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You're Getting the Behavior You Designed

By: Jim Clemmer

The evidence is clear and overwhelming. Centralized, hierarchial organizations work about
as well as the old Soviet Union. Despite all the evidence, I am still appalled by the number
of variations on the centralization themes I still keep smacking into. What makes things
even worse is how senior managers in these dysfunctional organizations proclaim
empowerment, participation, teams, leadership, trust, and the like. Then they take partial
measures while expecting total success. They liberate parts of their organizations while
limiting other parts. They push hard with one foot on the accelerator while also pushing
hard with their other one on the brake. Their words say "you're empowered". Their actions
say "you're empowered as long as you get approval first". These dysfunctional organizations
end up trying to go in two opposing directions at once. I once halted an executive retreat
and everybody went home after the group of seven division presidents and corporate staff
vice presidents couldn't agree on whether their values were centralization or
decentralization. Trying to do both at once was ripping the organization apart. The CEO
never could decide which direction he wanted to commit to. He was eventually fired as
frustrations and infighting rose while organization performance fell.

Most centralists don't set out to deceive anybody. In their heads they know that high
degrees of involvement, participation, and autonomy are key elements in high organization
performance. But in their hearts, they still crave orderliness, predictability, and control.
That's why they cling to such anachorisms as strategic planning. It's part of their futile
search for a master plan that can regulate and bring a sense of order to our haphazard,
unpredictable, and rapidly changing world. Our equally outdated accounting systems give
centralists plenty of reinforcement. For example, hard financial measures can clearly show
that consolidating and centralizing support services and functions saves money and
increases efficiency -- at least on paper. What don't show up are the alienation,
helplessness, and lack of connections to customers or organizational purpose that mind-
numbing bureaucracy brings. The energy-sapping and passion-destroying effects of
efficiencies may save hundreds of thousands of dollars. But traditional accounting systems
can't show the hundreds of millions of dollars lost because of lacklustre innovation,
mediocre customer service, uninspired internal partners, and unformed external
partnerships.

I am an extreme (some might argue dangerous) decentralist. Since I began my


management career, I've given people high degrees of autonomy. I've run even small
organizations to the point of such inefficient decentralization that people are running their
own show. It works. Here are some of the reasons:

• Everyone can see and manage their work as part of a whole, interconnected system,
not as one in a bunch of parts and pieces.
• People are trusted and treated as responsible, caring, and committed adults -- which
is how they then behave.
• A collection of small, self-contained teams or business units are many times more
flexible and responsive at meeting threats and capitalizing on opportunities.
• Ownership, commitment, energy, and passion levels are much higher.
• Everyone focuses on meeting customer/partner -- not the internal bureaucracy's --
needs.
• People have more control over their work. The vicious cycle of learned helplessness
is replaced with a virtuous cycle of hopefulness and leadership.
• Bureaucratic committees become entrepreneurial teams.
• Feedback loops are much clearer, shorter, and closer to the customer and markets.
High-performing organizations that are thriving in today's chaotic world are adapting and
pioneering a wide variety of highly decentralized structures. They are giving up control of
people so that people can control their own and the organization's destiny. This is creating
an explosion of organization structures and models with such names as network, shamrock,
pulsating, jazz combos, adhocracy, horizontal, hollow spider's web, flat, meritocracy,
modular, cellular, cluster, inverted, starburst, federal, pancake, and virtual ... to name a
few.

The Shape of High Performance

The search for an ideal or perfect structure is about as futile as trying to find the ideal
canned improvement process to drop on the organization (or yourself). It depends on the
organization's vision and values, goals and priorities, skill and experience levels, culture,
team effectiveness and so on. Each is unique to any organization. We are also in the midst
of a major transition from organization and management practices that began around the
turn of the twentieth century. My cloudy crystal ball won't allow me to see which
organization structure or model will dominate the twenty-first century. Because we're no
longer in an age of mass production and standardization, I sure there won't be just one
type. Rather, we'll see our top organizations grow and shed a variety of structures and
models to suit the their changing circumstances.

However, the shape and characteristics of a high performing organization structure is


coming clearly into view:
• Intense Customer and Market Focus - systems, structures, processes, and
innovations are all aimed at and flow from the voices of the market and customers.
The organization is driven by field people and hands-on senior managers in daily
contact with customers and partners.
• Team-based - operational and improvement teams are used up, down, and across
the organization. A multitude of operational teams manage whole systems or self-
contained subsystems such as regions, branches, processes, and complete business
units.
• Highly autonomous and decentralized - dozens, hundreds, or thousands of mini-
business units or businesses are created throughout a single company (I've split
business units of twenty five people into smaller business units). Local teams adjust
their company's product and service mix to suit their market and conditions. They
also reconfigure the existing products and services or develop new experimental
prototypes to meet customer/partner needs.
• Servant-Leadership - Senior managers provide strong vision, values, purpose, and
strategic direction to guide and shape the organization. But very lean and keen head
office management and staff also serve the needs of those people doing the work
that the customers actually care about and are willing to pay for. Support systems
are designed to serve the servers and producers, not management and the
bureaucracy.
• Networks, Partnerships, and Alliances - organizational and departmental
boundaries blur as teams reach out, in, or across to get the expertise, materials,
capital, or other support they need to meet customer needs and develop new
markets. Learning how to partner with other teams or organizations is fast becoming
a critical performance skill.
• Fewer and More Focused Staff Professionals - accountants, human resource
professionals, improvement specialists, purchasing managers, engineers and
designers, and the like are either in the midst of operational action as a member of
an operational team, or they sell their services to a number of teams. Many teams
are also purchasing some of this expertise from outside as needed.
• Few Management Levels - spans of control stretch into dozens and even hundreds
of people (organized in self-managing teams) to one manager. Effective managers
are highly skilled in leading, (creating energy and focus), directing (establishing
goals and priorities), and developing (training and coaching).
• One Customer Contact Point - although teams and team members will come and
go as needed, continuity with the customer is maintained by an unchanging small
group or individual. Internal service and support systems serve the needs of the
person or team coordinating and managing the customer relationship.
Structure Shapes Behavior

If you're not happy with the behavior of people on your team or in your organization, take a
closer look at the system and structure they're working in. If they behave like bureaucrats,
they're working in a bureaucracy. If they're not customer focused, they're using systems
and working in structure that wasn't designed to serve customers. If they're not innovative,
they're working in a controlled and inflexible organization. If they resist change, they're not
working in a learning organization that values growth and development. If they're not good
team players, they're working in an organization designed for individual performance. Good
performers in a poorly designed structure will take on the shape of the structure.

Many organizations induce learned helplessness. People in them become victims of "the
system". This often comes from a sense of having little or no control over their work
processes, policies and procedures, technology, support systems, and the like. "You can't
fight the system" they'll say with a shrug as they give the clock another stare hoping to
intimidate it into jumping ahead to quitting time. These feelings are amplified by a
performance management system that arbitrarily punishes people for behaving like the
system, structure, or process they've been forced into. "Empowering" helpless people
without changing the processes, structure, or systems they work in is worse than useless. It
increases helplessness and cynicism.

Structure is a very powerful shaper of behavior. It's like the strange pumpkin I once saw at
a county fair. It had been grown in a four-cornered Mason jar. The jar had since been
broken and removed. The remaining pumpkin was shaped exactly like a small Mason jar.
Beside it was a pumpkin from the same batch of seeds that was allowed to grow without
constraints. It was about five times bigger. Organization structures and systems have the
same effect on the people in them. They either limit or liberate their performance potential.

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