Category Archives: Organizations

International Organizations

Not everybody gets to work for a foreign based multinational company. Many in the US may actually go through their entire business career without having every worked for one. I have had the opportunity to actually work for three different foreign based multinationals. I think it has provided a perspective on both the similarities and the differences associated with international and domestic business processes and practices. With the continued globalization of business and organizations, that may be a healthy concept for all leaders to be familiar with. While things are obviously done differently in North America, we need to understand the perspective that it is the North American business environment that is different from the rest of the world, not the rest of the world that is different from North America.

I will attempt to generalize at least some of the differences I have encountered between the foreign based and US domestic based organizations that I have had experience with. This is always a dangerous thing to do. Generalizations are opinions that are applied to greater sample sets, based on limited sample sets. Having worked for three foreign based nationals means I have some experience with three specific instances of foreign based multi-nationals. It doesn’t mean I should generalize across all of them, but that sort of perceived limitation has never stopped me from rendering an opinion or article before.

Mark Twain is a favorite author of mine. I have quoted him in the past, and will probably do so again in the future. I am envious of his way of expressing things, and while I may not be able to write a good line, I know a good line when I steal it. Twain said:

         “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

Undaunted by that fact, I will move forward with my comments regarding foreign based multinational organizations, and how and why leaders in North America need to understand them.

There is always the push-pull, love-hate, cats-dogs sort of relationship between the corporate offices and the field offices. In domestic based organizations one of the most feared phrases to ever be heard in the field is:

         “I am from headquarters, and I’m here to help.”

I think we have all either experienced or participated in the horror stories that have ensued after hearing this phrase. It can make your blood run cold.

It’s even worse when you think you may have just heard the phrase but you cannot be sure because your brain is still trying to unscramble and translate what you think you may have heard because it was stated in such a heavy foreign accent as to make it almost unrecognizable. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Also remember that this is a person who is trying to communicate in English, which may be something other than their native language. That means that they have a working knowledge of at least two languages.  It sometimes open to interpretation whether some people who were born, live and work in the US have a full working knowledge of the native tongue.

With domestic organizations there is at least a consistency of culture, value set and approach that can be a basis for working together. In North America we know how fellow North Americans usually tend to think, or not think as the case may be. European and Asian cultures and value sets, believe it or not, are different from North American ones. I have not had the opportunity to work for an African or Australian based multinational, but I suspect there will be differences to a lesser or greater extent there as well.

What I have found is that despite North America being one of the largest markets for just about every type of product in the world, it is also the unique market in the world. What I mean by that is that I believe there are reasonable and rational similarities between the European and Asian markets in the way they conduct their business and the way they treat their employees. It is North America that is different.

A good example could be seen in the various approaches to contractual relationships. In Asia and Europe it seems that a contractual relationship is the beginning or starting point for an ongoing business relationship. Once the contract is in place both buyer and seller seem to understand that some changes will occur and will work together to adapt and modify the arrangement in a mutually satisfactory manner. In North America it seems that a contractual relationship is the end point or culmination of a business relationship. Once the contract is signed it seems to be the arbiter of all potential differences of opinion that can arise, and it is hoped that every possible contingency has been covered.

It has been my experience that in North America customers want to see working products before they buy them. This means that all potential vendors must create a competitive product and the buyer will select the one that they feel best meets their needs at the most favorable price. Admittedly this is not the method for all purchases, but since I have already discussed generalizations and the pitfalls associated with that, I will continue to go with it. Even the US Air Force wants to see a working model of the next generation aircraft from each of its potential suppliers before it decides which one it will buy. I always wondered how it could be next generation if there was already one built.

It has also been my experience to witness in Asia and Europe that customers seem to be much more willing to contract to buy a product based on a specification, with no actual working models. In Europe, several countries got together to pool resources and jointly design and build their next generation Joint Strike Fighter with nothing but a set of desired specifications to work from. They didn’t require that a working prototype be built as was required in the US. Again this is based on a small experience set, but it runs so contrary to what for the most part is accepted practice in North America I had to bring it up.

