The Government of Alberta’s Organizational Design Journey

In early 2013, the Government of Alberta (GoA) Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education’s review of their organizational structure began. This was part of an overall GoA-wide commitment to reviewing ministry structures. The intent was to ensure that the roles within the organization and branch/divisional structures, aligned with the current and future business needs. The executive team supported this approach and agreed that the Queen’s IRC’s model of organizational design, or the 4-D’s, was the process the department would use to complete the reviews.

The Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education’s Human Resource (HR) department was tasked with taking a lead role. Our Executive Director of HR was very proactive and supportive by ensuring that as many HR consultants and managers as possible had taken the Queen’s IRC Organizational Design course. The HR department temporarily structured themselves in a way that would allow for the focus of this work. We created a team of eight HR consultants and managers whose primary role for 6-8 months would be working with divisions and branches, using the model and implementing the design down to the employee level. This opportunity was a new way of working for HR, and the approach was also new for our clients. Our goal was to have all divisions complete their review by March of 2014.  Putting the 4-D’s into operation across six divisions, and multiple branches was going to be a large challenge in such a short period.  Human Resource consultants and managers were the key facilitators. Previous branches within the Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education had completed design work using the 4-D’s, so we knew the process worked well.

As we started the work, we also began drafting a guide which all of us could draw from for each group we were working with.  We created ‘design teams’ which consisted of employees at all levels and who could best represent the work across a division or branch. We used the recently updated competencies of the GoA, including systems thinking, innovation, and creativity as examples of criteria for choosing the design team members. We agreed that as part of our continuous learning, HR would meet as a group every Monday morning for 45 minutes to review lessons learned, share experiences, and update each other on progress.

We began the work with senior leader discussions on the model, and an orientation with our design teams. We reinforced the process, and started the conversations by completing 2-day kickoff sessions. Following the 2-day kickoff, we met approximately one day per week for about 2-3 months.  Each session informed the next, and we trusted the process to get us where we needed to be.  We ensured senior leaders were part of the discussions as needed, and kept them in the loop regarding progress.  The responsibility of communicating to the organization was given to the design team members so they were actively engaged in the change conversations.

After multiple sessions were completed, we developed design prototypes which were conceptual in nature and included narratives to provide context. Each division or branch worked on more than one prototype.  To ensure buy in, and that all employees had input, we invited divisional staff to ‘town halls’ which provided an opportunity for every employee to give feedback on the designs. The town halls became an opportunity to engage with all staff as well as get their feedback.

The final stage, after revising our prototypes from all employee input, was final approval by the Assistant Deputy Ministers and their senior leaders. Once approved, we moved into implementation. Implementation required HR consultants and managers to work closely with branches and units to determine work that would change, and potential new roles.

Overall, this work has transformed our HR department, as our work has now extended beyond the traditional core functions of human resources and our clients have seen the value of the human resources role in this work.

The design process is built on shared understanding and dialogue. It takes time to complete the process and implement it.  But through this process, we learned that using the collective wisdom of the employees across an organization is very powerful.  Many senior leaders have said it was unlikely they would have come up with the designs that their teams did on their own.

However, our story is not complete.  We made tremendous progress this year, but the work continues.  We built an evaluation framework to assess the processes we used during the design and implementation.  It will also evaluate the outcomes from the new designs one year from now. Hopefully, we will see that the designs have contributed to meeting the future business needs of the GoA.

As one HR employee noted “if you want to change a culture of both the ministry or a work unit, go through a design process with them.”


About the Authors

Dianna Wilk is the Executive Director of Human Resources with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

Judi Carmichael is the Director of Human Resource Consulting, with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

Marina Christopherson is the Director of Human Resource Strategies, with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.


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