Unleashing the Power of Org Design: Insights from Kattie Capozza on Patterns, Connectivity, and Strategic Decision-Making

Expert author: Kattie Capozza

In this podcast episode, Kattie Capozza discusses her approach to org design based on her lived experience. She emphasizes the importance of understanding cause and effect, identifying patterns, and connecting different aspects of an organization. Starting with the operating model and considering factors such as workflow, structure, talent, and business cycles can lead to more thoughtful and strategic org design decisions. Capozza also highlights the need for patience, involving employees in the design process, and providing them with choices and transparency to minimize resistance to change.

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[00:00:00] Amy Springer: Hi, Kattie.

[00:00:01] Kattie Capozza: Hi,

[00:00:01] Amy Springer: Thanks for joining me on the org design podcast.

[00:00:04] Kattie Capozza: Glad to be here. Thanks for inviting

[00:00:06] Amy Springer: Well, let's jump right in. I would love to know how did you become an org designer?

[00:00:11] Kattie Capozza: I I became an org designer by accident. I found myself there. I actually started in the business. Had a passion for learning and development, so I found myself in learning and development, which gave me a lot of exposure to, leadership capabilities and management capabilities and what people were trying to build within that structure.

And then ended up in analytics and insights for the people function. So then I had all the data. So between those two things around talent and having data around what was happening in organizations, I found myself in conversations that started focusing around the structure and where people were at and the capabilities they had and how that connected to the business strategy.

And so I just, at some point found myself in an org design, an internal org design role, and I loved it.

[00:01:03] Amy Springer: So. Internal design project you're on the team, did you immediately think like, oh, this, this is, I, enjoy doing this, or you could see how important it was in the org.

[00:01:17] Kattie Capozza: I, I really, I gravitate to things that anchor to strategy that like are a roadmap and are highly interconnected with how the business operates. So from an HR perspective with all the things that an HR practitioner can do, I really enjoyed it, because it had a direct impact on the business. And it also had a direct impact on employees and the people that worked there because it was, you know, who they reported to, it was the work they did. It was how they could contribute, and so, to me, from a systems perspective, I, I could see all the interconnectedness of it and how, org design impacted culture and impacted employee engagement and impacted delivering on goals and business objectives. So for me, that whole, that kind of whole connected system is like, is where I love to be and it's where I love to have dialogue.

So I don't know that I walked in and went, oh, hey, I'm an org designer and this is cool, this is what I wanna do. I think for me, I, I just, I'm driven by providing and creating impact. And for me, it was the first opportunity in my role, in my jobs, in my career that I started seeing where the things I did on a daily basis had a direct connection to how effective the organization was.

And from an HR perspective where I always kind of felt just a little bit disconnected, like as the add-on or, you know, I'm the, I'm the cost center. I'm not a profit center. Right. You're always trying to justify yourself, and that to me was a place where it was like, no, I am a very connected business partner and, and critical to helping this organization be successful.

So to me, like it's all that interconnectivity, so but I don't know that I ever. It's probably not until I got into consulting that I actually said I am an org designer, because I had so many other things I was pulling outta my toolkit.

[00:03:22] Amy Springer: Yeah. So did you stay internal with companies for a little while before you switched to consulting? Did you, you know, try and

[00:03:30] Kattie Capozza: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, so I, I, I was working in a, a, a very large organization, so I actually moved through several business units, so I was able to do it in the context of different product environments. So from a, basically a, a hospitality environment to an international environment that had multiple product lines, to a film and media environment.

So to me, even though that I was in-house, I was actually, it was like totally new jobs. It felt like you were in different companies because the way that the organization operated what they were producing, all of that was fundamentally, even the cultures, even though it was in the same organization, the cultures were different as well too.

So, and then I transitioned to another organization where I actually was brought in predominantly to focus on talent management and workforce planning. But innately those connect to structure and org design, so, So that kind of encompassed all of that, and from there is when I spun out into consulting.