Despite these and many other business, organizational and cultural differences that can and will provide the grist for future articles, I strongly suggest and recommend that leaders spend some time in a foreign based organization. It will provide an entirely new perspective on how organizational structures, communications and cultures affect the business. In today’s increasingly global business environment, understanding business environments outside of what is considered the North American norm, and hence comfort zone, will help leaders deal with the complex problems associated with multinational business opportunities. It will enable them to understand and deal with the increasing number of non-domestic competitors that have entered or are now entering the domestic market.

 It may also help better prepare them for how to better understand, and deal with someone the next time they walk up and say:

“Ah yem fwoam haid-kwahtaihz, awn ah yem eah tew hehp yew.”

Human Resources

Human Resources – the name of the organization that can strike fear in the heart of the business leader, individual contributor and job seeker alike. People only go talk to HR when they have a problem. People only get called by HR when they are in trouble. It is HR who identifies the talented individuals that would be beneficial employees through their talent acquisition responsibilities and it is HR who administers the lay-offs and exits those employees who are deemed to no longer be sufficiently beneficial to the company. It is quite possible that HR is the single most misunderstood organization in the company.  Now why would you suppose that would be? Their name should say it all – Human Resources. They are supposed to be a resource for us humans right? Not so fast.

On August 10, 1949 the Department of Defense came into being for the United States Government. Okay, so what, you might ask. Prior to that date the military enterprise for the United States was referred to as the Department of War. It was decided shortly after World War II that the government would try to avoid the word “war” pecause of its perceived negative connotation by the population, hence the change of the name to defense.

Personally I think this is some pretty spiffy marketing on behalf of the government. This group did not make “defense” on other countries or peoples. They made “war” on them. They continued to perform the same functions after the name change that they performed before it. Despite having defense in the name, there did not appear to be a lot of defending going on.

Which brings me back to Human Resources. Like the Department of Defense, and contrary to their name, Human Resources is not entirely about the humans that make up the organization. That would be only half the equation or less when it comes to describing their role. If you look at the roles that HR plays in the organization you would think that their name would more appropriately be Corporate Resources, or CR. Despite what people may think, or what their name might indicate, HR is there to look after the best interests of the corporation.

That doesn’t mean that HR cannot or will not help people. They will, as long as it does not conflict with the interests of the corporation. If it is in the best interest of the company HR will absolutely be the individual employee’s advocate. For example, if someone has been discriminated against, HR will help them. Why is that? Some would argue that it is their moral responsibility. That may be partially true, but that is not the total reason. The full reason is that if the corporation does not adequately respond to complaints and charges by its employees regarding improper conduct either by the company or other individual employees in the company, the corporation will actually be in deeper trouble from a legal standpoint than if they did respond and took action.

Rules have been put in place regarding how a corporation may conduct itself. This can include rules regarding both corporate and employee conduct, legal and safety responsibilities, fairness in hiring and firing practices, and a host of other topics regarding how employees may interact with each other while working at the company, as well as how they and the company as an entity may interact. It is HR’s primary responsibility to properly enforce these rules. If it is shown that HR did not fully or properly enforce these rules, the corporation can be at greater risk than if they were enforced. This puts HR in something of a precarious position. They must be an advocate for the employee with the issue, but they must continue to look out for the best interest of the company. If there ever is a question of which interest set is the most important, I would suggest you examine who is compensating HR to make sure of to whom their allegiance is.

As another example I’ll look at that most unpleasant of business activities, the lay-off. If the business leadership has done their job appropriately well, most lay-offs will be avoided. When the leadership has failed and a lay-off is called for in order to reduce the size of the company, who gets involved? Human resources. They will administer the lay-off on behalf of the corporation to make sure that it is handled as humanely and correctly as possible. They will make sure that no specific employee demographic associated with age or gender or race, or anything else has been discriminated against during this lay-off. Are they doing this for the benefit of the employees? To some extent yes. Are they doing it for the benefit of the corporation so that the company does not find itself the defendant in an improper dismissal law suit? Absolutely.

Even with all that in mind, that does not mean that HR will not help the individual. I have found HR to in general be populated with good people who do genuinely want to do a good job for both the people they work with as well as the company they work for. As I noted above they are charged with finding the most talented individuals to become employees of the company through their talent acquisition responsibilities. If you have an issue or a question they will want to listen and help you not only because they have to, but because they want to as well. In many instances HR finds itself trying to be the conscience of the corporate management in trying to translate quantitative corporate performance metrics and actions into qualitative human terms that can be accepted and implemented by the employees.

