Saturday, February 9, 2008

Structure Schmucture?

Every business needs to do four important things to manage effectively. They need to establish a plan and manage performance and progression, manage their people and culture, manage costs and productivity, and manage the infrastructure and systems that are required to run the business.

I used to think that structure was not important. You know what I mean by that - org charts and hierarchies and reporting relationships. I used to think that if you focused on the work - what needs to get done - and if people are allowed to work together for the time it takes to get the work done - then structure shouldn't be a huge factor in business. In fact, until recently, I used to think that structure was more of a hindrance than a help.

Wrong. Structure lays out who's who, and what they do, and who is leading them in their decision making. It tells us who's on point to lead, and who's on point to deliver. It is about accountability and results.

The problem with structure is that quite often, we use it as a strategy. And it's not. Strategy describes what we need to do, and structure is how we organize to do it.

OK, so what if the structure runs against the strategy. This is what I see happening a lot, and reason that I am sceptical about structure. Do you ever wonder why you can't seem to get something done? Why you can't seem to get the right people to work together? And why if you do manage to get the people in the same room, they often don't seem to get why they are there and what they are supposed to accomplish?

Strategies tend to change more frequently than before. So, by the time you reorganize your people, the strategy is already falling behind, and the people are frustrated because they can't seem to make a difference. Nothing gets done, or at least, to anyone's satisfaction.

One way to get around this is the develop teams that have specific and shared accountability. These teams are constructed to create a particular outcome that supports and organizational need or strategy.

For example, every organization needs to manage its performance, and this requires expertise from areas such as the strategic planning group, who is responsible for leading the process,
the accounting and reporting group who is responsible for the numbers, the research group who provides internal and external information, the project management group who tracks and reports on initiatives and HR group who leads the performance management process. The work of these 5 teams creates a single, measurable outcome.

So, why not set up an Enterprise Performance Management Team comprised of 5 cross functional teams who dedicate a percentage of their time and resources to Enterprise Performance Management? These teams can come together quite naturally to support the enterprise performance management program for the time that it takes to do so. The rest of the time, they can be focusing on other important work and be part of other teams.

So why is this a difficult concept? What stops people from being able to work together? I would suggest the answer is a 1959 static approach to performance management that assumes people work in silos of one and that the job and requirements don't change from year to year.

The truth is, silo thinking, acting and rewarding creates internal individualistic competition, which is counter to a the dynamic business environment. With the people and the business working against each other, no wonder businesses responding to opportunities or making change happen on time.

In a dynamic work environment, performance management must also be dynamic. It must reward and encourage cross team efforts as well as reward the excellence of the individual team. That way, everyone wins. The organization wins because resources are used more effectively and more efficiently; people are afforded more meaningful work experiences in their day to day work by being part of broader organizational efforts; the organization can plan for succession; and people may want to stay with the organization to grow their careers.

Somebody that I respect once said, "if you don't show people their future in the organization, they will leave." And the best people do leave in any job market, competitive or not, because good people are who everyone wants. Therefore, it makes sense to design the organization's working structure to accomplish the strategies and critical business functions while creating opportunities for growth, challenge and change for employees.

In my mind, defining the organization's structure along the lines of cross functional management functions, cross functional team structures and a dynamic performance management system is the way organizations might be able to ramp up their organizational competencies, and keep their people satisfied and engaged.

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