“I would love to see us be partners with organizations on their own journey to becoming learning organizations, organizations that really want to serve their whole stakeholder ecosystem.” — Chris Anibarro, Director of Organizational Design
Chris, let’s start with your background in organizational design previous to iF.
I spent the first 10 years of my career in nonprofits and the social sector. That’s important to note because it really anchored this passion of mine, that organizations be guided by a higher purpose. After 10 years of this work, I became deeply interested in what helped organizations grow or scale their impact. I spent the next 15 years as a LEAN, continuous improvement consultant in a variety of sectors that included healthcare, government, and tech to name a few.
As I progressed in my career, I learned the importance of being able to create organizations that would be able to learn and adapt. My working career started in 1998, and I think that’s important because these last 20 years have been a period where there’s been a lot of change. The importance of not only learning how to design organizations to deal with change, but having that come at a time where the world is experiencing quite a bit of very fast change, has made me excited about the opportunity to work with purpose-driven organizations at iF.
So now that you are at iF, how did this idea of organizational design come about?
About two years ago, iF became interested in the conversation around stakeholder capitalism, so it started there. To put it in simple terms, stakeholder capitalism is the idea that business can be a force for good. We engaged in our own “hunt for the how” to better understand what organizations were doing to apply the principles of stakeholder capitalism. Fast forward two years later and today we’re at an inflection point where I think we now have a point of view and some thinking around what some of those “hows” might be to help organizations become more stakeholder-centered.
There’s two things that I think are really anchoring organizational design here. One is that it’s become apparent that in a stakeholder world where businesses aren’t just trying to create a profit, but trying to create profitable solutions for people and the planet, you have to be guided by a higher purpose. Why do you exist… who does it impact… and what is your role in driving that impact? That’s really at the heart of a higher purpose. What we’re finding is that organizations built in the last 20 years, that were purpose-first, are having an easier time being able to do that, and companies who are now asking themselves, ‘how do we become purpose driven?’ are encountering roadblocks uncovering that purpose. That’s something that iF can help with, and will be a big part of the organizational design practice– helping organizations embed and own what it looks like to be purpose guided in this world.
The second thing, which I mentioned earlier, is that we’re in a period where there’s not only an exponential amount of change, but the nature of change itself is very different. It used to be that the way that organizations engaged in change would be very linear, so you could plan and execute in a similar way– what you might call “complicated”.
Today, a lot of the change is what we call “complex”. There actually isn’t a solution that you can execute on. So instead, what organizations are finding is that they need to be able to test, adapt, and then adjust to changing conditions. That’s challenging for many organizations, because most weren’t designed to do that. That’s the centerpiece of what we’re offering at iF– we’re helping our clients distinguish; are they experiencing complex or complicated change, and then helping them design simple operating systems to be able to navigate this continuous cycle of testing, learn, and adapt to create new results.
I know that this is an emerging practice, but have there been any recent projects at iF that have demonstrated any of this thinking?
Absolutely, and without naming the client, I’ll describe the engagement. We recently worked with a purpose-led organization that didn’t realize that the goals that they were engaging with were complex in nature. They were struggling to make progress because they were approaching them by using cause-based or complicated tools (work plans and timelines), and they were struggling to figure out why they weren’t able to make the progress that they wanted. As an organization, they wanted to be able to live out their purpose, but they were unintentionally burning out their people. So what we did is helped them rethink their strategy management system to focus on testing and learning across their organization. We knew they couldn’t generate a solution and implement it for everyone. Instead, they needed to learn what interventions would work for which teams, and under what conditions; and they needed to make this a continual cycle to see real progress given the nature of the goals. Overall, the focus of our work with this organization was a way of rethinking and redesigning their strategy operating system to answer: ‘how do you engage in strategy activation to be able to deal with that kind of complexity?’
How do you see the future of this practice? What would success look like for you?
I would love to see us be partners with organizations on their own journey to becoming learning organizations, organizations that want to serve their whole stakeholder ecosystem. I don’t see us coming in and just zapping and running, but I would love to support organizations who are taking a stand to actually redesign their whole organization to test, learn, and adapt continuously. That’s what I think of when I consider the future of work– that’s actually where we’re headed.