Understand that it takes a special sort of person to be responsible for listening to and responding to each individual’s issues and complaints in an organization. In today’s litigious world, it is almost to the point where if an individual feels they have been discriminated against, then they have. It is a time where it may be improper to repeat a joke that you have heard on the public airwaves of the radio in the office, as someone could potentially find it offensive in some way and complain about the environment that it has created. Remember, accepted societal norms for social behavior may not be acceptable to each individual in the office, and it is HR’s responsibility to sort them out.

Human resources takes both its corporate responsibilities as well as its employee advocacy seriously. Despite the fact that HR is paid by the corporation, and is responsible for looking after the corporation’s best interests, they will still do all they can for the individual employees. Just remember that they are doing it both because they want to for the employee and because they have to, for the company.

As Juliet told Romeo, “What’s in a name?” When it comes to the Department of War and the Department of Defense there is probably not a whole lot of difference with the possible exception of some good public relations work. It is a good idea to remember the same public relations spin may be at work when looking at the Human Resource department in your organization, and understanding their Corporate responsibilities. They are the acknowledged company advocate of the individual employee and they usually do take that responsibility very seriously, but they are there primarily to protect the company from both itself and the improper behaviors of its employees as well.


Headhunters – dependent on your current employment condition the word can either strike fear, or hope in the heart of a business leader. If things are going well in your current role, and progress is being made you can be concerned about headhunters coming in and taking some of your team members for other opportunities. If things are not going so good, or if you have decided that it is time for you to find another opportunity, then headhunters are a good thing. And true to the probability of the jelly side of the sandwich falling jelly side down on the carpet (directly proportional to the price of the carpet) it seems that recruiters are never really around when you want or need them, but always seem to be there when you don’t.


Up until the time we actually start working we have been on a program that has definite goals, and definite time lines for our own progression. We have twelve years of elementary through high school, then we graduate and start on college. We have a nominal 4 years (maybe more) where again we graduate. We have achieved our goals. We may go on to graduate school, but even then we have a goal and a relative time frame. In business we are not so fortunate to have such a well defined plan for progression. In fact if times get particularly hard, we can be asked to leave our current business roles and have to start the progression over.


One of the best definitions of “luck” that I have heard was by Randy Pausch in his Last Lecture”. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon Institute who provided some significant and insightful observations in a lecture he gave after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  In it he described luck as “when opportunity meets preparation”. I think that definition is also applicable to some extent when it comes to the management of our own careers. Very few of us go into a position with a true plan as to what we are going to do next. We know what we are going to do now, (it’s in the job description we just signed up for) but we really don’t know what we are going to do next. We spend our time preparing and gathering experience for our next assignment, but we are never quite sure when or where it will be. We are always looking for the next opportunity.


In times of economic expansion and growth companies also tend to grow and expand. This creates opportunities for individual growth and expansion as well. People are changing companies to take advantage of the opportunities, as well as leaders are being promoted from within their organizations to fill the new roles. In more difficult economic times companies tend to remain at current levels or even contract. While there will still be opportunities, they will not be as prevalent or pervasive as growth is much slower or in some cases non-existent.


In any event, this is where recruiters or headhunters come in. They make their living by matching those people with the proper preparation with those companies who have the opportunities. Theirs is a high velocity world. If they are not making the connections and matching the prepared with the opportunity they are not making money. Theirs is a time and effort role. They normally don’t get a large salary. They get paid for the completion of the placement regardless of the time and effort that it took them to complete it. This is the equivalent of working for sales commission only. If you didn’t sell, you didn’t get paid. It would probably inspire you to work harder at completing your assigned task as well.


They are judgmental because they have to be. If they judge you to be unprepared for the opportunity they are trying to fill, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means that if they are going to get paid they need to find somebody who is in their opinion better prepared to fill that role. This can be frustrating if you feel they have judged you improperly. Get used to it. It is the way it works.


