Category Archives: Organization Structure

Constructed, Tested, Adopted

“Easy to answer the negative, more difficult to answer the positive,” I repeated. “In what way can we create the conditions where creative ideas can be constructed, tested and adopted?”

“I remember reading something from a long time ago, about a company that had something called skunkworks,” Susan was thinking. “It was still inside the company, not really a secret, but hidden away somewhere.”

Lockheed Martin, America’s first jet fighter,” I explained. “Why do you think it was hidden away, not a secret, but out of sight?”

“They were probably experimenting with things where they did not know the outcome and the probability of failure was high. My guess is that, when there were failures, no one knew about it, so nobody got fired.”

“Exactly, the probability of failure was high, so the skunkworks were separated from operations, there was no real impact, no downside consequences. So, if the probability of failure was high, why did the company tolerate it?”

Now, Susan smiled. “Because the possibility of upside was substantial. And, they had to work all the kinks out of the ideas. There were likely failures along the way, but the company minimized the risk while they were making headway.”

I repeated my question, “In what way can we create the conditions where creative ideas can be constructed, tested and adopted?”

What’s Stopping Innovation?

Susan looked down, her face long in frustration.

“You look at creative ideas,” I said. “I look at context. I have to acknowledge your frustration at the lack of progress in your journey of innovation. Let me re-frame my observations with a forward looking question. In what way can we create the conditions where creative ideas can be constructed, tested and adopted?”

“I am not sure where you are going with this,” Susan responded.

“Let’s assume your creative ideas have merit. What conditions exist in your company that resist the construction, testing and adoption of new ideas?”

“Now, that’s an easy question to answer,” Susan chuckled through her frustration. “There is a long list –

  • We already tried that before and it didn’t work?
  • It’s too expensive.
  • It will take too long.
  • The last person with an idea like that got fired.
  • We are headed in exactly the opposite direction and we have too much sunk costs to change direction now, even though what we are doing isn’t working.

“Nice list,” I smiled. “It’s always easy to answer the negative, now let’s answer the positive. In what way can we create the conditions where creative ideas can be constructed, tested and adopted?”

Inside the Function

“Take your most important internal function,” Pablo instructed. “In the beginning, likely will be operations. What is the work most closely related to producing the product or delivering the service? Especially in the beginning, that is mostly short-term work, 1 day to 3 months. Most production roles have a supervisor, with longer term goals and objectives, 3 months to 12 months. The supervisory role is to make sure production gets done, completely, on time, within spec.”

“So, every production person knows they have a supervisor?” I added.

“And, every supervisor knows they have a manager,” Pablo smiled. “This is the beginning of structure, nested goals and objectives related to successive roles (context), a production role, to a supervisory role to a managerial role.”

“The roles are distinguished by longer timespan goals and objectives?” I suggested.

“Yes, the roles are different in that way, but also in the way they relate to each other. Organizational structure begins with nested timespan goals, but also includes the way we define two things associated with those role relationships.”

“Accountability and authority?” I chimed in.

Pablo nodded. “In this working relationship between the team member and the supervisor, what is the accountability? What is the authority?”

My turn to show off. “The accountability on the part of the team member is to apply their full capability in pursuit of the goals and objectives agreed to by their supervisor, in short, to do their best. It is the accountability of the supervisor to create the working environment that makes those goals and objectives possible (probable). It is the accountability of the supervisor for output.”

“And, the authority?” Pablo prompted.

“The authority to make decisions and solve problems appropriate to the level of work in the task.”

The Framework of Structure

“Organizational structure based on the timespan of related goals and objectives?” I repeated, as a question. “Has to be more complex that that.”

“Of course. Organizational structure is complex,” Pablo replied. “But, that is where is starts, looking at the level of work, goals and objectives.”

“A bit overwhelming,” I surmised. “Still looks like a large kettle of fish.”

Pablo nodded in agreement. “After the vision and mission, the founder must examine the internal functions required to kickstart the company. And, remember, this is an infant company, so there aren’t that many internal functions. Producing the product, delivering the service, finding a customer willing to pay and a way to deposit the money into the bank. That’s it, in the beginning.”

“So, in the beginning, following the vision and mission, I have to define the first functions required to produce the product or service. And in each function, determine the goals and objectives?”

