Tag Archives: organization

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.

Burning Platforms

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I attended your Time Span workshop. So now I am curious, this clearly resonated. But where do we start?

Why? at the beginning, of course.

There are a number of simple things you can do, as a manager. But, I think, first, is to determine why you would do them. In the workshop, we started with an organizational analysis, to surface the challenges your company has faced, getting to where it is today. And then, to look forward, to understand what changes you will face taking your company to the next level.

In most cases, those challenges are predictable, depending on what stage your organization is moving through. But you have to write them down, with some detail.

This is where I start.

What are the burning platforms, the hot spots? Where do things seem to be stuck? What has to change? Where are the growing pains?

Only when you identify these changes, only when you identify the pain, will you understand the necessity of the solution. This is where I start.

This starting place is obvious, you and your management team already know this pain. You have likely discussed it, in meetings and in the hallway. So, write it down. Fishbone out the details. Don’t try to solve the pain, yet. Just document it.

Slow down.

Don’t jump to conclusions about solutions, because you, now, have this new lens, this new framework to look at these challenges. Before the workshop, you thought you had a personality conflict or a breakdown in communication. Most often, those turn out to be a misalignment in organizational structure.

Reframe your challenges, now, in the light of Time Span. This is where I start.

Too Many Layers

Sydney thought for a moment. “We just promoted Justin to Team Leader. The rest of the guys on the crew say he is breathing down their necks. He is obviously not ready to be a full supervisor, and we are losing his productivity as a machine operator.”

“And?” I prodded.

“And I really don’t know what to do,” Sydney replied.

“Let’s look again at your instructions to Justin. You said if a team member has a problem, help them solve it, if they have a question, answer it and make sure all the work gets done by the end of the day. And yet, you said he was not ready to be a supervisor? Sounds like you gave him supervisor tasks, but you already know he is struggling with those tasks.”

“Yes, but, if we are going to have the team report to Justin..” Sydney stopped. “So, I took my lead technician and tried to make him a supervisor, even though we already have a supervisor. It looked good on paper.”

“Actually, it didn’t look good on paper. You have 112 employees and twelve layers,” I observed.

“I know, I said 112,” Sydney explained. “Now it’s 110, two people quit this morning.”

That Sounds More Organized

“Why are we having this discussion in the first place?” I asked. “What do you see, as a manager, that is creating a problem?”

Arianne was puzzled. She knew the answer, but didn’t know the words to express it. “There are all kinds of issues. I guess it’s just getting organized. Our company has grown, things are more complicated, now. It used to be, everybody did a little bit of everything, and somehow, all the work got done. Now we have more customers, way more customers, and the volume, we now do, in one day, what we used to do in a month. We started out with eight people, now we have eighty-five.”

“When you think back to when your company was small, and then you added more people, what was the biggest change that you noticed?” I pressed.

“I remember, clearly, everybody was doing a little bit of everything, and then we had to divide up the work. Some people would work on one part, others would work on another part, and someone else was assigned to find new customers,” Arianne explained.

“Well, that sounds more organized,” I observed.

“Are you kidding. That was the beginning of the first set of problems. We ended up with two people doing the same thing, duplicating work. And other work that no one was doing, gaps all over. I felt like Hans Brinker, plugging the dike with my thumb. But there were too many gaps. Too many customers, too many orders. It was a mess.”

“What did you do?”

“Somehow, we got it sorted out. We drew a big flowchart on the wall, with boxes for each of the major steps. It became easier to see the holes in the dike, and where work was duplicated. We made checklists, created push schedules. It was a lot of work, a lot of effort, a bunch of overtime, but at least we got all the work out the door.” Arianne took a breath.

“Well, that sounds more organized,” I repeated.

“Are you kidding,” Arianne sat forward. “That was when we almost went broke.”

Not a What, But a Who

Derrick located a copy of the org chart. “A little out of date,” he remarked.

“It’s time stamped only three weeks ago,” I said.

“Yeah, well, it’s still out of date.”

“So, if I think you have a system problem, where should I look on the org chart?” I asked.

“All these people are doing production, and the supervisors make sure production gets done. You have to be looking at our managers, they create our systems, monitor and improve our systems,” Derrick observed.

“Yes, and I see you have five manager positions. These are the roles accountable for your systems.”

“That’s why it’s a little out of date. One manager got promoted to Vice President and we figured he could still cover his old position. This manager, here, got an offer from another company, and we decided that we might be able to do without for a while. And our controller wanted to move to the northern part of the state. And with the internet, she does her work from home.”

“Let me get this straight. You have five manager positions, monitoring your systems, yet only two out of five actually show up for work here?”

It’s Not About Flow and Luck

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In your workshop, it was clear, the research you presented supports hierarchy in an organization. I am still not sure I buy that. There is so much talk these days about “tribes” as a better, more flexible structure.

Notwithstanding how great Mel Gibson looked in his Mayan costume in Apocalypto, all the talk of modern tribal systems is misguided.

One reason is the misunderstanding of the purpose for hierarchy. We think, because we watch too many military movies, we think hierarchy exists to create a reporting protocol in the organization. Here’s the bad news, you are NOT a manager so people can report to you.

The fact is, we report to people all over the organization. I contribute to a project for Paul. I am responsible to compile a forecast for a report for Frank. I have to procure some super-special material on a project for Bill. I sit in on a steering committee for Jim. I report to people all over the organization. There is no lack of flexibility. It might even have the appearance of a tribe.

But even in a tribal structure, every once in a while, like every day, I will run up against a problem or a decision where I need some help. I may have a conflict priority between Bill’s project and Frank’s project. Who do I go to for help? If I go to Bill or Frank, I may get the wrong answer. So who is accountable for that decision. In a tribal system, no one is accountable. There is ambiguity. And ambiguity kills accountability.

A tribal system is great, unless we are trying to get some work done.

The purpose of the managerial relationship, the mandate for every manager, is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. And that’s the purpose for hierarchy, to fix accountability at the appropriate decision level. The right decision on the conflict between Bill’s project and Frank’s project may require perspective on BOTH projects, as well as capital budgets, multiple customer initiatives and the availability of technical support. If I don’t have that perspective (to make the right decision), then who?

In a tribe, there is no one accountable for that perspective? It’s all about flow and luck.

In a hierarchy, it is my manager who is accountable. I may report to people all over the organization, but there is only one person accountable for my output, and that is my manager.