Archives for November 2011

Designing Organizations: From the Inside Out

“We trained hard but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized… I was to learn later in life that… we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be of creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization.” (Charlton Ogburn, (1957), reflecting on his experience as a soldier during WWII).

It’s a familiar story. While organizational design is not new – for centuries leaders have experimented with the best way to structure their kingdoms, armies, churches, factories, and governments – our track record has been less than stellar. Intuitively, we know that organizational design must enable employees to be more innovative, service oriented, connected, and efficient. Yet, we lack a practical framework for generating novel designs; ones that enable people to realign their focus, develop new capabilities, shift resources, and build alternative networks, all in service of making the right work easy. As a result, when it comes to design, many restructuring efforts are based on tweaks, cuts, and add-ons, instead of an open-minded and fresh exploration of what “ideally” needs to be.

Appreciating that most design decisions involve complex tradeoffs that favour chosen capabilities at the expense of others, designers need to be rooted in a deep understanding of their design goals, which we refer to as design criteria. Once defined, the design criteria become the North Star, or new DNA, so to speak, for designers as they turn to developing and testing prototypes before solidifying chosen elements into the full-blown design.

Our step-by-step process leads designers through a series of targeted conversations that move from defining the focus, scope, and aims of the design effort, to collecting insights from people in the know to shape design criteria, to building those insights into prototypes for testing, to codifying recommendations for action. Importantly, each conversation builds from and becomes a platform for each subsequent conversation, so that designers learn their way forward. This article describes the integral steps in the organizational design process: define, discovery, design, and do.

The “How” of Design

Perhaps the best way to understand the organizational design process is by living it with your own case as an example. Accordingly, I ask that you select an organization – it can be a team, department, division, or whole organization – as your unit of analysis.

Define: Conversations set the focus, scope, and boundaries of the design initiative, as well as the involvement strategy of who to involve and how.

Step 1: Environmental Scanning

A myriad of factors in your organization’s environment – customer expectations, demographic shifts, technological advancements, new legislation – combine to define the agenda for strategic and structural renewal. We therefore begin by getting a clear handle on the events, trends, and developments that are impacting your organization’s success and viability. What’s going on in the competitive, technological, social, and political landscape? What are the implications for your organization in terms of challenges and opportunities? This step can be completed in a number of ways. Some organizations create detailed trends reports, some engage trends experts to educate them, and some employ tools like trends mapping to aid their conversations. By the end of this step, designers will be firmly rooted in the trends, events, and developments that are driving the redesign effort.

Step 2: Diagnosing Fitness with the Good Design Tests

Now that you are rooted in an understanding of the drivers for change, you can test the “fitness” of your current design to meet those challenges and opportunities. The Good Design Tests help designers develop a common appreciation of their design issues – or cracks in the foundation – that have been leading to a deterioration in efficiency and effectiveness. Typical design issues, or cracks, include an inability to adapt, role confusion, duplication of work, poor relationships, unclear authority, insufficient resources, and in some cases, an inability for people to focus on the core, value-added work. For a full description of the Good Design Tests refer to IRC article, Designing Organizations: A Blueprint for Effectiveness by Brenda Barker Scott. The Design Tests have been adapted from Gould and Campbell (2002).

Envision each test, described below, as an alternative lens from which to explore your current design. This multi-lens discovery is meant to provide a holistic and rigorous diagnosis of the fitness of your current form, in light of your organizational challenges and opportunities.

Fit for Strategy Test: Does your design enable members to focus on and achieve your strategy-the core, value-added work?

The Flexibility Test: Does your design enable people to adapt to day to day irregularities, developing strategies, and future challenges?

Capabilities and Resources Test: Does your design focus resources on and enable the execution of required capabilities?

Relationships Test: Does your design permit seamless/easy interactivity between areas that need to cooperate and collaborate?

Accountability Test: Do people know who has accountability for what? Are they enabled to make decisions and act?

People Test: Do we understand the job roles that are critical to organizational success (pivotal roles for now and in the near future)? Are we able to fill them with talented people?

Leadership Test: Do our leaders understand their core roles? Do our leaders at each level of the hierarchy offer knowledge or coordination benefit?

Feasibility Test: Do we understand, and are we operating within, the constraints bounding our design? Constraints can be financial, technological, legislative, resource related.

As designers reflect on each test, they will identify the design issues, or cracks, that need to be addressed via the design process.

Depending on the focus, breath and depth of design issues identified, the work may require fine-tuning within a unit, or a full-blown examination of multiple units and levels. If, for example, the current organizational form does not easily permit people to focus on the right work, or to develop core capabilities, or to coordinate activities, the scope of the work will be quite broad. On the other hand, if the current form permits the right kinds of work focus, flexibility, and connectivity, but blocks accountability, then accountability will be the primary focus.

Step 3: Involvement Planning

With a good appreciation of your focus and scope, designers can now identify the key stakeholders – they may be subject matter experts, customers, partners, leaders – who need to be involved to provide input, guidance, feedback and direction along the way.

Think of your involvement strategy as achieving two concurrent and necessary aims:

  • Who needs to be involved because they need to lead within the new system? These stakeholders, typically in supervisory roles, will be charged with creating the context for their staff to work within the new design. If they do not understand the nuances of the new design – the new capabilities, working relationships, working principles – or if they do not support it, they will not be catalysts and the design will not be fully realized.
  • Who else needs to be involved because they have expertise, perspective and knowledge that will lead to a more robust and realistic outcome? To identify these individuals, think about all of the stakeholders who are a part of the system you are designing. Bring them together in working communities so that they can share their input, as well as learn from each other about the inner workings of their whole system. As people share and learn, a fuller picture starts to take shape, for both “what is” and “what can be,” thus dissolving the boundaries and creating the capacity of the system to see itself more fully.

Discovery: Conversations uncover the design criteria (or aspirations) for the renewed organization.

Step 4: Create Design Criteria

Employed as a creative tool, the design tests can be used to generate a series of design criteria that capture the core essence of what the organization needs to be designed to do. The design criteria becomes the DNA, providing deep insight into an organization’s core work, required capabilities, resources, key relationships, decision rights, leadership, and essential people qualities.

For example, the design criteria for a Strategic Services Unit may be as follows:

We need to be designed to:

  • Equip managers with the information, perspective and analysis they need to make strategic and operational decisions.
  • Provide outreach and education to managers on policies and directives.
  • Provide analysis and tools to streamline and simplify processes and decision making for managers.

Design criteria need to provide specific and targeted direction related to a key aspect of organizational design, mainly insights around: the focus of work, the degree of flexibility, core competencies and resources, key relationships, and so on. Later in the process, design criteria will be selected to form the backbone of how units are shaped, linked, resourced, and led. Design:

Design: Conversations turn to prototyping, testing, and refining straw model design concepts.

Steps 5 & 6: Create and Test Design Concepts

Once we have the design criteria, we can move to shaping the actual form of the organization. There are essentially three building blocks of form; they are groupings, linkages and processes, and protocols.

Groupings define how people are clustered into departments, divisions, units, and teams. In essence groupings create the division of labour.

Linkages define how people are connected for the purposes of cooperation, collaboration, and learning. Linkages define the nature and purpose of the vertical and lateral networks. They are accomplished via a combination of linking mechanisms such as cross-functional teams, liaison roles and technology.

Processes and protocols capture how core work is to be completed by specifying process steps, working methods, and philosophical principles that underpin the work. As an example, the award-winning firm IDEO has created a four-stage product design process that underpins all their work. As leader Dave Kelly remarks, “We are experts on the process of how you design stuff. So we don’t care if you give us a toothbrush or a toothpaste tube, a tractor, a space shuttle, a chair, it’s all the same to us. We, like, want to figure how to innovate by using our process and applying it” (ABC Deep Dive, 1999)

Prototyping design concepts is meant to be a playful, generative process. Based on Bertalanffy’s (1968) principle of equifinality, there is more than one path to success, or in our case, more than one feasible design option. Accordingly, designers are tasked with creating design concepts, which can be compared and tested, before detailing the full-blown design.

Design concepts enable the designers to envision how the organization can be grouped, linked, and led. To begin, designers select a set of design criteria to form the backbone of each potential grouping or process. Based on the intelligence from the design criteria, core work tasks are shaped, core relationships are designed, and appropriate protocols and processes are crafted. Once envisioned, design concepts can be compared, contrasted and tested with relevant stakeholders. From this testing stage, new ideas can be surfaced, and combined to arrive at a final design.

Do: Conversations are focused on codifying recommendations for action, seeking approvals, and communicating plans and involvement strategies for implementation.

Step 7: Implementation Planning

With the design concepts fully formed, designers are now ready to move to implementation planning. Key implementation considerations include pacing and phasing, communications, staff placement, transitioning to new work, providing enabling supports, and detailing the next level design.

In many ways “next level” design is round two of the process, however in a streamlined and more focused way. We can think of the design process as a cascading set of design phases, whereby the process repeats itself at each successive level. We often begin with the corporate level, which is akin to creating the foundational framing, to provide the overarching corporate structure and the divisions. Next we move to designing within each division to define the departments, then units, and then teams. Job descriptions are created at each level, as sufficient clarity permits.

