Giving structure and accountability to your organisation

Do you ever feel frustrated that you can’t do everything you want to do to produce results? It’s a common complaint from business leaders and managers. In their area of the business, they control only part of everything that needs to be managed to get the job done.

Most organisations are organised into areas that have a common purpose, such as ‘Sales’, ‘Finance’ or ‘Operations’. But when you really look at the process of producing results in organisations, chains of work tasks often cut right across these artificial boundaries.

Nobody is accountable for the whole process

For example, new Sales staff in a health care organisation receive product training from a central training function. They start the job with excellent high-level theoretical knowledge of their products and how the sales process works. Meeting real customers and using the actual sales tools, though, they soon realise they know very little of how sales in the company really works on the ground. The experienced sales people in the company have the knowledge, but it’s not their job to train new staff. So no-one has the time to do it.

The result? Frustration for everyone. The trainers in the development department get complaints despite doing a good job in good faith. The experienced sales people are frustrated at rookies arriving on the job unable to work effectively. And the new recruits flounder. No one in the company is accountable for the whole process of giving a new recruit all the information and skills he or she needs to do the job.

Where else is this happening?

Take a look at your own job. Where do you experience the frustration of knowing you could produce better results if you only controlled the whole process from beginning to end. Could you smooth out the bumps and gaps between your function and the ones up and down the line? Here are some examples from our clients:

  • a Director responsible for European sales whose job is made more difficult because of product specifications imposed by the US parent company that don’t take account of local needs and conditions.
  • a Senior Vice President of Customer Service and Sales who had to increase prices to levels he knows his customers won’t pay.
  • a Regional Sales Manager at risk of losing customers because the company’s customer service centre is in turmoil following a major reorganisation – he can’t provide the level of service customers have come to expect.

The issues in these cases are not caused by external circumstances. They’re caused by the way the organisations are structured into functional ‘silos’. People with the relevant accountabilities only have ready access to each other at the very top of the organisation – but these aren’t the people who experience the daily frustration of the problem on the ground.

So what’s the answer?

You could deal with the issue by reorganising into a ‘matrix’ structure. This means that the stakeholders involved talk across traditional functional boundaries. Unfortunately, if you don’t make a good job of this, you get an atmosphere of uncertainty as all the familiar structures have been swept away. If you carry out a reorganisation like this, it’s vital to address the new issues it produces – those of role clarity, and who is accountable for what.

Restructuring in organisations is not a ‘magic bullet’ which will solve all the company’s problems. Clear thinking and clear assigning of accountability is really what is needed.

Who feels the pain?

To resolve cross-functional issues, give clear accountability for the problem to a named ‘process owner’. Make sure they have the authority to deal with issues right up and down the line until it is fully resolved. And how do know who that person is? The one feeling the most pain from the problem!

If accountability structures are such that the level of your organisation that is feeling the most pain is the one doing the problem-solving, you might not even need to do any major restructuring. And that can only be a good thing!

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