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"Ask your leadership team to draw a very rough organization chart of how your organization really functions. If more than a few people draw something that looks like a rake, you have a problem." Kirk Dando, growth expert and author

In a "rake" organization, everyone - from CFO to front-line manager to boots-on-the-ground employee - reports to the CEO or owner. As Kirk Dando points out, and as countless failed organizations have proven, "Your business will never meet its full potential with this kind of structure." Why not? And, more importantly, what can you do to reshape your organizational chart - and redefine its future?

CEO - or Manager?

Structure drives behavior. It's that simple. If your structure continues to grow from one handle (i.e. you) to a multitude of tines (your employees), your behavior will inevitably change. In Predictive Leadership: Avoiding the 12 Critical Mistakes that Derail Growth, Dando writes, "The unintended consequence of a rake organization is that it forces the CEO to become a manager."

And in case you're in doubt, the strongpoint of most CEOs is not in their ability to manage. It's in their ability to innovate, to guide vision, to lead. Annmarie Neal, author of Leading from the Edge , writes, "A leader is somebody who sees opportunity and puts change in motion. A manager is somebody who follows that leader and sees how to structure things to create value to the company."

Both roles are invaluable - but they are not interchangeable. The question that CEOs need to ask is, what is going to allow the organization to grow?

Leave the Rake Behind

Create structure. It sounds so...20th century, doesn't it? Sure. But it's 21st century too. In Requisite Organization, organizational psychologist Elliott Jaques argued that concepts like self-managing teams and flat companies are transient fads - as "unsupportable as alchemy."

According to Jaques, far from restrictive or repressive, hierarchy "evolved as a natural vehicle for expressing the capabilities and limits that are innate in each of us."

This notion is supported by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. He argues that organizational power structures have remained unchanged because they "can be linked to survival advantages" in the workplace. Further, attendant beliefs and behaviors are "ingrained in our collective, corporate DNA."

Rather than fight against hierarchy, businesses can benefit by embracing structure. Jaques writes:

"Given half a chance, people are keen to get on with their work, and to have work to get on with. What is missing is an adequate organizational framework within which to work and to cooperate with each other."

An Adequate Framework

A rake won't help people "get on with their work." According to Jaques, "requisite organization" takes into account two primary factors:

  • A person's ability to handle complexity. For instance, an individual may be able to handle an assignment with a three month time horizon. Others, like top CEOs, should be able to think out 10-20 years (and beyond).
  • The time span for jobs. Jaques called these "strata." For example, a factory worker (Stratum I) has a routine job and close supervision. He or she can handle a time horizon of between a day and three months. The plant manager (stratum IV), on the other hand, can cope with thinking out two to three years.

Note: while some management experts, including Jim Collins, refer to hierarchical "levels," Jaques purposefully uses the word "strata" to eliminate the connotation of superiority. When people's capacity matches their stratum, then they can perform optimally.

One of the main purposes of strata is to facilitate communication. The floor worker can speak to his front-line manager or supervisor. That person can speak to her department head. Typically, when there is more than one stratum separating people, communication breaks down. The chain of command and accountability become tangled, relationships strained, and employees disengaged.

So what's this have to do with our rake? Say you're the CEO who directly supervises that front-line floor worker. You simply don't speak the same language. He is worried about completing specific tasks today and tomorrow, while you need to think about setting direction for the next decade or two. There has to be strata in between to facilitate communication, to break down work, to realize results.

Bottom line: if you want to grow, your organizational chart cannot resemble a rake. You need to create a supportable, scalable, structure that puts the right people in the right roles... Including, and especially, you.


Larry Hart

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