It is usually hard to create a professional relationship with a recruiter because they are so focused on the opportunities that they are trying to fill now. If they do not feel that you are a fit now, they will need to move on and talk to someone else who is. They will however take your information and keep it. That way in the future if they have an opportunity that matches your preparation, they can and will reach out to you. You can probably maintain contact, but I wouldn’t call it a relationship.


As time passes and you progress in your business or industry it is quite probable that recruiters will reach out to you. As I progressed they did in fact reach out and contact me as well.  I was fortunate in that early on in my career I got to participate in an economic and industry boom that provided many opportunities internal to the company I was working for. As such I did not pay a great deal of attention to the recruiters that contacted me. This was a mistake. Some recruiters knew of me but did not have my information in their files. I should have made better contact with them, even if I did not think I was going to need or use them.


After every boom there is invariably a more difficult economic time that follows. While I may have been known to recruiters I was not on their radar screen as a particularly interested party. It was my turn to try and reach out to them. I still had all my preparation but I was now in search of the opportunity, not the opportunity being in search of me. Without having your information in their files all of your search efforts were be hit or miss. If they had an opportunity when I reached out to them, great. If they didn’t, it was only then that my information was showing up in their files


Recruiters are not rude, but if they do not currently have an opportunity that matches your preparation set, they will not try to help you. Their business is not to help you find a position. Their business is to find the right person for the positions they have at that time. As I said, they are judgmental. If they don’t think you are a fit, they will move on. They have to. Regardless of how well you think you may be able to perform in that position they will continue to look for someone whose preparation better matches the opportunity.


Recruiters provide a vital function in that they try to provide the connection between your professional experience and preparation and a company’s opportunity. They live in a very quantitative world. If they are successful, or lucky, in having someone’s preparation meet their current opportunity, then they get paid. They are not there to particularly help you. You don’t pay them anything. It is the company with the unfilled opportunity that pays them, but only after they have filled it. If you do not fit the opportunity, they will not try to make you fit it. They will try to find someone else who does better fit it. If you are interested in an opportunity that a recruiter has approached you about, say so. If not, then say so as well. Respect their time as you would want them to respect yours.


With the advent of the internet and the plethora of job boards with all the opportunity postings it is easy to dismiss recruiters. I think this is also a mistake. Business is conducted between people. Whether it is the business of your current role or the business of finding your next role it will be the people and relationships that you know and have that will be far more important that the internet and the job boards.

Even if you are relatively happy with your current role and responsibilities, it is probably difficult to say what you next role and responsibility set will be. If and when a recruiter calls, understand what their role and incentive is. Even if the opportunity they are working on does not interest you, make the contact and provide your information. The next opportunity that they are working on could be the perfect one for your next career step. There may also come a time when you may want to be reaching out to them and it will be best to already have the contact in place.

Why Reorganize?

I have heard a number of reasons why a business needed to reorganize, but in reality I can think of only two reasons that are a business should go through a reorganization. Reorganizations are inevitably messy, become somewhat political in nature and distract the entire organization from its primary goals; providing value to the customers and in return of that, providing value to the business owners. There may be several other different names for the reasons to reorganize, but for me they return to these two basic reasons; you reorganize your business to better match your customers’ business model, or you reorganize to cut costs and try to improve profitability.

Sun Tzu in his book The Art of War stated that war is not to be undertaken lightly as it will cost the state that goes to war its resources, its people and the time and attention that it could place on other more beneficial and constructive projects. The same could very easily be said about reorganizing a business.
Reorganizations cost businesses resources and money in their creation and execution. They cost businesses people, both those that are directly affected by the changes as well as those who decide to leave based on the incremental uncertainty that has been injected into the business. Reorganizations also cost the business the opportunities that are missed both in the market and within the business while the organization’s focus is on the creation of a new internal structure.

Businesses live and die by providing value to their customers. Over time customers and their needs can change. Just as records gave way to CDs, which in turn have given way to MP3s, and “mailing a check” has given way to on-line e-commerce (to use a few consumer products for illustration), businesses have had to adapt to the changes customers have demanded. In the past I have written about business “momentum” as the inertia that has a tendency to keep a business moving in the same direction and doing the same things until a force acts on it to change things. A reorganization would be such a force.

