Is Your Organization Designed Backwards?

by Jeffrey S. Deckman 17. November 2010 15:56

Is Your Organization

Designed Backwards?

By Jeffrey S. Deckman

Two of the most important and most challenging issues facing executives today are:

1. How to get more productivity from people who are already overworked and “over-processed.”

2. How to satisfy the demand of today’s worker to contribute more and to feel more engaged in the process.

When you look at these two challenges you could easily ask: “So what’s the problem? Management wants more from the employees and employees seem to want to give more.” At first glance it may not look like there is much of an issue here. But the fact is that these two questions are very much in play in business today in both the executive and the employee circles. 

So what’s the deal?



If you are in the management chain somewhere perform this survey sometime in the near future:


Ask the people who work with, or for, you a few questions. But before you do, be sure to create a safe environment for them to be honest. Inform them that you are doing some preliminary research to better understand how you may be able to create a more productive workplace. This will give them an understanding as to why they are being asked to participate. Lastly, you can either ask the questions one-on-one, or in small comfortable groups of two or three participants. And last but not least assure them that their answers are will not result more work being forced upon them. (And don't do a "cut back" on this promise regardless of how tempted you may be. It will blow up on you if you do.)

Here are the questions:


1. Do you feel you have more to contribute to the organization than your job responsibilities or management will allow?

2. If given the opportunity would you be willing to contribute more to the organization in the areas you enjoy, even if it required some extra effort

or more time?

3. What, or where, would you like to contribute that you feel would most benefit the organization? 

I bet the answers you will get back will look something like this:

1. Of course!

2. Sure!

3. Surprise!

If you set the stage properly many of the answers to Question #3 will not only surprise you but they could also prove to be very revealing. In many cases the answers to the third question will fall outside of their job responsibilities and will speak to their desire to use skills and talents which their jobs may not call upon and which you didn’t know they possessed.

They may also share some interesting ideas or insights they have which you would otherwise not have heard. What this brief exercise reveals is that management and employees have very different perspectives on how employees can and should contribute to the organization.

Management has a tendency to look at an employees’ impact on the organization through the lens of an Org Chart and based upon their responsibilities. On the other hand, the employees view their impact based upon their influence among their peers and their capabilities, which can be defined as the combination of their responsibilities plus their abilities and interests.


Management’s typical, and natural, perspective is that the employee can best contribute by following processes and procedures; effectively carrying out their duties and responsibilities; by staying in alignment with annual company goals and by not challenging the systems that are in place. This is in accordance with traditional organizational designs developed in an by the Industrial Age Economy.

This is not to say that management does not want people’s ideas and contributions, but in the vast majority of cases they want that input coming forth through designed processes or chains of command. In other words, management is most comfortable having employees contribute through a manageable, assembly line, process.

On the other hand, today's employees' perspectives are more geared towards being able to engage in more of a “free-range” environment comprised of social and workplace human networks. In fact recent studies have shown that as much as 60 percent of the work done in an organization occurs via informal employee networks that operate outside of organizational charts.

This is not to say that people want anarchy, they don’t. What they want is OXYGEN. They want the room to breathe, to think, to create and to contribute outside

of rigid structures that are designed to control everything. The current worker is a KNOWLEDGE worker not an Industrial worker. They are not simply manpower, they are manpower PLUS mind-power. 


People are naturally very creative and innovative. The problem is that from the time we enter school and long into our business careers we find ourselves in industrial age environments that pray at the alters of “Structure” and “Predictability” instead of honoring and nurturing human creativity. Somehow through it all we lost site that: “It’s about the people, stupid!” to paraphrase the Clinton campaign of 1992.

So, from the employees’ standpoint they most value environments which respect and release their abilities and which afford them the opportunity to contribute, grow and have fun. But management wants to manage its way to greater employee productivity and management is “in charge” and they don't have the new models to help them go from managing human assembly lines to facilitating human networks. But that is changing.


The challenge, in management’s view, becomes how to design it designs systems, or processes, that control and which create freedom. Well, they can’t. Heavy doses of processes and procedures and rules and requirements simply do not promote an environment of innovation, contribution or collaboration. They stifle them.

So maybe the time for a new paradigm is upon us.


I am reminded of the IBM® commercial where people are lying down in a dark room, in perfect rows. All of them in exactly the same position. Each of them has the same headrest and came together, for what I am sure, is a pre-planned session scheduled to occur at a specifically scheduled time. A man comes in, clicks on the light and asks, somewhat incredulously: “What are you doing!?!” The answer comes back in a young woman’s voice: “We are IDEATING.” “About what?” the man asks. “We don’t know yet,” she answers. To which the man rolls his eyes and says “Good luck.” He then turns off the lights and walks out of the room. 

We all see this and we chuckle but do we really get the point? IBM is making fun of industrialized management methods that attempts to release human capabilities and innovation by creating structures and herding people into them. They are also making a very clear statement that this is no longer the way to run a company. More important though is that they are announcing that IBM sees the next horizon and, if you hire them, they will help you transform your organization into one that can operate in the 21st century.


Imagine that: Big Blue is actually poking fun at companies who still rely on structure and control to release human potential into their organizations. This is the

same company that used to make tens of thousands of employees dress exactly the same way!!

If you hadn’t believed there is an enormous management sea change taking place across American business today, then seeing Big Blue poking fun at companies

who use structures to release capabilities into their organizations should get your attention.


Clearly, management’s perspective and tendencies focus upon managing things. But creativity and human potential is not bred or released though managed processes and structured systems. It occurs organically, spontaneously and energetically.

All the data shows, and my experience verifies, that releasing intellectual capabilities, latent talents and human potential into your organization is never about managing people. Rather it is always about creating environments.

The environment you must seek to create is one which encourages natural participation and exchanges and the free flowing of ideas. To accomplish that the environment must be designed such that people truly believe their thinking and participation is more highly valued than processes, rules, and procedures. They must be given space to “IDEATE” on their own, in their own way and with those they self select. Then once they have come up with something of value and have vetted it thoroughly amongst themselves, or individually, it can be brought forth into the organizational structures to determine if it has a place in the organization and, if so, how best to implement it.

So, the idea is to create the space for the raw materials of creativity and innovation to be mined and refined. Then use the organizational structures to process them and turn them into assets. Once you begin creating these environments and learn to value innovation and creativity over tightly controlled processes and environments you will begin to reap significantly higher ROI's from your payroll dollars and your profits will grow significantly while your stress levels begin to dissolve. 

But my point is not to throw away highly effective and proven business processes. That would be crazy. However, if you want to solve the dual challenge of getting more productivity from your people and satisfying their deep desire to contribute in a more meaningful and respectful way then you will need to shift management priorities from processes to people.

If you successfully build these environments, the ideas and the energy will come.... And so will your profits!


Capability Accelerators, Inc

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