The simple principle that keeps large groups connected

“OK, so what have we found?” asked Kathy, CEO of a mid-size manufacturer, about 1600 people.

“We’ve found a possible cause of the issues coming out of your Eastern plant” I replied, putting on the table a diagram known as a Levels of Work Analysis.  The diagram is like an X-Ray for organisational design – it shows clearly the cracks and splinters in the org design itself that are causing frustration and lack of delivery.

Kathy leaned forward and pointed at the clearly marked red areas.  ”What’s going on there?”

“I need to give you a quick bit of lingo” I said.  ”We use some fundamental principles that, if in place, will see frustration down and delivery up.  One of these is about having what we call building blocks in place to make sure that our natural need for connection isn’t accidentally designed out.”

Kathy’s eyebrows went up.  I waited to check I was making sense.  ”Go on” she said.

“The first building block is the basic team structure.   But above that we have the wider structure, or the three-tier structure.  The fancy term for it Elliott Jaques coined was the ‘Mutual Recognition Unit’, or ‘MRU’.”

“Fancy indeed” Kathy commented.  ”So how does this help me?” Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

One advantage of organisations…

An old friend from school dropped past our office last week.  He’s left work in the corporate world to do what he likes doing the most – developing houses.  He’s good at it – a combination of trade know-how (he pretty much built his own place years ago) combined with the ability to organise, get along with people and take a risk.

As we often do, we got to talking about how things get done.  He was talking about the balancing act of having to schedule various trades to work on his properties, all of whom have other work on, with the whole thing relying on each trade doing their bit on time so the  next one can start.  And even if everyone puts in a great effort, sometimes the weather thwarts everyone…there’s just nothing that can be done.  But then the next tradie has to decide who they are going to let down…my friend, or the next customer whose job will now start late.

“But that’s how it goes” he said.  ”Because they’re all running their own business, they’re not employees.  So why should they wait for me?”

Fighting to get people to show up.  Cajoling, negotiating and trying to get ‘buy-in’ so your project comes first.  Does this sound like your organisation?

The key difference between organisations and my friend’s occupation as a developer is that organisations have roles that have the authority to decide what gets done next and to allocate resources.   They’re called managers, and it starts with the CEO.  Make good decisions in this area and everyone’s talents become more valuable and are directed toward something bigger that they are a part of.  Sounds good.

But if this fundamental work isn’t getting done, then why have an organisation at all?

 

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

The real foundation of your cross-functional issues

Does the discussion in your meetings often turn toward other departments and how they are letting you down?  Actually, why am I even posing that as a question?  Let me start again:

When the discussion in your next meeting turns toward why and how other departments are letting you down, trying saying this:

Sounds like we’ve got ourselves an org design issue.

You can predict the response: “What do you mean org design?  They know what they are there to do.  They should just do their job and deliver“.

But here’s what’s missed….the other area is staffed by people just like your team is.  And they’re probably putting in some sort of effort just like your team is.  And they probably know how to do their job about as good as your team knows how to do theirs.

So the problem isn’t the other department.  The problem is that what the other department sees itself as accountable for differs from what your team thinks it should be accountable for.

And what do you call the work of sorting out what departments and roles are going to be accountable for?  Organisational design.

It’s what sits at the foundation of your organisational issues.  It’s the key to developing your organisation.

But you won’t see it until you see  it.

 

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

How to unblock your people’s creativity

“We need more self-starters” said Matthew.  I could have sworn he was glaring at me.  He had been CEO for a year now.

“In what way?” I asked.

“Our people just won’t make decisions.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I don’t know!  We’ve empowered our people but they’re still bringing all the decisions to us.”

“Frustrating.” I agreed.  ”So what have you tried?”

“Like everyone else, we’ve done our OCI, we’ve come out…”

“…red and green.”  I finished for him.  ”And you want blue.”

“How did you know?”

“Because if people are shivering, I’m pretty sure when I look at the thermometer what it’s going to say”.

Matthew sat back.  He seemed deflated. Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

The (not so) hidden key to integrating business units

“I’ve got some issues between my two key General Managers” said Ingvild, the CEO.

“Lucky there’s a CEO then” I replied, “but I guess you’re not exactly feeling lucky”.

She laughed.  ”Not so much.”