The net result here is that if your customers have changed the way they do business, the types of products they demand, or any other fundamental structures associated with their needs, you will have to modify your business structures to match them in order to be efficient and provide your customers with the maximum value that you can.

The other primary reason to reorganize is to cut costs. Refocusing resources away from outdated or unprofitable markets and products, taking advantage of new streamlining operational techniques, or reacting to fundamental changes in the market or economy are examples of reasons for a cost cutting reorganization.

When a business decides to engage in a cost cutting reorganization, the focus needs to be two-fold. What work is going to be stopped or removed from the organization, and what functions are going to be retained or enhanced? When you are cost cutting you are removing expense – and people – from the organization. Some of the work that those people were doing can and will be absorbed by others within the organization, but a significant portion of it will not. The key will be to clearly define the work and roles that are no longer providing the required value to the business and to focus on them.

In either type of reorganization change will be met with some resistance. Those whose roles may be changing will have some aversion to having to learn new roles. Those whose roles and work are no longer seen as providing the desired value to the company will resist being defined in those terms. The longer this situation exists the more disjointed the organization risks becoming.

The key to the reorganizations success will lay both in the final perception of the changes by reorganized group, and the speed at which the changes were affected. If fundamental changes in both the management structure and just as importantly the number of managers – remember, if cost cutting requires less work it also requires fewer managers to manage the work – have been enacted then the team can and will recognize the value of the reorganization. If the changes are enacted in a very timely manner where the opportunity for the business to be distracted from the primary focus of providing value to the customer is minimized, the reorganization will also be much less disruptive and accordingly far more successful.

What’s Right?

Anytime you have a business or office environment, people will congregate to talk. It’s part of the social aspect of working in the office. These are euphemistically known as “water cooler” conversations (although I really suspect that it has been decades since there was actually a real live water cooler in an office). People will talk about many things, but if they are in the office at least some part of the conversation will usually be about the company that employs them. I have worked in several different companies and this is a fairly consistent topic for discussion, at least in my experience.

What I have also found is that these conversations normally migrate to, and revolve around the issues, challenges and problems that the business is facing. Company stock prices, competitors’ products and capabilities, pending or potential staff reductions, executive bi-play and office politics are all favorite topics for discussion. I think we have all been there, and probably even participated.

In short, most of these conversations are at best group reinforcement sessions for all that can be perceived as wrong (rightly or wrongly) about the business, and at worst become a functionally demoralizing aspect of the work day environment. Sometimes it appears that these meetings can become an opportunity for company bashing where the objective is to see who can relate the worst example of bad corporate behavior or malfeasance. It has been seen it in the boom times of the past and it seems to have taken on an even greater propensity in the difficult times of today.

This “what’s wrong” discussion concept got me to thinking, which is always a dangerous proposition for me. Why do we always tend to focus on the negative? Doing so has to have a negative effect on both ourselves and those we share the negativity with at the office. Surely something has been going right, and probably has been going right for some time, to enable the companies and business units we work for to survive and grow for the periods of time that they have been around. I decided some time ago that I would put this idea to the test at one of these negative conversations that I was party to. I asked:

“Okay, I have heard your view on what is wrong with the company, but can you tell me what’s right with the company?

People looked at me as if I had just come from another planet.

Instead of playing along with the rehashing of all the latest down side issues and topics that seem to be present in every organization, I had challenged people to at least try and define what was good about the place we all worked.

I was immediately challenged in return to see if I could actually start the list of what’s right. I think this was done as a delay tactic so that everybody else’s brain could do a cold restart in this new direction for the conversation. I started off with the most basic good thing about working for the company that I could come up with:

“My paycheck cleared and was deposited in my account at the bank.”

I assumed that everyone else’s paycheck had achieved the same status. This is a tough item to argue about. We all got paid. Something had in fact gone right enough that we got, and continue to get paid. I also assumed that everybody would like to continue to get paid. The focus now should be what else we need to do right going forward to assure that we continue to get paid. It was an interesting change to the standard conversation at that point. It also seemed to work. Several other right topics ensued. There were some good things out there if people just thought about them.