An Inside Out Approach

This approach to design is a decidedly inside out. Contrary to popular practice, before we begin to play with the form – the groupings, linkages, processes and protocols – we first develop a deep appreciation of the foundational design criteria. Rooted in the organization’s strategic goals, we consider capabilities, resources, relationships, people and leadership criteria that become the North-Star for the prototypes. Design criteria free us from the constraints of the current form to imagine a new set of DNA, which in turn, generate alternative sets of processes, protocols, relationships, resources, and technologies. When, on the other hand, one begins with form first, by moving, cutting or merging units, or rethinking and reworking processes, the design will continue to be built from yesterday’s design criteria, and an opportunity for forward-thinking and open-minded exploration is lost.

What does your organization need to be designed to do? Follow our process, step-by-step to create the foundation for your “fit for purpose” design.



ABC’s Nightline. “Deep Dive.” Filmed 1999. Posted December 2, 2009.,.

Gould, Michael, & Andrew Campbell. Designing effective organizations: how to create structured networks, SanFrancisco: John Wiley and Sons, 2002.

Ludwig Von, Bertalanffy, (1962). “General system theory – A critical review.” General Systems 7 (1) 20.

Ogburn, Charlton, (1957). Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure. Harpers Magazine, January.

Brenda Barker Scott is a facilitator with Queen’s IRC Organizational Development programs, including the Organizational Design training program.

Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation: Post-Program Perspectives

In 2009, the IRC conducted a survey of LR professionals to glean their insights on the level of skills, knowledge, and abilities required for the profession. The survey also explored the amount of time LR professionals were spending on certain LR tasks. Based on this research, led by Anne Grant and Stephanie Noel, the IRC determined that Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation is a critical skill that LR professionals must hone. Accordingly, earlier this year, the IRC launched its inaugural Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program. The program is part of the IRC’s new Advanced Labour Relations certificate, which builds on the skills and knowledge acquired in the Labour Relations certificate series. The Advanced Labour Relations certificate includes three programs: Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation (launched in April 2011), Strategic Grievance Handling (launching in May 2012), and Optimizing the Labour-Management Relationship: Leadership Skills for LR professionals (launching in 2013).

I recently spoke with two participants from the April 2011 Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program. During our conversations, the participants were asked to reflect on their IRC experience and provide their honest feedback on the program, including not only the positive aspects of the program, but the ways in which the IRC can improve the program moving forward. This article provides a summary of my conversations with Larry Sparks and Lori Aselstine.

Mr. Larry Sparks is an HR Manager with Omya Canada Inc. In his role, Mr. Sparks is responsible for investigating grievances and employee complaints. The Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program was relevant for Mr. Sparks because it gave him a guide for the fact-finding process. In particular, he came away from the IRC’s programming with a grievance model and the ability to ensure that “all parties are more comfortable with investigation reports.” The program exceeded his expectations, balancing theoretical knowledge with a practical, adaptable model that easily translated to his workplace and the work he is doing.

Mr. Sparks commented on the importance of networking during the program. Throughout the program, Mr. Sparks had the opportunity to dialogue with peers, and talk about organizational issues. As a result of the conversations he had with program participants, he realized the extent to which the problems and scenarios he is faced with are similar to those experienced by his colleagues. Informal learning was a helpful component of the program. Mr. Sparks referred to the IRC’s program as, “good value for your money.” He heard from senior subject matter experts and learned from their expertise. “The quality of the instructors is important to the success of the program,” said Mr. Sparks.

Ms. Lori Aselstine is currently the Director of Strategic HR with the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care and Health Promotion and Sport in the Ontario Public Service (OPS). This is a new role for her; when she engaged in the IRC’s program she was the Director of the Centre for Employee Relations for the OPS. She chose to participate in the IRC’s programming because it targeted the work she was responsible for managing. Her employees were intimately involved in fact-finding investigations and she provided advice and guidance to employees in these roles. Ms. Aselstine attended the program with the goal of evaluating its relevancy and applicability for the public service. That is, to determine if her staff and colleagues should register in the program, or if her organization should develop a custom Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program.

While Ms. Aselstine’s role has since changed, she remains involved with ensuring that people in the public service have the right kinds of skills and knowledge regarding fact-finding and investigation to facilitate their day-to-day work. In her 31 years of experience in the LR field, Ms. Aselstine has participated in hundreds of investigations. The IRC’s programming, however, was a chance for her to learn more about the preparation and organization of an investigation, and improve her skills in questioning witnesses.

Ms. Aselstine praised the IRC program for its hands-on learning opportunities. “The program has a good mix of lectures and practical exercises. This kind of experiential learning provides a chance to apply the skills and knowledge that are being taught in the program,”

Based on her IRC experience, Ms. Aselstine walked away from the program thinking “how can I bring this training in-house to the public service?” A custom program would allow the material to be directly targeted to human resources, labour relations and occupational health & safety specialists and others responsible for managing investigations. Ms. Aselstine realizes that Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation is “so important for us in a workplace of 60,000 people that is 80% unionized. The program would provide one more tool to facilitate investigations.”

In closing, the IRC is grateful to Larry Sparks and Lori Aselstine for their participation in this initiative. Post-program conversations with participants are a component of our program evaluation strategy, allowing our participants to reflect on their learning and provide us with their critical feedback on our programs.

The IRC promotes its programs as an opportunity to “Learn. Apply. Transform.” We perceive the feedback received from participants as an opportunity for the IRC to learn, apply, and transform. Speaking with participants enables us to learn more about the professional development needs of our client community, reflect on and apply the insights we glean to improve our programming, thereby transforming our programs to better meet the needs of our participants and their sponsor organizations. Suggestions for improving the IRC’s Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program included spending more time on role-playing and report writing, through group work and practical exercises. The IRC strives to create an experiential learning experience for our participants. This feedback underscores the perceived value of the hands-on, practical learning that we offer.

Managing Unionized Environments: The Fort McMurray Experience

It is an exciting time at the IRC. Not only are we continuing to expand our programming options, we are also exploring new locations to hold our programs. Most recently, the IRC’s program team headed to Fort McMurray, delivering our Managing Unionized Environments program in October. As the IRC evolves our programming options to best meet the needs of HR, LR, and OD professionals, we also aim to offer programs in locations that are convenient for our participants and their sponsor organizations. The resounding success of the October Managing Unionized Environments has encouraged the IRC to consider offering additional programming options in Fort McMurray during our 2012-2013 program season. Having grown up in Sudbury, Ontario, a mining town, I felt very much at home in Fort McMurray. Conversations that I had with participants during the program were positive; it seems that Fort McMurray is a desirable location for IRC programs moving forward.

The IRC’s Managing Unionized Environments is a unique program because it is not tied to any of our other programming options or certificate series. It brings together supervisors, managers, and union representatives in a three-day program. The program enables opportunities for networking, discussion, and role-play. In addition, practical and relevant materials are provided, including case studies and concrete examples, based on the experiences of subject matter experts, to illustrate the theories presented throughout the program.

While the title of the program is Managing Unionized Environments, the program is not solely restricted to unionized environments; it applies to managers in all sectors and industries, as it focuses on developing a broad range of skills. Performance management is, for example, one of the topics addressed in the program. How do you, as a manager, effectively measure your employees’ performance? Setting measurable learning objectives and outcomes, providing feedback to employees, communicating change, and disciplinary actions are themes covered throughout the program.


Exploring Transformational and Transactional Leadership Styles

Transactional leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on the transactions between leaders and their followers (Bass, 1990). Transformational leadership, on the other hand, is a leadership approach that causes change in individuals (Bass, 1990). This paper examines both transformational and transactional leadership styles individually then examines how both of these styles exploit reward power and – by making reference to, and providing evidence from, existing literature – will argue that transformational leadership is more effective.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is distinguished from transactional leadership in that it aims at innovation, while the latter is focused on planning and execution. Furthermore, transactional leadership focuses on rewards and punishments in order to achieve goals. These characteristics suggest that transformational leadership strives to create new opportunities for employees in an organization, whereas transactional style works off of an existing structure (Tucker, Georgia, Russell, College, and Emory, 2004). Another distinguishing feature between the two styles is that transformational leadership aims at motivating people while transactional leadership focuses on the use of manipulation of power and authority (Tucker, et al, 2004).

The intrinsic characteristics of transformational leaders, as described by Dixon (1998), are the main drivers behind effective behaviours. Dixon’s study revealed that a leader’s behaviour is influenced by four factors: self confidence, integrity, honesty, and personal values. The primary driving force behind effective performance is the leader’s ability to connect his or her life experiences with transformational behaviours. Once such connection is established, it leads to external transformation, resulting in organizational transformation. For example, when a leader starts to believe that his work can make a difference; his intentions transcend beyond personal motives and are geared towards the greater good.

