View from the Top

Consider the chief executive’s perspective. When a CEO looks at the company, several features stand out most sharply. These are the traditional components of corporate structure: divisions, functional departments, strategic business units, and subsidiaries. They are the activities over which the chief executive has responsibility. They form the mental model the top leadership has of the business. Most companies take these components for granted as their basic subunits.

Unfortunately, these components cloud more than clarify the perspective most essential to the intelligent resizing of a company’s work.

When changes are made in a company’s strategy, or when changes outside its control make readjustment or retrenchment necessary, the lines and boxes on the company’s organization chart are also frequently shifted. These moves usually seem to make good sense at the time—from just following function, after all—but as the retrospective research indicates, moving the boxes and redrawing the lines do not always pay off.

This happens because, frequently, the wrong question is being asked. The search is usually for the “best” organizational configuration: flat, functional, divisional, matrix, or some hybrid. This issue, which eventually does need to be addressed, is premature if it is the first thing that comes to mind when considering the company as a whole. It diverts attention from careful consideration of the “functionality” that the “form” is being adapted to. It also makes the company susceptible to the management fad of the moment, so that a means because the goal: how can we flatten our structure, use cross-departmental teams, or become an information-based organization? These are all potentially useful tactics, but for what end?

This type of organization, driven from the top down, is one that deals with the structures for doing things, rather than the things that need doing. Its view of the boxes on the organization chart too often goes no deeper than the head count the boxes contain. This perspective is troublesome and can be misleading, but even more dangerous is the viewpoint provided by some contemporary forms of strategic planning.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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