I am not a Pollyanna in that we must only look on the brighter side of things. If we do not acknowledge what is wrong we will never focus on it, and there will be no improvement. What I am saying that we do have a tendency to not just focus on, but to dwell on what is wrong almost to the point of discouragement. This means that occasionally we need to take a step back and look at what has been done right.

I don’t think it needs to be done all the time. A certain amount of venting with friends and peers is good to provide a healthy work environment. There have also been instances in these negative conversations that have germinated some of the teams’ better ideas and plans on how to improve the business as a result of hearing from others what they think is wrong with the business. However, I really do think that on occasion it is a good idea for the group to have the water cooler conversation taken in a different direction and talk about what’s right with the business.

Ruthless Simplification

There seems to be a significant amount being written these days regarding simplification. It’s difficult to go through the news and not see some article regarding how people see and feel the need to simplify their lives and what they are doing to simplify their lives. The same seems to be true with businesses. Businesses are always trying to simplify the way they perform their work. There are usually all sorts of programs, processes and initiatives focused trying to simplify the business. When you net them all out, they can usually be summed up in a simple statement: In order to simplify, you need to ruthlessly stop doing work that provides no value to your customers.

On the surface this sounds easy, but in practice business inertia makes this activity a little more difficult to accomplish. In these times when any discussion turns to the topic of no longer doing specific work or tasks, that activity is translated into preparation for staff reductions. The stakeholders in the current process will almost always generate some resistance to changes of these types. While reductions can be a potential outcome it should not be the focus. Over time businesses accrete tasks associated with the way they work. As the business needs change, new tasks and objectives are added to meet them. Businesses usually have very good processes and methods for adding new work, but rather poor processes and methods for discontinuing tasks that have either outlived their usefulness or no longer provide direct value to its customers.

Most simplification processes start out as methods of re-categorizing existing tasks and then grouping like work together in an effort to glean some efficiency from having similar tasks performed by similar groups. This simplification approach doesn’t reduce the amount or type of work being done. It assumes that all work currently being done in the business is critical to the business. I think that is the major fallacy of this simplification approach.

Almost every business will have functions and tasks that remain from previous products, processes and programs. The incremental value to the business of this work will be suspect at best, but unless active measures are taken to remove it, it will continue to absorb business staff and resources. The objective of all simplification projects should be to identify and remove work, and more specifically work of questionable incremental value to the business, from the business. With this objective in mind business simplification should not try to enable a business to do more with less, but rather simplification should target having the business do less, but being able to do the remaining work much better.

Now the question that arises is: which work should the business look to simplify? At the risk of sounding a little trite, there are basically three functions that a business must perform. A business must create products and services for customers, sell products and services and deliver products and services to customers in order to be successful. If the tasks in question do not directly contribute to one of these functions it is a candidate for further review. That doesn’t mean that all tasks outside of these functions should be eliminated. There are some functions, Finance, Human Resources, etc., that do not fall into these categories, but are a business requirement. It is also very probable that there are tasks within these specific functions, meetings, reporting, reviewing, etc., that do not directly contribute specific value to the function that may need to be simplified if not eliminated.

A further guiding principle should be: does the specific task provide value directly to the customer? If a task cannot be identified as directly providing a value to a customer, it is adding a cost to the product or service that is providing value to a customer. If the product or service can be provided to the customer without the incremental costs associated with the identified task, then the task is a very good candidate for simplification.

The idea here is to identify work that must be done in order to provide value to the customer. Customers will pay for goods and services with which they associate value. If there are tasks that are creating costs, absorbing resources and providing minimal value to the customer, they are the potential targets for simplification. Businesses have a tendency over time to create tasks and structures that are designed to provide perceived value internally to the business, not externally to the customer.

Examples of these types of non-value added tasks can be: business reviews that occur regularly where information / presentations / discussions are provided, but where no action items are given; or business requests for information and data, where resources are expended fulfilling the requests, but no business information or actions are provided in return. There is a long list of resource absorbing, non-value adding tasks, which on the surface appear useful business, but when viewed from a business requirement and customer value point of view can and probably should be simplified.

