Posts Tagged ‘Marchese Leadership’

I am excited to announce that my book, DESIGN: An Owner’s Manual for Learning, Living, and Leading was published this month. If you feel like you have strayed far from home- from your identity or purpose- or perhaps never really discovered either, this book is for you! If you would like to learn more about it, please click on the link below! Prepare to embark on the journey of a lifetime!


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The conversation continues. Greater self-awareness of our distinctiveness can be harnessed to help us make choices that resonate with our “Birthright Gifts”. The result- increased engagement, happiness, and creativity.

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Doug and I continue our televised conversation.

On this second segment of this program of The Reflective Leader, Dr. Tony Marchese and Mr. Doug Walters utilize the metaphor of a Personal Owner’s Manual to challenge viewers to meaningfully consider the relationship of their unique constitution to their unique contribution to this world. This program explores the deeper dimensions of human diversity and its impact when fully realized.


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Anthony Marchese, Ph.D

Sharon Harsh, Ed.D.


Traditional organizations have existed for dozens of years; in fact, have survived numerous societal changes and accountability demands relatively intact. The vast majority of these organizations have not only survived, but most of the original job requirements, tasks, and structures are still in place. While numerous enhancements in technology and facilities have been implemented over the years, the core processes of most institutions remain the same. So why change? Why should an organization modify its structures and processes? How do organization operations impact change efforts?

For years, these questions have been at the center of countless articles, books and conference agendas and the answers are remarkably similar. Change is not only inevitable, it is essential to meet new challenges and unilateral solutions used to address traditional issues are generally ineffective when applied to the complex, rapidly emerging challenges facing institutions today (Brinkerhoff & Morgan, 2010). While organizations have remained relatively intact, many institutions are not responsive to environmental demands and do not meet the performance expectations held by governing agencies and stakeholders. Why should an organization modify its structures and processes?  Over time, the consistent use of outdated structures and processes can lead to organization inertia and ossification (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Hess & Leal, 2003; Kelly & Amburgey, 1991), a condition that occurs when procedures and structures become rigid and limit the ability to effectively respond to diverse situations. Additionally, organization operations have a large impact on change efforts. Outdated and ineffective structures and processes limit organization agility and flexibility to differentiate responses to emerging issues, constrain the organization’s ability to implement new strategies, and often cause the organization to repeat inadequate actions. While answers to the questions are similar, the proposed approaches to change are as varied as the issues and challenges that arise. Approaches and solutions range from sophisticated multistep processes to sweeping, comprehensive transformations, and all hold great promise in helping institutions meet new performance expectations. Ironically, the proposed solutions often fail to achieve the desired results because organizational structures and processes block or interfere with implementation of the very changes being instituted.  In these situations, organizations can use a process of organization design to identify the ineffective architecture or infrastructure and replace or refine the cumbersome structures.

 This paper examines the role of design in organization development, looks at the structures and elements of the organization that should be examined and considered for modification, and posits that organization design is essential for building the capacity of low performing institutions to fully implement and sustain change and support continued organization growth. Finally, the paper presents a process for implementing organization design and reconfiguring structures to support change. 

The Need for Design

Many leaders within a variety of domains are finding themselves at a critical juncture. Both the internal and external environments within which an organization operates are experiencing immense changes. The human infrastructure within today’s organization places increased demands upon the leader to be attentive to employee satisfaction and engagement, an increased propensity for burnout, and the effectiveness of traditional incentives due to an influx of a multigenerational workforce. Add to these challenges a rapidly changing external landscape and it becomes obvious that traditional approaches to organizational leadership and development are insufficient. More than ever before, leaders must understand, meet, and often exceed stakeholder expectations by maintaining a competitive advantage. Global economic uncertainties are forcing organizations to do much more with much less.  The old adage that leaders are “born, not made” is becoming increasingly irrelevant as internal and external realities reinforce the fact that we exist in a “post-heroic era of leadership” due to the impossibility of a single person to resolve all of the challenges facing the 21st Century organization.

An organization comprised of diverse individuals who maintain a growth-oriented mindset (Dweck, 2006) and possess the capacity to establish systems, structures, and policies that analyze what is, anticipate what may be, and adapt accordingly while maintaining a clear focus of identity and purpose will not only survive but thrive. Organizations that sustain a “fixed mindset” (Dweck, 2006) distinguished by an uncompromising conformity to long-held policies and procedures, top-down decision-making, and a self-indulgent, aloof attitude towards what is happening on the “outside” will likely find themselves gradually moving towards obsolescence. Ironically, educational organizations are often steeped in beliefs and practices that constrict innovation, evolution, and learning. The concept of “lifelong learner” is not only applicable to the student, but to the organization as well.