Schuster (1994) states that transformational leadership appeals to higher motivation, while improving the quality of life for the members of an organization. Transactional leadership, conversely, is considered “at best a networking of power” (p 103). Transformational leaders are able to exercise influence in two primary areas, which appeal to the mind and the heart: 1) deep thinking and 2) empathy (Schuster). Using these influences, a transformational leader is able to motivate followers to act on their own behalf and for the needs of others. In transformational leadership, the leader empathizes with the developmental needs of his/her followers. According to Jung, Yammarino and Lee (2009, transformational leaders are good mentors and provide coaching to their followers.

Transformational leadership focuses on people (Burke, Stagl, Klein, Goodwin, Salas and Halpin, 2006). Bass (1990) explains that such leadership motivates in followers; it moves people beyond self-interests and allows them to focus on the good of the group or society (Stewart, 2006). Transformational leaders are able to articulate an appealing vision of the future by communicating ideologies and leading through example. This leadership tends to improve the team’s morale and motivates the team members (Stewart).

In summation, a transformational leader is able to motivate his followers, to strive for excellence without the use of power or authority, by inspiring them through his passion and deep thinking.

Transactional Leadership

In contrast with a transformational leader, a transactional leader accomplishes goals by rewarding employees who meet expectations (Bass, 1990). These rewards come in the form of recognition, pay increases, and advancement. Employees who fail to perform per expectations, however, are penalized. Such transactions or exchanges – the promise of reward for good performance, and discipline for poor performance – characterizes effective transactional leadership (Bass, Avolio, Jung and Berson, 2003). Hence, transactional leadership becomes less appealing and appears mediocre when the leader relies heavily on passive management by exception. Management by exception is, “when leaders transact with followers by focusing on mistakes, delaying decisions, or avoiding intervening until something has gone wrong, or rewards focused on recognizing the work accomplished” (Howell & Avolio, p. 892). This implies that the leader only interacts with his followers when expectations are not met and standards and procedures not followed (Bass, 1990)

Since transactional leadership is based on a system of rewards and penalties, it does not offer much in terms of inspiration, to motivate people to go beyond the basics. Given this fact, the followers of transactional leaders might get complacent and develop a tendency to achieve minimal expectations only that would help them avoid penalties (Bass, 1990). Thus, the leader and the follower are in an agreement on what the follower would receive upon achieving the negotiated level of performance (Bass, 1990). The success of such leadership depends on the level of satisfaction the leader and followers have in following this system of performance based appraisals (Bass, 1990).

A study conducted by Howell and Avolio (1993) confirms that contingent reward leadership has a negative impact on the followers’ performance. Contingent reward is viewed as “an active and positive exchange between leaders and followers whereby followers are awarded for accomplishing agreed upon objective” (p. 892). If managers do not effectively follow-up on the contingent reward promises, thereby displaying behavioural inconsistency, they are viewed as ineffective leaders. Furthermore, research (Howell and Avolio, 1993). suggests that the level of contingent reward leadership is dependent on organizational context and settings. For example, an organization undergoing change might suffer from a transactional leadership style (Howell and Avolio, 1993). The penalties, awarded in such a system of managing by exception, have a negative impact on performance and satisfaction (Bass, no date). This stems from the fact the leader passively awaits problems before taking any action. By following this strategy, the leader ensures that corrective action is taken when required and in doing so he reinforces the roles and expectations for the followers. Hence, this behaviour represents an important aspect of transactional leadership (Bass, 1990)

As can be seen, a transactional leader relies heavily on power and authority to lead his members. Power play and the use of a “reward and penalty” system thus play an integral role in such a leadership style. As discussed through various researches, transactional leadership measures are not so effective and in most cases can de-motivate employees.

Exertion of Power – Differences by Leadership Style

Transactional leaders make use of reward and coercive power, whereas transformational leaders use referent power as well as reward power. Reward power is described as, “target’s perception of the agent’s ability to control valued organizational rewards and resources” (Jayasingam, Ansari, & Jantan, 2009, p. 137). As Locke (1986) contends, if a manager rewards employees by making effective use of power by rewarding employees who are taking on more responsibility in an empowered fashion, this should be viewed positively because people are rewarded for taking action and being empowered to make decisions (p. 98). Therefore, when employees take initiative in the organization, they are rewarded. In contrast, under a transactional leadership style, being awarded for performing as per expectations leaves no motivation to go beyond the call of duty.

Coercive power is based on “the target’s perception that the agent has the ability to inflict various organizational punishments” (Jayasingam, et al, 2009, p. 137). From my experience, transactional leaders are more likely to adopt coercive power. Jayasingam et al. (2009), mention that coercive power has been linked with ineffective leadership. Working in fear of losing one’s job, or fear or demotion, only makes an employee ineffective and unproductive because the employee spends most of his/her time worrying about the consequences if the expectations of the leaders are not met.

Referent power is described as, “a leader with referent power is someone the subordinates aspire to be like and therefore emulate” (Jayasingam, el al., p. 138). Leaders with referent power are also linked with effective leadership. Working with a leader who had acquired referent power, employees enjoy a great deal of autonomy.

The Effectiveness of Transformational Leadership

Research (e.g., Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Stewart, 2006) has shown that the transformational style of leadership has a positive correlation with team performance. Performance of underperforming units can, therefore, be improved by providing the right form of leadership training to the supervisors of these units. The extent of transformational leadership qualities displayed by a leader has direct impact on organizational functioning (Barling, Weber & Kelloway, 1996). One of the aspects in which a transformational leader impacts an organization’s philosophies, includes satisfaction of subordinates with their supervisors. The study conducted by Barling et al. (1996) extended previous results and strengthened the hypothesis that transformational leadership can not only result in changing the perception of managers, in the eyes of their subordinates, but it can also help improve the subordinates’ own commitment to the organization while improving performance.

A study conducted by Lowe, Kroeck, and Sivasubramaniam (1996) acknowledges the positive impact that transformational leadership can have on work unit effectiveness. These authors noted that transformational leadership has an equal impact on employees at all levels within the organization. Accordingly, it is imperative that frontline leaders, such as shift supervisors, understand the impact that they can have on their unit’s effectiveness. These leaders need to provide their subordinates with individual consideration, as well as intellectual stimulus that would enhance the collective morale (Lowe, et. al). Hence, by relying on their intimate knowledge of the process, and by engaging individuals of their units, these frontline leaders can improve work effectiveness and productivity of their respective units (Lowe et. al, 1996).

In stark contrast, Bass, et al. (2003) mention that transactional leaders are counterproductive in an evolving work environment. Likewise, Howell and Avolio’s (1993) study suggests that transactional leadership style is negatively related to unit performance. Since transactional leaders spend most of their time on meeting goals and achieving the desired results, followers may feel that their freedom is being limited and their motivation may decline.

Expanding on earlier research conducted by Howell and Avolio (1993), Barling et al. (1996) were able to relate transformational leadership to an organization’s financial performance (Judge & Piccolo, 2004). The study conducted by Howell and Avolio (1993) concluded that the degree of transformational leadership (charisma, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration) in a branch manager had a direct impact on the business unit’s performance (Judge & Piccolo, 2004, Howell and Avolio (1993)).

Lowe, (1996) suggests that transformational leadership training should likely utilize situational and interactive exercises when developing frontline leaders (such as unit supervisors). The reason for this was that at the lower level, a good transformational leader needs to be able to interact individually and intellectually stimulate his/her subordinates. This is different than training provided to upper level transformational leaders, where training is focused on the leader’s ability to stimulate subordinates through written and oral communication as opposed to individual consideration (Lowe et. al, 1996).

As mentioned by Griffith (2004), leadership and turnover are directly related such that employee satisfaction stems from the work environment, including satisfaction with the leader (Wells & Peachey, 2010). If an employee has a close working relationship and is satisfied with his or her leader, leaving the company would be less likely as there would be a psychological loss involved (Mossholder et al., 2005). As discussed earlier, transformational leaders are able to engage their followers into a more meaningful and satisfying relationship, hence lowering the follower’s intent to leave (Wells & Peachey, 2010).


In my review of the literature, I have attempted to demonstrate that transformation al style of leadership is far more effective than transactional leadership. By using a transformational leadership style, a leader can effectively motivate his/her followers, improve their productivity, and bring about positive change. Furthermore, the employees feel empowered and a sense of accomplishment while working for a transformational leader.


Barling, Julian, Tom Weber, and E.Kevin Kelloway. “Effects of Transformational Leadership Training on Attitudinal Financial Outcomes: A Field Experiment.” Journal of Applied Psychology 81, no. 6 (1996):872-832.

Bass, Bernard, Dong Jung, Bruce J. Avolio, and Yair Berson. “Predicting Unit Performance by Assessing Transformational and Transactional Leadership.” Journal of Applied Psychology 88, no. 2 (2003): 207-218.

Bass, Bernard. From Transactional to Transformational Leadership Learning to Share the Vision. Organizational Dynamics, (Winter – 1990): 19-31.

Burke, C. Shawn, Stagl Klein, Cameron Klein, Gerald F. Goodwin, Eduardo Salas and Stanley Halpin. “What Types of Leadership Behaviours are Functional in Teams? A Meta-Analysis.” The Leadership Quarterly 17, (2006): 288-307.