Resources are too precious to allow them to be wasted on tasks that are not directly providing value to the customers, and through the customers, value back to the business. They need to be ruthlessly protected. There is always more valuable work that needs to be done then there are resources to perform it. This is where the ruthless simplification of the tasks that do not provide customer value can strip away the drag on the business, as well as free up the resource to provide the incremental value adding work that needs to be done.

Friction and Clarity

There is always going to be a certain amount of friction in an organization. When people are involved, differing viewpoints, approaches and personalities will always cause some amount of both business and inter-personal issues. I have found that unless the inter-personal issues are of such a significant nature that they affect the organizations ability to function, they are best left to the individuals to sort out. You can’t make individuals like each other, but they can learn to respect each other in the organization. The business issues between people in the organization, on the other hand, are topics that can usually be cleared up quickly, and in many cases avoided altogether.

In my experience, most of the conflict or friction in an organization has arisen due to a lack of clarity. Most organizations seem to function best when there is a clear and consistent set of goals, well defined organizational and individual responsibilities, and an acknowledged decision making structure. If the business is experiencing any significant amount of organizational or individual squabbling, or a slower level of progress toward the desired goals and objectives, it may be a reasonable assumption to go and look at the clarity of these organizational definitions.

Unclear, or worse, differing goals and objectives will sap an organizations strength and impede its progress. If people are not working toward the same accepted goals friction and conflict cannot help but occur. If one group is working on the volume of sales and the other is focused on the profitability of sales there will be conflict. If one group is focused on technology and design, and the other is focused on costs and manufacturability there will be friction. The idea here is that if organizations are solely focused on only one aspect of the overall goal, valuable time and effort will be lost trying to resolve these goal oriented differences. Making sure that the organizations goals are aligned, and just as importantly aligning the metrics and compensation that are associated with them can reduce the time and effort lost to this type of issue.

Unclear organizational or individual responsibilities arise from a lack of clarity in each organizations definition and role. If one organization has responsibility for price (based on cost and margin), a second one has responsibility for cost (affecting both price and margin) and a third has responsibility for margin (based on price and cost) there is going to be conflict. Can price solely dictate what margins and/or what costs must be? Can costs be the prime criteria associated with the business without understanding and responding to market based influences? Can you strictly look at margins in isolation of costs and price? Again while making sure each individual and each organization functions are well defined, it is also important to make sure that individual and each organization role is are well defined with respect to the other organizations and individuals that they must work and interact with.

The answer is that obviously all these organizations must work together, but then who will decide the issues that arise from differing and sometimes overlapping responsibilities and objectives? If sales wants a very low price for a capability that operations indicates that capability has a very high cost, resulting in what may be unacceptable margins, how does the impasse get resolved. In addition to clear goal alignment and responsibility definitions there needs to be clarity around the acknowledged decision making structure. If it is a decentralized structure there needs to be consistent guidelines detailing the various scopes and spans of control for the decision makers. If it is a hierarchical structure of the decision spans multiple business groups there needs to be a clear and quick escalation process to get decisions made quickly and all organizations back focused on the goal at hand.

It seems that too many times these business issues that cause friction can find their way into the interpersonal issues category and seem to sit and languish. The result can be a sort of perpetual squabbling between people and organizations, and a much slower pace of progress than is possible and needed. By bringing a little more clarity to the business and reinforcing what the various goals, responsibilities and decision making processes are for each of the organizations and how they must work together, you may be able to reduce the causes of business friction in the organization. With that source of issues reduced, you may even be able to help reduce the number of interpersonal issues as well.

We are Working In Ghost Towns

I have recently had the opportunity to visit several of our companies other corporate offices as well as several of our customers at their locations. It was during these trips that I realized how much we had in common with our customers, and what the new norm seems to be in business. It seems that we are all working in ghost towns.

I visited major corporate offices in both the East and Mid-West and was surprised by how close to the front door I could park. I just pulled in and was only a few steps from the door. Initially I put it down to the fact that I prefer to get into the office a little earlier than average. It usually gives me time to get prepared for the day’s meetings.

During the day I had the occasion to look out the windows from one of the upper floors at the parking lot, and it didn’t look any better. It was far less than half full. This got me to thinking. I started to pay a little more attention to my surroundings in the building. It was quiet. Too quiet. There wasn’t a soul around.

