Systems and Structure Pathways and Pitfalls
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
"Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil, and you're
a thousand miles from the corn field." (his emphasis)
ó Dwight Eisenhower, thirty-fourth American president, speech in Peoria,
There is no such thing as over-communication in organization improvement
efforts. But try to over-communicate why changes are being made and where
they fit into your larger Context and Focus and strategic imperatives.
- Effective systems follow, serve, and support rather than control, direct,
and dictate. The central structure and systems alignment question is "for
whose convenience is your organization designed?" Is it to serve customers
and those producing for or serving them? Or is it designed to make life
easier for management and staff support groups? Look at planning, accounting,
invoicing, telephone, information technology, and human resource systems.
Just whom are they serving? Systems either enslave or enable. How do people
in your organization feel systems are helping or hindering them?
- Organization structure and systems are clear indications of management's
true values (regardless of what might be printed on pretty parchment paper).
How far do they really trust people? How enslaving or enabling are peopleís
responsibilities and boundaries? When people miss performance targets are
they coached or replaced? The answers to these questions are found in the
degree of decentralization and autonomy in an organization. What do the
people in your organization think about the control and autonomy they have?
- To what extent is your system and structure aligned with your team or organization's
Focus and Context (vision, values, and purpose)? Your management team needs
to agree on the philosophy and approach underpinning any changes to your
structure and systems. Get your team to discuss and agree on the key values
and characteristics shaping your organizationís structure. How far do you
want to go with each one? What are the implications for changes and improvements
in your team and the organization? How can you ensure that the structure
and system conclusions you arrive at are reflected in your improvement
plan? This critical team discussion needs to take place before you reengineer
or restructure your organization.
- Form follows function. Let the structure evolve from your strategy, process,
and systems. A strong Context and Focus (vision, values, and purpose) will
provide the glue that keeps everyone together. And keeping everyone focused
on goals and priorities will allow more fluidity in organization design.
- One of the biggest barriers to decentralization is the skill level of those
being given more autonomy. The more you push authority and operating responsibilities
to operating teams, the more training and coaching support they'll need.
- Ensure your head office is a lean and keen field service center. Turn all
staff and support functions to face outward to the customers and serve
the servers/producers. Train and hold staff people accountable for being
coaches rather than controllers. They exist to provide expertise and support.
Don't let their constant requests for information and internal demands
get in the way of people doing the work that customers are paying for.
- Structure, systems, and processes are intertwined. You can make a fair
degree of progress by changing processes only. But eventually (and often
quickly) process improvement teams will slam into unaligned systems and
structures. And most system and structure changes require process changes.
Start with process mapping and improvement. System and structural changes
- Be careful about splitting sales or customer service groups along division
or product lines. It's often too confusing and frustrating for Clients
to have to organize your service processes for you. If you're providing
complex or multiple products and services, turn your key sales or customer
contact people into generalists or project managers (that means lots of
training and support). Their role is to manage the customer interface and
coordinate all the experts, specialists, and other team members that will
be brought in when needed.
- Make sure everyone in your organization understands that your structure
is fluid and must continually change in a fast changing world. There is
no such thing as "once we get past this change (such as a reorganization),
things will return to normal." Constant change and improvement is
You have to keep pulling out the weeds of bureaucracy (staff groups, controls
and constraints, policies and procedures that get in the way, and the like).
Itís a never-ending job.