And it just, it's, it's funny because in consulting a lot of times I was brought in to help them get their talent management system up or help them, do their job profiles in order to, you know start their workforce planning. A lot of times the engagement started with something that was not org design at all, and when you got into it, you're like, well, wait a minute, let's, let's talk about your structure. Like, so what is it you're trying to do as an organization? Actually, a lot of times it was, let's talk about your structure, but could we look at your operating model? Like somebody tell me like, what are you trying to do? How are you trying to do it? And then let's talk about the talent you need and what those jobs should be, and then how you should comp those jobs.

Because it, a lot of times everybody was trying to put the cart before the horse. I'm like, wait, wait, wait, just back it up. So so even in the consulting world, I actually think only one of my engagements was a all was like head on org design engagement. A lot of them have just been that when you get into what the, the thing was that you were brought on to do, you start servicing some of the other things and a lot of times, Structure and org design becomes a problem, 'cause it's what's creating bottlenecks, it's what's creating redundancies, it's what's what creating confusion and ownership or even hyper competitiveness because the two different functions want, you know, the same piece of something. So as you start, you know especially on culture projects, well wait a minute, your culture isn't jiving because your structure doesn't actually enable it.

So, So that's why I always, I, I feel like it's one of those skills, especially in consulting, that if you're gonna get in there and do consulting from a people perspective, if you don't have some kind of org design savviness around it, right? Like, you're gonna find yourself in a space that you actually need it at some point in time because it's so interconnected.

So Yeah. Yeah. So I spent a lot of time in-house before I bumped out to consulting, and then to your earlier question, I just liked it a lot. So I do love when I get the gigs that are about that and incorporate it. So that's that's when I'm at my happiest.

[00:06:56] Amy Springer: Yeah. And you mentioned some key things that need to be considered during org design, operating model, strategy, business model, culture, all these different things. Did you do any specific training to learn about that or have you done all really on the job experience?

[00:07:14] Kattie Capozza: It is mostly on the job lived experience. I it like I always talk to people about what is your superpower? And for me, my superpower is I can see, I can see the cause and effect, I sometimes I, I sometimes might actually not be able to see it, but I can feel there's some kind of friction or tension, and so for me, finding, finding that has always been something I like to do because in solving that mystery, all these other things start to fall into place.

So, So I, I think from that perspective, it just was more lived experience. And when I would get in there and you'd be solving for performance issues or you'd be solving for capability gaps and when you would get in there and do those different Different pieces, you would just start seeing more of the cause and effect, and for me, that just starts creating patterns. And so from an org design perspective, you start seeing some different patterns and you're like, you know what? Whenever I see that it's because there's a bottleneck somewhere in your structure, or whenever I start hearing these words and people keep saying this, like, oh, well it's, you know we're just having to solve that problem again.

Well wait, how many times do you have to solve that problem? Oh, it happens all the time. Okay. Well, Why does that happen all the time? Oh, well, you know, and oftentimes that goes back to the operating model and that operating model influenced how you would organize your people and your structure around getting work done.

And so I. So that's for me, like I, I don't, like, it wasn't a class. I don't, I don't even know if I would tell you, like, I'm, here's a book I would go and read kind of thing. I, for me, it's just really understanding human nature, how work flows and understanding how to connect those different pieces, and then what's, what's the culture you wanna wrap around it?

I think the other thing is I like to work with startups or small nonprofits pretty often, 'cause then there's also, right, there's patterns around organizations that are growing and so they get to a certain size. Well, I could probably, without somebody even telling you much about what their need is around org design could go, all right, well you started this small and you had enough money for this type of overhead, but now you're growing and you need more capabilities, but you've got people that have a foot in three different departments and they don't know which department they wanna be in. Right? Like, so there's just things that happen just naturally because of the growth of an organization or the stage that an organization is in.

I think org design practitioners seem to see it quicker because it's just, we've done it more and we've been in it, but, I think even seasoned leaders seasoned CEOs, seasoned COOs, operations, product, but like, I think individuals go, wait a minute, I've been here before and I know what this is, this is not unique to us.

This is what kind of like how organizations and organizations who are made of people and human beings tend to react and respond. So I, I guess for me, right, like is just pay attention to the patterns. And listen to the words that people are saying because you'll start hearing things that imply there's a structural problem or an a process problem or an operating model problem, and those all connect with each other, and inevitably one will lead to the other at some point in time, in some way, shape or form.

