I recently watched a process that demonstrated to me that decision making is becoming a lost art in the non-profit world. Here’s the (a bit redacted) sequence of events:
- Two individuals discuss a hypothetical situation. It significantly affects one of the parties in the discussion directly. It is considered a good idea to propose.
- One individual (the senior person) carries the concept to his reporting supervisor. It is considered a good enough idea to propose to the supervisor of the affected staff member.
- The two individuals in #2 meet with the supervisor and share the idea. “Okay . . . sounds like a good idea.”
- Supervisor calls employee and says, “This has been proposed, it is an interesting idea and worth considering. What do you want to do?”
- Employee responds and says, “I am open to it which is why I discussed it in #1 above. What do you want from this arrangement?”
- Supervisor says, “It will need approval from my supervisor. I think supervisor in #2 is going to carry it forward.”
- Supervisor in #2 says that the employee’s supervisor is going to carry it forward.
- Employee writes a proposal, putting forth the two central questions that need to be determined to move the idea forward and presents it to all involved parties so it can be carried forward to the decision approval body.
- Idea dies a slow and painful death.
Throughout the process notice a couple of things:
- Nobody actually takes ownership of the idea.
- There is never a pause in the process to say, give me a solid written proposal for consideration.
- The closest thing to anyone taking ownership of the concept is the employee who is affected who ultimately drafts the proposal for consideration.
While it is not unusual for big decisions to require a vetting process through multiple levels, it is problematic when the individuals involved can’t or won’t pause long enough to prepare a solid proposal that provides the proper framework for consideration.
The age of “participatory decision making” has led to an inability to concisely articulate a concept, proposed course of action, and desired outcome(s). It is compounded within organizations that are structured around an autocratic culture – the decision is always someone else’s to make and the responsibility is rarely owned except when it is expedient to discipline or use a situation for “training purposes”.
How are decisions processed in your organization?
Is this how some of your project meetings end up? Do you come out of them with a sense of, “what just happened?”
Thanks to FastCompany for pointing me to this.
I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the concept of organizational structure. Some variation of the following question always seems to come up, “how do we organize our staff to optimize our output?”
The interesting thing is, there is usually no right or wrong answer. The answer needs to be based on the needs of the entity at the time. Ultimately, whatever arrangement is proposed will likely be built on concepts of command and control rather than on efficiency and fluidity. And this is where the frustration comes in. Our concept of “organization” requires a logical, ordered process with clear lines of responsibility and ultimately the perceived ability to control the result or at least control those who have impact into the result.
Structure vs Fluidity
While I doubt we will ever be able to get away completely from the traditional organizational chart, what would happen if we begin to think fluidly? Staff move in and out of roles based on need, project description, skill sets, etc. At times they serve in multiple areas.
One of the things that I have observed over the years is that the reliance on command and control systems negatively impacts cross-channel/cross-departmental communications. If one department has need of a service from another department, there is no ability to ensure that the service or project is completed short of a control function or the good will of the department leader. Creating a fluid, cross-functionality group removes that tendency and provides enhanced communication, better scheduling and quicker response times.
A colleague once said to me, “Re-organization is a panacea for effectiveness. We need to look busy and in control so we re-organize the (XYZ) department.” In general I agree with the sentiment. Most re-organizations are predicated on a perceived need. And while homage may be given to “being reactive” or “being fluid”, the end result in most cases the still pays homage to command and control structures. Who will manage this group or that individual?
Let me issue the challenge for a new way of thinking. I dare you to throw out the organizational chart and start over. Think strategically and plan fluidly. Build teams to solve challenges or develop new products rather than structures to serve the HR and Payroll functions.
An introvert and an extrovert walked into a meeting. The extrovert was praised and promoted. The introvert smiled.
Okay, that’s a short, abbreviated story that makes little to no sense. But just maybe it will prompt a thought process that will lead to some great things.
The extrovert dominated the meeting, and was perceived to provide lots of input and value. The introvert quietly listened, left the meeting, wrote a detailed project proposal to his boss, and saved the company millions.
Does your working culture encourage all employees to thrive? Is your floor plan flexible enough to be conducive to various working styles? How well do your staff collaborations (otherwise known as “meetings”) work to get the most from your staff?
Thanks Lisa Evans at FastCompany for this great article.
Recently read a great article on Forbes.com about the ways that companies drive away talent. What I appreciated about it was the hard look at hiring practices and the way that potential employees could be driven out before they even start.
There is one concept I’d like readers to give some thought to though. In the article Liz Ryan speaks to the Black Hole Recruiting Portals. Specifically at issue is the number of questions that could drive people away. If you are concerned about this possibility on your own job application site, let me pose these thought considerations for you.
- Are the questions legally necessary?
- Are the questions job relevant?
- Is your layout friendly and inviting?
- How many “pages” are there and does your applicant know where they are in the process?
- Have you included questions to separate the resume broadcasters from the truly mission interested?
