Strategy Over Structure

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“You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.”

–     Unattributed, therefore I can claim it…right?

Forgive me a longer-than-normal post on a complex and critically important topic.  In every case, leaders are called on to honor strategy over structure.  Every.  Single.  Case.

An example:  A CEO said to me once, “I know the _______ division shouldn’t report to “Bob,” but “Bob” measures his value by how much reports to him.  I can’t shake him up like that.  He’s been here for 25 years, and I just can’t do that to him.”

Sigh.

In this scenario, unless the hard call is made, either the CEO or “Bob” are in the wrong role — perhaps both of them, in fact, probably both of them.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for Bob, though.

Strategies change.  It is completely foolish to think that we can have a one-size-fits-all structure where we just plug new functions, changed functions, whole or parts of teams in to the structure that was in place prior to the change.

So, what does honoring strategy over structure look like?

  1. It means we never talk about structure until after we’ve agreed upon a strong solution to the problem we’re trying to solve.
  2. It means we never draw an organization chart with any names in it until we have agreed upon the work we need to get done.  There is no more powerful moment in an executive team’s cohesion than when it reaches the point that “blank boxes” are the preferred means of solving organizational needs.
  3. Tenure, personalities and hurt feelings take a back seat to doing what’s right for the employees, the clients — and therefore, the shareholders.
  4. Choosing not to place strategy over structure is a choice made with eyes wide open and the consequences recorded and agreed to in advance.

This is why an outside perspective can be so helpful for an executive team that isn’t “there” yet.  And, the longer a team has been together, the more susceptible they are to putting structure first.

This is not an easy intersection to navigate.

That’s why the empty boxes exercise is the best way to get through it.  And that means all the boxes.  Even the top one.

What problem are we trying to solve?  What outcomes are we seeking to accomplish?  How do we want our clients and employees to feel, and what do we want the trajectory of the business to be?

If we start with the structure we have, we’ll end up missing on some or all of those questions.  If we start with strategy, and use blank boxes to build the structure, we’ll then put the right people in those boxes, or, we’ll identify where we have people gaps — to which we can hire, de-hire, train or develop.

When we get this right, and we deploy the REELAX model within this focus, as Dr. Suess said, “Oh, the places we’ll go!”

 

 


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