[00:10:48] Amy Springer: You've touched so many of the different patterns that you look for in a project, when you've been embedded in an organization, I guess, do you have a starting point?

[00:10:59] Kattie Capozza: I always, well, I like to, sometimes it doesn't exist. I like to start with the operating model because I am just right, like so, well, one, what is your strategy? How are you operating it and bringing it to life? And now talk to me about your current structure, because then I can start asking questions, asking relative to what they're trying to do and what the business is working on versus when I when I start with a structure, I find that now what I'm talking more about is the individual names in a box, and I like it, it becomes a box shifting game versus an actual business strategy. I like to always use term talent centric strategy. It should be your people strategy, which is you've got your business strategy floating on the top, and all your, your talent practices should connect through that, through the business cycle, and so that's why I always start with the business strategy, and the operating model, and if an organization doesn't have an operating model, I, I try to see if I can get them to be patient enough to do that exercise. Because I think that's when it starts showing you, oh, wait a minute, this is actually the group of individuals we need, and this is where they need to be placed in the organization, and this is how they interact with this group, and here's where we have overlap, and that's when you can start having better conversations about are you in a matrixed organization? Are you, like, how flat do you wanna be? Right? Like all of those things start shaking out based on who you are, how you operate, and what you wanna be.

And so that's where I start, some folks really wanna dive into that org chart, like right off the bat, but I, I do beg for a little like, go slow to go fast, time to be able to do that because then, then you're actually building around what you're, you're wanting to be versus just shuffling people around, which can be really hard on your culture, can create all sorts of change management issues. So that's my ideal state. Sometimes it's just not what you can do, but that's where I'd like to start.

[00:13:09] Amy Springer: It sounds like that operating model's a bit of a key piece of glue between the strategy and then the org design, can you give some quick examples of what are some things people have to consider when thinking about their operating model?

[00:13:22] Kattie Capozza: Yeah, I think what, and so what I see happen a lot, right? You'll have your department heads and they figure out how they do the work that they're doing and get their work done. But an operating model becomes really important when you, like, if you think about it, like you're building building a house and you've got your blueprints, we're actually building the, the framework of the house, but then you've got your blueprints for your plumbing and your electric, and if all those remain separate, your house could be a hot mess, because right, like do, you've got things in places that just don't work, right?

And so when you lay all those on top of each other, then you can start working and start seeing, right, is this house actually going to support the lifestyle I want and is the plumbing gonna work and do I not have a, you know, a sink in the middle of my bedroom and all of that kind of stuff. It's the same thing for an operating model, right? So if I take marketing and I overlay how they get things done and they process and I put it over what product is doing, and I put that over finances, processes, do they jive? Do they come together to be a seamless and efficient organization? And if not, then you gotta shift those things around and that bakes what you do and how you do it to then say, right, so okay, I need people to do that now, and here's where the handoffs are, because when you start building different roles and different jobs, they have different levels of expertise. They have different levels of connectivity with other people and the relationships they need to have, and all that speaks to the different skills that you need before you even go out and recruit somebody.

And so that's why I think it's the glue, because if the operating model isn't working smoothly, Your structure, your structure's not gonna fix that, like your structure is going to just reinforce where that operating model is not working, or your overhead's gonna go higher because you're hiring people to fix where your operating model isn't working because you're gonna think it's a people problem, or you hire the wrong people because you actually needed something else. So I, that's why I think it's the glue. You know, certainly people have built organizations without starting there, I'm sure there's a lot of organizations don't even have their operating model but I think it's really important 'cause I do think it starts to identify where the challenges are actually workflow versus structure versus talent and skill. And you can start to make different decisions in different ways. And I also think you can be smarter and wiser about how you're spending your labor dollars in the end 'cause all of that influences your labor overhead. So that's why I start there.

[00:16:10] Amy Springer: and it sounds like it's not even like where are we located question? It's really that higher level, how, how do we interact?

