Category Archives: Organization Structure

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.”

Structural Quagmire That Starts at the Top

“Let me push back,” I said. “I assume that CEOs do have a firm grasp on the managerial relationships inside their company.”

“And, you would be missing the critical overlay that timespan brings to the overall structure,” Pablo explained. “With timespan as the overlay, the CEO will discover that not all people on the executive team have defined roles at S-IV (Multi-system Integration). Most CEOs have too many direct reports, or if I can more accurately describe – the CEO is the direct manager of too many people.”

“I have seen that,” I replied.

“Or, over time, team members with solid S-III (Single System) capability are promoted to S-IV (Multi-system Integration) roles where they struggle. This over-promotion (Peter Principle) causes the CEO to be dragged into system integration issues. Problem solving and decision making has no systemic or disciplined structure. There is no generally understood order, titles become jumbled and subject to individual interpretation. But, here is the real problem. The CEO gets the feeling that the CEO role is to be the glue that holds this house of straw together.”

“I have seen that as well.”

“And, if there is underperformance, the CEO believes it to be a fault of the team member, when it is really a problem of structure. There is a design problem that is covered over by the CEO in heroic attempts to make people smarter. And if there is continued underperformance, then the team becomes the culprit. Finger pointing surfaces down into middle management, and the band plays on.”

The Rare Grasp on Structure

“I get it,” I said. “Timespan helps us sort out the complexity of problems at hand with the selection of the right person to solve that problem. You say that timespan touches everything a manager does?”

“Let’s start at the top with the CEO,” Pablo replied. “I rarely meet a CEO who has a firm grasp on the structure of their organization. And, by structure, I mean, the way we define the working relationships between people. Not only is it important to define the accountability inside a single role, it is also critical to define the way those roles work together.”

“I’m listening.”

“There are two types of working relationships, vertical and horizontal,” Pablo continued. “Vertical relationships, we understand more easily. Those are (vertical) managerial relationships. Every technician understands they have a supervisor, every supervisor understands they have a manager. If the organization is large enough, every manager understands they have an executive manager. Somewhere, hovering at the top is the CEO.”

“This is the CEO who rarely has a firm grasp on the structure?” I asked.

“Precisely,” Pablo smiled. “Most people get promoted in an organization because someone left the company, leaving a hole in the org chart. Or someone appears qualified for a promotion, requests a promotion, but there is no hole on the org chart, so we create a new role, with a new title. Or someone needs (deserves) a raise, but we cannot justify the increase in compensation without assigning a new title with a new role. Or someone needs leadership experience, so we make them a manager and assign a single person for them to manage. There are all kinds of wonky reasons that org charts get bloodied up.”

“We were talking about timespan?” I reminded.

“And, those bloodied org charts make no sense, they are bloated, accountability is vague, performance excuses abound. So we have communication seminars and do personality testing, AND nothing changes. That’s because we don’t have a communication problem, we have a structural problem. Timespan creates the only framework where we can accurately define two things, accountability and authority.”

“Accountability and authority for what?”

“To make decisions and solve problems. Work is making decisions and solving problems. It’s all about the work. When we can measure the decision (with timespan) and measure the problem (with timespan), we can now structure the organization around something that makes sense. Supervisors have a larger (longer timespan) context than technicians. Managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than supervisors. Executive managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than managers. It’s all about the work, all based on goals and objectives.”

“And, CEOs rarely have a firm grasp on their structure?” I repeated.

“Understanding timespan, the CEO can overlay levels of work onto the org chart, and discrepancies leap off the page. The burning platforms inside the org chart now reveal themselves, not as communication breakdowns or personality conflicts, but as structural problems, where we have not accurately identified the complexity of problems at that level of work, or mismatched a team member to make those decisions or solve those problems.”

To Stay Green

“You continue to use the term managerial system,” I started. “What do you mean?”

“In the beginning, in a startup, every company is haphazard, organizing the work around the people they have. At some point, there is still work left over and the founder realizes work can no longer be organized around the people, we have to organize the people around the work. Specialized roles emerge. And, then those roles have to work together.”

“And the system?” I asked.

“Roles cannot be haphazard, working together cannot be haphazard, too much friction against profitability. I have seen companies work extremely hard and never make a profit. Eventually, they have to make a profit or the company dies (a long slow death exasperating death). For a company to survive and be profitable, they have to create a managerial system, what we call structure.”

“Structure?” I prompted.

“Organizational structure is simply the way we think about, often on paper, the accountability and the authority in the working relationships between people,” Pablo stopped. “Two types. Vertical managerial relationships and horizontal cross-functional relationships.”

“And this structure is important for profitability?” I clarified.

“Yes, and, this structure is important for the sustained creative output of the people who work in the company. Because without that, the company will also die, become a corrosive institution where no one wants to work.” Pablo paused again. “To stay green and growing, the managerial system has to be vibrant and well-thought-out.”