Cracking the Code: Mastering Organisational Design for Successful Restructures

Organisational design, the dark art of a company restructure… the past 12 months have seen limited strategic change initiatives, my guess is that OD is going to be one of the most sought after skill-sets in 2021.

This increase in strategic change is likely to be accelerated as a result of the pandemic.

Although, the continuous disruption of industries means that companies now need regular shake-ups in order to succeed over the long-term.

As many leaders will already know, a high number of change programmes fail, with a large percentage simply running out of steam. In other cases, some fail to meet their objectives or improve performance once implemented. Could this be down to the organisational design or the actual implementation of the new model?

In a study conducted by Mckinsey, they found that; “the most successful organizations combine stable design elements with dynamic elements that change in response to evolving markets and new strategic directions. Corporate redesigns give organizations a rare opportunity to identify the stable backbone and set up those elements ripe for dynamic change.” The most successful companies see organisational redesign as a chance to rebuild the landscape and direct the future of the company.

What is ‘Organisation Design’ all about these days?

Today, organisational design involves the processes that people follow, the management of individual performance, the recruitment of top talent as well as the development of employee’s skills. When the redesign of a company lines up with its strategic intentions, there is a higher chance of employees being able to execute and successfully deliver these changes.

All organisational change programmes should start with corporate self-reflection. Asking questions about the purpose and direction of your company is surprisingly effective when it comes to keeping the focus on a new design strategy.

A study conducted by Deloitte echoed this sentiment – it found that whilst effective organisation design delivers significant improvements in business performance, most companies fail as they don’t go far enough in addressing real organisational or structural issues, and that; “businesses embark on organisation design projects in search of benefits they can’t achieve through organisation design alone—or even at all.”

But – all hope is not lost! There are things you can do to encourage a successful redesign.

How can you get it right?

  • Spend time to define the purpose of the organisation. It is critical to engage with leaders and people in the business to ensure that they buy into the change – before decisions are made.
  • One of the key aspects of any change programme is to get the new changes to last! Make sure that you put time and resource into business change, which will likely include significant cultural change, comms and training. Otherwise, employees may revert to how they previously operated.
  • Interim executives have proven experience in moving the programme forward towards implementation. Typically, it’s right after the management consultancies have developed the top-level strategy.
  • Lastly, you’ll want to assemble a leadership team that has the right capability and is bought into the new strategy.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


Start with why

I absolutely love Simon Sinek’s famous Ted talk, ‘Start with why’, which examines why some companies achieve things that completely exceed our expectations and defy our assumptions of what’s possible, whilst others simply don’t.


After re-watching this talk, I started to think about how it applies to the recruitment industry, which leads me to this; many people think that all recruitment agencies are the same and that there is no difference. They all just fill jobs, right?



Everyone knows what a recruitment agency is and what they do, or at least they think that they do.

All recruitment agencies (should) have this one essential thing in common, which is that they aim to place people into jobs.

Whilst this may sound contradictory, the majority of recruitment firms aren’t in the business to fill your jobs… they are in the business to make money.



Most recruitment firms don’t proactively search for candidates for your jobs, which may sound strange but hear me out…

A lot of firms are extremely passive, they run a number of roles and simply move their connections around multiple job roles (instead of proactively searching for new candidates whose skills meet the needs of the current client).

The fill ratio of most large recruitment firms is 20%, that’s 1 in 5 roles, and if they are any good then this may even be 1 in 4.



A lot of this comes down to why firms do business, and their ‘why’ is normally quite internally focused. They have goals and targets they need to hit in order to please internal shareholders at the recruitment agency. Which I can tell you often doesn’t help the end client…

My advice is that you should understand what you want from your recruitment supply chain.

Are you after CVs or do you want them to fill the role?

If you want them to fill the role, are you incentivising them to do that successfully?

(I’ll give a quick tip here – sending jobs out to more agencies doesn’t get you better candidates… it gets you who they can get their hands on the quickest.)


Our Why

Our why is pretty simple. We believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in creative solutions and we believe in working together with people.


Our How

We do this by sourcing proactively for talent, by engaging people on a personal level and by adapting our model to suit our client’s needs.


