Working vs. Organizing

By Guy Higgins

I was reading a short article in the Wall Street Journal, Adapting to the Future of Work (and yes, that’s the same article I referenced last week – sometimes, there’s just too much to capture in a single post).

The article starts out talking about the senior leadership in companies and “the organization.” It ends with the observation, “This shift from a “top-down” to “side-by-side” organizational construct will be a critical component to the future of work. CMOs (I believe this is defined as Chief Management Officer) will play an important role, enabling an empowered network of employees capable of acting autonomously rather than waiting for direction.”

I’m going to boldly assert that this statement, particularly the, “shift from a “top-down” to “side-by-side” organizational construct” reflects a complete failure to “get it.” Organizational constructs have historically told you a few things:

  • Who gives you orders
  • Who provides you with resources
  • Who writes your performance evaluations

When I was on active duty in the Navy as an operational warfighter, the squadrons in which I served actually had two bosses:

  • An Administrative Chain of Command that was responsible for training, manning, maintenance and similar activities that were not directly and immediately associated with delivering violence to people desperately in need of it.
  • An Operational Chain of Command that was responsible for directing the violence delivery end of things – operational tasking.

I think that the future of corporate work is likely to reflect a similar dichotomy. There will be an organizational chart that tells you who writes an annual performance eval and who provides you with all the admin support associated with a modern company. Beyond that, there will be a highly adaptive, fluid “structure” under which you’ll respond to tasking that may be daily or may extend over long periods, but which will be controlled by someone other than your “admin chain of command.” It will be controlled by people who have operational missions to accomplish and who will morph their ways of working very quickly. These folks will also write performance evals, but those may be for very short periods of time and will reflect how you did the operational work, as opposed to how you satisfied the admin requirements of the company (e.g. whether or not you did your required annual compliance training on time).

Under this operational/admin construct, I see two distinct perspectives:

  • How the company is organized – how it complies with and meets exogenous requirements, like regulatory compliance, and how it plans for the long-term future.
  • How the company works in a highly dynamic and adaptive environment – how it meets operational mission requirements.

This may sound like a traditional matrix-like structure, but I think it is very different. In a traditional matrix, the “Functional Leader” is the decision maker regarding evaluations, assignments, training, etc. In the future, the Administrative Chain of Command will be a contributor to corporate goals, but will not be the decision maker regarding people. How you or I perform on operational missions will become the dominant factor, and we may have numerous competing missions. Lateral collaboration will be the norm, and “how we work” will dominate over “how we organize.” It sounds like a matrix, but is no more like a matrix than football is like basketball even though both are about team play, passing, scoring and defense.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

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