[00:16:19] Kattie Capozza: Well, it's just how does workflow, how do things get done through your organization? So to your question about like, so where are we located? Are we hybrid, are we remote, are we like, there's a lot of questions that come out of, if this is what we do and this is how we do it and this is the way we do it, as far as culture and kind of how we wanna be with our clients and with ourselves internally, then. Then this is how that happens. Okay, yes, we could do that in a 100% virtual organization. So then what does that mean? And then how do we think about that from a job perspective? No, we actually have functions within our organization that have to be in-house, we need a facility for it, and where can we find that talent to do that, right? So I think all of those things help you shape the questions you need to answer, about locations and facilities and talent.

I mean, there's, you know, I worked with a client that was, in essence the work they were doing, they completely, the entire staff lived everywhere, but where the main consumer of that product was which caused all sorts of challenges.

So it, at some point it was like, well, wait a minute, if this is what we do and this is how we do it, and this is who we do it for. We, why are we not there? So then that feeds a business decision about we are gonna pick up and move the business, and this is, and then your change management is entirely different, right? Because you're relocating a, a function and all of those pieces.

So that's why I just think when you look at things from that way, you, you ask and you answer different questions, than when you're just saying, right, like, oh, this is what we do and we need, I need 20 people to do. My gut says we need 20 people to do it, and they should be at this level, and here's what I'm hearing people need to pay for it, and the next thing you know is you have a really flat, top heavy organization with inflated compensation when you could have thought about things a little bit more.

I mean, the other piece I think when you look at the operating model is you sometimes you go, well wait, we only do this in Q1 and Q2, and then we do something else in Q3 and Q4, so then the question becomes, well, do you need an actual permanent structure for that? Or would you feed that talent in a different way? Are you gonna outsource it? Are you gonna do fixed term contracts? Are you gonna You know, have seasonal employees, those types of things, and then your structure feeds that kind of cyclical way that you run that, that piece, and I think you start looking at pieces a little bit differently. And for organizations that are small and have really lean funding or budgets, you know, six months of having 10 less people on a payroll can be pretty significant. So, and if you do it in a way that is thoughtful, then you're not hiring and then laying off or hiring and doing a riff and getting into this cycle, which gives you a reputation in the talent marketplace as well, and then you have a challenge hiring people in the future.

So if you're like, no, this is just what our business cycle is and this is how we operate, then I'm gonna strategically go out and get six months, you know, contractors, freelancers, whatever it might be, and then people know to come knock on your door at this time of year, because that's where they could get a gig. So I, I just think it drives and fuels different conversations and different decisions, and it could ebb and flow what your org design ends up being in the end. Which is why I think, right, like I could, like if you asked me to write a textbook about org design it would ha, it's so nuanced and interconnected, I think that's why it feels hard and daunting for people is because, you do have to look at a lot of different interconnectedness and where your structure influences, it's more than just positions and people and who you have 'em report to,

[00:20:32] Amy Springer: it's more than just boxes and lines.

[00:20:34] Kattie Capozza: Yes. Yes,

[00:20:35] Amy Springer: Yeah. Step away from the whiteboard.

[00:20:38] Kattie Capozza: yes. Oh, for sure.

[00:20:40] Amy Springer: If you could click your fingers and give every leader in every organization an org design related skill by the end of today, what would that be?

[00:20:52] Kattie Capozza: I would actually I think patience. Patience is actually a behavioral aspect I would give them because of the desire to jump up to the whiteboard and start diving into boxes and people. If you. If you could just hit the pause button and reflect on who you are, what you do, and how you do it, and, and ask yourself the questions around where do we have bottlenecks? Where do we have redundancies? Where do we have gaps? Where do we have kind of business cycles that don't require what people would have as a traditional staffing model and answer those questions upfront. You can be far more thoughtful and strategic about the structure that you build, and then consequently the change management that is necessary to actually implement what you land on.

When you don't answer those questions, you start finding that you're in the middle of an org design and a reorg, and then you have to go back and fix something, and then it doesn't work, and then your employees start feeling like it's, you're just in constant reorg. And so, if you had the patience to just hit pause and ask some of those questions and look at who you are and what you do and how you do it, I think you save yourself pain and grief further down the road.