Our What

We just so happen to want to fill your jobs…


We prefer to let our results talk for themselves, so rather than blow our own trumpets, you can check out some of our case studies here.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

How to stand out from the crowd with a commercial and impactful CV

So, how do you stand out from the crowd with a commercial and impactful CV? Given there are over 400 applicants to each job advertised, I wanted to rehash one of my old blogs to give some updated tips…

There are lots of differing opinions out there on how to write a CV. It’s up to you to make your own mind up on what works for the role you are applying for – but the thing is, you need to have impact and quickly.

Writing a killer CV is all about selling your experience better than everyone else who sits in that pile on the recruiter or hiring managers desk! How do you expect to differentiate between yourself and all the other applicants who have all likely done a similar role to you?

The past 5 years of experience are typically the most relevant, this is the experience that employers will want to discuss and should form the bulk of the CV:

Focus on outcomes rather than inputs

Every project manager manages key stakeholders, but a great project manager influences them to ensure delivery of the project on time and within budget.

Great people make a difference in their role

Yes, businesses hire people to do a job, but what gives you the edge? Having an impactful CV is important. Think through what have you done in past roles that has added value? Use business metrics to quantify the impact and to demonstrate your commercial understanding.

Tailor your CV for the role

Make sure you have read the job description for the role you’re applying for and highlight relevant areas of your experience that match this (yes this is basic stuff, but it often gets missed). You can do this in a cover letter (I don’t think many people read them these days) so my advice is to ensure you put it in the CV (it is okay to have more than one CV that focuses on different aspects of your experience).

Get someone senior to critique your CV

Before you send it anywhere, get someone more senior than you to read your CV, would they hire you based upon it? Make sure you allow them to be critical. If not, why not? What’s missing?

A CV is not a job description

Don’t just copy and paste it in there, people can tell!

Do not write recruitment clichés

No one likes cliches so leave them out of your personal statement i.e. team player/can multitask.

Be conscious of the length of your CV

2 pages is a myth but any longer than 4 pages is a bit much… if you’ve only been working for a few years it doesn’t need to be very long (remember less is often more) and if you’re an interim with multiple contracts or have a long career history – limit yourself to the past 5 years (and summarise the rest in one-liners).

Finally, get yourself out there

There is no point writing a killer CV if no one’s going to see it. A lot of the best jobs on the market aren’t advertised, ensure you are tapping up your network and people you ahev worked with previously (LinkedIn) is an awesome non-intrusive tool for this)

To discuss further or to get help with your impactful CV you can email me on

You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here.

UK Universities response to COVID 19

The last year has been a rollercoaster of emotions for most of us.  COVID-19 has changed our personal and professional lives in a whole host of ways. 86% of people now working from home do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But the pandemic has not only changed the approach to working from home, it has also had many other knock-on implications that have changed our working environment. No more so than the education sector and in particular in universities. So what has been universities response to Covid 19? We spoke to HR directors at some of the leading universities in the UK to find out how they have adapted – and continue to do so – in light of the pandemic.

There are many areas that have been affected at UK universities including switching to home working and the challenges faced around that, all kinds of financial strains, IT and cybersecurity, the student experience, and the organisation of mass COVID testing for students, to name a few.

Magi Hoppitt, Chief People Officer at Coventry University highlighted some of the challenges they have faced over the past 10 months including the response to COVID, the impact of the changing external environment on finances, future planning, and staff and student welfare. COVID-19 has had a number of wider implications including, “an increased focus on staff and student safety, remote working, environmental issues to support returning to campus, development of blended learning, increased workload across the organisation, reduced opportunities for collaboration and innovation and changing government requirements”.

Richard Billingham, Executive Director of HR and OD at Aston University said, “there is a myriad of challenges that we are facing now that we didn’t even see coming 12 months ago. Some are a direct result of coronavirus and some are trends that have been significantly accelerated during the past 10 months. Most obviously, looking outwards are the challenges of the market presented by the impact of Covid. In November 2019, we had a relatively stable financial picture and were able to plan with a degree of certainty to develop new markets and consolidate in areas of strength. 12 months on all those assumptions have had to be challenged and the degree of certainty has diminished significantly.”

