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Organisational complexity – should HR care?

Posted on by from Buckinghamshire New University

Complexity in organisations continues to increase, yet is largely not on the HR radar. Should HR be concerned about this or is this solely an issue for operational teams? Is this a missed opportunity for HR?

What is organisational complexity?

Complexity is not solely an issue for organisations of scale or for those with complex multi divisional or matrix structures. This is an issue for organisations irrespective of scale due to range of factors such as the growth of e-commerce, changing consumer behaviour, the regulatory burden and the globalisation of business. Furthermore, complexity is not just a consideration in transformational organisational change activity, business restructuring or M&A activity.

Organisational complexity is manifested in organisational structures, systems, processes and in communication flows. It therefore, has clear implications for internal organisational efficiency, organisational effectiveness, departmental interaction and even customer service.

Complexity can therefore result in a myriad of tensions and result in actual internal conflict and to conflicts of interest and of conscience. In an organisation with a matrix structure for example, there are regular conflicts between meeting the needs of the functional manager and that of the operational manager. Hospital consultants may experience the conflicting “logic” of the patient care which they want to provide verses the actual reality which commercial pressures present for them in terms of the resources available. When it comes to patient care therefore, the “professional logic” conflicts with the “commercial logic” adding to greater internal complexity.

Organisational complexity is not solely an issue for operational leaders to consider when creating structures, systems, processes and in organisational change. HR has a tangible and active role to play.

The role of HR

HR has a critical role in helping line managers develop organisational structures which reduce organisational complexity and conflict at the point of design. This can therefore help to mitigate some of the tensions described earlier. Organisational effectiveness programmes can also have complexity minimisation and reduction as an important plank. HR policy and processes can help to minimise internal organisational complexity.

For example, in the design of performance management systems and remuneration structures. HR business partners can build organisational complexity into their operational discussions with their internal business clients.

HR therefore can play an active role in promoting complexity as an issue on the organisational agenda. This can only contribute to develop HR as an organisational business partner. 

Tejal Fatania

By Tejal Fatania

Buckinghamshire New University

Tejal is a senior lecturer in human resources management at Bucks Business School at Buckinghamshire New University. He has held senior HR roles at EY, Eon and Capgemini.

Buckinghamshire New University

Buckinghamshire New University

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