“And, the ‘by-when’ of each goal will tell you the level of work required. That is the beginning of structure.”

Goal Based Structure

“If organizational structure is so important to the way things work,” I asked, “where do we start?”

“It always starts with the founder, entrepreneur, “Pablo replied. “Someone had an idea for a company, so they start it. It starts with that idea.”

“Vision, mission?”

“Yes, but immediately think about timespan,” Pablo inserted. “I know the founder thinks about where that first customer will come from, but successful thinking starts with what that organization will look like in the future. What will things look like in five years? And, that’s the start of structure.”

“How so?” I said, looking for something more specific.

“Don’t overthink this,” Pablo admonished. “Structure starts with a series of contexts, the first context exists in the imagination of the founder, long term. This is what the organization will look like in its market, including customers, competitors, vendors, supply chain, delivery chain. This is a complex context, passed along, inside the company.”

“And?”

“The next layer of context is shorter, goals and objectives 2-5 years in length. This is a cascade, a nesting inside the vision and mission.”

“And?”

The cascade continues,” Pablo explained. “The next context shorter, 1-2 years. With the next context 3-12 months, followed by the next context 1 day to 3 months. Organizational structure is simply a cascade of nested contexts within which people work.
———-
S-V – 5-10 years
S-IV – 2-5 years
S-III – 1-2 years
S-II – 3-12 months
S-I – 1 day-3 months
———-
“Layers inside the company, levels of work, all based on the timespan of their related goals and objectives.”

Working Relationships and Social Relationships

“Why is this so important?” I asked.

“We look at an organization and instinctively think it is a collection of personalities, and that we must pay attention to the personalities as that will be the way our organization gets along. Far more important is the structure, the way we organize the work and define the working relationships,” Pablo nodded.

“How so?”

“Think about the simple relationship between a manager and a team member,” Pablo continued. “That relationship will spell trust, fairness and deep satisfaction. OR, it will spell frustration, manipulation and despair. The organization gets to choose how it defines those working relationships. Further, those emotionally charged responses will spill over into the way people see the rest of the world. On the shoulders of the organization is the tone for other social relationships.”

Because We Said So

“Just to be clear,” Sarah wanted to know, “if communication is the symptom, but accountability and authority is the cause, what’s the fix?”

“You already told me that your communication seminar did not make any improvement. Is your answer embedded in your question?” I asked.

“We have to fix accountability and authority?” she angled her head to the side. This was not a rhetorical question.

“Let’s take the easy example,” I replied. “Two people who have to work together, but, neither is each other’s manager. Let’s take your Marketing Director and your Sales Director. In that working relationship, what is the accountability and what is the authority?”

“Well,” Sarah started. “They are not each other’s manager, so there is no accountability and no authority. They are professionals, they should each know what they are supposed to do.”

“Oh, really,” I nodded. “Would it be a good idea for marketing to coordinate with sales and for sales to coordinate with marketing?”

“Yes, I suppose,” Sarah concluded.

“If they are supposed to coordinate, but they don’t, what kind of problems emerge? And, does that look like a communication problem?”

“Yes, that is what we were trying to fix in the communication seminar,” Sarah smiled.

“But, it didn’t get fixed, because it wasn’t a communication problem, that was only the symptom. What you had was an accountability and authority issue. If it would be a good idea for them to coordinate, if the Marketing Director calls a meeting with the Sales Director, is the Sales Director accountable to attend?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Sarah winced.

“You are not sure because you did not define their coordinating relationship. By virtue of the fact that the two are in a coordinating relationship, if one calls a meeting, the other is required to attend. Of course, they have to mutually schedule the meeting, but they are required to attend. Why are they required to attend?”

“I am still not sure,” Sarah winced twice.

“Because we said so,” I stated flatly. “By virtue of their coordinating relationship, they are required to attend. Further, they are required to do what?”

“Coordinate?” Sarah was catching on.

“Exactly,” I said. “Now that we have specifically defined the accountability in their relationship, do we have a communication problem?”

Not a Communication Problem

“I am a bit confused,” Sarah explained. “As an executive management team, CEO included, we were frustrated about some issues that were not going well.”

“And, what did you do?” I asked.

“We thought it best to take a survey, kind of a company climate survey, to let everyone chip in and express their opinion about things gone wrong and how to fix them,” she said.