Richard also went on to highlight key issues around staff, digital challenges, workplace challenges, and wider societal change:

  •  “Resilience of staff: We have deployed volumes of advice and guidance around mental health and wellbeing but everyone’s starting place is very different. Mental health and wellbeing of employees remains a significant challenge and there is a more fundamental need to have a conversation about what the organisation’s responsibility is for individual’s wellbeing beyond job design, workplace design and management style and processes.
  • Digital – the acceleration of digital by default, the pace of adoption of digital tools and disruption to fundamental conceptions about service delivery and even what constitutes a University’s front door have all presented challenges and will continue to do so. The pace of adoption of digital tools, e.g. MS Teams, digital teaching and learning, etc, has been phenomenal and for me is a case study in change. Effectively being forced to adopt these tools and learn initially through trial and error has rapidly introduced new ways of working demonstrating what I have learnt through many previous change and transformation programmes that people act into a new way of thinking, they don’t think into a new way of acting.
  • Workplace: Some institutions are encouraging or mandating the return of all staff but from my perspective pandora’s box has been opened and we will be missing an enormous opportunity if we simply try to close the lid and return to a pre-March 2020 way of working. In surveying staff, a consistent message coming through loud and clear is that people like the flexibility that remote working has offered, the fact that it enables them to maximise time spent with their families and that in many cases they have been more productive. Sure, there are also many issues to overcome such as effective collaboration, coordination of people and communication but the future of work is certainly a hybrid approach where many people work in spaces that suit the nature of the work they are doing at any one time. This will mean people dividing their time between home and office whereby the balance varies according to the nature of roles.
  • Societal change – during the pandemic and increasingly, as the economic fallout increases, there have been some significant societal disruptions that have required universities to challenge themselves. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement have impacted all universities and required leadership teams to look hard and honestly at themselves, their practices and the staff and student communities they serve. It feels like this, finally, is a shift in how we work to truly address inclusion and ensure diversity is fundamental to how we operate as opposed to a set of criteria that need to be seen to be done.

Dr Sally Jackson, Chief People Officer at Sheffield Hallam University agrees with the points made. She said, “The COVID-19 crisis produced two responses in the university. The first was to put in place an effective crisis management structure to enable incident management over the immediate to short term. This was based on a networked-teams approach, including strong cross-professional and cross-functional working and very regularly incident management meetings at both ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ level. We have deployed project managers and business analysts into many of the workstreams to ensure timely delivery. In managing the crisis, we have worked in close partnership with the other major organisations in the city, including the hospitals and public health team.

The second response was to put in place a ‘Future Strategy Group’ which worked in an agile way, meeting weekly from April to September 2020, to drive the analysis, commission work, and produce the horizon scanning and forward-thinking needed to re-set the strategic priorities for the next 2 -3 years. Through the associated delivery programme structure, we will ensure joined-up, timely and coherent organisational adaption and development.”


Richard’s big challenge at Aston University has been to “support the changes brought about by lockdown and subsequent restrictions while being subject to them. HR and OD delivery pivoted to online delivery literally overnight and have since been developing a process to enable them to better be completed online. For instance, we have moved from a physical reception to online bookings and begun implementation of a service desk solution. “

Transitioning to remote working has been a huge challenge for many businesses and was the case for Magi Hoppitt at Coventry University. “Our response included increased cross-organisational working and emergency planning, regular, increased communication, a focus on staff wellbeing and significant policy development to adapt to the changing requirements. Being remote brings about so many issues that need dealing with – and the physical distance within teams causes extra strain.”

Most agree it would have been difficult to have anticipated the scale or duration of the crisis back in March, it was completely unprecedented, so you do have to learn as you go. “With hindsight we would have taken longer to think things through as we undertook a number of activities/initiatives that we had to either redo or were wasted effort due to government changes – but we couldn’t have known that at the time.” Magi Hoppitt

“In terms of what we would do differently I will say ‘nothing’. The reason for saying this is not that we’ve done everything perfectly, but what we have done well is learn, iterate fast and be agile. This period of time has presented a range of adaptive challenges where we haven’t been able to pull ready-made solutions off a shelf. Instead, we have had to work collaboratively, within and outside HR, to understand what is happening and move quickly to implement solutions while being sufficiently fleet-of-foot to learn and change direction based on the learning.” Richard Billingham.