Dixon, D. “The Balanced CEO: A Transformational Leader and a Capable Manager.” Healthcare Forum Journal 41, no. 2 (1998):26-29.

Howell, Jane M., and Bruce J. Avolio. “Transformational Leadership, Transactional Leadership, Locus of Control and Support for Innovation: Key Predictors of Consolidated-Business-Unit Performance.” Journal of Applied Psychology 78, no. 6(1993): 891-902.

Jayasingam, Sharmila, Mahfooz Ansari, and Muhamad Jantan, M. “Influencing Knowledge Workers: The Power of Top Management.” Industrial Management & Data Systems 110, no.1 (2009) 134-151. doi: 10.1108/02635571011008443

Judge, Timothy A., and Ronald F. Piccolo. “Transformational and Transactional Teadership: A Meta-Analytic Test of their Relative Validity.” Journal of Applied Psychology 89, no. 5 (2004): 755-768. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.89.5.755.

Locke, Edwin A. “Toward a Theory of Task Performance and Incentive.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 3, no. 2(1986): 157-189. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(68)90004-4.

Lowe, B.K., Kroeck, G.K., & Sivasubramanium, N. “Effectiveness Correlates of Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analytic Review of the MLQ Literature.” Leadership Quarterly 7, no. 3 (1996).

Schuster, John P. “Transforming Your Leadership Style.” Association Management 46, no.1 (1994).

Stewart, Greg L. “A Meta-Analytic Review of Relationships Between Team Design Features and Team Performance.” Journal of Management. 32, no. 1 (2006) 29-54. doi: 10.1177/0149206305277792

Tucker, Bruce A., Aceworth Georgia, Robert F. Russell, Emory College, and Henry College. “The Influence of the Transformational Leader.” Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies 10, no 4 (2004): 103-111. Doi: doi: 10.1177/107179190401000408

Wells, Janelle E., and Welty Peachey. (2010). Turnover Intentions: Do Leadership Behaviours and Satisfaction with Leader Matters? Team Performance Management, 17, no. 1/2 (2010): 23-40.


About the Author

Tahreem Raza, Queen's IRC Research Assistant

Tahreem Raza is Research Assistant with Queen’s IRC.


Essential Attributes and Behaviours of a Change Leader

This literature review examines the topics of change management and leadership by exploring how leadership attributes contribute to and/or hinder the successfulness of a change initiative. The main question undergirding this report is: What are some of the essential attributes and behaviours of an effective change leader?

Three broad themes are included in this report: communication, adaptability, and ownership. These themes were delineated from my reading of the literature authored by management experts (e.g., Fielder, 1967; Higgs & Rowland, 2005, Miller, 2010; Pascale, Millemann, & Gioga, 1997; Pettigrew, 1987; Zeffane, 1996). Although the literature I reviewed discusses these themes in a variety of change-specific contexts, my article focuses primarily on their implications for organizational change, and provides advice on the forms of leadership that are instrumental for the successfulness of large-scale change initiatives. More specifically, I explore communication styles that work to influence employees’ commitment to change, the adaptability of a change leader, and the degree of ownership over the change initiative the leader assumes. I complement these topics with a discussion on the impact that certain leadership styles have on promoting and/or hindering change.

Through conducting such literature reviews, it is hoped that practitioners will gain an improved understanding of the impact of leadership tactics that work to promote or hinder change and the known factors that contribute to strong leadership.


A successful leader of change must possess a variety of communicative skills. According to Miller (2010) a leader’s ability to establish a common understanding about the purpose of a change, and its impact, is a critical component of the leader’s success. This finding emerged from Miller’s evaluation of qualitative data collected over years of working alongside leaders in organizations undergoing major change. Thus, a key component to effective change leadership is the ability of the leader to articulate a clear vision.

Earlier research by Pascale, Millemann, and Gioga (1997) had emphasized the importance of conveying the big picture and providing a detailed road map for the change journey. However, since it is not possible to predict the precise impact or trajectory the change will follow, others (e.g., Pettigrew, 1987) have advised that an effective change leader is someone who is comfortable admitting they do not know the answer. Accordingly, such a person can and must often mobilize imprecise and inarticulate visions. Boselie and Koene (2010) suggest that by distinguishing concrete, short-term objectives from more nebulous, long-term goals, leaders mitigate the problem of ambiguity inherent to spearheading a change initiative. This would be particularly true for a novel change initiative.

Given the fact that each change context involves a unique combination of participants and conditions, it is critical that the change leader is someone who explicitly recognizes and can admit to the uncertainty they face during the change process (Boselie & Koene, 2010). It follows, then, that the key ingredients to the formation of a vision that offers meaningful direction are persistence, patience, and deliberated planning (Zeffane, 1996).

The language employed by the leader throughout an organizational change should relay a forward-thinking mindset by focusing on the process of becoming, rather than being (Pettigrew, 1987). Focusing on the message of what the organization can be is necessary for overcoming resistance to change. In order to support this mentality, the leadership must communicate clearly to the employees that, given its wealth of human resources, the organization has the potential to become more effective, a better employer, and that the cooperation of all employees is necessary for meeting this objective.

In a similar vein, appreciative inquiry refers to a framework that focuses on seeking the best in an organization or its people (Karakas, 2009). This practice is thought to create long-term transformational change by shifting communication from factual, causal, social accounts to more self-referential, ideological, social accounts. It inspires the actualization of positive potential by drawing from past displays of peak performance and positive forward-looking statements (Karakas). A desirable by-product of using appreciative inquiry as a method of clarifying a change leader’s agenda, is that it may also serve as an impetus for strengthening institutional trust. This term refers to the level of confidence employees have in their organization (Boselie & Koene, 2010).

According to Shaw (1994), it is the change in the nature of conversations between organizational members that leads to the emergence of new behaviours (as cited in Higgs & Rowland, 2005). Shielding change from employees by concealing information increases perceived uncertainty, as well as stress about the consequences of the pending change. In a recent study by Boselie and Koene (2010), where top management shifted their communication style from one of concealment to one that involved a more detailed account of the evolving situation, there was a transformation in the company as a whole. This shift in communication helped to reduce high levels of internal uncertainty among the human resources managers, which allowed organizational identity to grow stronger (Boselie & Koene).

Likewise, according to Lewis, Romanaggi, and Chapple, (2010) good communication is key to overcoming natural resistance to change. One important way of ensuring effective communication is by using workshops and focus groups (Pascale, Millemann, & Gioga, 1997). These sessions are useful in two ways. First, they allow leadership to communicate to members the nature and process of change undertaken, and in particular, the values and objectives that the management is pursuing. Second, these sessions ensure that adequate opportunities exist for employees to provide input into the direction of the organization. These sessions can serve as informal brainstorming opportunities, wherein employees have the opportunity to develop ideas, and share them with the leadership (Pascale, Millemann, & Gioga, 1997).

During organizational change, leaders employ “influence tactics” (Furst & Cable, 2008) to communicate and manage the change. An influence tactic is defined as a behaviour that a leader may use to reduce employee resistance to change. To illustrate this concept, consider the example of an inspirational appeal. This type of request is characterized as the ability to communicate a compelling vision. Another influence tactic is called consultation. This is the kind of request a leader may employ at a stage of change that calls for participant-oriented execution. It is not uncommon for a change leader to use varying requests at different stages of a given change. Research (e.g. Fable & Yukl, 1992) has found that, used independently, both inspirational and consultative request tactics have been highly effective to convince employees of the benefits associated with the leaders agenda.

A study by Fable and Yukl (1992) found support for the idea that the type of influence tactic a leader uses, may be related to their leadership style. For example, directive leaders are more likely to use rational persuasion (provide a logical explanation for why a given change is being made), a tactic that has been found to give rise to a mixture of responses ranging from committed compliance to resistance. Conversely, supportive leaders are more likely to use inspirational appeals in order to influence the values and ideals of employees and elicit their buy-in. Research (e.g., Fable & Yukl) suggests that the key to gaining commitment to change lies in using rational persuasion as a follow-up to change initiatives, as opposed to a initial measure

The relative success of a leader’s choice to use an influence tactic also depends on the intrinsic properties of a given tactic. For example, soft tactics, such as ingratiation and consultation, are found to be extremely effective (De Dreu, Wiengart, & Kwon, 2000). In contrast, tactics characterized as hard, such as legitimization, seldom lead to commitment. However, the use of rational persuasion in tandem with a hard tactic is more successful than the use of either tactic in isolation (Fable & Yukl, 1992).

According to the research of Daly and Greyer (1994), employees expect, as a matter of right, to be consulted and informed during an organizational transition. Therefore, using rational justification for the change is a necessary ingredient to increase perceptions of fairness among employees (as cited in Botheridge, 2003).