“And, what did you find out?”

“Just as we expected, a large number, more than 50 percent described our problems, related to productivity and morale, as a communication issue.”

“And, how did you go about addressing the issue?” I pressed.

“We hired a communication consultant, and held a series of communication seminars, so everyone could attend,” Sarah stated flatly.

“And, the results?”

“It’s been two weeks. At first, everyone was fired up. People were being nice to each other, but, here we are two weeks later and nothing has really changed. Productivity statistics are unchanged and we still experience heated exchanges about who is to blame.”

“Do you think communication is really the underlying problem?” I wanted to know.

“When you use the word – underlying, it leads me to believe I am looking in all the wrong places,” Sarah sighed. “So, is communication the problem, or only a symptom of the problem?”

“Let’s assume, for a moment, that communication was accurately identified by your survey as a symptom of the problem,” I floated. “What might be the underlying cause of the problem?”

Sarah had to stop, a bit of silence. She finally spoke, “Some people in the survey said they were unnecessarily blamed for things going wrong, that it really wasn’t their fault. Others said that if productivity was really wanted, that the incentive program should be changed. Some said they knew how to fix some of our problems, but they didn’t have the authority to make the decision, they were overruled by their manager.”

“I think we are moving away from the symptom, and getting closer to the cause,” I observed. “Most people, when they call me, tell of a communication problem. After some time, I can usually convince them that communication is not their problem. It’s usually an accountability and authority issue.”

The Girth of the Organization

“Why do most startups fail?” I asked.

“The standard answer is that they are undercapitalized,” Pablo replied. “But, I believe that is only a symptom of a larger problem.”

“The larger problem?” I pressed.

“Most startups begin with an idea, that the founder believes may have viability as an enterprise. It is this beginning of an idea, only vaguely formulated, where the trouble begins,” Pablo replied. “You have to start with the founder and the development of the business model, and ask how big?

“How big?” I asked, in a wandering sort of way.

“Think of big in terms of timespan. If the founder only thinks about the first handful of customers and the fulfillment of the first handful of orders, that is as far as the business will go (grow). More mature organizations answer longer timespan questions related to the mission and vision of the organization. The most often missed characteristic in both of those documents is the concept of by when?

“By when?”

“For the founder, meaning initial stakeholders, entrepreneur, investor, private equity, board of directors, the initial question to task the CEO is what is the timespan of the mission? Timespan will determine the girth of the organization going forward.

“And, this is where the standard reason of undercapitalized emerges. Most startups don’t have the resources to deploy more than the first handful of customers and orders, so that is where the thinking stops.

“Those organizations that more clearly determine their mission, the timespan of the 3-4 critical goals will have greater clarity on what kind of organization must be built. And, the biggest accountability for the CEO is to build that organization.”

Fear, the Loss of Control

“And, if the CEO feels that the CEO role is to be the glue that holds this house of straw together,” Pablo continued, “there is an associated, frightening feeling that the CEO is losing control. The CEO applies more glue. We see the invention of control systems, so the CEO can see more clearly that things are falling apart. These control systems remove the need for managers to make decisions, the decisions are made for them, they no longer are required to use discretionary judgement.”

“These control systems look like what?” I asked.

Pablo smiled. “In simple form, the manager does something that is detected by a control system (KPI), the indicator is reported (KPI report) to the CEO related to underperformance, so the CEO can chastise (motivational intervention) the manager for not being smart enough, not fast enough or paying too little attention to quality. The CEO applies more glue in an attempt to regain control.”

“I think we are up to three layers of glue,” I observed.

“Glue, band-aids, temporary fixes, or even more dysfunctional changes in the structure, creating an increasing fugue in the way people work together.” Pablo stopped. “Timespan is the framework where all of this becomes clear. What looks like a communication breakdown, or a personality conflict reveals itself as an accountability and authority issue. Structure is where we place accountability and where we release authority to make decisions and solve problems.”

“And, what of the control system?” I asked.

“The CEO conversation is not, can’t you work harder, but, in the work in your role, what are the decisions you have to make, what are the problems you have to solve? This is the essence of managerial judgement that leads to managerial effectiveness. CEO effectiveness rarely requires massive applications of glue. This is a design problem, not a performance problem.”