Category Archives: Organization Structure

The Enterprise as a Whole

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

“Different functions in a business do different things, and they each have their own set of cultures, rules and ways to be measured. We need to respect this, and stop imagining that how it works for us is how it should work for everyone else. Each function needs to be managed in the best way to suit its purpose, and the business needs all of its functions to work well and respect each other and their methods and measures if the enterprise as a whole is to be successful.” Comment posted to Responsibility, Accountability and Authority.

This comment began by railing against management as command and control, ended up with a brilliant description of what management IS. To understand management, as a subject to be studied and understood, we have to step back. We complain that how management works one way, does not work in another way. We get wrapped around the axle.

In the differences, there are universals. Here is what I pulled out of the comment posted above.

  • Business is a collection of different functions. Each function will have its own set of cultures, rules and measurement systems. And those systems will have different characteristics.
  • Each function must have a purpose. All the discussion about goals and objectives ultimately arrive back at purpose.
  • Each function must work together, must be optimized and integrated for total organizational throughput. Out of balance systems create internal feasts and famine, starving and bloating. Some optimized systems remain appropriately idle waiting for constrained functions to catch up.
  • Management is about the whole organization, separate functions coordinated together for the benefit of the whole system. This coordination depends on discretionary judgement, making decisions and solving problems, in roles we call management.

As the organization grows more complex, it needs more management.

Saving Face in a Reassigned Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just read through a couple of your more recent blog posts. Specifically, the one titled “Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign” caught my attention. So what’s the answer to Cheryl’s dilemma? If we need to reassign someone to a new role, because they are better suited in another necessary role how do we allow them to save face. “Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

People change roles all the time. Titles are switched, departments re-organized. First, understand that reality always wins. Don’t try to blow smoke.

Here is the reality. The company needs everyone to be in a role where they can be most effective. The company has a necessary role. (You would never put Harold in an unnecessary role). The company thinks Harold is better suited for the new role than the role he is in now.

First, how do you know Harold is better suited? Hint – you don’t know.

How do you, as a manager, find out if someone is suited for a new role they are not currently doing? The answer is ALWAYS — give them project work. Give them a project that contains time span task assignments similar or identical to the work in the new role.

If they are successful, it is a simple transition from project work to a new role. The announcement is easy, based on the successful project.

Reward or Punishment?

“So, you clearly understand that you are the problem?” I asked. Events became clear for Reggie. His incentive program backfired. In the short run, his company’s margins were not compromised, but long term, he created a culture cloaked in clandestine competition. His managers gamed the system to beat margin quotas.

“We hired a compensation consultant to help us structure this incentive program,” Reggie defended. “They were very professional and seemed expert in their process.”

“Tell me, Reggie, what impact did this incentive compensation have on your manager’s contract?”

Reggie moved his head an inch, “What do you mean, what contract?”

“You know, the contract. The contract that says You get paid every day to come to work and do your best. To focus your efforts where they are most effective. To give us your best effort.

Reggie didn’t know how to respond. “Yeah, but that doesn’t seem to work around here. People don’t come to work and do their best unless you, you, you hold some of the money back and give it to them as a bonus.”

“So, what you are saying is that you don’t trust them to do their best, so you don’t give them all their money unless they show their best effort? Then you give them their, well, you call it a bonus.”

Reggie slowly nodded his head.

Contrived System of Reward

“But the worst part of my little bonus system,” Reggie confided, “was not that my managers manipulated the numbers, but that the system I created changed the mindset. I corrupted their thinking. Digging out of that hole is going to take time. And some of them will not survive. I created a contrived system to reward something I thought was good.

“And the winner of my little contest, the successful candidate who gets the position as the new division VP, is going to think he got the job by gaming the system. It doesn’t matter how I explain it, in his heart, his experience will tell him that he got the job by playing with the numbers.

“It is really true,” Reggie continued, “the behavior you reinforce, is the behavior you get. I created the incentive. I got the behavior.”

“If you are going to create a different environment, what has to change first?” I asked.

“All crumbs lead to the top,” Reggie said. “I have to change first.”

Competition and Manipulation

“So, you’re the culprit,” I repeated. “What specifically did you do that was so counterproductive?”

“I remember, it wasn’t anything extreme. We have different sales channels and different product lines, with outside sales, inside sales, internet sales. I began to hand out bonuses for each department with the highest gross margin, another for the highest revenue in the quarter.

“It’s funny, now that I think about it, when I handed out those bonuses, the room was quiet. There was no jubilation or high-fives, just a nod and a polite thank you.”

“Tell me about the down-side?” I asked.

“I found out later,” Reggie explained, “that each department gamed the gross margins. They would pump up the pricing in the last week of the quarter and then rebate it back to the customer in the next quarter. In the end, we still got our standard margin, but each department manipulated the bonus system. And all the progress we made on cross-selling was lost.

“And it’s not so much that they had to pay the piper in the next quarter, but look at all the wasted energy, counterproductive to what we stand for. And the last thing on our mind was doing a good job for the customer.”

