A complex organization is a dynamic entity operating in a dynamic environment. That dynamism is a double-edged sword that simultaneously creates opportunities for growth and competitive advantage while holding the ever-present threat of misalignment over decision-makers’ heads.
Organizational misalignments come in many different forms. Often, misalignments arise when support functions (say, HR or accounting) implement structural changes that benefit the function but not the broader organization (and certainly not the competitive advantage work that sets the organization apart from its competitors). Rather than cast blame on function owners for decisions that are very often taken at the behest of higher-ups responsible for optimizing the entire organization, those disappointed by the results of such changes should look for ways to better align the organization as a cohesive whole, not a collection of isolated and competitive units.
First, though, they need to recognize misalignments where they exist. These four are both common and, potentially, debilitating to the overall health of the business.
1. Optimizing the Function Rather Than the Core Business
It’s natural for those tasked with managing support functions like HR and accounting to take measures that optimize their functions in isolation. For example, the rollout of a new accounting or HR management platform might meaningfully increase the efficiency of the function while causing more problems than it solves for everyone else (especially if the rollout isn’t properly announced, accompanied by effective training, and so on). Because support functions exist to support core business activities (competitive advantage work) in a well-aligned organization, support function optimization should occur only insofar as they optimize core business activities. Put another away: In a typical alignment initiative, support function optimization is likely to be incidental to core business optimization.
2. Standardizing When the Circumstances Call for Customization
When inefficiencies prevail, standardization is an attractive prospect, one that can meaningfully reduce costs and redundancies. But it’s not always appropriate. Efforts to align core business activities (advantage work) more often call for customized solutions that can’t be duplicated across business units (and certainly not across organizations). Where warranted at all, standardization is a better fit for support activities that can be scaled and duplicated.
3. Prioritizing Full Utilization Over On-Demand Availability (Or Vice Versa)
It’s all but impossible to prioritize full utilization (utilizing all available resources in a given function at all times) and on-demand availability (having the function’s resources available whenever needed). Prioritizing one over the other is only somewhat less difficult, not least because there’s not always clarity on which principle is warranted in any given situation. To make the correct choice, function owners need to understand where their activities fall in the hierarchy of work within the organization and which principle will best serve the organization’s needs.
4. Implementing Solutions in Search of Problems
This is the age-old “make-work” problem, one that’s all too often the result of incorrectly prioritizing full utilization over availability. A function should never feel compelled to implement solutions to problems that don’t meaningfully impact the performance or alignment of the organization. Doing so is itself a sign of misalignment and/or suboptimal performance.
Is your organization misaligned in any of the ways we’ve discussed here? What are you doing to address the issues?
The RBL Group’s online library was an invaluable resource for this article and readers are encouraged to explore https://www.rbl.net/ for the latest insights on leadership development and strategic HR.