Organizational design challenges leaders to cultivate an evolutionary culture of analysis, synthesis, and strategic adaptation. Design efforts are based upon a desire to establish coherence between beliefs and behaviors within the organization. In other words, the identity and function (actual behavior) of the organization are tightly aligned. If it is determined that an organization that functions less like a machine and more like a living organism will improve performance and increase identification of and adaptability to both internal and external elements, several steps can be taken to move toward coherence. Margaret Wheatley explains the predicament in which organizations may find themselves as they stand at the cusp of a change effort.“  Frequently, as we look into the organization, we see multiple selves-messages, goals, and behaviors that tell conflicting stories. How do we know what is important to the organization? Which identity should we honor? Which should we ignore? Organizations with multiple personality disorder confuse us with their incoherence…In the presence of such schizophrenia, an opportunity to choose among different selves feels to much like Russian roulette…We can’t resolve organizational incoherence with training programs about values, or with beautiful reports that explain the company’s way, or by the charisma of any leader. We can resolve it only with coherence- fundamental integrity about who we are. With coherence, comes the capacity to create organizations that are both free and effective. They are effective because they support people’s abilities to self-organize. They are free because they know who they are. Coherent organizations experience the world with less threat and more freedom. They don’t create boundaries to defend and preserve themselves. They don’t have to keep others out. Clear at their core, they become less and less concerned about where they stop. Inner clarity gives them expansionary range” (Wheatley, 1999, pp. 59-61).  Attentiveness to the ontology of organizational design requires leaders to intentionally encapsulate and communicate the identity and purpose of the organization and construct systems, structures and the right team to enable the organization to perform according to design. Coherence between being and doing is reinforced through the utilization of a capacity-building approach to developing human capital. Individuals are infused with the knowledge, skills, and processes to perpetuate the evolution of the organization. It becomes a living organism, highly attuned to its surroundings, clear in its identity and purpose, and able to anticipate and respond to unfamiliar variables. In summation, design is imperative for growth.

Preliminary Considerations: Design and Organizational Development and Change

Organizational Design can be a messy process. Systems impacted by design can include: information systems, training systems, organizational structure, decision-making system, tasks and technologies, and planning and forecasting (makeadentleadership.com).  Understanding the propensity for change is a prerequisite to action. Since change is highly contextual in nature, leaders must be prepared to engage in a series of experimental activities that may introduce new concepts and behaviors to the organization. For some, this process may prove to be a bit unsettling initially. According to Wheatley, “Many of us have created lives and organizations that give very little support for experimentation. We believe that answers already exist out there, independent of us. We don’t need to experiment to find what works, we just need to find the answer. So we look to other organizations, or to experts, or to reports. We are dedicated detectives, tracking down solutions, attempting to pin them on ourselves and our organizations. (Wheatley, 1999, pp. 21). She continues, “Every act of organizing is an experiment. We begin with desire, with a sense of purpose and direction. But we enter the experience vulnerable, unprotected by the illusory cloak of prediction. We acknowledge that we don’t know how this work will actually unfold. We discover what we are capable of as we go along. We engage with others for the experiment. We are willing to commit to a system whose effectiveness cannot be seen until it is in motion. Every act of organizing is an act of faith. We hope for things unseen which are true” (Wheatley, 1999, pp. 74).

Philology is the “branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages: (oxforddictionaries.com).  Even though an organization may be an educational institution by nature and portends to cultivate a love of learning Gk. Philogia among all members of its community, it does not mean that it is functioning as a learning organization or as an organism which is both alive and adaptable. Organizational philology provides provocative insight into the lexicon of an organization thus enabling the observer to discern what is ultimately meaningful to its members through their day-to-day language.  Repetitious words or phrases and those used with great inflection can reveal a substantial amount of information about what an organization values or thinks it values. In many cases, an organizational lexicon filled with synonyms for innovation does not necessarily mean that it is poised for design. Analyzing the language and then seeking coherence between belief and behavior can help a leader determine the propensity for change or design. Additionally, introducing new vocabulary into the lexicon can serve as an effective means for preparing a community for change. What does the vocabulary reveal about members orientation towards change? What do frequently used words and phrases say about the level of trust members feel towards leadership? Does the lexicon contain words or phrases that imply a sense of ownership for the success and long-term sustainability of the organization among members?

Meaning-making and Design

Many change initiatives fail due to an incongruity of meaning between leaders and followers. Positive design requires that leaders and followers share in the meaning-making process. Ladkin (2010) emphasizes, “…A crucial aspect of a successful vision is the extent to which it aligns meaning for those involved in a common activity.” Ladkin (2010) describes meaning-making as a negotiated activity between a leader and followers. Gadamer (1975) suggests that, “Understanding is not reconstruction, but mediation (from Truth and Method as quoted by Ladkin, 2010). In other words, a leader cannot make a change initiative meaningful for followers. Consequently, unless followers share in the negotiated or mediated meaning-making activities with the leader, the chances of a successful implantation of a design initiative occurring are minimal. Followers wish to be co-creators of the design rather than feel as though they are merely recipients of its consequences. “The perspective of leadership is that often followers are conceptualized as the ‘things’ to be influenced and directed in a way determined by the leader…In order for meaning to be truly forged between people, both must be open to the other. Such openness necessarily recognizes that leaders take into account their followers perspectives and meanings as well as for followers to consider the perspectives of their leader. Meaning-making can then be a jointly negotiated activity. The ‘follower’ does not just incorporate meanings of the leader as indicated by much of the leadership literature. Instead, the dialogic process enables co-created meaning to emerge from authentic engagement between leaders and followers. Meaning created in such a way would serve as a robust touchstone from which aligned organizational action could take place” (Ladkin, 2010, pp. 113-114). Ladkin reminds leaders not to take the process of meaning-making lightly. It requires much from both leaders and followers. Worthwhile design efforts include discussion, debate, compromise, experimentation, uncertainty, ambiguity, and giving up long held beliefs and establishing new ones. Leaders and followers alike have a stake in the outcome of the design. 

