How to architect your people?

By Jonas Van Riel
General Manager at the IC Institute and Enterprise Architect

Companies nowadays need to be able to adapt and execute their strategy faster than ever. Change needs to come fast, and it comes with many demands. So besides being able to deploy technology correctly and quickly, which is absolutely a relevant topic, this means having the right people to shape these transformations.
Organisations struggle with finding the right people, developing people, and keeping people. We see this daily with our customers and in our research.

Gartner mentions in their leadership vision that one of the CIO’s 3 most important challenges and actions is dealing with the scarcity of talent. But next to this, digital dexterity is a significant challenge, which means that people need to be able to adapt to changing digital realities. After all, organisations are becoming more digital and more complex fast. So, we need people that can deal with this.

The search for the right people

The quickest way is to hire consultants or advisers who can quickly bring the right expertise. However, this does not offer a sustainable solution in the long run. Good consultants are partners for the long term, but you need to build your own workforce.

The second option is to recruit these profiles from the labour market. Although frequently chosen, this, too, is often not an ideal route. The profiles sought are scarce and in demand. As a result, it is difficult to find them, expensive to recruit them, and there are no guarantees that the person will fit in the culture of the organisation or the team. On top of that, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s always a gamble as you don’t know for sure what they can do or how they will behave.

The third option is that of internal development. Developing employees with the right potential who fit within the organisation can bring the most value for all parties involved.
After all, these employees know the company and thus get the chance to develop further within it. This ensures that the organisation will eventually have the right people. Additionally, it increases the likelihood that they will stay.

Northstar

Organisations define what we call a Northstar vision. This means they have ambitions about where to go and what business models should encompass. However, the last couple of years have been marked with increasing competition from different quarters, rapidly evolving customer preferences, etc.

Consequently, the complexity of this context and the increasing importance of technology have increased the relevance of architecture.
Organisations keep looking for ways of working that facilitate faster decision-making and realise flexible (digital) solutions. Therefore, there is more than ever a need for the right competent people who can help organisations realize their difficult digital transformations, but architecture leads the way. So, we still architect the organisation and look for the right processes, technology and governance to get us there. But the people dimension of it all has become even more critical.

Future envisioned state

Based on where an organisation is going, it should look at the competencies it requires to realise its ambitions. And accordingly build a plan for developing the workforce for this.

When you know what you need, you can analyse what you have. This should lead to a course of action to reskill and upgrade your people, with training and coaching. After all, a new digital era demands completely different competences; skills, knowledge and attitude. And more than ever, we need to focus more on attitude. People need to be prepared to change more often than in the past and need the right mindset.

But all of this is not a sequential process. When organisations look at the people they have and develop, they need to ensure a feedback loop is in place. Not only should they update their current status of competencies periodically, but they should also make sure that they evaluate our ambitions based on this status.
If they can’t build the right workforce, they might have to change the plan or revisit their ambitions.

 

Behaviour

In an organisation, people and teams exhibit behaviour, which leads to wanted or unwanted results. But, of course, behaviour can only be steered to a certain extent by regulations and structures. Still, it also comes from individual factors, like values, beliefs, and emotions… and collective drivers, like peer pressure, connectedness, power…
These drivers operate under the surface and are harder to see and steer. But they do have a substantial impact.

It’s important to understand that you can’t control all of it. And if you need people who are self-steering and motivated, you need to look at what is actually driving behaviour in the organisation. This way, you can design how to improve this, change your plan of action, or even accept that you might need to lower your ambition.

Gameplan

In revisiting the story of architecting your people, you can say that there are 3 levels an organisation can go through. Level 1 is architecture in itself. A good plan on where to go already provides some direction for people to adapt to the provided plan. The second level would be the idea of architecting your people, based on a proper assessment of competencies, while using tailored competence profiles and development paths. But still in a rather sequential way. Level 3 is then ensuring that you see the whole picture and have a continuous feedback loop that takes into account the observed behaviour and leads to the right actions.

The methods we use to do this are the following.

  1. Enterprise blueprinting
    Where do we want to go? What do we need? Not only in terms of processes and systems, but from a holistic view, that includes people. Seeing people as a part of the system.
  2. Behaviour blueprint
    What are the drivers in the organisation when it comes to people, what leads to the observed behaviour? What culture in what teams do we have and what do we need? Can we change this?
  3. Tailored competence profiles
    No one-size-fits-all job descriptions, but competence profiles that are based on your vision for the enterprise. And that both fit the organisation’s specific context, including behaviour, and the individual.

This should result in personal and team development paths. Training, education, coaching… Not only do they lead to the right competencies. It will also help your people to clearly understand where they are going in the organisation and provide them with a higher sense of direction and purpose, which leads to higher employee satisfaction.

And last but not least: Ensure you include HR in this, as they have an important role to play. A career is much more than the car you get or your pay.