“Tell me what’s happening”

“Well you know Sue, she’s our GM of Development.  Her job is to come up with what’s next.  We discuss as an Exec team, in the end I make decisions about where we want to be in five years or so, whether it fits our purpose,  and her area is there to develop the offers and the opportunities in those new areas.”

“OK.  Who else?”

“Janet.  She’s our GM of Operations, and she’s there to bring into existence the stuff that Sue is confident is viable as well as deliver the usual stuff.  So it’s sort of like ‘Sue tests and learns, confirms viability, Janet plays a part in this, then once we’re go, Janet’s area integrates the new stuff into Operations.  How she does this is up to her, sometimes it changes one of her areas, other times she starts a new area.”

“Right.  So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“Well, it’s basically infighting.” Ingvild continued. “And the crux of it is that Janet’s Ops area thinks Sue’s Development area is unreasonable.”

“Are they?”

“Well…I don’t think so.  I’ve seen R&D or Development areas before, and Sue is solid.  Not slow by any means, but not churning stuff out at a rate that’s unreasonable.”

“And what does Janet say from the Ops view?”

“She and her people say that Sue’s area has no idea the pressure they are under, that they don’t have time for new stuff all the time.  But I’ve got a problem with ‘no new stuff’, because as you keep reminding us, without development this is going to eventually lead to us falling gently off a cliff as our offerings gradually become old school.”

“Is Ops right in their view.  Do they not have time for new stuff?”

“Well, that’s the thing.  I look at what Operations produces, they’re working hard, getting stuff done at a rate that’s pretty impressive”.

I sat and waited for her to go on.  After a while she continued.

“So I’m at a loss.  I’ve got a situation with two competent GMs, I’m happy with both of them, but together, it’s just not happening.  And before you go on…” she smiled….”I am fully aware that this is my problem and no one else’s.”

“That will save us a lot of time” I laughed.  ”So here’s what happening.  The work of your team is not integrated“. Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

Self-organising doesn’t mean self-directed

“The thing about Scrum” I was saying to Melinda, one of my ex-colleagues and also one of the kindest and nicest people I’d ever worked with….”is that nearly all of it makes sense in a way that’s totally requisite.”

“Scrum?” she asked.

“Sorry, what I mean by Scrum is the software development method that’s based on principles of Agile.  The Agile stuff is about frequent checking in with the customer, that developers can sort themselves out, a whole approach that makes sure a team’s collective capability is used well.  What Scrum does is nicely define roles within a team under the Agile philosophy so that everyone knows what they’re doing.  That’s my potted overview anyway.”

“Isn’t that the stuff you teach with requisite?  That by clearly defining the role relationships in terms of who can ask who to start or stop things, people can be freed up from one of most common sources of conflict?”

“Yep, all the role relationships in a Scrum Team are a version of natural requisite role relationships.  No issue there.”

“So what’s the problem?” Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

Why do you use this ‘requisite’ stuff?

“So you’re telling me you want to help me to get my 1,500 people to align behind delivering the strategy I’ve put in place and you’re going to use thinking from the 1950s?”

It was a fair point!  I’d known Mary for a while, she loved to learn by challenging.  ”Let me ask you this.” I ventured carefully.  ”Would you say gravity existed in the 1950s?”

“Yep”

“And would you say it’s a relevant principle to be observed by those doing work that involves things falling?”

“Yep”

“And do you know when Newton first put forward his concept of gravity?”

“Well I know it wasn’t yesterday” said Mary.  ”When was it?”

“It was the late 1600s.” I answered.  ”So anyone using gravity is using principles that were first written about over 300 years ago.  And they are still using them today.  So I wouldn’t call that an old theory, I’d be more likely to call that a well-founded and useful theory”.

“But Einstein showed that a lot of Newton’s work wasn’t quite right didn’t he?”

“Sure….if you’re getting near the speed of light Newton doesn’t hold up so good.  And particularly if you’re Neo and you swallow the red pill.  But remember, when we’re choosing principles, it’s about which ones work best in terms of explaining and predicting what’s going on.  And Newton’s law of gravity does a pretty good job in most cases.”

“OK….so what’s this got to do with the price of eggs?”

“Well, let me go back one more step first.  Did gravity exist before Newton?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, were things floating around all over the place until that supposed apple happened to hit Newton on the scone, then suddenly he wrote stuff down and things stuck to the ground?”

