By Bronwyn Wainwright
By Bronwyn Wainwright

Align organisational design with business strategy

The world’s leading organisations in people practices are constantly reinventing themselves. The current period of internal transformation in response to external market disruption is anything but over. The very best know they need to review organisational structures and working practices relentlessly. This article explores how HR can pave the way forward as a strategic leader in organisational design.

Organisational design is ongoing

Re-designing organisational structures and working practices is easier said than done. Business challenges are increasingly complex and even recent organisation and work changes are quickly becoming obsolete. The desired “destination” of large-scale transformation will never be reached. And that means that the mentality around any “journey” of change must also evolve.

How we think about organisation and work design is central to business success. Leaders need to look at work flows, processes, structures and systems. They need to align (and then realign) to business realities and goals and, hopefully, make them as “future-proof” to shocks and disruptions as possible. Insights from Top Employers Institute’s global survey of more than 1 600 organisations indicate a shift to placing HR front and centre of the drive for organisational change.

Change is driven by people, not tech

Restrictive hierarchical structures have become less important, with the new enabling infrastructure provided by new HR technologies, AI and automation more so. Why? Because new technologies liberate businesses to solve their organisation and work design challenges to pull hard and directly on powerful human levers driving change.

What are these levers? Our data shows a clear and deepening of commitment to, among other things:

  • values, ethics and integrity within the organisation;
  • to the resilience and wellbeing of employees;
  • and to the positive role corporates play within society. 

Organisational design requires values in action

For example, Top Employers Institute research shows that nearly all (98%) define and communicate organisation-wide values. The very best have done this for years, but what has changing now is the way values are being brought to life.

Values are no longer the “tablets of stone” bestowed by leaders to a grateful workforce and then forgotten: instead, 90% of our Top Employers now consistently train their employees on how to live up to these values in practice, up from three quarters (78%) back in 2016. Similarly, 93% train their staff on how to handle ethical issues in practice, rather than on paper.

Organisational design focuses on employee wellbeing

Organisation design cannot happen without a willing workforce, resilient in both mind and body. Employee wellbeing also needs to be to the fore for people to be healthy and motivated to meet the challenges they face. A strong majority of Top Employers globally (70%) have an organisation-wide wellbeing strategy, while as many (71%) have senior managers actively involved in wellbeing programmes. And to make sure rhetoric becomes reality, 53% have a dedicated and trained wellbeing champion or ambassador as a catalyst for change.

Organisational design for the betterment of society

Finally, the will to make a positive impact on society has become a key business driver for organisational design. Top Employers have a recognise that they have responsibility in 2020 that extends far beyond providing products and services. While 93% of global leaders have an organisation-wide CSR strategy, slightly fewer (83%) include social and environmental impact into decision making to ensure success and profitability, and over half (58%) take account of the views and preferences of their employees when making decisions around CSR. Top Employers are embracing this grass-roots revolution – they know the impact on organisational design helps rather than hinders profitability and customer satisfactions. 


There are clear challenges ahead for organisational design. Trends emerging from Top Employers Institute survey data indicate that while technology is catalytic, many businesses are finding serious shortages in the skills needed to use new technology are causing a drag on growth and the rate of change.

According to research from Ernst & Young, in Europe, almost half of organisations admit they lack skills in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and robotics. And in the United States the story is similar, as there will be an estimated one million unfilled positions in the technology domain over the year ahead.

Organisations also need to act faster on the insights they gain from dialogue with employees. To engage talent across the entire employee lifecycle, leading organisations know that employees must feel their opinions matter. This requires a culture of continuous listening – taking the temperature of the organisation in real-time. And it also means honesty and openess with their people about the fact that everybody’s job could look different in five years’ time.

Clearly, organisational design will never really end. Transformation in response to disruption will be ongoing. But HR professionals showing the restless desire for reinvention can prosper in taking the lead to continuously align organisational change with business strategy.