That's my advice. That's my magic

[00:22:22] Amy Springer: wand

Yeah. Yeah. So there's a whole, a whole selection of inputs and principles to consider before getting to the boxes and lines.

[00:22:31] Kattie Capozza: I always, ask yourself why five times, right? Like, why do we wanna do this? Why, you know, whatever that answer is, well, why, why? I, I just kind of always give that advice in a lot of situations. If you just simply ask those questions, I think you would be more thoughtful about what you end up putting on the whiteboard in the end.

[00:22:53] Amy Springer: I guess my, I guess my brain is going to, the people that feel like they're just going from reorg to reorg to reorg. From your work, what have you observed from essentially the recipients of org design? These people that are constantly being moved about, what do you think their wish would be to the leaders in their organizations?

[00:23:16] Kattie Capozza: I worked for a CEO when I first went into consulting, and she always had this phrase of 'nothing about me without me'. And I, I kind of use that a bit as my mantra and my guiding light in doing these things. Now, a lot of times, there are situations that are creating the need for a reorg that may not be able to be public consumption. But my, I think what these individuals want is to have some kind of ability to have a say on things that impact their destiny, and so I am a huge proponent of human-centric design, so where you can involve people in, in the design.

I love doing surveys and focus groups and basically getting people in a room and doing, you know gallery walk of, you know, looking at how workflow happens and the capabilities that are needing needed because in a lot of cases, nobody knows better than the actual people that are in those functions doing the job. And we so often don't ask them, and then we miss something and then we're gonna redesign, and then I, the people go, well, if you'd asked me, I could've told you that was gonna happen. So I think those folks would be saying, where you can pull me in and where I can have input, give me an opportunity to give you input.

And there's a lot of, actually, oh, I'm gonna, I'm trying to think of, it's called Fair something. It's a Harvard Business Review article, that in essence says even if you make a decision as a leadership team that is contrary to what your employees ask for, if you have given them the opportunity to have a voice and have input, they will be more aptt to move with the change and with less friction and resistance than if you just didn't tell them at all.

And so that's where I just think people wanna have an opportunity, have some influence on their destiny. I also think people want to have choices. So when I'm informed, I have the ability, I might not like the choices I have in front of me, but when I'm informed and I've had input and people have been transparent and have really helped me have the context and the why, then I can make those choices in a more informed and planful manner that makes me feel like I have control over my destiny. So, I think, I think that's what people would say, it's what I hear people say, which is, well, why didn't you ask me? Why weren't we pulled in? How come we didn't know anything about it? And I do recognize there are scenarios and situations where, you know, it needs to be within a confined amount of People based on confidentiality needs, but as soon as you can broaden that bubble I think that's critical especially from the change management side once you make those decisions.

[00:26:16] Amy Springer: Well, thank you so much.

[00:26:19] Kattie Capozza: Your welcome. I just, again, like, oh, you had said it with a whiteboard. I just would just reiterate, step back from the org structure for a moment before diving in, and the other thing, the other advice that I would get as we're closing is, and this is really hard, but when you're doing it, You, you sometimes need to just step away from the relationships and the people and the faces. I mean, that sounds contradictory to somebody who talks about human-centric design, but I find also why a lot of people end up going through multiple reorgs is because they made decisions based on the people and the fact that they didn't wanna hurt feelings or they didn't want to upset or run the risk of losing people. But then in the end, they actually make it worse because it just drags it out longer and it, it, it creates a worse situation from there. So, you know, it, it sounds cold, but sometimes you have to walk away from the, the actual names and the relationships in order to look at it really objectively as you're kind of working through

[00:27:24] Amy Springer: Yeah, and I've worked in locations where you have to, otherwise you're at risk of fair work situations where people are like, you made that decision based on me. Whereas, yeah, if you do the design without the people, that's the only way you can really make sure you've done that. Yeah.

[00:27:42] Kattie Capozza: Yeah. Yeah. It's, get married together at some point in time, but some, that first pass, it's, it's usually

[00:27:50] Amy Springer: Yeah.

[00:27:50] Kattie Capozza: better if you do that. So that's my last piece of advice.

[00:27:52] Amy Springer: Thank you

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