Four Benefits of Incorporating Meaning-making into Organizational Design:

  1. Meaning-making as a preliminary design activity promotes ontological coherence between being and doing (identity and function) and shared understanding between leaders and followers.
  2. Meaning-making as a preliminary design activity extends ownership for the outcome of the design process to the followers thus increasing personal commitment.
  3. Meaning-making as a preliminary design activity generates psychological control over the destiny of the organization. Members increase their capacity to make sense of and adapt to an externally changing landscape.
  4. Meaning-making as a preliminary design activity cultivates increased creativity due to a positive reorientation toward work by helping to shift members’ orientation from transactional (expending effort in exchange for a reward) to transformational (finding intrinsic value in the activities). Creativity is critical for organizational evolution.    

 Enhancing Organization Architecture and Capacity for Change

The architecture of an organization is a structural framework for implementing the mission and vision and is composed of infrastructure and procedural elements that shape the way work is conducted. The architectural elements create consistent boundaries and channels for conducting the work and establish meaningful differences in the nature of the work at each level of the organization. In the current environment, the volume and velocity of change requires an organization to not only conduct its work in concert with the established mission, but to simultaneously address an array of ever-changing challenges (Lawler & Worley, 2006). To do this, organizations need to become increasingly agile (Silverman, 1997); however, few organizations have a fully developed an architectural framework that can be used to successfully respond to a myriad of challenges. As a result, organizations often operate in a crisis mode, use ineffective work processes, and attempt to apply solutions that cannot be fully implemented.

 An organization without agile and flexible structures can enhance its ability to respond to emerging challenges by engaging in a process of organization design. Organization design includes assessing and reengineering all formal and informal architectural components such as information, tasks, structures and processes (Silverman, 1997; Lunenburg, 2012) and the actual design process involves a series of distinct steps depending on the type of change process and theoretical foundation used to reshape the work of the organization (Lunenburg, 2012; Silverman, 1997; Denham et.al., 1995). The resultant structural changes should be carefully selected and organization leaders must fully institute the targeted modifications so that the changes allow the organization to function more effectively. Silverman (1997) recommends leaders should be educated on the change process and because a theoretical framework must guide the redesign work in order for the changes to be meaningful and coherent, further recommends that the design process not be implemented if leaders decide to skip over the education requirement.

 Structures for Change and Growth

 Any modification to the architecture of an organization should enhance the ability to fulfill and be accountable to a mission, attain a desired future status, permit adaptability when responding to change, and support on-going organization growth (Brickley, et.al, 2002). For each of these conditions to occur, the organization needs to have structures and processes that will allow the desired state to be attained.  Core structures for all organizations include a framework of activities that guide the completion of basic work, cross-functional activities that coordinate the overall functions of the system (Silverman, 1997), a training structure that allows staff to grow and the organization to continually update and systematically redesign its processes, and written guidelines or policies on the roles and responsibilities of leaders and work teams (Denham et.al.,1995; Hall & Tolbert, 2009). These core structures are embedded into the design of every organization and must be included in any architectural analysis and change; otherwise, the organization would become fragmented. The core structures also provide a foundation for classifying the overall structure of an organization (Lunenburg, 2012). Using the Mintzberg framework (Mintzberg, 1992, 2009), the extent to which an organization develops and utilizes the core structures determines whether it operates under one of five types of organization structure (Greenberg, 2011; Lunenburg, 2012):

  • Simple Structure – the organization is small, operations are informal and maintained through direct supervision; can adapt to changes rapidly; limited resources require innovative organization redesign efforts.  
  • Machine Bureaucracy – uses standardized work processes; high degree of formal work specialization; decisions are centralized; the goal of organization design is usually to achieve internal efficiency.
  • Professional Bureaucracy – standardizes skills;  gives autonomy to professionals; provides complex services through highly trained professionals; organization design efforts focus on coordination problems
  • Divisionalized Form – decision making is decentralized at the divisional level; organization design efforts focus on ability to function independently
  • Adhocracy – uses technical specialists to operate the organization; operates informally; the goal of organization design is usually to maintain flexible and informal operations

 While organization design can focus on refining structures that improve operations and maintain the overall architecture or structure, organizations that engage in design work in order to promote growth, need to focus on building new processes, systems and operational structures (Mohrman, 2007).  The new structures should expand the capability to perform additional functions, manage enlarged services, clients and resources, and respond effectively to increased numbers of diverse challenges. Mohrman found two types of growth to be especially responsive to organization design: life-cycle growth and developing new capabilities. Life-cycle growth occurs during the early years of an organization’s existence. As an organization grows, it encounters various challenges that signal the need for expanded structures. Often, the management structures need to be modified to address increasingly complex activities, leadership structures must be updated to handle the increased complexity of the work, and coordination functions need to be upgraded to ensure the growing sectors of the organization have sufficient resources and support. When organizations experience surges of unexpected growth, the expansion of clients and demand for services often require the development of new capabilities and new methods of operation. In these situations, organization design must focus on innovative design solutions that will enable on-going growth and effectively coordinate advanced operations. When the organization needs expanded capabilities, design work should include a high level understanding of organizational design and design options, diagnosis and design of appropriate modifications, skill in restructuring processes and frameworks to meet challenges at all levels, and design teams with the expertise necessary to support the design processes.

Building Capacity for Change

Organizations that respond effectively to rapid change have flexible and reconfigurable organizational structures (Worley & Lawler, 2006). During the design process, Worley and Lawler recommend modifying structures to maximize the surface area of the organization by connecting employees with the external environment. Design structures include cross-functional teams and interagency work groups are used to increase the external focus of staff and import information about trends, opportunities and issues into the system.

