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Are You Stuck In a Box?

by Elise Olding  |  September 7, 2010  |  4 Comments

I’m continuing to do research with Carol Rozwell on organizational liquidity. One of the challenging parts of our job is to work through the implementation scenarios. It’s not practical to present a concept without the pragmatic advice of how to get there. Organizational liquidity is a people based skill. (It is defined as: a cultural change that shifts intervention from project level work with defined outcomes to an organizational capability that is always on, constantly monitoring patterns in the collective and seeking progress.)

Some years ago I took a course based on Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  In that course we did an interactive session where we defined all the roles we play in our life – for instance some typical roles could be:

• mother
• wife
• friend
• sister
• aunt
• boss
• colleague
• community member
• sports coach
• volunteer

We then prioritized these roles and talked about the behavioral norms. It was interesting to go through this thought process and look at the relationships between the roles. What one might think is important (e.g. being a “boss”) might end up as a lower priority than being a mother. This priority influences how we make decisions.

This made me think about the roles we play at work and how they are so often confused with jobs. Why is it that we can readily swap our context and play the expected role in our personal endeavors, but in organizations we seem to have a difficult time making the shift from jobs to roles? Is part of the problem our own mental models about what work is? Have we confined ourselves to a box on the org chart?

To achieve organizational liquidity we need to be able to make these shifts in our jobs, to embrace roles and tackle work with clear accountability and understanding of priority – just like we do in our everyday lives. Can we make this shift? Can we apply the learning from our personal lives to help?

I think we can but what are your thoughts?

See also this video from Value Networks.

Follow me on Twitter @eliseolding

Category: organizational-change  

Tags: business-proces  change-management  organizational-change  organizational-liquidity  value-networks  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Are You Stuck In a Box?

  1. Great post, Elise. Your question is a very important one that is gaining a lot of traction in talent management. It is one of the key questions addressed by the Future of Talent Institute, which is undertaking research in this area with its membership. Thank you for the video link!

  2. Elise,

    ‘Organizational liquidity’ is an interesting description of a very important concept we are working with in Chevron’s Downstream business. We are in the midst of a major restructuring, resulting in a new organizational structure and people in new positions with new responsibilities.

    We are finding that the transition we are managing is much easier as a result of work that had been done previously to clearly define our core business processes and the roles needed to execute them. Our concept of business process roles is distinct from organizational positions as you point out.

    By clearly understanding which roles are critical to the effective performance of our business processes we were able to very quickly identify where within the new organizational structure these roles would best be performed. And knowing where these roles would be performed enabled us to identify where we had competency gaps to be addressed, and to deliver role discussion guides and knowledge handover checklists to those who were new to their roles.

    It will be interesting to follow your research in this area as I’m sure we are just scratching the surface.

    General Manager
    Value Chain Optimization Center of Expertise

  3. Jurgen van der Vlugt says:

    Organizational liquidity… Interesting concept; to be weighed to the ‘other’ (?) side of talent management. Virtualy NO company or organization takes on new recruits (certainly not at an above-freshman level) to let them practice to their talents. On the contrary, a vacancy is filled with the most fitting candidate — who may for years on end do only what the tiny box (s)he’s in, was defined for. Meanwhile, the person may have brought in many talents and initiatives for which there is no room to deploy. Which leads to frustration, docile behaviour and withering of talents.
    Why can’t a company make room for one’s wants, talents, and ideas, and give room for (even greenfields) initiatives that may (or not…) benefit the company much, much more than just drone fulfillment?
    So, organizational liquidity can be done, and make happier employees oh no I mean persons…

    And the phrase is worthy of becoming a consultant’s buzzword. ;-]

  4. Dave Feineman says:

    Way back in 2004, I gave a talk on real world applications of object oriented process modeling. The problem I was investigating at the time was the impact of hurricanes on work and roles on offshore facilities. What I found fascinating was that it explictly was such an anomaly to most BPM case studies: an emergency business process that changes role assignments, runs at a higher priority and supplants steady state operational processes.

    The analogy I used at the time – and one that I thought most people could relate to – was a local fire station. At that site there are a collection of objects – fire trucks, axes, rain coats, hats, and hoses. There are people who have positions with assigned roles. And there are routine business processes- perhaps focusing on training, public education, and equipment maintenance.

    But at any time, there could be a fire alarm. Most of the important process objects from the routine mode are relevant when the firefighters are engaged in dealing with an actual emergency. But the same positions take on new roles, and the routine process is replaced by one dealing with emergency response.

    And afterwards- they move back through a different set of post event processes and roles, until they resume the normal state.

    A long way through of saying- perhaps examples of seamless organizational liquidity (process and role transformation in response to triggering events) are a lot more common in the real world. And maybe the difficulty comes in recognizing triggering events and their relative priority- and not in peoples ability to quickly change organization roles.

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