Organizing the organization | Co-operate more, work less hard
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Organizing the organization itself?

The organization itself has to be organized. It sounds cryptic, but we’re referring to the activities and resources needed to support and improve the organization or company. We could call this the organization’s overhead and management.

We’re talking about coordination by, for example, procedures and guidelines, Human Capital Management, process management, information management, ICT, finance – basically everything that isn’t part of a company’s core activities. That includes management layers and steering on strategy.

The concept of organization

The time may be ripe to reexamine the concept of “the organization”. To do this, we can refer back to the first definition of the concept: “an organization is where people work together to achieve goals”, according to organizational expert Heijmans in 1917. We can distill this definition down to four key terms:

  • people
  • co-operation (working together)
  • goals
  • achieving

Problem #1 in organizations: bad co-operation

Heijman’s definition seems to stand in stark contrast with many organizations today: “big is beautiful”, hardly able to adapt, a dominant structure, strongly institutionalized, not very goal-focused. A lot of problems in organizations can be blamed on the fact that people can’t, won’t, or will hardly co-operate. The bigger the organization, the harder it is to solve this problem. This could have many reasons: people don’t know what others in the company are doing; the systems are incompatible; there are contradictory goals or interests; employees or managers don’t like each other (maybe because of mergers); the structure gets in the way of co-operation (bureaucracy); and so on and so forth. We can’t point out every single cause here. They key take-away is: if people can’t work together well, it’s going to be very hard to achieve strategic objectives and keep customers satisfied.

The harmful effects of bad co-operation

When people in an organization co-operate poorly, it will result in ‘no work’ or a lot of ‘rework’: too many orders or assignments because of customers leaving (but that’s down to the market); too many complaints or returns (customers can be fickle); policy that has to be reversed (although management will never formulate it as such); work being done twice (after all, everyone has to be kept busy); strategies that don’t work or can’t be executed (“we’ll call it a pilot”); fraud committed by customers or suppliers; low profits; low customer and employee satisfaction; etc. The results: too many people are unsatisfied, and there isn’t enough paid work.

Organizations return to their roots

Organizations have to go back to their roots and become much smaller and smarter. Do away with the flat reorganization and drip-feed method. We’ll leave those for organizations that don’t know what they want to be and that will end up going down.

Working together in an organization: the way forward

The question is how we can fundamentally improve and develop co-operation inside an organization. Not as simple as it sounds, because as mentioned earlier, there are a lot of possible reasons for employees not working together. It’s prudent to consider the costs and benefits of any initiative. Nonetheless, with just a few simple steps we can come closer to the essence of an organization as outlined above, and start to improve:

  • Don’t think and work in departments, but in customer processes. Be aware of the fact that your job is only possible if your colleagues do their jobs well, and more importantly, your colleagues can only do their jobs well if you do yours well.
  • Establish a company culture where unity is the central pillar. Direction and management should always set the right example in this. The needs of the organization should always come first. Personal interests are the kiss of death for smooth co-operation.
  • Train and coach your employees in behavioral competencies that are important for co-operation, such as showing interest in each other, empathy, helpfulness, and integrity.
  • Take some time to think about standards that enable your colleague in the next step of the process to know what to expect, and to act more quickly.
  • Enable co-operation by providing the right systems, like enterprise portals, workflow management, CRM, and business analytics. This allows employees to steer the process, exchange (customer) information in a structural way, chat with each other, see what the critical success factors are, and how they can perform better together.

Organization turned upside-down: the intelligent organization

The result of all this is that the organization will pivot and get turned upside-down. Most employees probably won’t be salivating in anticipation; they’d rather things stay as they were. This fear and trepidation can be easily taken away by explaining what the organization is actually about. What employee wouldn’t want to be empowered and get more freedom to be able to co-operate better and serve customers better? Who doesn’t want more interesting, challenging work? Work together more and work less hard. Those are the promises of an intelligent organization.

It can be trickier to convince leaders inside of an organization to come with you on this journey. Tasks, responsibilities, and authorizations will shift, for example because of self-steering at lower levels of the organization, or because of more integral management which gives them all kinds of responsibilities and “difficult” tasks like coaching and leadership development. Hopefully, they will also come to see that it’s do or die.

Reorganization after reorganization

I know an operational manager of an organization who fell back on the drip-feed method again and again. For decades, this company survived on auto-pilot. When the care sector started becoming more privatized and was more affected by market forces, the company was hardly prepared. They went through reorganization after reorganization to try to weather the storm. They went through many rounds of layoffs, but they couldn’t turn the tide. This manager’s “kingdom” was crumbling slowly, but surely. The manager kept having fewer and fewer people under them, and less and less responsibility. If they hadn’t clung to “power” and how many people they were leading, and had focused more on co-operation, they’d have a much bigger and more pleasant kingdom right now. That’s the difference between short-term and long-term thinking.

Do more together and work less hard

However you look at it, everything can’t stay as it was. Company structures will have to change and embrace a culture that’s focused on co-operation. Behavior will also have to change, and we can’t escape investing in better integration of systems and processes. A truly intelligent organization can handle it! Even, or especially, in times of economic downturn, because we’ll be able to do more together and work less hard while realizing goals. Who doesn’t think that’s an attractive option?

Comment on this post by Daan van Beek

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