 When organizations design effective change management enhancements to the operating structures, emphasis should also be placed on building the capacity to effectively use the modified structures and processes (Harsh, 2013). In particular, organizations need the capacity to identify and respond to emerging challenges, maintain high performance levels, and institute continuous architectural improvements. The set of capacities needed for this work include agility in incorporating change, absorbing and using new information, forecasting the most important emerging changes, finding effective solutions to a range of challenges, and employing multiple leadership approaches tailored to the targeted situation. Together, the capacities should enlarge the organization’s ability to absorb and implement targeted change and to proactively implement strategies that will help move the organization to a new operational state (Harsh 2010; April, 2012).

Ambidexterity.  Birkinshaw and Gibson (2004) suggest that an organization with ambidexterity has the ability to simultaneously execute current strategy while developing tomorrow’s projected strategy. Ambidexterity capacity gives organizations maximum agility to remain effective in unpredictable and uncharted future contexts. For organizations to gain maximum agility, key organizational infrastructures must be continuously assessed, redesigned, aligned, and implemented (Banathy 1996; Barney 1997; Wright, McMahan, and McWilliams 1994). This multistep process of redesigning existing infrastructures is known as self-organization. In a fully adaptive and ambidextrous organization, all employees learn how to choose and to adapt, modify, and operate separate structures for different types of activities (Birkinshaw and Gibson 2004; Greenwood and Hinings 1998, 1993; Tushman and O’Reilly, 1996).

Absorptive.  Absorptive capacity is a set of routines and processes that an organization can use to acquire, assimilate, transform, and exploit knowledge and apply it to the work of the organization (Zahra and George 2002; Cohen and Levinthal, 1990). To increase its absorptive capacity, an organization must boost its ability to transform, implement, and use external knowledge to enhance its core competencies (Daghfous 2004). Absorptive capacity is composed of four dimensions: acquisition, assimilation, transformation, and exploitation.

Forecasting and Solution Finding.  Forecasting and solution finding are capacities that place an organization in a position to shape and guide the impact of upcoming events. Forecasting is conducted by maintaining longitudinal data on lagging indicators and regularly analyzing leading indicators of organization performance, upcoming trends, and regulatory concerns that would lead to statutory, policy, or programmatic change (Rohrbeck 2010; De Geus 1997). Solution finding is a proactive higher order capacity that an organization can use to develop and implement refined operations. A critical component of the decision making process, solution finding occurs in four steps: fully defining the problem so that the essential issue is identified, generating viable solutions that address the targeted issue, identifying an alternative from the pool of potential solutions, and selecting and implementing the optimal problem solution (de Bono 1992).

Presencing.  Presencing is a term that combines the concepts of presence and sensing and is the methodology used in Theory U to lead profound change (Jaworski 2011). To lead significant change, presencing  is used in conjunction with two additional processes: sensing (understanding the current reality of the system) and realizing (acting swiftly to bring forth a new reality). Presencing helps individuals attend to situations more effectively by identifying and using future possibilities to address current problems. The U-Process creates shared learning spaces where teams of highly diverse individuals and leaders from different parts of a poorly performing system work together to generate breakthrough solutions.

Multifaceted Leadership.  The type of leadership most suited to a specific change initiative is determined by the organizational context and the nature of the changes to be implemented (Tannenbaum and Schmidt 1973; Higgs and Rowland 2005; Maxwell 2005). Strategic leadership is especially effective for infrastructure development, capacity building, and attaining equity (Heck and Weiss 2005; Allen and Cherrey 2000) and transformational leadership, especially when manifested as distributed leadership, is especially effective for large-scale change efforts (Leithwood et al. 2004). Leaders who can employ various leadership styles are able to facilitate change as a structural issue, a training issue, a power issue, and an identity issue. They can create change by helping employees view the organization through different lenses and by reframing issues so employees understand and embrace the change (Bolman & Deal, 1991; Jaworski 2011).

 Ambidexterity allows an organization to initiate change at any point in the system and to design and implement multiple complementary changes while simultaneously maintaining effective core operations. Absorptive capacity helps an organization continuously assimilate new information and strategies and to incorporate promising practices into existing structures. Forecasting and Solution Finding assists an organization in identifying, creating and using customized interventions that will move the system forward.  Presencing expands the organization’s ability to design and attain a future desired state and the capacity to exercise multifaceted leadership allows the organization to differentiate leadership approaches according to the specific characteristics of an emerging challenge.


Implementing Organization Design

Organization Design is a planned, purposeful activity that results in refinement or replacement of structures that limit or block an organization’s ability to respond to change (Sargent and McConnell, 2008). Additionally, organization design is structured around three key processes used in most organization development work:

  1. Diagnose Organization Needs
  2. Implement Selected Interventions
  3. Modify or Reconfigure Targeted Structures

During the design process, organization structures such as tasks, workflow, responsibilities, and lines of authority, are examined to ensure the work conducted supports the mission and objective of the organization (Nadler and Tushman, 1980) and the structures can be effectively deployed in response to emerging challenges. Interventions to improve organization functioning are identified and weak or ineffective areas are targeted for intervention and modification.

 Diagnose Organization Needs

Organization diagnosis involves assessing or diagnosing the level of functioning and effectiveness of the architecture and determining needed revisions and modifications in the framework of structures and processes (Cummings & Worley, 1993; Rothwell & Sredl, 1992). Diagnostic models, often used to conduct the assessment, can involve a quick narrow scan of trouble spots in the organization (Tichy, 1983) or a broad scan of the entire system (French & Bell, 1995). Two diagnostic models are particularly useful in assessing the effectiveness of organization structures and identifying underlying problems (Faletta, 2008): Nelson and Burns’ High-Performance Programming and The Burke-Litwin Causal Model.