Another way that influence tactics can cultivate a more inviting climate for change or the resistance thereof relates to attribution theory. Recognizing that the type of relationship leaders have with their employees shapes how their actions will be interpreted. For example, Furst and Cable (2008) established that the way a leader’s intentions are ascribed by their employees largely depends on the quality of relationship existing between the two parties. According to attribution theory, which was originally proposed by Heider (1958), this would mean that when a leader’s actions are seen as inconsistent with their past actions, employees will arrive at the conclusion that the leader is motivated by situational factors. To illustrate this theory, consider the following example: an employee that has a negative relationship with their leader and is the subject of ingratiation will assume the leader’s compliments are insincere and motivated by the situation. This assumption is due to an inconsistency between the antagonistic tone their relationship has taken. Conversely, an employee with a positive working relationship with his or her manager will perceive the use of a hard influence tactic, such as legitimization, as an attempt to reduce uncertainty. The explanation for this is that when the employee is accustomed to seeing the leader in a positive light they interpret demonstrations of power and authority by assuming that such behaviours stem from the leader’s disposition.

Based on the psychological phenomena and studies reviewed above, it follows that an effective change leader must establish open communication with all concerned employees and conduct himself or herself with consistency so that actions align with words and their intentions are perceived as sincere. Thus, it is important for the change leader to create dialogue and use intellectual combat to foster clarity and justify ‘buy-in.’ Not only will this two-way communication be critical to the persuasive power of their vision (Kramer, 2006) but it will also increase authenticity by encouraging employees to refrain from holding back information that they fear will evoke retaliation.

In conclusion, a critical component of a change leader’s success is their ability to establish a common understanding of the purpose and impact of the change. When the change they aim to execute is far from being clear cut, they must be comfortable admitting their own uncertainty, focus on the completion of concrete, short-term objectives, by seeking the best qualities of their employees and drawing from past displays of positive performance. Such efforts will change the language describing the change and lead to the emergence of behaviours in its support.

During organizational change, leaders may engage in a variety of practices to accomplish these directives for success. However, some are more effective than others and although a leader’s choice of which influence tactics they choose may be related to their leadership style, rational persuasion appears to be a key driver of the leaders ability to gain employee commitment. Because the type of relationship leaders have with their employees shapes how their actions will be interpreted, they must remain aware that their employees may fall prey to attribution error and ascribe negative dispositional causes (e.g. the leader wants more control) while disregarding valid situational factors (e.g. the change is actually of benefit to the organization). It follows from this research that when it comes to a leaders ability to diminish employee resistance to change, the best influence tactic a leader can practice, is ensuring that their words are aligned with their actions. Of further importance is their ability to foster high quality relationships with each employee.


Most simply stated, an effective change leader is someone who demonstrates adaptability. According to Fielder’s (1967) contingency theory of leadership, the effectiveness of a leader depends on the existing match between situational characteristics and whether the leader is task- or relations-oriented (Fielder). Task-oriented leaders typically possess a directive style of leadership. This orientation makes them effective at clarifying responsibilities and ensuring that their employees understand their duties. In contrast, a relations-oriented leader has a supportive style of leadership. As such, their behaviour aims at showing care and concern for employees.

However, Miller’s (2002) work suggests that a successful change leader is someone who is able to deviate from their natural orientation and adopt the style of leadership that is best-suited to the situational characteristics with which they are faced. Similarly, research by Higgs and Rowland (2005) has emphasized the importance of flexibility. Their paper explains that the relationship between a leader’s approach to change (e.g. orientation) and their leadership behaviours (e.g. deployment of influence tactics) is “one of differing balances, rather than prescriptive absolutes” (p. 144).

The trait of adaptability is effectively demonstrated by the principles underlying leader-member exchange theory (LMX). LMX is distinguishable from other theories of leadership because it examines the dyadic relationship a leader develops with each follower as unique (Ilies, Nahrgang, & Morgeson, 2007). By demonstrating that the quality of a relationship has an important effect on the parties, and particularly the followers’ attitudes and behaviours, LMX provides insight on what makes some leaders more effective than others. For example, leaders engaging in high quality LMXs are more likely to elicit organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB) from their employees (Ilies, Nahrgang, & Morgeson). This term refers to any discretionary behaviour that an employee performs out of positive sentiment that goes above and beyond their job duties .An organizational citizenship behaviour is not typically encouraged through any formal reward systems and these acts mainly come in two forms: individual- and organizational-targeted behaviours. The former refers to a behaviour that has immediate benefits specific to certain individuals, which indirectly benefits the organization, while the latter is the direct opposite (Ilies, Nahrgang, & Morgeson).

Research (Ilies, Nahrang, & Morgeson) investigating the strength of LMX theory has shown that LMX leaders are more likely to promote behaviours that are targeted to benefit an organizations individual’s. By indicating that employees are more likely to respond through acts of an interpersonal as opposed to an organizational nature, such evidence supports the relational value LMX yields. Of equal importance, are the previously discussed findings, which suggest that employees interpret the motivation backing a leader’s deployment of certain influence tactics in a way that reinforces their existing perceptions of the leader (Furst & Cable, 2008).

Nonetheless, it has been shown (Ilies, Nahrang, & Morgeson, 2007) that an employee with an agreeable disposition who is satisfied with co-workers, is more likely to engage in prosocially directed behaviours, whereas an employee with a less interpersonally inclined personality, highly motivated by formalized reward systems, such as a salary increase, is more likely to engage in behaviours that are targeted to benefit the organization. LMX outcomes are complex because they depend on situational and contextual variables, such as a follower’s personality profile. However, despite these nuances, more often than not an LMX approach to leadership is likely to be a useful style to elicit acceptance of and cooperation for change (Ilies, Nahrang, & Morgeson).

Strong indicators of adaptability include optimism, collaboration, purposefulness, and pro-activity (Miller, 2010). These traits capture Pascale, Millemann, and Gioga’s (1997) description of a strong change leader as someone who eagerly arises to face a challenge, accepts ambiguity and adversity as part of the design, stays on-course by harnessing setbacks, and accepts learning as a form of inquiry in actions. By its very nature, the implementation of large-scale change requires willingness on the part of the leader to undergo personal change (Miller, 2002). However, this willingness extends to the employees as well, which is why Miller (2010) asserts that the distinguishing feature separating successful from unsuccessful change leaders is an acknowledgment that people must consciously adapt to changes that unfold in their work environment.

Fundamentally, adaptability requires the ability to anticipate and cope with the unexpected. Kramer (2006) contends that a contributing factor to the success of leaders guided by a tough-minded approach is the ability to teach employees to expect the unexpected through the deployment of intimidating and high-pressure tactics. Appropriately, these leaders are referred to as the “great intimidators.” Notorious for their high levels of political intelligence, such leaders possess keen and discriminating eyes, which allow them to evaluate employees by detecting their areas of weakness and insecurity. Although this type of leadership is in opposition to charismatic leadership, the tough-minded leadership style does, nonetheless, have its advantages. For example, consider the utility in a scenario wherein a key player in the change initiative shows resistance to the adoption of new values. In such cases, detecting and publicly terminating the adversary can be an opportunity for the leader to display their personal commitment to the organization’s change agenda (Pascale, Millemann, & Gioga, 1997).

Another key skill of a change leader is the ability to identify strengths and nurture the creative talents and abilities of people forming the change team (Karakas, 2009). This aptitude is an aspect of social intelligence that is grounded in the core competencies of any great leader, such as interpersonal skills, and empathy (Kramer, 2006). According to Kovoor-Misra (2009), the response of the employees in an organization depends on whether the change is perceived as a threat or an opportunity. Whereby, in threat situations, individuals will focus on perceptions of “who we are,” which can manifest as a barrier to change. In opportunity situations, by contrast, individuals will also focus on “who we could be.”

Another aspect of adaptability is the ability to vary behavioural patterns, in both amount and intensity. A highly powerful component of strong leadership, behavioural control, is integral to a change leader’s ability to alter the structural context in which the change is incorporated. Adaptation has also been linked to maintaining organization-wide commitment to innovation, by allowing people to embrace the experimental nature of change without feeling threatened by the possibility of failure (Zeffane, 1996).

Almost precluding a fear of failure, the trait of openness to change has been studied by researchers such as Wanberg and Banas (2000). This construct involves two components: a willingness to support the change, and maintaining a positive affect about the outcomes (Wanberg & Banas, 2000). The level of openness to change present during a change initiative is key because it reveals the relative likelihood that a planned change will be successful. Cognitive adaptation theory, posits that in high stress contexts such as change, individuals accustomed to experiencing mental stability and well-being are one in the same as those who have high self-esteem, optimism, and perceived feelings of self-control (Weick and Quinn, 1999). These traits also define resilience; a personality construct that is associated with authentic leadership, meaningfulness, and empowerment (Karakas, 2009). Accordingly, research has shown that resilient personalities show higher levels of acceptance and are more accommodating of changes in their work environment (Wanberg & Bana, 2000).

Leadership qualities such as flexibility, acceptance of, and comfort with, ambiguity, turning adversity into opportunity, and openness, contribute to successful implementations of change. Furthermore, they demonstrate the extent to which a leader’s ability to detect and manage obstacles that arise throughout the change process is related to their adaptability. Zeffane (1996) emphasizes the importance of adaptability by stating that leaders that possess this trait gain a better understanding of how their organization can cope with change more productively. He explains that this is because when it becomes necessary, these leaders are open to adjusting their approach and making corrections (Zeffane, 1996).