This last question is especially critical in today’s job market. With a potentially high number of applicants for any one position in your organization, do you have a quick way to weed out those that are not a great fit? An applicant who is desperate for a job may not truly be interested in what you do and why. Their long term success with you will be limited by their calling to the mission.
Give some careful consideration to the way your online application is designed and how you might save yourself a bit of time by asking the right questions in the right way. Find the balance and hire the skilled “evangelist”. Don’t drive away the truly skilled by creating a monster of an application process.
WestJet implements a brilliant Christmas marketing surprise using a unique blend of technology and staff.
The end result – customers for life.
I dare you to watch without smiling.
I’m a Subaru owner (2) and proud of it. When I was young, my parents owned an early version of a Subaru wagon that was the pre-cursor to the Outback. We loved it. It went just about anywhere which was a good thing because living in Africa meant it had to handle some rough stuff. I guess that early love stuck. I told myself that someday I would own a WRX – the rally inspired model. Eventually, I did!
Subaru has done an interesting thing. They have created the Subaru Total Badge of Ownership. Subaru owners can order badges that show how many Subarus they currently own or have owned over time. You can add on Lifestyle badges that share your passions. All of this is FREE. (I have my first set on one of my vehicles.)
What I love about this concept is the passionate engagement that Subaru encourages. For a minimal cost, Subaru encourages its owners/customers to talk about its product. Not everyone will participate, but those who do are passionate about their car(s). And aren’t those the ones that we want to talk the most?
The challenge for us is to develop a way for our most passionate supporters to share their love of our organization. Some may even be willing to pay for it. For you, badges are likely not the thing that fits. Consider the following -
- Temporary (or permanent?) tattoos
- Event participation (cycling, running, etc)
- Tools to share via social media, email, etc
How simple is up to you and your budget. Your fans will eat it up!
We often hear the statement, “Failure is not an option!” – usually said in movies by the hero who is facing a big challenge. Unfortunately, there are organizations who adopt the mantra and try to live that way as well.
I once met an organization that was afraid of failure – afraid of making a mistake. So afraid that all decisions were made at the highest levels of the organization through one individual. Most of the staff were subject to endless review of all ideas, promotional pieces, hiring decisions and even office space decoration. It went so far that even a stool which was going to be used in a back room by a technician had to be approved by the executive office.
While control systems can be a good thing, there is a balance between maintaining a high degree of excellence (which often requires frequent review) and trusting your teams to use their God given skills to accomplish the organizational mission. Each organization has to wrestle with that issue and decide where that line is for them.
Here are some thought conditioners:
- Is speed at issue?
- What is the cost of a potential mistake?
- If a mistake is made, do you look more or less “human” to your public?
- What does your control system cost in terms of moral, initiative, and retention?
There’s a time and place for both control and freedom (and dare I say encouragement to explore). Finding that sweet spot of balance is the key to amazing results.
A friend and former colleague, Gary Foster, had a profound paragraph in his newsletter this week. I quote it here:
Avocados are extremely easy to bruise. So farmers used to try to carefully arrange them in the box after picking. However, they still experienced costly bruising. Over time, they noticed if avocados were simply set in the box, they would settle themselves in just the right formation as the farmer simply left them alone and walked on. It’s the same with leadership. There’s a time to plan and to act strategically. There’s also a time to just let things settle in as we walk on. Sometimes we bruise things in our efforts fit things in rather than letting them fit.
I have found this to be true in organizations that are struggling with defining structure and processes. It is amazing how many leaders and managers will try to force a solution onto a group that is wrestling with a process. Often the leader is directing a solution through their own filters rather than allowing the group to wrestle with the challenge on their own.
Question – are you forcing a structure or letting your team develop into a working unit naturally?
Great article today on FastCompany.com by Roberta Matuson titled “Do Your Employees Have A Sense of Purpose.” While those that work in non-profits might think they are exempt from this due to the “cause”, I would suggest that you not jump to that conclusion quite so quickly.
One of the things that I see repeatedly is the reliance on developing the perfect job description for a new position. After all, the desire is to attract the employee with a position that is challenging and fulfilling. But maybe we have missed the boat. I like the idea of crafting a “results description” instead of a job description. By releasing an employee to accomplish a task in the method that is efficient and effective without handcuffing them to a particular method, we allow that individual to flourish, take risks, and have a sense of ownership. With results expectations clearly defined, the employee can be released to “go for it”.
In organizations with a heavy top-down approach, unexceptional service can become the rule. After a number of attempts to accomplish a task or attempts to initiate projects that are not within the scope of duties are crushed, ignored, or criticized, it is no wonder that apathy results.
So here’s the challenge – as you look at growth and new positions, or as you re-evaluate existing positions, consider how you are going to describe the position to a prospective employee. Are you going to describe the way you want the job done or the result you want to see? Do you have the structure and metrics in place to back it up?