 The Nelson and Burns’ High-performance Programming Framework assesses the performance level of an organization and identifies the interventions needed to transform the organization into a high performing system (Nelson & Burns, 1984; Fuqua & Kurpius, 1993). The Nelson and Burns Framework describes four organizational systems (Nelson & Burns, 1984): a high-performing organization (level 4); a proactive organization (level 3);  a responsive organization (level 2), and a reactive organization (level 1). The characteristics of each type of organization is shown in Figure 2.


                          Figure 2. Nelson and Burns’ High-performance Programming Framework

Level 4

High-Performing Organization

Leaders empower organization staff and focus on organizational excellence. Communication is not restricted. The organization is in a constant state of evolution and staff are afforded opportunities for self- actualization.

Level 3

Proactive Organization

The organization focuses on the future, leaders focus on developing purpose and staff focus on the quality of their contribution to organizational successes. The organization is actively involved in planning and development.

Level 2

Responsive Organization

The responsive organization is more functional, having achieved some clarity of purpose and goals. The organization has some capability to adapt to changing environmental circumstances. Leaders actively coach members in the direction of organizational goals, and some cohesion has developed among work teams.

Level 1

Reactive Organization

The organization is in need of renewal and lacks shared focus. Staff are blamed for poor outcomes and spend considerable time trying to avoid aversive consequences, and leaders spend time enforcing policies that often lack relevance to any common purpose.

 The Burke-Litwin Causal Model of Organizational Performance and Change (Burke & Litwin, 1992) examines twelve organizational variables:  external environment, mission and strategy, leadership, organizational culture, structure, management practices, systems, work unit climate, task requirements and individual skills, motivation, individual needs and values, and individual and organizational performance.  Five variables (external environment, mission and strategy, leadership, organizational culture and performance) can be used to assess the extent to which the organization can initiate transformational change and eight variables (structure, management practices, systems, work unit climate, task requirements and individual skills, motivation, individual needs and values, and individual and organizational performance) can be used to assess the extent to which the organization can effectively use operational and  management structures to implement transactional changes.

 Data collected from a diagnostic assessment are used to pinpoint structures and processes that need to be modified or reconfigured so the organization can effectively respond to emerging challenges. Additionally, the assessments yield a descriptive profile that identifies areas to be considered when selecting improvement interventions. 

 Implement selected interventions

After the diagnostics are completed and targeted areas identified, organizations can initiate the second design process of selecting and implementing interventions. Organization Development (OD) interventions are plans or programs containing specific activities designed to change or improve some part of an organization (Sandhu, Mann & kaur Virk, 2012). OD interventions are generally classified according to activity, group, or process and include areas such as:

  • Structural interventions – changes in the division of work, reporting structures, methods of control, work flow arrangements and communications and authority
  • Technostructural interventions focus on improving technology,  task methods and job design
  • Design-based Interventionsactivities that change the structure, business units, reporting relationships, work processes, jobs, and tasks
  • Large scale interventions – involve a group of stakeholders who define a future organization  and involve all levels of the organization, to analyze, plan, and define the intervention’s outcomes
  • Strategic interventions – align the organization with changing conditions in its environment
  • Team/group interventions – improve interpersonal relations and interdependency among team members
  • Individual/interpersonal interventions – focus on developing specific skills of individuals
  • Information-based Interventions –  activities that clarify or communicate goals and objectives
  • Consequences-based Interventions – activities and systems that focus on metrics and benchmarks to monitor and evaluate performance
  • Process Interventions – focus on activities to improve working relationships, communication, decision-making, leadership and team building (Sandhu, Mann & kaur Virk, 2012; Cummings & Worley, 2009; Hale, 2007; Illback & Zins, 1995).

  Structural and technostructional interventions are particularly useful for making changes to the components of an organization’s architecture that guide the work of the organization. These interventions can include measuring and modifying job tasks and behaviors to increase flexibility and responsiveness to emerging challenges. Modify or reconfigure targeted structures

The trigger point for engaging in design work can occur in multiple places. An organization with high levels of forecasting and solution finding capacity may want to engage in continuous appraisal and restructuring in order to be prepared for ensuing change. Likewise, an organization with the capacity to use presencing and scenario planning may designate specific timelines or cycles to examine performance data and implement structural adjustments that will maximize flexibility and preparedness for projected change.  In most cases, organizations will initiate the design process after experiencing difficulty responding to high impact or priority change demands. In these cases, organizations can use the design process to examine and modify, refine or replace structures that blocked or created difficulty responding effectively.  In addition, the design process may be triggered by sluggish or cumbersome structures that require protracted timelines or excessive effort.

The design process may be used to change one part of the organization architecture or to replace multiple structures throughout the system. Regardless of the number of structures involved, design team members must ensure that structural changes in one part of the system are counterbalanced with adjustments to other portions of the system to ensure essential functions are operational. Where components of the organization operate independently, the design work can track upgrades and


changes, and where changes are made to structures with reciprocal or sequential interdependency (Worren, 2011), the design work will need to include charting and accounting for each step of major tasks to ensure the work is embedded into the revised structures.

 The process presented here provides organizations flexibility in analyzing and choosing the structures to be modified or reconfigured.  The diagnostic process can involve analysis of core operations or as shown in Figure 5, include multiple analyses, each contributing to a fuller understanding of which structures should be modified to maximize organization functioning and effective response to change.