I started to walk down a few random aisles. Most of the cubicles and offices were dark, with no name plates on them. The only real sound was the uneven whine-hum of the air conditioning system. If a tumbleweed had blown by I would have thought I was in one of those high plains desert westerns.

It was very similar at our customer’s locations as well. There were very few cars in the parking lot and even fewer people to be seen around the building.

I can remember back to a time (not so long ago) when if you were not at the office early in the morning there was a very real chance that you might not find a parking space. I can also remember (not too fondly) having to wait my turn through multiple elevators to make my way to an office on the upper floors of a building. It was a very lively and busy time.

I understand that the Telecom-Technology markets have had a reset, and that there have been some significant staff reductions. Some poor decisions by some companies and the general business downturn have helped to create a reduced resource demand. Companies no longer have or need the staffs they once carried during the market expansion periods.

I also think that we are now starting to fall victim to the very technology we have created to help increase our productivity. As a mobile business society we had to create the capability to be productive in those times when we were not in the office. In most cases this meant when we were out on the road. We needed remote access and all the other applications that we used when we were in the office. And we got them.

We got so good at working outside the office that it seems we have never gone back to it. It now appears that even people who live very close to their companies offices are choosing to work at home. In many instances companies are encouraging this arrangement. They are seeing the opportunity to reduce their overhead allocations for office space by having fewer people in the office. This helps the business unit’s bottom line by reducing the corporate overhead allocation for office space, but doesn’t seem to help the overall company since the office space is still there, but now it is just sitting empty and idle.

This brings me back to my topic. Our offices were once centers of activity. Teams worked, shared and collaborated face to face in the past. There was energy in the office and a general feeling of optimism. Now for both technical and economic reasons there far fewer people in the office. This seems to be the case with most offices. You walk around and there is no one there. It is quiet.

It doesn’t sound, look or feel like there is any activity or work being done in the office. If it doesn’t feel like there is a positive feeling for those of us still in the office, what can the feeling be for those who are outside the office? Those that are connected to the office through remote access technology (alone in their homes, or out on the road) surely can’t feel anymore, and in most cases are feeling much less comfortable with the progress of the business. Those that are now unemployed feel fully disconnected and are even less comfortable about it.

The office needs to be the center of our business activity. The office needs to be a place where people work and share their insights and opinions. I think we need to start getting people back into the office. We need to start by reducing the acceptability of remote and virtual office utilization. We need to encourage people who live near the office to come to the office. We need to increase both the activity and the activity level in the office.

We need to consolidate our office structures so that we do not have these vast stretches of empty, dark cubicles and offices reminding us of how good times were in the past, and how they are not so good now. We need to at least start to try and put energy and positive attitude back into the office if we are going to expect energy and positive attitude from the business in general. The only way that I am aware of getting energy and positive attitude is with people.

When the people are not there, neither is energy. The offices are relatively empty and dark without people. The convenience of virtual offices seems to me to be something of a contributing factor to the low energy and less than fully positive attitude that appears to be the norm in the office. Without people, working in the office is like working in a ghost town.

We need to start getting the people back in the office.

Cloud Computing – Yes, Cloud Management – No

As the use of cloud computing proliferates, the ability to access applications via the network without having a defined path or structure to them, we also seem to be proliferating “Cloud Management”. Cloud management is the creation of a matrix structured organization where both responsibilities and reporting structures are overlapped.


Cloud management can occur when Sales reports via a geographic structure, Operations, Marketing and Support report into functional structures and customers are organized by vertical market alignments. The cloud gets worse when none of these reporting structures converge until the very senior most levels in the organization.


The net result is that usually each reporting structure begins to duplicate aspects of the other functions due to the number and difficulty of management hand-offs and the lack of overall alignment. Sales will create operations and support “like” groups, operations will create sales and support “like” groups,etc. to make sure that their needs are looked after.


When multiple groups have similar responsibilities, it ends up that no group has final responsibility.One group will always think another has the responsibility, and can point somewhere else when the goal is not achieved. The matrix organization structure can be very elegant in theory, but very difficult to implement and work well. Organizations where reporting structures, responsibilities and objectives are clear, simple and defined reduce functional overlap and clear up the business confusion that the “Cloud”can create.