Manifestation of unhealthy organisation

With each new recruit, there comes new aspirations, commitments and perspectives, widening the gap between an organization’s strategy and its capability of delivering it.

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There is no perfect organisation.  At best, an organisation’s structure can be such that it does not cause trouble.  However, the biggest challenge is to design the building blocks of an organisation and join them together. Flaws do crop in, some serious, some not so. What are the most common symptoms of serious flaws in organisation?

1. Management levels

The most common and serious symptom of poor organisation is an increase in the number of management levels.  A basic rule of organisation is to have as few management levels as possible, and ensure the shortest possible chain of command.

Every additional level makes it more difficult to attain mutual understanding by creating more noise and distorting the message.  Every additional level alters objectives and misdirects attention.  Every link in the chain sets up additional stresses and creates one more source of inertia (doing nothing), friction and slack.  The challenge is to move from a hierarchical to a team-based networked structure.

2. Recurring organisational problems

The second common symptom is recurring organisation problems.  No sooner is a problem supposedly solved than it comes back again with a new face.

Solving the recurring organisational problems requires making the right analyses — of the key activities, contributions, decisions — and conducting a relational analysis.  An organisational problem that keeps recurring, more than a couple of times, cannot be solved mechanically, by simply shuffling little boxes on an organisational chart.  It indicates a major lack of thinking, clarity and understanding.

3. Attention on intangibles

Equally common and dangerous is an organisational structure that diverts the attention of the key people towards the wrong, irrelevant and secondary problems.  Organisations should draw and focus the attention of people on major business decisions, key activities, performance and results.

4. Too many meetings

Too many meetings, attended by too many people can be a major issue.

Whenever executives, except those at the very senior level, spend more than a small fraction of their time — may be quarter or less — in meetings, it is sufficient evidence of poor organisation.  Too many meetings indicate that jobs have not been appropriately structured and those in the positions of authority have not been made truly responsible.  The need for meetings indicates that the decisions and relations analyses have either not been made at all or have not been applied.  The rule should be to minimise the need for people to get together to accomplish anything.

5. Poor people relations — too much friction 

An organisation in which people are constantly concerned about feelings and about what other people will or will not like is an organisation that has very poor human relations. Good human relations, like good manners, is taken for granted. Constant anxiety over other people’s feelings is the worst kind of human relations.

An organisation that suffers from poor human relations — and a great many do — clearly suffers from overstaffing.  It may be overstaffed in terms of activities.  Instead of focusing on key activities, it is crowded into rooms where people get on each other’s nerves, poke their elbows into each others eyes and step on each other’s toes.  Where there is enough distance and space, there is no question of collision. Over-staffed organisations create work, rather than performance.  They also create friction, sensitivity, irritation and concern with feelings.

6. Narrow jobs 

It is a symptom of improper organisation to rely on coordinators, assistants, and other such people whose job it is to not to have a job.  This indicates that activities and jobs have been too narrowly designed / defined, or instead of being designed for one defined result are expected to perform several parts of different tasks.

7. Skill-based work

If organisational components have been organised according to skill rather than according to their contribution or place in the process, there will be chaos.  It is essential to remember that skill always contributes only a part rather than a result.

8. Organisation — over-leveraged / overexposure

Every company has a desire to grow very fast.   Therefore, in order to grow at lightning speed, with wild ambitions, some companies borrow beyond their toes.  Although their business may be doing somewhat better than the average, they are not able to manage their business professionally.  Research has shown that since such companies are over-leveraged, they get trapped, for instance, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group.

9. Fancy designations – not commensurate with responsibilities

Sometimes the organisational hierarchy becomes top heavy. As a result, the manpower costs escalate to an extent that it becomes difficult for organisations to manage.  In light of a technology-driven world, companies should seriously analyse  each and every job based on the contribution it makes to the bottom line, rather than linking it to experience or tenure.

10. Policies/procedures/systems on paper only

Policies are designed and remain on paper alone, while actual decision-making differs from the policies that are on paper. All policies should be on paper/systems and should be reviewed from time to time.  The idea of having systems and procedures on paper is bring in uniformity in the decision making for similar types of issues across the organisation.

11. Obsolete technology

Such companies are not aligned with technological changes taking place in the marketplace.  They continue to run their businesses based on their comfort zones rather than requirements of the business.

12. Bullying

In many companies, bullying is a very common practice. The seniors push the juniors to chase unreasonable targets or complete the work on an immediate basis. Work is always urgent and firefighting is the norm. An element of fear takes precedence over working from the head and heart.  Creativity and innovation take a back seat and task completion alone is the priority.

13. Budgets on paper only

When budgets are prepared systematically but execution becomes big problem due to a directionless approach at leadership levels, many problems arise.

14. Delay in salary & wages

Companies where salaries are not paid on time, or wages not disbursed on the due dates suffer from lack of planning.

15. Busy schedules of executives

Companies where executives remain perpetually busy and remain in the office till after 8.00 pm daily, affect the mental and physical health of the employees. In such companies, late sitting becomes a norm.

16. State of customers and suppliers

Companies where customers and suppliers are last priority, will find it difficult to progress towards success.

17. Random hiring and hiring

There are organisations where there are no manpower budgets, and hiring and firing are done at the whims and fancies of CEOs/promotors.  Often, the hiring is done in such a manner that number 2 and 3 are hired without intimation to number one in the department.

How to set things right

If we analyse these symptoms, two strong reasons or causes are revealed: poor leadership and absence of a strong ethics-based culture.

Managing employees is an art and only a good leader can master it, with intuition, skill, strong listening, and effective communication. If employees are managed correctly, things will change dramatically with time.  Following are some of the means to bring effective change into the culture of the organisation.

1. Have a clear plan in place

A change-management plan needs to clearly articulate the areas of the business that will be affected and the impact on customers, suppliers, stakeholders, and employees.

2. Set the goal

Employees will work better with concrete goals that are achievable (though they can simultaneously be aspirational). Workers need to be able to see the roles they play in achieving the new goals and what they will mean for them, their coworkers, their units, and the organisation once the goals are achieved.

It is important to be able to articulate to employees where the company stands now and where the leadership sees it in the future. Leaders should also be able to articulate why the company needs to change and where it needs to be, whether due to shifting market forces, new opportunities, financial issues, or a new strategic approach.

3. Define the change

Updates should be provided frequently to mitigate rumours, answer questions, and provide reassurance.

4. Articulate challenges

All changes come with risks of the unknown, uncertainty, and other potential challenges. It is important for companies to be upfront about the challenges that may be faced. Even if those challenges have not been fully identified and planned for, it is a good move to try and discuss the potential challenges, the range of those challenges, and what the company is doing or will do to address them.

5. Listen carefully

Employees are going to have a lot of questions, ideas, feelings and emotions. It is important for managers — from front-line supervisors to c-suite leaders — to openly and actively listen to these concerns, validate them, and address them as clearly and frankly as possible.

6. Find key influencers

Every organisation has key players who have earned the respect of their coworkers, have longevity (and therefore perspective), and are influential. Getting key players on board and letting them act as a sounding board can help senior leaders better understand how change is being perceived, refer recurring issues, and become advocates for the change.

7. Set new performance objectives

Organisations need to translate changes into performance appraisal, assessment, compensation, and promotion cycles quickly. Employees in a time of uncertainty will want to know how the changes will affect the way they are evaluated. Whenever possible, these changes should be articulated well before the performance period begins.

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