Organization design is a process that can be used to modify or reconfigure structures that keep an organization from responding effectively to emerging challenges. The process is sufficiently flexible to address the breadth and depth needed to design effective structures and allows an organization to be proactive in implementing and modifying structures on a continuous basis. The design process requires careful attention to task components to ensure the functions of the organizationare maintained and operate in a coherent fashion. Ultimately, the design process creates the opportunity for congruence in organization functions by allowing leaders and followers to share in a meaning-making process that guides the design and function of the organization- thus creating a dynamic, organic, and congruent entity.

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“The word ‘school’ which comes from ‘schola’ (meaning free time), reminds us that schools were originally meant to interrupt a busy existence and create some space to contemplate the mysteries of life. Today they have become the arena for a hectic race to accomplish as much as possible and to acquire in a short period the necessary tools to survive the great battle of human life. Books written to be savored slowly are read hastily to fulfill a requirement, paintings made to be seen with a contemplative eye are taken in as part of a necessary art appreciation course, and music composed to be enjoyed at leisure is listened to in order to identify a period or style. Thus, colleges and universities meant to be place for quiet learning have become places of fierce competition, in which the rewards go to those who produce the most and the best.”- Henri Nouwen in Lifesigns

The description of the ideal historical academy proposed by Henri Nouwen is undoubtedly a clear departure from what is occurring in higher education across the country. As a professor, I often began the first day of class by sharing the philosophical foundations of my pedagogy or teaching style. Contained within this discussion were my views on the nature of learning. Since I believe that the capacity to learn and create is endemic to the human condition, I am resistant to relegate it primarily to a four-year period enjoyed by those eighteen to twenty two years of age. While a more rigid, prescriptive approach may occur at this time, other, even more exciting opportunities exist. To refuse to indulge in the opportunities on a regular basis is both irresponsible and negligent. Every human is responsible for perpetuating the evolution of the human race. The ability to transcend the immediate or what is and advance our potentiality or what can be helps to ensure that the world which we leave will be better.

As I contemplate the words of Nouwen, I realize that the dichotomy that he elicits between the intention of school as a place in which one’s busy life is interrupted by the infusion of free time or space in order to contemplate the complexities of the human condition and its current state as a place where students vigorously compete for the high grades in order to obtain the best job is perplexing to me. Our country is currently falling farther and farther behind other nations in a host of academic disciplines. Emerging technologies and new knowledge, and the grave global economic forecast seem to invoke the survivalist instinct in us that we have no choice but to critically consider the pragmatic facets of learning. Does the inevitability of an accelerated, prescriptive academic experience entirely prohibit “schola”? Is authentic learning even possible without the presence of schola? I do not think so.

After serving at four academic institutions in various administrative and professorial capacities, I have determined that many of today’s students narrowly view learning as the acquisition of concrete tools to enable them to land a lucrative job upon graduation. The greater the practicality of the curriculum, the more valuable it is. Authentic learning requires three components: Analysis, Synthesis, and Application. This modified version of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning is inclusive of the pragmatic concerns of contemporary students while also incorporating the mystical and transformational elements that challenge individuals to not only consider what can be done with an education but what the education can do to them. What happens when the observer encounters something new- something that creates a level of dissonance? Is it forgotten? Is it stored within the memory for future reference? Learning often starts and stops here. In some cases, questions of utility logically follow. What can I do with this observation? Or better yet- How much must be remembered for the test? The discipline of synthesis which requires schola is absent. The mystical coalescence between the observer and the observed forces the individual into a reflective state as the appetite to evolve- to raise one’s level consciousness, to be changed, becomes insatiable. To what extent does this observation align or depart from preconceived perspectives? How does this observation resonate with the current worldview of the learner? What types of emotions are experienced as a result of this observation? Why? How does this observation connect or integrate with previous learning from other disciplines? How is it similar? How is it different? These questions allow the observation to move beyond mere recollection and penetrate the fabric of one’s being. In other writings, the importance of being informing doing has been posed. Lastly, application is necessary for authentic learning to occur. However, because synthesis has preceded it, the outcome should be more specific, strategic, and satisfying.

The world shows few signs that things are going to be slowing down. The rapidity with which we are required to function is likely to increase. However, the quest to enjoy a meaningful existence will remain highly elusive devoid of efforts to include schola into one’s life. Meaning requires both experience and reflection to occur. It cannot be bestowed upon another. It must be made by the individual. Perhaps the single greatest strategy that educators and other leaders can use to encourage a positive, holistic attitude about learning is through the intentional inclusion of synthesis. How can individuals be forced to wrestle a bit with a particular concept? How can greater ownership be cultivated? How can the process of learning be embraced rather than the product alone? How can the experience connect to the bigger picture? Finally, the absence of synthesis in the learning process cripples the creative capacities of people. Innovation is unlikely to occur.

Four years ago I published an article in a higher education periodical. The article was entitled: Engaging the Meaning-Making Power of Reflection: An Evaluation of the Undergraduate Experience. The article targeted Student Affairs professionals and received a great deal of positive feedback which eventually led to a series of similar pieces of work including national conferences and publications. Though my thinking has changed to some extent in this area, I still affirm the overall goals of this article.

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Published in Growth, Spring 2012

By Anthony J. Marchese, Ph.D.