“I see what you’re getting at.  Connect the dots for me”.

“The principles we use explain why organisations are going the way they are and predict how they are likely to go in the future in terms of letting their people deliver effectively and allow them to use their full capabilities.  The principles were always there.  A guy called Elliott Jaques pieced a lot of it together, others such as Gillian Stamp, another researcher named Luc Hoebeke and countless more all combine to uncover the principles of how human capability works within organisations, and how to arrange and organise things so people can do their best work.” Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

No therapy required: How to get your people working together

Have you, or are you about to, invest money in getting your people to work better as a team?  To get them to get along, to understand each other, to form closer bonds so work will truly flow across your organisation like the ball moving from defence to attack?

Your motives are pure.  You want your people to work better together.

But there’s something you need to do first.  Here it is, the biggest piece of obvious you will have read for quite some time:

To get your people to work better together, tell them how their roles work together.

That’s it!

Are you laughing?  Does this seem too simple to you?  Well it is simple.  A better word for it is foundational.

Would you agree that it’s a foundational condition for effectiveness that people in roles have an understanding of how their roles fit together?  That things are easy when people ‘know where they stand’, when they know who can ask who to do what in terms of their core jobs,  the reason they are there?

We need this sorted.  Your people need this sorted.

So you have a choice.  You can invest in friendship training, and then hope that your people can figure out for themselves how their roles fit together.  They might even do so.  And if you can afford the coffees and the lunches and your competitors and/or customers are happy to wait….sounds great.

Here’s the other way.  Decide, then tell them how their roles work together.  Here’s some examples:* Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

From the Inbox: Who approves reclassification requests?

A question from my Inbox (feel free to ask your own, click here)

Hi Adam,

A question: We’re reviewing our policies at the moment, and this came up: Should the Manager-once-Removed have a role in assessing role reclassification requests?  Any light you can shed appreciated.

Hey there,

The answer is: the MoR is not just involved, they actually make the decision!  Because in a well-designed hierarchy, the MoR is the supplier of resources (in this case, salary budget) to the Manager of the person making the request (I’m assuming the request takes the Manager out of agreed budget limits).

Let’s take a typical hierarchy of Specialist – Senior Manager – General Manager.

The mental leap here is that it’s the Senior Manager requesting the reclassification based on a recommendation from the Specialist. The Specialist is providing advice on how more could be delivered (or is actually being delivered) and the resourcing required, the Senior Manager agrees, and it’s the General Manager, as the Manager-once-Removed to the Specialist, who makes the decision.  This is because they are the supplier of resources (salary) to the Senior Manager.

The Senior Manager says something like this to their GM: “This is what I can deliver with more funding; the funding would go to a reclassification of Jim’s role.”

You could draw the analogy to the Senior Manager asking for funding for an upgraded piece of technology to deliver more, but remember people have feelings, so don’t get carried away with this comparison (unless you’ve got Sarah Connor in your team).

Cheers,

Adam.

 

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.

Don’t (automatically) blame the performance appraisal

“We’re thinking about ditching performance appraisals” said Bill.  He was the CEO, I was sitting down with him and Theo his GM of HR.  ”Or at least revamping the whole thing.”

“Run me through it” I prompted.  ”What are you seeing that makes you think they aren’t working?”

Theo answered; “Formal feedback and anecdotal evidence.  We put out some simple questions, namely, to each employee; ‘I find the performance appraisal process to be useful to me in my work’, and to each manager ‘I find the performance appraisal process helps me to make my people more valuable’.  Both with the usual 5-point system between ‘not at all’ and ‘absolutely’.”

“What did you get?”

Bill jumped in; “We struggled to get to 3….which meant ‘somewhat’.  Mostly got 1s and 2s which means ‘not at all’ or ‘barely’ some value.”

“So as you can see…” Theo continued…”the system that my area leads isn’t too flash!”

“Maybe not” I answered. “But there’s a fair chance you’re looking at a symptom here, not a cause.”

“How can perform appraisals not working be a symptom?” asked Theo.  ”A symptom of what?”

“Ineffective organisational design.” Read more…

Adam is a partner of The Working Journey a niche consultancy that designs organisations into creative accountable enterprises that deliver...using ideas such as you just read. Want to chat? Send him an email by clicking here.