Designing Organizations with Webs of Intangible Assets is the second “season” in an organization’s annual cycle.
Intangible assets are the building blocks of the strategic organizational design process. In today’s world they contribute between 70 and 90% of the value of organizations. If you do organization design by default, you get whatever happens. If you choose to deliberately and strategically design the organization, the components you design with are the intangible assets. They are the levers through which you build an entity that can create value.
You can slice it and dice it several ways, but here is how I slice it and dice it today. These are the ten primary categories of intangible assets:
- Purpose and strategy assets (purpose, vision, values, mission, strategy)
- Discovery and innovation assets (including intellectual capital/intellectual property creation and new product and service development)
- Organizational processes and structure assets (including roles, responsibilities, reporting relationships, organization design process, business processes)
- People assets (including human capital, talent management – acquisition, development, retention, and the learning organization)
- Information technology assets (including hardware, software, connecting-ware and people-ware)
- Branding assets (including product brands, service brands, leadership brand, and people brand)
- Marketing and selling assets (including marketing strategy, market research, and the sales approach)
- Culture assets (including values, traditions, norms, symbols, rituals, and stories)
- Measurement & Accountability Systems (how you track and learn from performance, contribution, and outcomes)
- Vision & Execution Architecture (a visual depiction of the intangible assets)
In each of these areas there are strategies, plans, systems, processes, policies, procedures, and practices that when crafted constitute the specific definition of those intangible assets.
My experience is that not all ten categories need to be deliberately designed to achieve organizational success. But you need to use this list as a checklist to discover the assets that need the most and the most immediate attention. When crafting a new strategy, these are the categories of design assets that you need to consider when deciding whether a particular strategic bundle (set of strategic choices) is practical to select and implement.
Several Key Resources on Designing Organizations
Trist Monograph – A Seminal Work in Organization Design:
Eric Trist is one of the founders of the Tavistock Laboratory. He contributed to research in and the practice of the interdisciplinary approach to organizational design referred to as “socio-technical systems.” In 1980 he wrote an excellent monograph reviewing the work of STS researchers and practitioners over a 40 plus year period of time. In it he not only describes the past, but also prophetically describes the future challenges for organization designers. You can find the monograph (with permission) on the STS Roundtable Wiki at:
Trist, et. al. Tavistock Anthology – An Historical Tour de Force in Organization Design:
This three volume series is no longer available in print. Volumes do become available from time to time, but they are scarce as hen’s teeth. You can find them scanned into electronic form (with permission) on Bert Painter’s “The Modern Times Workplace” website at:
The Socio-Technical Systems Roundtable:
“We are a global (not-for-profit) network of business leaders, researchers, trade unionists, academics, managers, consultants, and students who share the values, principles and practices of socio-technical systems theory and a common interest in developing more humane and effective organizations.”
I have been a member of STS RT for many years and have served as a Steward of the Roundtable. If you want to learn and create new approaches to designing organizations visit the STS RT Wiki:
An STS RT International Meeting is held each year. In September/October 2010 the meeting is in Vancouver, BC, Canada.