In one of the most acclaimed children’s stories of all time, Hans Christian Anderson (1873) reveals the personal and corporate consequences of leaders becoming so inebriated by the effects of power and position that they become oblivious to the intricacies of the world around them as they exist within a realm of adulterated self-contrivance, devoid of truth. In The Emperor’s New Clothes, we become acquainted with an indulgent, narcissistic leader who possesses an insatiable drive to elevate himself before his people. His raison d’être is being the object of admiration. His disposition contributes to an impairment of the highest order. His appetites perpetuate the law of diminishing returns as he foolishly employs two “tailors” to fashion him a magnificent garment to provide yet another opportunity to garner the approval and affection of the masses. The con artists indicate that the cloth is, “invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality” (Anderson, 1). Despite the inability of the emperor to view his new garment, he acknowledges its grandeur and concedes to the wishes of the courtiers who encourage him to place himself on display as the centerpiece of a public processional. The emperor, his courtiers, and nearly all of the onlookers reinforce the emperor’s psychosis by acknowledging the exquisiteness of a fabric that does not exist. This manufactured reality is contested by the ignorance of a small child who curiously inquires why the emperor is naked. Soon after, the absurdity of the situation is heard throughout the kingdom as the crowd responds, “The boy is right! The emperor is naked! It’s true” (Anderson, 9).

Truth? How do we know?

In an era that elevates individuals in the public eye to a frightening place of incalculable importance, it is incumbent upon both leaders and followers to ensure that systems of accountability are instituted to minimize the likelihood of a maligned perception of reality infiltrating the kingdom or organization. How can leaders or followers prevent themselves from succumbing to the intoxicating effects of status either by position or association? Attempts to understand what is as we contemplate the world around us renders a reality that is unmistakably altered by the pigmentation of our personalities, preferences, and presuppositions. In other words, that which deviates from our self-construal of normality may be overlooked or altered in order to maintain an order within our contemplative universe.

In their work on human cognition, Maturana and Varela explain that, at any moment, what we see is most influenced by who we have decided to be. Our eyes do not simply pick up information from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of the information that the brain works with is information already in the brain. We each create our own worlds by what we choose to notice, creating a world of distinctions that make sense to us. We then “see” the world through this self we have created. Information from the external world is a minor influence. We connect who we are with selected amounts of new information to enact our particular version of reality. (Wheatley, 1998, p. 49)

For most of my life, I have heard individuals including parents, teachers, and pastors talk about the truth. Many, especially within the ecclesiastical context, often speak extremely authoritatively and passionately about the matter. All truth claims appeal to an epistemological system by which information is processed, compared to some standard which authenticates its veracity, and then transmitted through behavior that should conform to its tenets. While I am strongly compelled to embrace the existence of objective reality, I am also aware of the impossibility of gauging reality free from personal baggage or those subjective elements which color our perspective. For example, one’s race, religion, gender, socio-economic status, education, geographical origin, and personal tragedies all shape one’s worldview. It is impossible to bifurcate our baggage from our inquiry. When we make truth claims, especially within the presence of others, it is important that we consider how our worldview impacts our process of acquiring and disseminating knowledge.

Much of the impetus behind my initial desire to study Organizational Leadership at the doctoral level came from my need to make sense out of some fascinating behaviors that I observed of some leaders. My observations led to a continuing process of questioning. What qualities are essential for one to be identified by others as a promising leader? To what extent does one’s personal disposition inform leadership decisions? Within the context of religion, what is the relationship of one’s personality to one’s overall conception of the Almighty? As a college student, I was curious about the degree to which the message of a religious leader was influenced by the disposition of the messenger. While I agree with the tenets of organic inspiration, it seems that one’s personality can strongly inform one’s epistemological framework for understanding the will of God. In order to more closely align ourselves with truth, we must be aware of the impossibility of considering truth free from subjective constraints, i.e., personality, human relationships, experiences, etc. We must acknowledge the presence of these factors; consider the manner in which they influence our thinking, and move forward in our inquiry. One of the most important tools that one can use to help expose the subjective elements that shape our viewpoints is the dialectical process, or human interaction. It is within the presence of community that we are able to work together to unravel the complexities of the world in which we live and form some conclusions.

Within the context of leadership, however, some individuals choose to restrict engagement with others that could potentially call to question the perspective of the leader. That is, the leader surrounds herself with people who do nothing but affirm her own viewpoints. While A is occurring in the organization, the universe within which the leader chooses to reside prefers to embrace B as reality. This alternate universe, which closely resembles that found within Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, is primarily self-referential. I have chosen to refer to this common phenomenon as Organizational Solipsism. Solipsism is a philosophical term that is used to describe a detached, self-centered worldview or, more specifically, one in which the self or one’s existence operates as the only thing of which one can be certain. Miller (1996) defines solipsism as, “…the belief in one reality, the solipsist himself, upon whose thoughts and perceptions all other things depend for their existence” (Miller, 147). More simply, the American Heritage Dictionary posits that solipsism is, “the theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified. The theory or view that the self is the only reality” (Solipsism, n.d.). Upon first exposure to this concept, one might immediately recall television portrayals of schizophrenic individuals such as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind or be transported back to an undergraduate psychology course in which the DSM was introduced. For our purposes, organizational solipsism is a condition with varying degrees of severity characterized by a self-generated, self-moderated, insular worldview maintained by a person in authority. Like Anderson’s emperor (1873), this condition may be externally fueled by other stakeholders within the organization who may believe that by seeking favor with the leader, their own agendas may be advanced. Furthermore, this form of solipsism can also act as a fast-spreading contagion within an organization as individuals acquiesce to the perspective of the leader and ultimately placing the health of the organization in jeopardy. Anderson alludes to this in his fairy tale as he describes the inner struggles of the messenger who must make a decision about whether or not to abdicate what he clearly perceives to be the emperor’s nakedness for what the ambassadors call magnificent. Anderson writes, “… and accordingly, he praised the stuff he could not see, and declared that he was delighted with both colors and patterns

The consequences are costly.