Karakas (2009) contends that successful change leaders possess the right mindset referring to their ability to engage in perspective taking, continuous learning and the ability to engage in strategic and integrative thinking. An influential explanation for the resistance to change conceptualizes it as an individual’s shield of protection from either the real or imagined effects of the proposed change (as cited in Dent & Goldberg, 1999). It follows from this finding that leaders who conceive of the change through the perspective of the employee are likely to be more effective at persuading the recalcitrant. This is because they have a better understanding of what is underlying employee resistance (Dent & Goldberg, 1999). More importantly, however, such leaders are able to admit the shortcomings that may exist and accept recommendations for improvement from their employees (Dent & Goldberg, 1999).

Successful leaders during organizational change must possess a variety of skills in order to execute a smooth transition for their employees. In most cases the relative success of these skills depends on a variety of factors such as the match between the situational characteristics of the change and the orientation of the leader. However, a critical component of a change leader’s success is their ability to deviate from their natural orientation and adopt the style of leadership that is best-suited to the situation with which they are faced. This characterization of an effective change leader captures the respective importance that flexibility plays in a leaders’ adaptability.

Specific styles of leadership such as LMX are illustrative of adaptability in action and the benefits that arise there from (increased incidence of discretionary employee behaviours performed out of positive sentiment). Empirically, leaders who adapt their approach to suit the unique characteristics of their employees are more likely to promote behaviours that are targeted to benefit the individual’s and the organization as a whole. These benefits include cultivating a climate of acceptance of and cooperation for change.

At the core of adaptability lies the leader’s ability to serve as a shining example of the exact willingness to undergo personal change, which is demanded of the affected employees. Deciphering the weaknesses and insecurities of their employees is equally as important as the ability of the leader to identify their strengths. Developing a working knowledge of such details is conducive to the leaders ability to detect adversaries of the change that will impede progress and deal with them appropriately. Paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses of employees is integral to the leaders ability to alter the structural context in which the change is incorporated and choosing a leader that possesses an optimistic, collaborative, purposeful, mentally stable, confident, and resilient personality type will produce the success associated with an adaptable change leader.


Naturally, the responsibility a leader has over a change initiative imbues them with a sense of ownership over the process. In their efforts to communicate a positive forward thinking vision, and exemplify an optimistic and adaptive flexibility the leader is likely to focus on benefits-realization (Miller, 2010). According to Miller, such a narrow focus may cause the leader to neglect the risk of failure and its associated cost. This failure to consider the consequences of an unsuccessful change is problematic because it leaves the organization unprepared to deal with the problems and losses that may result. In effect this would result in disillusionment amongst employees concerning future initiatives. As such, ownership over the change can only be achieved through a leader who assumes accountability over the negative implications associated with the change as well as the positive.

Ownership is essential to the success of a change leader’s power to implement change and it is achieved by the leader’s ability to assess two equally important outcomes of the change they are leading, failure and success, in tandem. Comparing the potential probability of success and the cost of failure allows the change leader to be more proactive in their prioritization of the change phases as well as continual adjustments (Miller, 2010).

Another practice associated with ownership is accepting that there will be shortfalls along the way (Miller, 2010). Driving a leader’s ability to successfully execute change is their capacity to sustain the change long enough to realize a return on investment. Thus, it is critical for the leader to detect when they should abandon change efforts that incur a preponderance of costs, and a lack of foreseeable benefits (Miller, 2010). Maintaining ownership over the outcomes of the change, both desirable and undesirable, requires the leader to avoid becoming fixated on cost savings, and accepting what may be sunk costs. In such conditions, an accountable leader will let bygones be bygones and initiate an entirely new vision altogether (Zeffane, 1996).

Thus far, the definition of ownership presented describes an approach that assumes that the one leader must provide all leadership functions. However, there is an alternative that is fashioned when a designated leader engages in a dialogue that promotes a sense of proprietorship among employees. Developing a sense of stewardship among employees must become an important objective for leadership. One way this can be achieved is through incorporation. A case study of Royal Dutch Shell provides insight into how effective change leaders are focused on harnessing employee participation to overcome the challenges that face their organization (Pascale, Milleman, & Gioja, 2007). This objective is critical to the success of a transformational change. In effect it creates an environment of empowerment where leadership is imparted among the parties directly responsible for enacting the change. Pascale, Milleman, and Gioja suggest that the extent to which employees believe they can affect organizational performance is positively related to the likelihood that they will engage in OCB’s, which may place their organization in a league above their competitors.

Research by Boselie and Koene (2010) has also highlighted the importance of people management in times of radical change. During such changes, timing is of the essence and involvement from the human resources department at the early stage, regardless of how large, small, simple, or complicated the change may seem, is critical for developing commitment and promoting retention (Boselie & Koene, 2010). Ownership extends beyond the financial and procedural aspects of the change and requires a willingness on the leaders behalf to become informed about how the employees perceive the change. Therefore, in the preliminary stages that precede the implementation of the change strategy, leaders may benefit from conducting an assessment of employee attitudes and perceptions. Collecting such data can provide a useful guide to predict common outcomes, such as intentions to quit, stress, and absenteeism. In the long-term, a simple assessment may avert a potential payroll catastrophe and be the best tool for planning the corrective action necessary to improve on any problems that are encountered throughout the change (Schraeder, 2004).

When a leader assumes ownership and a sense of responsibility to govern the well-being of affected employees, the risk of losing valuable employees who might decide to exit the organization is mitigated. Attrition is more likely to occur concomitantly with change as feelings of uncertainty heighten and job security diminishes (Boselie & Koene, 2010). When such emotionally taxing conditions are combined with a lack of people management, there is likely to be a weakening of the relationship between the leader and their employees, which in turn is likely to minimize the probability that the change will attain success. Therefore, leaders of change should not let formal focuses (e.g., finances) eclipse the attention they allot to the informal aspects of the organization (e.g., people management). Maintaining a personal leadership approach that acknowledges the norms and values of the organization’s cultural identity is essential to strong ownership of a change initiative (Boselie & Koene, 2010).

In part, recognizing the potential weaknesses and shortcomings of a change initiative relies on the ability of a leader to engage in frank exchange. Presumably, this recognition proves to be a challenge in mature organizations with profound hierarchies because employees tend to avoid conflict for fear of blame, or having someone take their dissent personally. However, an effective change leader engages in truth telling, even if the truth is hard to face (Pascale, Millemann, & Gioga, 1997). As an innovator, a leader of change advocates as well as explores the ideas their employees propose (Karakas, 2009).

Zeffane (1996) proposes that when driven by a leader that has a career background their employees can relate to, the outcome of a change initiative will be more favourable. Pascale, Milleman, and Gioja highlight the importance of identity by examining the extent that individuals identify with their working teams. Further, it has been established that two of the most influential factors affecting the amount of confidence employees have in their leader during times of change, are identification and competence (Boselie & Koene, 2010). This finding seems intuitive because the more similarity there exists between the two parties, the more they are able to co-identify through shared experiences. This mutual understanding thus translates into a perception of competence that positively affects levels of confidence. As such, it can be inferred that when a change leader shares a career background that is similar to their employees, the leader is perceived as more trustworthy.

This increased trustworthiness is an important consideration for any leader driving organizational change because of the uncertain nature of change and the emergence of cynical attitudes that result. Cynicism toward change refers to an employee’s loss of confidence in a leaders ability to manage and implement change effectively and research has shown that leaders who are cynical about organizational change are weaker performers on the job and exhibit less organizational citizenship behaviours. Furthermore, cynicism among leaders has been associated with a negative impact on the performance of employees as well. Cynicism is an important attitude to understand because research has shown that individuals who exhibit high cynicism are less likely to commit to change and become progressively more resistant towards change efforts (Rubin, Dierdorff, Bommer, & Baldwin, 2009). In an attempt to assess employee perceptions and attitudes towards change, Shraeder (2004) conducted a model-based approach to change assessment, categorizing cynicism as an intervening variable. Based on his findings, Shraeder argues cynicism reflects the internal health of an organization (e.g. levels of job satisfaction) because of the impact it bears on outcomes of interest such as productivity.

Examining how certain leaders are able to bring about commitment to organizational change, Herold, Fedor, Liu, and Caldwell, (2008) demonstrated that levels of employee commitment are based on an interaction of two factors. Specifically, the impact the change will have on the employees’ job and the presence of transformational leadership. The interaction effect was particularly apparent during changes of a more personal nature. Addressing the same themes research by Huy (2002), found that the success of a change effort resulted from two leadership abilities, namely, the leader’s display of emotional commitment to the change and their attentiveness to the emotions of others throughout the process. By addressing the emotional reactions of others, a change leader ensures a positive and respectful work environment that will, in turn, diminish resistance to change.

