Meta-Design of the Organization -- Roger Martin

Breaking the Code of Change II, Rotman School of Management, August 2-3, 2000

These participant's notes were created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. These should not be viewed as official transcripts of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. These notes have been contributed by David Ing ( at the IBM Advanced Business Institute (

Roger Martin

Go back into time: 1981 as a strategy consultant

Increasingly frustrated that choices don't get made.

Greatest enemies of change: implementation and buy-in.


Conclusion: Implementation is hard to find.

Cascade of choices, down a hierarchy.

Comment: Another retaliation to choiceless doing is to do only that -- work to rule.

Comment: Do executives understand what they're doing? Are they delegating?

Comment from Michael Jensen: Had usually thought about decision rights than choiceless doing.

Comment from Mike Beer: All managers aren't acting as general managers, and don't allow middle managers to lead.

Comment from Russ: Management function of "what is the game plan" and coordination is necessary.

Question: When you have 125,000 people, how do you get them involved?

Comment from Martin: Consultant is a short-circuit who can bring the information from the bottom to the top.

Question: Different from new economy companies where the hierarchy isn't as tall.

Comment from Chris Argyris: Went to Scotland to see what Burns and Stalker called "organic". Nothing happened if everything was okay. As soon as there was a major issue, the pyramid emerged.

Question from Tom: Who is involved in the cascade? Tension between real choices and real exchanges of data, and the getting the masses of people involved.

Comment from Mike M.: Cognitive psychology are cheerful at giving up decision rights. Two interpretations: mechanistic and choice, and if there's choice, there's emotion. Latest in cognitive psych is the free will is an illusion.

If now putting on the change lens ...

Comment: Understanding why things are as they are isn't so linear.

Comment: Like Michael Jensen's talk, need to uncover those hidden processes.

Are there any design principles that could be applied to this, in any case?

(Skip to end slide)

There are two parts in the meta-design:

Regardless of the design of an organization, challenges will arise, no strategy is perfect forever.

Question: Are the challenges what we described yesterday as "scary".

Comment from Larry: Some research on "fundamental surprise". Israelis had all of the data about Egyptians, but didn't act.

Need to be open to disconfirming data, but not so far they you get off the rails.

Comment from Mike M: Make a distinction between reactiveness and responsiveness.

Comment from Larry: Figure- ground issue. Was dealing with a firm: either a partnership of equals, or one superstar.

Comment from Mike Beer: Haven't discussed time.

Comment: This is unfair. It's much more about what the executive should put the energy to think about.

Comment from Mike Beer: Should double-loop, and ask about why there's a lack of capacity, what has the executive done so that he or she doesn't have time. Tim Beckhard has suggested calendar invention 20 years ago.

Discussant -- Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School

Ideas are too densely packed for 22 pages, need a book.

Spend time on guiding purpose, and aspirations and goals -- in Business System Design -- compelling and important.

Have included what individual human beings want and need: Learning Capabilities Design.

Business system design is organization, learning capabilities design is personal -- how does these two tie together?

Comment from David Ing: In the Sense & Respond organization, these are tied together through roles and accountabilities. The problem has been that people are not accustomed to committing, and then renegotiating when things change.

Comment from Chris Argyris: Had a conversation with Ken Andrews in 1971. You don't really separate planning and implementation? He said no, but the faculty wanted this division. So this is really the division at the Harvard Business School.

Comment from Mike Jensen: As we put models together, can the capital markets be used as a tool by managers to help the change?


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