Several years ago my scholarly interests in leadership studies were piqued while working at a college wherein the president persistently offered public praise for the fact that the organization was on the move as a result of a spike in attendance and the expansion of the physical campus. While brick and mortar were transformed into numerous buildings, many lives were adversely effected – both students and faculty. The alternate universe in which the president resided did not acknowledge the alarmingly low faculty morale or high rate of student attrition. Divergent viewpoints offered in the spirit of sincerity and collegiality were quickly extinguished and categorized as insubordination. Decisions were made on a regular basis that diminished the value of human capital and perpetuated a crippling cynicism and blatant distrust within the culture. Students and staff members were reluctant to express concerns for fear of losing scholarships or jobs. In this story, the emperor and his courtiers sought frequent opportunities to utilize impression management with the public outside of the campus by emphasizing the growth of the kingdom and the remarkable satisfaction espoused by its inhabitants.

Every leader is capable of succumbing to the temptation of organizational solipsism. The unhealthy synergy of ambition, personal insecurities, mental illness for some, and the blind loyalty of followers, can lead individuals, who may have the best of intentions, down a path of untruth. History is replete with examples of leaders who achieved remarkable success but at a cost. The extermination of human populations, the loss of billions of dollars through dubious financial practices, and countless other incidents reveal emperors and courtiers inhabiting a lie. Though the allure of creating an alternate universe in which the self reigns supreme is compelling, the casualties that may be incurred along the way make it a deplorable course of action. Regardless of our skills, intelligence, or records of success, we must ALWAYS be aware that the baggage that we carry can have a marked impact, for better or for worse upon those whom we serve in our organizations.  Leaders, regardless of their intelligence, successful history, or ethical prowess must be cognizant of their humanness and establish practices that reinforce accountability and the pursuit of what is real.

 Considerations for Leaders

Self Awareness

Since ancient times, understanding the complexity of the self has been lauded as a worthwhile and necessary aspiration. In his Phaedrus, Plato writes, “I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says. To be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. . . . Am I a monster more complicated and swollen with passion than the serpent Typhon, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny?” (Plato,trans.2009).

Much harmful leadership behavior has its origin on the playground when an unkind word was spoken or a classmate refused to play. Old wounds unattended fester over time and can cause irreparable harm to others. Effective leaders understand their vulnerabilities. Remember: hurting people hurt others.

Honest Feedback

Leaders who receive consistent, truthful feedback from a diverse representation of followers are less likely to practice organizational solipsism. Dotlich and Cairo urge leaders to “find the truth-tellers in your organization and ask them to level with you” (2003, 9). This can be facilitated via the Cross the Line Test presented in the table below.

Table 1

 Dotlich and Cairo’s Cross the Line Test


You’re willing to fight for what you believe in. You’re unwilling to give up a fight no matter what.
You believe that your perspective is the correct one You believe that your perspective is the correct one   before evaluating others’ ideas.
You hold yourself accountable when your strategy or   idea doesn’t work. You refuse to take responsibility when your strategy or   idea doesn’t work.
You adapt your strongly held viewpoint to jibe with new   information or developments. You reinterpret events to fit your point of view.
You possess a powerful ego that allows you to make an   impact on others. You possess a powerful ego that causes you to dominate   others.

Formal and informal feedback mechanisms that include individuals occupying positions at various levels, intergenerational perspectives, and gender and racial diversity can provide the leader with valuable breadth and depth of what is occurring. Also, identify an individual outside of the organization who will not hesitate to hold up the mirror and provide truthful insight. Be wary of those who do not offer alternative ideas. This is a red flag.

Take a Risk

Consider spending some time with a harsh critic or two. Invite them to coffee or to lunch. Though a bit unconventional, ask them to spend some time sharing their viewpoints without fear of reprisal. Maintain a posture of humility and openness. What is this person saying? What factors contribute to their position? What of value can be taken from this exchange?

Unlike the emperor in Anderson’s story, leaders who focus on serving their followers and other constituencies rather than their own aggrandizement are less prone to indulge in practices that can lead to the public nakedness experienced by the emperor and the harming of other members of the organization. Leaders who commit themselves to increasing their self-awareness are more adept at identifying and confronting past injuries and personal idiosyncrasies before they negatively manifest themselves in the organization. What is truth? How is it verified? Is it selective and situational? To whom do we listen? To what extent does our understanding of reality correspond to that of others? Are we aware of how our past influences our present behaviors?  Have we engaged in organizational solipsism?


Anderson, H.C. (1837). The Emperor’s New Clothes. Tales from the Brothers Grim. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://www.yankeeweb.com/library/storytime/grimmbros/grimmbros_17.html  Dotlich,

D.L. & Cairo, P.C. (2003). Why CEO’s fail: The eleven behaviors that can derail your climb to the top and how to manage them. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, E.L. (1996). Idealism. In E.L. Miller (Ed.)., Questions that matter (pp. 147-148). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Plato. (2009). Phaedrus (H. Yunis, Trans.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Solipsism. (n.d.). In American Heritage online dictionary. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from   http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=solipsism

Wheatley, M. J. (1998). A simpler way. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Anthony J. Marchese holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from Regent University and a Master of Liberal Arts in Philosophy from Lee University. He completed advanced graduate studies in law at West Virginia University and earned executive certifications in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame and Change Leadership at Cornell University. Marchese serves as Senior Manager of Educational Leadership and Development for an international consulting firm and is an adjunct professor of leadership at a local university.

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