hear the experience of other colleagues. What I heard in the main was disheartening. Organisation design practitioners were often handed organisation charts and simply asked to make changes. Organisation development practitioners had similar issues around communicating the impact of their work. Many individuals had come to the conference to learn how to initiate a conversation around ‘OD&D’. ‘How do I get people to understand the value?’ they asked.  

The fact that business leaders still believe that organisation design relates purely to organisation structure, and don’t understand what organisation development really is, points to a fundamental flaw in the collective education about this capability. 

Many practitioners spend their time trying to convince business leaders about the importance of OD&D, differentiating these capabilities from other HR specialisms and change management. This is a sad state of affairs for critical disciplines that have been around for more than half a century and could determine whether organisations will thrive or fail in the turbulent times to come. 

Placing OD&D at the heart of business

Organisation design needs to be a core business capability. This would address formal and informal structures and systems, in addition to harnessing the behavioural and social science skills associated with organisation development. It should be both strategic and operational, analytical and intuitive. This is a broad skill set and requires the leader of this function to be aware of the capabilities of their team, hire the right skills, and ensure a blend of design and development thinking.  

I believe organisations can immediately change aspects of how they position organisation design to elevate this capability and enable it to thrive at a strategic level: 

  • Assign OD&D capability to the company’s most pressing issues. These are often complex enterprise problems, where there is no clear accountability. This is the ‘white space’ where organisation design should take the lead and work with organisation development practitioners to make the most impact. Do not make organisation design a ‘work stream’ in a big programme or tuck it into ‘transformation’.  

  • Champion and elevate OD&D capabilities. Ensure that senior leaders and the rest of the business have a clear understanding of what OD&D can offer, and ensure the skills are in place to do the job. HR and OD&D are all distinct capabilities that can operate strategically, from different angles. All these disciplines would benefit from embracing and understanding the distinctions. 

  • Have the right conversations about the value of OD&D. Even today I hear the question ‘Where does it sit?’ The fact that we are still asking this question means we are asking the wrong question. In my experience, how organisation design is ‘treated’ and perceived in an organisation is much more crucial than ‘where it sits’. This is about how the capability is allowed to operate. The individual must be confident to have multi-disciplinary conversations – equally comfortable talking commercials with the Chief Financial Officer as they are debating the behavioural implications of talent initiatives with the Chief People Officer. They must also have the confidence to initiate and facilitate a concise discussion with the CEO and the board. 

I call out to business leaders and practitioners who have experienced the transformative impact of this discipline. Join me in proactively raising awareness of the role and unique skills of organisation design and development professionals. 

The CIPD’s series on the state of play in organisation development can be found here.

Jaimini Lakhani

Jaimini Lakhani

Jaimini runs her own consulting practice, Lumiere, where she specialises in working with organisations of all sizes through pivotal moments of change.  She has worked in diverse industries - private, public and third sector, from construction to retail, from China to South Africa.   Her clients include well known companies such as Accenture, Burberry, British Council, Heathrow and the Ministry of Justice.  Jaimini also applies her knowledge and experience in supporting start-ups such as Aha Retail Partners where she is a non-executive board member. 

She is a guest lecturer at Claude Littner Business School, University of West London and certified to train CIPDs Advanced Organisation Design and Development accreditation course. Born in Uganda, educated in the USA and now based in the UK, she enjoys blending her personal and work-based international experience towards business challenges


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