Eliciting Employee Participation in Organizational Change

Allowing people to influence the form and direction that the change has to take through participant-oriented change is one way to overcome barriers to change, such as cynicism (Zeffane, 1996). Lines, Selart, Espedal, and Johansen (2005), have found substantial evidence supporting a positive relationship between how credibly employees perceive the decision-making abilities of management and their trust in management. Lines and colleagues (2005) emphasize that employee participation is especially conducive to a leaders trust-building capacity during change. The reverse of this notion is also true: trust is key to gaining genuine participation and research has shown that subsequent to a change (merger), institutional trust suffers. This is mainly attributed to a widespread sense of identity loss (Boselie & Koene, 2010). During change, even employees at the management level report that they feel a sense of insecurity, uncertainty, threat, and a loss of control. As such, an effective change leader is someone who assumes responsibility for establishing relationships of trust with employees at all levels of an organization.

By allowing people to have more input about the form and direction of the change and by helping them acquire and use informed opinions, a participant-oriented approach has proven to be a more effective approach compared to a leader-centric approach (Higgs, & Rowland, 2005). However, it is possible to create too much participation by offloading too much responsibility during the implementation phase (Miller, 2010). In striking the right balance, the effective change leader understands the difference between delegating tasks and abandoning too much ownership too soon. The latter always leads to failure because it distances the leader from the ability to monitor the progress. Such distance may convey the message of a lack of commitment and concern for the changes success to employees (Pascale, Millemann, & Gioga, 1997).

In order to identify how change leaders can minimize stress that accompanies change initiatives, Botheridge, (2003) examined how participation in organizational change initiatives works to provide employees with a voice. The underlying mechanism accounting for the ability of participation to mitigate change-induced stress was the perception of fairness. Because voicing one’s opinion is integral to feel ownership and influence over the change process, it is important to consider the detrimental consequence that will occur if people are showing deference to the change. For example, Wanberg and Banas (2000) found that the degree which resistors expressed openness to change and job satisfaction was largely based on how much they participated in the change process.

A critical component of a change leaders success is their exercise of ownership over the process, and accountability for the benefits as well as potential failures. The visionary perspective of the leader will not be confined by tunnel vision. Rather, the successful leader will relentlessly assess and closely monitor the two equally important outcomes of the change they are leading, failure and success, in tandem. This will give them the rationale to sustain the change long enough to realize a promising return on investment or instead accept what may be sunk costs, and make the necessary improvements to their change plan.

Appropriately vested owners of a change initiative assume responsibility for more than the bottom line. They also focus their attention to people management. In particular, research has shown that a leaders success is largely accounted for by their ability to pay attention to the emotions of others throughout the process. Developing a working knowledge of employee attitudes concerning the change is also critical for developing commitment to the change and promoting retention throughout the high stress conditions it presents. Such advantageous objectives are grounded in the leaders willingness to become informed by conducting an assessment of employee attitudes and perceptions.

Becoming aware of levels of employee cynicism will alert the leader to how confident employees are in their likely ability to manage and implement the change effectively. If cynicism is prevalent the leader will need to address it in order to overcome the negative impact it has on the performance of employees and their respective acceptance towards the change as a whole. With a better understanding of employee change-related attitudes the leader will be more effective at gaining employee commitment by depicting the impact of the change on the employees’ job in a positive light and adopting a more transformational style of leadership.

In the majority of cases, the outcome of a change initiative will be most favourable when led by someone who identifies strongly with employees. Selecting a leader that shares a career history of similarity to the affected employees is likely to mitigate the cynicism that hinders change efforts. Both identification and competence are strong determinants of the level of confidence employees have in a change leader.

Another finding that emphasizes the importance of competent ownership is the established connection between how credible the leaders decision-making abilities are regarded and the resultant trust drawn from employees. In addition to competence, a leaders trust-building capacity is enhanced through their ability to mobilize employee participation. Allowing people to influence the form and direction that the change has to take is achieved through a practice of participant-oriented change. Thus, a high performing change leader is one who adopts a participant-oriented rather than a leader-centric approach and evades the extreme of offloading too much responsibility and distancing him or herself too early in the process.

Effective ownership is reined by the understanding of a leader that participation works to provide employees with a voice which in turn boosts their perceptions of fairness. A leader that prioritizes this goal imparts their leadership onto others by engaging in a dialogue that promotes a sense of stewardship among the parties directly responsible for enacting the desired change. Eliciting employee participation in organizational change gives employees a feeling of ownership and influence over the change process. These feelings work to create a stronger sense of job satisfaction, openness to change, and empowerment among employees.


My review of the literature has examined some of the essential attributes and behaviours of an effective leader in the changing workplace. I explored three broad and related topics, including communication styles that work to influence employees’ commitment to change; the adaptability of a change leader; and the degree of ownership over the change initiative the leader assumes.

First, I discussed communication during a change initiative. I noted that concealing information during organizational change increases perceived uncertainty, as well as employee’s feelings of stress regarding the consequences of change. Thus, it is recommended that open and regular communication be established between leaders and their employees to establish trust and a sense of organizational identity among employees. I also discussed the impact that influence tactics such as, legitimization and rational persuasion have on a leader’s ability to persuade employees of the merits of a change initiative. Research in this area suggests that the influential power of a persuasion tactic strongly depends on the quality of a leader’s relationship with each employee. That is, the better the nature of relationship shared between the two parties, the more likely the employee is to perceive the leaders words and actions as sincere. This finding speaks to the importance of context over content suggesting that there are no hard and fast rules.

The literature presented in this paper underscores the integral role that honest, and interactive communication play during times of organizational change. Such communication relies on the ability of a leader to recognize and admit to the uncertainty they are facing during the change process and seek the views of the employees for direction and support. When the initiative is well planned however, leaders who communicate change with clarity and provide rational justification mitigate employee resistance and perceptions of unfairness associated with a plan for change that is unlikely to succeed.

Second, I reviewed literature on leadership adaptability. In this section, I highlighted the notion that the formula for what makes an effective leader is variable, according to the features presented by the many types of change, interpersonal characteristics, and obstacles that may arise. Therefore, it is key for change leaders to be adaptable, resilient, and remain staunch in commitment to their change agenda. Ways in which a leader demonstrates adaptability include anticipating and planning for the unexpected, remaining optimistic, and perspective taking in order to understand the motivations and emotions of employees. Furthermore, a leader is likely to inspire organizational citizenship behaviours when his or her approach to relationship-building is tailored to suit the unique characteristics of each employee, rather than a one-size fits all approach.

Finally, I outlined the importance of ownership during a change and how this practice works to facilitate success in leading change. Being an effective steward of change entails maintaining a focus on the possibility of failure and success in tandem. The leader’s objective to prioritize the management of a change initiative’s people dimensions with the same importance assigned to its financial dimensions is key. Neglecting the human dimension of the change process may contribute to the formation of cynicism and harm the overall health of the organization. Taking inventory of how employees feel about the change is an effective way to give each employee a voice and stimulate their participation in the process.

In summary, this literature review has emphasized the important role that a leader’s ability to communicate, adapt, and assume ownership plays in determining the successfulness of a change initiative. Although the research reviewed provides valuable insight for change management practices, this literature review is a preliminary and non-exhaustive attempt to understand what makes a change leader successful. Future directions for this research should examine other countries and cultures. As our world becomes increasingly globalized and the cultural composition of Canada’s labour force grows more diversified, more cross-cultural research will need to be conducted before the verdict is out on what makes an effective change leader and the findings of this review can be meaningfully applied to the development of progressive change leadership practices.


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Designing Organizations: A Blueprint for Effectiveness

In today’s fast paced world, organization design is an essential competency. As leaders strive to become more efficient, customer focused, and/or innovative, organizational forms must necessarily adapt in support. Paraphrasing Gary Hamel and Bill Breen in The Future of Management (2007), expecting a traditional bureaucracy to be speedy and flexible is like asking a dog to dance the tango – it simply is not in the dog’s, or the organization’s, DNA. Good design, therefore, defines more than the structural boxes and lines found on an organization chart. While those lines and boxes describe an organization’s basic frame, they reveal very little about the nature of the core work, protocols for how work gets done, and the social expectations for how units are meant to relate. What are the performance drivers? What capabilities need to be developed and honed? How do resources need to be shared? Who needs to link with whom? What mindsets and protocols are required? Who decides? Good design incorporates these relational, procedural, and social elements – the DNA so to speak – to ensure that people are grouped and linked, as well as led and supported, to focus on the core work.

With global, technological, and social trends dramatically altering customer expectations for quality, service, timeliness, and innovation, new organizational forms are evolving to enable greater innovation, speed, and flexibility. Designs with steep hierarchies, centralized authority, and narrowly defined jobs are hopelessly out of date. From Lars Kolind’s (2006) spaghetti organization to Gareth Morgan’s (1989) organic network, the DNA of these new forms is dramatically different from that of the traditional bureaucracy – they are entirely different entities.

If good design rests on a set of core principles for defining the organization’s DNA, then a foundational question becomes “what does our organization need to be designed to do?” To address this big question, I adopt the Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness, a contingency model developed from our research and practice at Queen’s IRC. The Blueprint suggests that an organization’s design should evolve from a set of interrelated and mutually supportive design tests (Gould and Campbell), that together provide the structural, relational, and social foundations of good design.

