Organisation re-design – HR’s role in reshaping for the future

Blog posts

1 Jun 2020

Ed Griffin

Ed Griffin, Director of HR Consultancy and Research

When the pandemic started to take hold in the UK, organisations were forced to re-shape, re-size and re-organise with limited or no time for planning. It seems likely that most organisations in the UK were “re-designed by default” with changes to structures, processes, systems, roles, locations, workplaces and people happening within a matter of days.

This was an extraordinary achievement driven by extreme circumstances, requiring the kind of decision-making and implementation speed that organisations rarely deploy. It required leaders to make a raft of changes that ranged from closing operations to moving staff to work from home, putting in place socially distanced working practices to making colleagues redundant.

As restrictions are lifted and organisations seek to re-establish more “normal” operations, there’s now a critical role that HR has to play in helping shape their organisation for a very different future from the one they may have been planning for just 3 months ago. One of the challenges for HR teams is to make the head space for, and ensure they have the capability to focus on, Organisation Design. For some organisations, Organisation Design was left to the preferences of senior leaders but there is now a unique opportunity for HR teams to lead this work that could enable their organisation to recover and renew.

With such major levels of change it can be hard to know where to start. A logical starting point could be to ensure the senior team have identified and agreed the most likely scenarios that the organisation will face. The next point could be to check that you know what your organisation has become through the changes. This means ensuring you can document what has changed in processes, systems, structures, roles, locations, workplaces and people. HR teams need to be able to identify what the impact of those changes has been. This could include:

  • What is working better?
  • What’s been the impact on health and well-being?
  • What’s been the impact on performance?
  • What have we identified that isn’t as important as we thought?
  • What’s been the impact on governance?
  • Who’s been negatively or positively impacted by the changes?

A practical next step for looking at the necessary re-design, could be to explore the idea of the Minimum Viable Organisation (MVO). Put simply, what do you now think is the simplest (and potentially lowest cost) way you can deliver on your strategy? If you can answer this, it can enable an organisation to then see what the heart of their design is. It’s like the Organisational Design equivalent of Zero-based Budgeting.

For some organisation leaders there may now be an understandable rush to cut costs and if working from home has been reasonably successful, then cutting office space and overheads may be particularly attractive. HR’s role in this may be both to challenge and support as the benefits should not be one-sided in favour of the organisation. We know from our own survey that for some, working from home is a having a negative impact on health and well-being. It is important that HR is able to provide the quantitative and qualitative data that ensures a robust and balanced case is made for any longer-term changes to design. The consequences of a broader move to home working may not be fully understood and there are already anecdotally some examples emerging of potential downsides. If an organisation shifts to having more of a mixed workforce with some staff home-based and others office-based, it will be vital that HR teams are alert to the potential unintended consequences. For example, does a physical presence in the office give a disproportionate ability to influence, and does working from home create a further burden on women when they are the primary care provider?

Where the effort is to be focused on job design, there is an opportunity to specifically consider the design for the health and well-being of the job holder. This could allow roles to be re-designed in ways that consciously consider the health and well-being impacts of the work and find the most beneficial route to getting a job done. Taking this one step further, it could be the time to trial job crafting as a way of potentially improving job engagement and performance.

So, whilst your organisation may have faced a complete re-design driven by the crisis, now is a good opportunity for HR teams to take the lead in a systematic approach to establish a more effective and more viable organisational model. And as ever, we advocate starting with some robust data about your organisation!

If you’d like to talk to us about how IES can help you in approaching and managing the re-design of your organisation, please contact Ed at

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.