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Strategy Drives Structure

The best way to organize an organization is to define the strategy FIRST I’ve written before that the creation of an action-oriented culture is critical to success. A key question is taking action on what? There’s a tendency to get going right away without pausing to answer “what’s the goal.” From time to time we must be […]

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The best way to organize an organization is to define the strategy FIRST

I’ve written before that the creation of an action-oriented culture is critical to success. A key question is taking action on what? There’s a tendency to get going right away without pausing to answer “what’s the goal.”

From time to time we must be reminded of key management principles to ensure we don’t fall into this trap.

One of those principles is: Strategy drives structure.

The first time I recall hearing that “strategy drives structure” was in grad school at DePaul. Yet, early in my career, I admit I didn’t follow that theory because I wanted to “get going” and I thought building an organizational structure was a good starting point.

Designing an organization, developing roles and responsibilities and selecting the right people are among the most important, and nuanced tasks of any leader. It is the way you place your fingerprints on the organization.

That’s why it’s not uncommon to jump right to structure when you start a new gig.

It’s a trap, of course.

You must know what you’re going to paint, before you begin to pick your colors and brushes.

The strategy comes first, then the organization follows. And starting with simple, broadly-defined strategies is all the more effective (more on that in a future post).

Once you develop a good strategic plan, the structure and talent needs can be developed — just like following a blueprint.

While I worked at the Tribune, we faced the difficult challenge of addressing digital disruption requiring new strategic thinking, along with a whole new organization.

We were asking our people to fly the existing plane (our legacy business) and build a new plane (our digital business) at the same time. We were frustrated when we weren’t changing fast enough.

As we defined the new strategies, we quickly realized we couldn’t execute the strategy with the current organizational structure. We realized we had gaps in the organization and we needed to add key talent and design new departments. Digital and business development were two key, urgent areas to address.

When a company makes major changes, it must carefully design every aspect of the structure required to execute the strategy. So, does that mean you have to change your structure to support the new strategy? Yes, you’re learning! How often do you change your structure? As often as you make meaningful changes to your strategy.

One thing I’ve learned during my career is the undeniable need for cross-department collaboration, and joint-ownership on every significant project. There’s absolutely no way to design a structure to incorporate all the nuances of the real work, which is why you need “orgagility.” As I’ve mentioned before, orgagility is defined by certain characteristics that allow companies to effectively operate in disruptive conditions.

To bring it home, start with these questions:

  • What are the goals and objectives you’re trying to achieve?
  • How important is alignment and coordination in achieving those goals?
  • What are the key strategic priorities, and what specific tasks and duties are needed?
  • What is the relative importance of a team-based approach versus individual contributors; and what are the critical capabilities?

After you understand and clarify these points, then (and only then) can you begin to talk structure.

Because, as we can learn from the rock band, Dawes,

“If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads will lead you there.”

Having a brilliant strategy doesn’t mean a thing if the organization can’t execute it. That’s why designing the organization and placing people in the right roles are the biggest decisions you’ll make as a manager, and getting it right will dramatically improve your odds of succeeding.

This article was originally published on medium.com on 12/14/2018.

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