Just like a building is comprised of many design elements that must fit together – from the plumbing, to the electrical, to eventually the curtains – so too do the design tests combine to create a holistic foundation for design. With the strategic goals as the base foundation, the tests combine to support the right types of work, capability development, flexibility, coordination, accountability, leadership, and motivation. The nature and relative importance of each design element is, in turn, shaped by contextual factors in an organization’s environment, including its legislative boundaries, customer profiles, technology system, competitive system, and environmental complexity. Together, these environmental forces create a tension, which pulls an organization toward distinct, but useful configurations. Because there is a natural coherence for how the organizational design elements fit together in relation to the environment, changes to an organization’s internal or external environment will necessarily lead to adjustments amongst the inter-related design elements (Mintzberg, 1981).

Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness

Queen's IRC Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness

The design tests are each based on a foundational principle for good design. These principles are not new, but derived from the wisdom of noted academics and practitioners including, but not limited to, Jay Galbraith (2002), Gould and Campbell (2002), and Nadler and Tushman (1997). The tests and associated principles will not provide targeted answers, for the process of organizational design is one of surfacing design choices, wrestling with the tensions associated with complimentary options and selecting preferred options. Given the multitude of factors, the design tests provide a container for the critical conversations that leaders must engage in to create robust, holistic and fit for purpose design choices. The following section provides an overview of the eight good design tests: Fit for Strategy, Flexibility, Capabilities and Resources Relationships, Accountability, People, Leadership, and Feasibility.

Fit for Strategy Test Does your design enable members to focus on and achieve your strategy – the core, value-added work?

The fundamental principle underpinning this test is that form follows function and consequently that the organization must be designed to enable the development and implementation of strategy. The fit for strategy test is a simple one. It asks leaders to first specify the primary sources of value the organization delivers to key customers (products, services, expertise, etc.), and then to consider whether the design enables members to focus on the core work associated with delivering that value. While Cirque de Soleil may require resources focused on innovation, development and safety, Wal-Mart will necessarily be focused on efficiency, cost reduction, and quality. If your design does not focus the attention of individuals and units to play their part in strategy execution, then your design does not pass the strategy fit test. Often, when organizations renew their strategies and redefine the value-added core work, leaders discover that the design needs to be adjusted or reimaged to suit.

To reflect on the fit for strategy test, consider the following:

  1. Do we understand our core work?
    • How we create value?
    • For who?
  2. Are we able to focus on the core value-added work? Why or why not?

The Flexibility Test Does your design enable people to adapt to day to day irregularities, developing strategies, and future challenges?

Here the underlying principle is that good design enables people to notice, interpret, and respond to challenges and opportunities as environments change. Highly complex environments, with ever shifting urgencies given customer, competitive, social, technological, or legislative contingencies, need to be more agile and innovative than organizations in less complex environments (Burns & Stalker, 1964). Begin by listing the major sources of known change, followed by emerging opportunities. For each source of change, explore how organizational design elements (how units are grouped, relationships, protocols, processes, mindsets, etc.) serve to enable or block likely change. If change is imminent or likely, and employees cannot adapt and innovate, your design fails the flexibility test.

To reflect on the flexibility test, consider:

  1. What are the major sources of change? What are the major sources of opportunity?
    • Are they competently monitored and interpreted?
    • How often do they shift and re-shuffle?
  2. How able are we to:
    • Shift, reassign, or expand our resources to suit?
    • Incorporate new ideas and practices into our methodologies?
    • Why or why not?

Capabilities and Resources Test Does your design focus resources on and enable the execution of required capabilities?

The principle behind the capabilities and resources test is that, given one’s strategic goals, the organizational context must enable people and units to develop a set of core capabilities to expertly execute the associated work. A capability is simply the ability to apply knowledge (both know what or know how). An example of a capability is the ability to innovate or to bring a product to market faster than competitors. In addition, people must be supported with the necessary resources – be they physical, technological, social or emotional – to develop, hone and use those capabilities to the full. Examples of resources include budget allocation, access to expertise, technology, space, and reputation. In actuality, capabilities and resources are bundled together to enable the strategic goals. For example, to develop the capability of “innovation,” it will most likely require a bundling of experts, financial resources, time and space, a mindset supporting innovation, and a technological infrastructure. Over time, capabilities become embedded in the organization via strategies, processes, techniques, protocols, roles, and so on.

To employ the capabilities and resources test ask:

  1. Have we identified our core capabilities – what we, as a unit, need to excel at?
  2. Does our design enable us to develop and hone these capabilities?
  3. Do we have the right resources (technology, space, access to data, budget, etc.) to leverage these capabilities?

Relationships Test Do we have seamless/easy interactivity with the areas we need to cooperate and collaborate with?

The underlying principle behind the relationships test is that birds of a feather flock together – people who need to work closely, given their expertise, work focus, and role, should be grouped via a unit, or team or a process. In that no unit in today’s connected world can operate in isolation, linkages should also be specified for essential unit-to-unit links. Moreover, those unit-to-unit links should be enabled through a multitude of mechanisms, including a well-defined purpose, goals, roles and protocols. Unit-to-unit relationships must also be bound by a joint appreciation for how the units are meant to relate to each other. Some relationships may be directive, for example an auditing relationship. Other relationships will be more collaborative, for example, a research unit working with a product development unit. Still others will be service oriented, whereby one unit such as IT or HR provides a service for another. All types of relationships pose challenges associated with pace, priority, perspective, and authority that, if not surfaced and mitigated, can create difficult links.

To employ the relationships test ask:

  1. Do we have seamless/easy interactivity with the people and units we need to collaborate with?
  2. Are people who need to collaborate frequently linked together by unit, team, or process?
  3. Have essential unit-to-unit linkages been specified?
  4. Do we have joint goals, roles, protocols, and approaches specified and are they working?
  5. Do we have any difficult or unworkable links?

Accountability Test: Do people know who has accountability for what?

The fundamental principle behind the accountability test is that, to the extent possible, accountability for performance should be specified and enabled. Accountability for performance is aided when people: 1) have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, with performance metrics defined and monitored, 2) are enabled to take responsibility; they have been granted authority, and have access to the necessary resources such as information, tools and technologies, and expertise, and 3) receive feedback with respect to the performance metrics so that they can self correct.

Defining accountability becomes messy when units share responsibility for a joint task, when there are jurisdictional issues associated with who “owns” what work, and when the performance metrics associated with the work are difficult to define, as in the case of a strategy unit whose work depends on the inputs, agreements and cooperation of many players. Despite the many challenges, units should be designed to facilitate accountability and high commitment to goals. If accountability issues arise, the more they are understood, the more likely a workable – yet imperfect – solution can be generated.

To employ the accountability test ask:

  1. Have we specified the critical deliverables and performance measures for the units in question? Are they easily measured?
  2. Are people enabled to take responsibility – they have the authority and the resources (access to data, expertise, tools and technologies) to make good decisions?
  3. Do people receive direct feedback and are they empowered to self-correct?

People Test Do we understand the job roles that are critical to organizational success (pivotal roles for now and in the near future)?

The fundamental principle behind the people test is that, for good or bad, people make organizations stop and go. Accordingly, design must reflect the organization’s ability to attract, motivate, develop, and retain the requisite people talent.

To employ the people test ask:

  1. Do we have the people capacity to fill key roles?
  2. Are people motivated to fulfill the roles as designed?

Leadership Test Do we understand the value proposition of leadership? What’s the core purpose of leadership?

If I collected a dollar from every design team that complained that their new design was meaningless without renewed, enlightened leadership, I would be a rich woman. The principle behind the leadership test is that leaders carry the performance spirit of the organization – they direct the focus of people’s work, enable the development of capabilities and access to resources, and influence how work is accomplished through the sanctioning of formal and use of informal processes, protocols and norms. Therefore, no design work is complete until the roles, competencies, and expectations of leaders are defined, enabled, and supported.

To employ the leadership test ask:

  1. Do we have a common understanding of the role of leaders?
  2. Are our leaders, guided by a core platform of values, mindsets and skills?
  3. Does our platform enable alignment, learning, capacity building, etc.?
  4. Do we have mechanisms in place to enable leaders to learn and work together?

Feasibility Test: Do we understand the constraints bounding our design?

The feasibility test is a reality check. In every organization’s environment, constraints exist. They may be external, such as access to talent or governing legislation, or internal such as culture, technology gaps, or limited financial resources. For the design to be workable, the constraints must be surfaced and mitigated. Otherwise, the constraints will eventually become roadblocks.

To employ the feasibility test ask:

  1. What are the firm boundaries in which we must operate?
  2. Are we operating within these defined parameters?
  3. How might we mitigate against these boundaries?
  4. Are there any roadblocks?


When it comes to designing organizations, there is no single design solution that will optimize all elements. Moreover, changes adopted in one part of your organization will necessarily impact other parts of your organization. To expand your view of the strengths, weakness, and opportunities inherent in your organizational design, employ the good design tests: Fit for Strategy, Flexibility, Capabilities and Resources, Relationships, Accountability, People, Leadership, and Feasibility. The conversations that result from execution of these design tests will subsequently enable your team to have a whole-systems, holistic perspective of your design. The result? You will be better equipped to make realistic and useful organizational design choices.


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