The Danger of Healthy Competition

“It was worse than I thought,” Reggie stated flatly. “What I didn’t realize when I opened up this little fracas, was that the competition started long ago. I nosed around some of my sources. It’s been a dysfunctional fight for the past six months, with not only my three internal candidates, but two others. They are all spread across three departments, so I never saw it.”

“What’s been going on?” I asked.

“Mostly, it’s the subtle non-cooperation of one department with another. Convenient delays, rough hand-offs, missing information. Nothing malicious or brazen, but I have five people working against each other, working against the company.”

“Who’s the culprit?”

Reggie’s demeanor changed. He sat straight up in his chair. The nerve was struck. Chin down, looking over his glasses, furrowed brow, he finally spoke. “I’m the culprit. I tried to create a little healthy competition, but what I created was an environment where individual agendas were more important that teamwork. I created intense internal focus within each department, when I need cooperation between departments.”

“How do we fix it?”

“First, we have to start with the culprit,” Reggie shrugged. “And that would be me.”

Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign

“But he has been doing a terrible job, as a Manager,” Cheryl observed.

“So, do you want him out of the company? Should he be gone?” I asked.

Cheryl shook her head. “No, Harold has too much knowledge, he knows everything about everything, he is just in the wrong position for our company. What he is doing now, works against us. But he could be so valuable in a different role.”

“Right now, you have Harold in the role as a Senior Manager, which you say is the wrong place for him. But you don’t want to fire him, just reassign him. How do you think that will work, in Harold’s eyes?”

“He’s not going to like it,” Cheryl replied, still shaking her head. “He might quit and we really do need his technical knowledge. I am afraid he is going to be embarrassed in front of his peers, in front of his direct reports. This move is going to be very touch and go.”

“So, what is the one thing you have to do, to make this move successful?” I pressed.

“Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

Hot Spots

“So, I am the one to fix this problem with my silos,” Regina slowly realized. “And I can’t just leave my managers in the room to figure it out. Where do I start?”

“Putting your managers in the room is not a bad idea, but they will not be able to figure it out without you. Your role is the integrator,” I said.

“So, I get them in the room, then what?”

“Your managers are competent at work flow charting. Get them to step back and draw, not a system flow chart, but a functional flow chart.”

“Not sure I understand,” Regina quizzed.

“Your managers can flow chart the steps in a system. This exercise would be to flow chart all the systems in your business model sequence. Take this list, put a box around each element and flow them sideways on the white board.

  • Marketing
  • Business Development
  • Sales
  • Contracting
  • Engineering
  • Project Management
  • Operations
  • QA/QC
  • Warranty

In this exercise, we are not looking for the problems inside each function, we are looking for the problems that exist as one function hands off work to the next. We are looking for transition issues, capacity issues, clarity, timing, dead space, delay, undiscovered defects, inspection points.”

“How will we find those?” Regina asked.

“This is a hot spot exercise, just look for the pain. Your managers may not be able to fix the issues, but they know exactly where they are.”

Dotted Lines Create Ambiguity

“Each department manager turned toward internal efficiency because you told them to. No waste, no scrap, predictable output,” I said. “But now you have multiple departments, multiple systems and subsystems. You have silos. Silos that compete. Silos that compete on budget. They compete for resources. They compete for your managerial attention. Most companies stay stuck here. It’s your move.”

Regina was thinking. Her eyes looked down, her vision went inside. “I am the problem,” she observed. “I told them to be this way?”

“You are the problem,” I agreed. “And you are the solution. Your departments are perfectly capable of creating those internal efficiencies, but those internal efficiencies have to be optimized. Work goes sideways through the organization. It starts with marketing, then goes to sales, then to contracting, then to operations, then to warranty, looping into R&D. Work gets handed off from one department to another.”

“So, I can’t just put all the managers in a room and tell them to figure it out?” she guessed.

“Your role is one of integration,” I nodded.

“Like all the dotted lines on the org chart?” Regina offered.

“Your dotted lines on the org chart have your best intentions. Intuitively you understand the horizontal cross-functional working relationships, that’s why you drew the dotted lines. But dotted lines create ambiguity. No one understands the specific accountability and the limited authority that goes with those dotted lines. So people make stuff up. And that’s where the trouble begins.”

The Problem is Normal

“Each department manager turned toward internal efficiency because you told them to,” I repeated.

Regina was stunned. She had difficulty seeing the root of the problem as her management directive.

“All crumbs lead to the top,” I said. “And, don’t think it’s because you are a bad manager. Every company has to become system focused at some point. It’s normal. But the solution to become efficient creates the next step of organizational friction. All these internally focused departments, these silos, have to work together.”

Regina’s look of surprise began to calm.

I continued. “If the problem comes from an internal focus by each department, where do you think we will find the solution?”

Regina turned her head. “With an external focus?” she floated.

I nodded, “Yes, and that’s where you come in. This is a higher level of work.”