HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Organizational Reviews: A Positive and Productive Approach

By Dimitri Pojidaeff, HR Group Management Consultants

Originally published in the April 1997 issue of Municipal World 

Organizations today, in both the private and public sectors, are faced with the economic necessity of becoming as cost effective as possible while providing excellent products and services. Municipalities are faced with reduced transfer payments, programs downloaded from the provinces, demand for more services and less willingness on the part of their clients, the public, to pay more taxes. Restructuring, mergers, amalgamation and regionalization are a common occurrence. An Organizational Review can be a useful means under any circumstances to accomplish the following goals:

  • To create the most cost effective organizational structure and division of work that provides optimum customer service and flexibility for future growth and increased work demands.
  • To create a productive workplace that fosters the use of those management practices such as delegation of responsibility and participation of all staff in order to promote teamwork, service, quality and individual accountability and ownership.
  • To align such human resource management areas as performance management, job descriptions, hours of work, salary administration, and human resource policies with corporate goals to ensure that they add value by fostering productivity and customer service and promoting individual responsibility and accountability.
  • To recognize the distinct roles of council and administration and to foster productive working relationships between them.

All too often, however, the review or audit as it is frequently referred to, becomes another flavor of the month leaving resentment, cynicism and poor morale in its wake. They are frequently self defeating in that there is less productivity and efficiency than there was before. Why does this unfortunately occur? The primary reason is that there is no commitment, buy-in or ownership of the process on the part of most staff. No matter what “flavor” is being used, the process is usually imposed top-down with only lip service being paid to the concept of staff input. All such processes, however, require full participation of all concerned if they are to be successful. Restructuring healthcare in Alberta, for example, has not been very successful for this very reason and serious attempt is now being made to meaningfully involve all stakeholders in the process.

We believe and our experience has shown that organizational reviews can be extremely effective if the following principles are followed in their implementation:

1. The process itself that is used to perform an organizational review is as equally important as the outcomes of the review; in fact the success of the outcomes is directly influenced by the process. Our experience with organizational reviews, reengineering, downsizing and restructuring in general has shown time and time again that if staff at all levels are not fully involved in the process, there is no commitment or buy-in and the organization is left with poor morale and does not achieve the cost effectiveness and competitive advantage that were the reasons for the review in the first place.

2. Difficult decisions will need to be made. Performance issues must be addressed and dealt with fairly for the benefit of everyone: the individual concerned, other staff and the organization. Any in-depth organizational review has a negative impact, or at least it is perceived as negative, for some of the employees involved. Nonetheless our experience and that of others has shown that the least negative impact can be achieved through involvement of the stakeholders in a process that affects their livelihood, careers and daily work. If they understand that their voice will be heard and that they will be treated fairly and equitably, no matter what the outcome to them personally, then they will be far more likely to contribute positively to the review rather than creating a negative outcome.

3. Encouraging and capitalizing on the participation, commitment and buy-in from all staff levels will enhance the success of restructuring. Better decisions and outcomes are arrived at through the participation of all concerned. Regardless of any consultant’s expertise and experience in organizational behaviour and development, it is the individual employees who fully understand the work that they do on a daily basis and who can, therefore, contribute the most about how that work can and should be organized to provide the best service in the most cost effective manner.

4. The client must ensure that recommendations are consistent with their requirements. Consultants should provide their experience, expertise and advice; they should not try to impose  predetermined outcomes.

5. Delegation of decision making to the level at which the work is performed will increase customer service and organizational effectiveness. This delegation also fosters individual responsibility and accountability without which you cannot have good customer service. Front line employees must have delegated authority to make reasonable decisions on the spot in order to satisfy customer needs. The less bureaucracy and the simpler the organizational structure, the greater the cost effectiveness and the flexibility to meet future growth and increased customer requirements.

6. All human resource management practices should only be used if they add value to the “bottom line” by promoting better productivity, accountability, service and cost effectiveness. Pay practices that are based on rigid arithmetic formulas and seniority rather than performance, for example, do not add value.

7. The organizational review and consequent restructuring acts as a catalyst for ongoing change and development. The participative approach by all employees and management serves to start building the desired team approach, commitment and organizational culture that is required if the organization is to be productive and adaptable to future changes. Logical groups such as inside office staff or outside public works staff can be used to analyze findings and recommend solutions.

8. More than just a written report. Consultants should start new work relationships and processes working before they leave and develop teamwork wherever possible. They should leave you with the policies, practices and procedures to continue operating in a cost effective and efficient manner and remain available for ongoing advice and assistance.

9. All means of improving service, quality and cost effectiveness should be examined:

  • Organization structure and division of work.
  • Overlap, duplication and redundancy.
  • Administrative policies and procedures.
  • Human resources management.
  • Council / Administration relationship.
  • Teamwork, delegation and accountability.
  • Alternative means of service delivery.
  • Work methods, policies and procedures.

10. Follow – up. The consultant should provide ongoing advice and assistance and emergency help when needed and a formal follow – up after approximately six months to ensure that all is working well and to “fine tune” where required.