mployee engagement is one of the most differentiating factors between successful companies and those that never reach their potential. A recent study, “Measuring the Benefits of Employee Engagement” by MIT’s Sloan Review, found that, across the board “growth in profit occurs in companies whose employees were highly engaged.”
Mindful design and transformation strategies help organizations cultivate employee engagement and develop the right skills, capabilities, and processes to achieve a competitive advantage.
The organization that learns fastest is the one that wins. This requires the capability to rapidly test a hypothesis, uncover insights and implement lessons. Building internal processes that streamline roles and responsibilities is key, as is removing unnecessary complexities.
“When you are working on org design, you need to start with the business strategy first and be super-clear on what the business needs for today and tomorrow,” advised Ana White, executive vice president and chief HR operating officer of F5 Networks Inc., a technology company in Seattle.
Organizational structures and processes should streamline, not create, work. Scalable processes that are understandable and well-documented foster a culture of productivity. Simplification and clarification are critical when defining responsibilities and designating work.
Avoid complexity in systems and processes that creates distraction or inefficiency. Employees need the resources to succeed without clumsy processes or extra oversight.
“Focus on purpose, not people,” said Shelly Cerio, senior vice president of HR at Nvidia, a technology company headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif. “Too many [organizational] designs, reflected in the org chart, start with a person’s name on top. It’s not about the person but it is about the mission of what needs to be achieved. Progress toward this purpose will decide the degree of success. Don’t organize around a person. It leads to organizational dependency. Put the best person on that mission and at different stages—as needs change—change out the leader.”
Before streamlining your processes, define key objectives and priorities. Then take stock of what tools are available. Next, think through potential challenges that may surface while the team is engaged in its work.
Change can streamline workflow issues, but it’s a mistake to restructure a team to respond to staffing or people issues.
“Too often, org restructuring happens to address people issues—not the right skills or wrong mindset,” Cerio pointed out. “The right people will focus on the mission and collaborate to get the most important things for the company done.
“These people place company over their own org areas. Take the people out who do not have the values and invest in the people who have the values not the skills. You can develop skills. You can’t change your values.”
All stakeholders, including your team, benefit from diligent planning, thoughtful rollout and regular oversight. Be cognizant of your audience, including all stakeholders involved in your team’s results. Ask what they need and how the organization’s processes can ensure that you deliver on those needs.
Too many management layers create clusters, imprecise decision-making, bureaucracy and inefficiency. Strengthen your employees’ voices and champion your customers’ needs. A simple structure serves everyone better.
Analyze how many employees each manager oversees. Leaders should not be measured by the number of direct reports they have; the manager’s influence and impact are what matter. A highly adaptable span of control allows important work to move fluidly, which benefits everyone.
Keep your teams small and scrappy. Consider Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ “two-pizza rule”: If it takes more than two pizzas to feed your team, the team is too big.
Wendy Barnes, senior vice president and chief HR officer at Palo Alto Networks, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., recommended a nuanced metric to team size. “Conduct a comparison to benchmark peers and consider each type of role,” she said. “Some roles can more easily function with a greater span of control, so this emphasizes the importance of how informative it is to look at the benchmarking data for your industry and role.
“In high-tech, for example, you see a benchmark target of a seven-employees-to-one-leader ratio, but this is a generalization across the various functions. Operating around a benchmark number has shown benefits relative to speed, flexibility and reduced bureaucracy.”
As the leader, you set the bar to implement and maintain processes. You’re also a key culture creator. If you want to build a system that promotes collaboration, model the collaboration you want to see on your team.
“In today’s global operating structure,” Cerio said, “there are very few circumstances where a single [business unit] leader can truly own all the knowledge, skills [and] resources they need to execute toward the mission. It requires the support from numerous other teams. A team of one can accomplish great things if all the necessary people come to their aid when asked. You need a culture of people asking for help and people willingly giving help.”
Shape the culture, and then mirror it tirelessly.
People process change at different speeds, and your employees may have different feelings about this transition, questioning how necessary it is, how disruptive it is and how it compares with past structure.
Employee buy-in champions transformation. Your change agents and early adopters position you to succeed; earning their confidence and support is one of your most important initiatives.
“The key is helping your employees embrace the change from the start,” Barnes said. “Address what’s known and what isn’t, maintain open lines of communication, set expectations for when we’ll have more information and listen for the questions unasked.
“At end of the day,” she added, “the goal is to create alignment while reducing anxiety. We want to help move people through the change curve and generate positive energy.”
As the leader and change agent of the team and process, you have the opportunity to usher your team through an important transformation, which has tremendous growth potential for them and for you.
Tammy Perkins is managing partner and chief people officer of Seattle-based Fjuri, a marketing consultancy. Prior to joining Fjuri, she worked with major brands and startups including Amazon, Microsoft and Appen.