François Dupuy: Organization or Structure change?

François Dupuy is a sociologist and an expert in complexity in organizations. From many case studies, observations and researches lead in large organizations, in both private and public sector, he realized that most executives and consultants use over simple statements when they try to describe what is happening in the organizations. According to François Dupuy, this shows that they deny complexity.

The most common error he observed among executives and consultants is the confusion between Organization and Structure. You may have noticed, and probably personally experienced, that nowadays, most companies go regularly through major “organizational changes” to better adapt to a VUCA environment. These changes happen more and more often, as if they were inefficient…

Indeed, these are not organizational changes, argues François Dupuy, but structure changes!

An organizational change would focus on what people are doing at work: which strategies do they implement in their daily tasks? Why do they do what they do?How can they change their strategies if they are no longer relevant?

On the contrary, organizations prefer to stick with structure changes, or matrix changes: they switch from a country structure to a product structure, then to a customer-oriented structure, etc. Of course, it is much easier to re-design Business Units and organigrams, but this does not help the organization to face with complexity.

In his book “Are we all Lost in Management?”, François Dupuy gives a concrete example of this confusion:

Consult the websites of the largest corporations and click on “Our organization” when the heading exists, and the result will be the same. The word “Organization” is again used in both a generic and reductive sense, insofar as it conveys in a single word everything that can serve to describer or represents the entity in question.”

This confusion between organization and structure generates lazy and counter-productive decisions such as implementing more procedures and more reporting.

Further in his book, François Dupuy identifies another harmful confusion: between power and hierarchy. If you have already been a project leader, you may have experienced that your situation in the hierarchy does not necessarily gives you power. And quite often, you have to use politics to make sure your project is on track and people collaborate in the project team.

These two confusions explain why “organization” changes do not generate the expected results and why up to 70 % of the employees feel disengaged.

If you wish to go deeper on these topics, we encourage you to watch this webinar designed by CEDEP, where François Dupuy explains the two confusions, organization/ structure and power/hierarchy in a very synthetic and clear way.


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