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Archive for June, 2013

Structure-less

Restructuring is a phrase that is common around the business world. If you’ve not been involved in one as a leader or employee you are very unusual.
Despite the amount of restructuring that takes place (or maybe because of it) very few deliver any real and lasting change. Indeed many just cut the wage bill, and some are done purely for that reason. But that always seems a very limited reason to change your structure.
Indeed if you are running your business well you should always have the most effective number of people engaged in the most effective process for delivering your business results. And those people should be grouped together in work units that enable them to best deliver the task that they are there for. That grouping of work units is effectively your structure.
If you look at it that way, structure should fall out of a process that groups people together to make it easy to do their job when their job requires them to engage with other people.
But if that was the case, why do many workplace problems occur because people from one work unit have to interact with people from another work unit. Indeed many restructures are done to manage these issues of interaction. But again, most don’t succeed because the issues are with the interacting people and not with the structure. Because structure is not real. It’s an imaginary construct designed by managers to create order where order would not exist otherwise. It’s there to prevent chaos, remove inefficiencies and speed up process. But most don’t do that.
Because it’s imaginary. So it can’t do anything.
So why are so many $’s spent on changing something that is unlikely to do anything but change the wage bill for a short time (and many wage bills gradually creep back up after a restructure as people are brought back to do things that still need done and were forgotten about until they were missed). The answer might lie in looking at the organisation if we had no structure.
I’ve always wondered what would happen if that was the case. if organisations had no structure imposed and people were given a very clear job description, defined and measurable outcomes and clear boundaries (you can’t spend any money, but you can solicit the support and know-how of anyone else in the organisation to deliver what you’ve been asked to deliver). Would it work? If you had 100% of your employees fully skilled in delivering what they had been asked to do, self starting, with self-discipline, built in risk sensitivity, attitudes that were positively aligned to the environment (so unlikely to mess up others work to advance themselves, un-selfish with their skills and knowledge etc) and a heep of other attributes. Then you might succeed in delivering without any structure whatsoever.
But people aren’t like that in the main, so we need the out in place supervision to make sure that people stay on the path we need them to, to clarify things and answer questions etc. We need quality checkers to keep an eye out for those places where human imperfection comes to play . We need HR people to help us employ people, pay them and help in disciplinary cases. And the list goes on.
So we need structure. But I wonder if we need all the structure we sometimes put in place or have we got used to putting in structures that we don’t think about some of them any more.
Look at some job descriptions for managers and you will find things in there that are to justify position or salary as opposed to a real need to get the best from those who report to them (the prime role of a manager). Structures are often defined based on how many direct reports a manger can manage and yet the manager spends very little of their time managing those people. Leadership posts are created that are still expected to deliver specialist activities and specialists are given people to manage to justify paying a leadership salary. People are put in groups and told they are a team but they have no interaction with each other and the manager creates false team activities to justify the word team. People are aligned in technical skills groupings yet 90% of their time is spent with people in other units. People with specialist skills are embedded in units to support those people and then find that their work is being dictated by a manager sitting outside of the unit. People are pulled together under one GM because they are all roughly engaged in the same thing and then layers of managers managing layers are put in place over the top of them. And many more poor decisions are made because the wrong problem was trying to be solved.

So the next time you draw a structure out why not ask yourself ‘will this enable people to do their job easier by aligning people that are interconnected in our processes? Then test it for unnecessary hierarchies, role and salary justifications, unclear groupings or changes just to deal with problem interactions.

Or maybe ask yourself, ‘how would people align if we didn’t have a structure?’and then work backwards from that.