Organizing to Win in a Dynamic Marketplace

The pandemic spotlighted the need for companies to reevaluate their work, how it gets done, their employee skills and current organizational design, says OxfordSM's Kelly Downey.
a person standing in a dark room
Kelly Downey, OxfordSM

Dynamic as a marketplace descriptor is an understatement as we look at 2020 in the rearview mirror, and it likely will continue to be as we navigate the unpredictable roads ahead.

The pandemic spotlighted the need for companies to reevaluate their work, how it gets done, their employee skills and current organizational design. Clearly, what worked in the past isn’t necessarily going to work in the future.

While the desired outcome of organizing and enabling teams to win is obvious (delivering/exceeding your business objectives and strategies), the route to get there can be complex. Organizations need to adapt, evolve, and plot their own course – depending on where they are along their individual journeys. 

Here are three important actions to take:

  1. Define the work your teams need to get done (output and outcomes).
  2. Assess the skills and capabilities of your team: Are they sufficient to deliver the outcome?
  3. Build structures/ways of working to support No. 1 and No. 2.

1. Define the work: In our fluid, complex and uber-connected world, it’s not only the work we do that’s evolving; how the work is done and by who also requires flexibility and adaptability for organizations to thrive. A hybrid of technology and human needs (those of our customers/consumers and our teams) is at the intersection of our efforts. They cannot be mutually exclusive.

For example, as demand for digital and analytic work underpinned by consumer insights surges, we must reshape our workflows, outputs and outcomes to be more holistic and inclusive than they have been in the former siloed/functional ways of working. Organizing work to accommodate the dichotomy of demands between data and humans is imperative. Our work and our organizations need to embrace this duality to effectively compete in the data-driven, purpose-driven and consumer-led marketplace.

2. Assess the talent: Having mapped the work, we need to assess if we have the right talent to get the job done. Talent gaps are accelerating. For example, there continues to be an unfilled gap in the marketplace for “in-house” data and digital specialists. Companies may have to step outside of their comfort zone to address this problem. Those that traditionally “promote from within” may have to go outside and “buy” or “borrow” talent to accelerate capabilities with a longer-term goal of building these competencies and upskilling their current team members. 

The talent challenge goes beyond just functional” skills; it includes “human skills.” In the future, engaging people – real, human people – will be at the heart of talent management (finding what they’re good at, passionate about and motivated by, and how adaptable they are).

Widening the lens to this hybrid approach of technology and human needs ensures organizations have the right people with the right skills working against defined goals and outcomes.

3. Build the structure/ways of working: The task of achieving inspired organizational “design” and ways of working becomes clearer when we organize around the new work/capabilities needs vs. force-fitting new tasks and ways of working into rigid hierarchical structures. For example, as the need for data and digital specialists escalates, companies are challenged to resource this work in a headcount-neutral environment full of generalists rigidly aligned to functions and brands. The “out of the box” solution might be creating collaborative, “virtual” hubs where specialists support multiple teams or brands and flow as needed to the work to be done.

Exploring non-traditional structures and career paths produces flexible, empowered teams that enable individuals to explore their passions while tapping into human skills. Following these signs and staying alert to the inevitable bumps in the road will ready you for the new traffic patterns ahead.

About the Author: Kelly Downey “grew up” in CPG at companies such as Kraft, Unilever and Philips. She now helps OxfordSM’s clients thrive by combining capability and strategy to delight customers and deliver profitable growth.