The general consensus from all universities is that timely and clear government decisions making would have made the crisis management easier. IT and infrastructure are also a big concern to give time to plan and transfer to online, remote working.

At Sheffield Hallam, the good resilience from IT infrastructure made the transition to remote working, teaching, and learning much easier than it could have been. Sally Jackson,If we had been slightly further ahead with our rollout of laptops for staff before the crisis begun, this would have eased the very immediate pressure in March – however this was overcome with time. We have been frustrated at times by the limitations of an estate not built for social distancing. We have also been frustrated by changing or very late government guidance. Timely and clear government decision making would have made the crisis management easier. Equally, an earlier understanding on the part of the government of the realities of universities who have a high proportion of commuter students, would have made things easier.

Big changes

Peter Brook is an experienced HR Director who has been interim HRD at two universities in the past year. He thinks that “the biggest change for us is a permanent change in mindset towards home-based and remote working and an investment in hardware and systems to ensure that staff have the best possible tools for remote working. The reduced time spent commuting is a real benefit that should not be lost in the future. 

We have prepared a new flexible working policy ready to go in the new year which will mean that roles will be designated as either fully or partly available for home working, with the expectation that most roles will be delivered by a fairly even mix of office and home-based working.  Some roles will still need to be on campus all the time but, overall, this should relieve pressure on office space and enable campus facilities to be focused on the needs of students who continue to expect campus delivery of teaching and key services.

Another key change of course, is to make every one of us aware of our health and safety responsibilities and the need for a Covid-safe office and teaching environment.”

At Sheffield Hallam there has been a similar change in the last 8 months. Sally explains, “we have accelerated work already underway to move away from paper processes – from moving to fully online enrolment to virtual examination boards, from adapting our approach to extenuating circumstances to invoicing. Much of this change will be permanently adopted – some of this is unsurprising and in line with an already well-established direction of travel, but other aspects have been less expected, although welcome.

Assessment practice is perhaps one of the areas that has seen surprising successes in terms of digital practices, improving experience and efficiency alike. We have successfully revised – even transformed – a range of our “traditional” examination type assessments into new and innovative types of assessment that robustly maintain our standards while also enhancing our students’ abilities to demonstrate their learning.  This is very exciting for us and we are focused on ensuring this momentum and innovation, and not “reverting” to what are increasingly seen as more limited and limiting models of assessment.

Like many organisations, our working styles and digital skills are likely to change permanently – with a greater “normalisation” of working remotely as well as in the office. The exact balance will need further time and thought to work through; we have work underway to look at this.” 

The nature of the pandemic and ever-changing rules and regulations has enabled universities to adapt and become more agile when it comes to decision making and this has resulted in better outcomes. It has become more swift and less reliant on committee structures and communication from the Executive has become better.

At Coventry University, the introduction of the “Leadership Response Group – twice weekly tactical meetings have enabled timely responses to the changing circumstances and effective decision making.” Magi Hoppitt

So what have we learnt?

Whilst whole organisations transitioned to remote working overnight, there were gaps in knowledge and skill – particularly in technology areas. Confidence of all academic staff with online platforms and delivery was low and is still being developed. This is an area that may need further resourcing. Also, management competencies in supporting staff and managing performance effectively has been highlighted and if this situation were to continue for a much longer period, leaders and managers may need to develop additional skills sets.   

The COVID crisis continues, but positives that have been bought about include the realisation of the benefits that have come from working from home, the importance of support for wellbeing, the need to ensure digital technology is up to date and colleagues are equipped to handle it. Engagement is key to delivering a strategy and the epidemic has highlighted the huge importance, more than ever to engage and communicate – whether this is just a simple check in call with colleagues and friends or a more formalised team catch up or one to one.

How employers have supported staff over the last 10 months is something that many people are now considering and those that have been supported have a greater feeling of loyalty, whilst those that a have experienced increased pressure, without the adequate support are questioning whether they want to stay long term with their current employer.

The next few months will continue to be challenging in many ways, but there is real sense of resilience and a feeling that we are moving clear to a new dawn and the future which will look and feel much brighter.

If you would like to find out more about re:find and how we can support you and your business through these challenges then please get in touch.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. If you’ve got a hard-to-fill role and need some help, get in touch. Connect with him on LinkedIn.