Organisation Design is no longer just for specialists

Press Releases

20 Jan 2016

All HR professionals need to understand the basics of organisation design, according to the author of a new guide published by the Institute for Employment Studies. OD consultant Sharon Varney explains that in the past organisation design was reserved for specialists, but now change is a constant. Ongoing adjustments to structures and ways of working have become the norm in many organisations, so HR practitioners ought to know how to meet the challenge.

In her paper, Varney outlines the five key challenges that organisations must navigate, before offering ten practical tips for success. Based on consulting experience and ongoing conversations with leading practitioners, the paper condenses the organisation design process to offer HR practitioners concrete steps they can take to unpick their situation. From this clearer starting place, they can improve the process and increase their chances of successful change. Following the steps in this paper will help practitioners to map out the process for themselves and design more effective organisations.

Sharon Varney, co-author of the popular report The Palace: Perspectives on Organisation Design, says ‘Organisation design is no longer an occasional activity conducted by specialists. With continuous change we’re seeing more HR professionals involved in organisation design work more frequently. But the problem is that they don’t necessarily think of what they are doing as organisation design.

‘So, let’s be clear, if you’re tinkering with structures or ways of working, you’re involved in organisation design. You are changing how the organisation works. Therefore you need to understand what organisation design is, the challenges you are likely to face, and how to address those challenges.

‘Real organisation change challenges demand a thought-through approach to organisation design.  There needs to be more talk about organisation design in the real world. There’s never a blank sheet of paper and, especially in large organisations, there are often multiple pieces of work happening at the same time’

Organisation Design: a framework for thinking about your own approach is the third in a series of concise papers for busy HR professionals and line managers. The HR Essentials series offers accessible advice based on IES research and extensive experience of working with organisations and leading practitioners.


The paper is available to download from the IES website:

Organisation Design: A framework

An embeddable infographic has also been published:

Infographic: Organisation Design


IES tweets from @EmploymtStudies

About IES

The Institute for Employment Studies is a leading independent, not-for-profit centre for research and evidence-based consultancy on employment, the labour market, and HR policy and practice.

About the author

Sharon Varney is a principal associate of the Institute for Employment Studies. She is a specialist in developing organisations and people. Her areas of expertise include leadership, learning and change. As both a consultant and as a researcher, Sharon thrives on creating clarity in complex and ambiguous change situations. She works at a strategic level, helping to create more effective organisations, and engages at a very human level, supporting people to manage personal change and transition.

Read Sharon’s full profile:

The HR Essentials series

Other topics in the HR Essentials series include:

  • Employee engagement, by Dilys Robinson
  • Performance Management, by Peter Reilly

Further reading

More from IES on organisation design and development: