In my company, every so often we make changes to the management structure. Even so, apart from the appearance of a few new faces, not much seems to change. All the problems are still there. Ensuring that everybody is focused on the same goal is difficult, but what’s even harder is breaking down the resistance of the existing power centres.
Many of my executive training students agree that this quotation sums up the hurdles they encounter when they try to get their businesses to change course. This is why I feel it might be a good idea to set down a few advisory pointers aimed at concentrating the company’s efforts on the same goal without changing the management structure and setting off a power struggle. A CEO is often unable to do what he wants to do, because he is forced to do only what the existing power structure allows him to do, existing as he often does in a delicate power-balance situation. In other words, you have to work with what you have.
In my December Dialogue column, I said that focusing an organisation on the same goal meant you had two tasks to do: you had to make the power structure clear and you had to ensure the organisation was aligned behind the business project. Here are four keys to aligning the organisation without creating a power struggle:
1. Extract the transformation and future projects from the formal structure. It is common for one-off projects to become deadlocked because people want to manage them as though they were business as usual. They tend to collapse when they are allocated to sections of high-level organisational importance; or to sections where people feel threatened (and will do everything to kill it off); or newly-created sections (where people are willing but lack familiarity with the organisation).
A good solution for future projects is to set up “project structures” in the margin of the management structure. These will be run by the CEO; they will be allocated limited resources, but will be high level; they will be free to move horizontally within the business; and they will report regularly to the management committee.
2. Make use of management-applied technology in an intensive way. Investing in corporate applications is the best way to shatter power cells and prevent the growth of hubs outside the CEO’s control. Systems designed for budgeting, goal management, salary and effort assessment, logistics, sales, after-sales services – everything can be managed with technology, without causing power struggles.
3. Creating a decision-making model that guarantees consistency with the company vision and defends your reputation and brand as basic corporate assets. This move has enormous potential. It is difficult to vote against the launching of a project which includes training the team in a technical methodology that focuses on this goal. This project makes for all kinds of advantages from the alignment angle, because what it comes down to is the creation of your own management style without starting a power struggle.
4. Hire a group of young people and categorise them as a “corporate asset”. Some years ago, the CEO of a Spanish bank that was restructuring decided to take on a number of graduates and MBAs to revitalise the sales force. What was unusual was that these youngsters were classed as corporate assets because hierarchically they were part of the business unit to which they were allocated, and functionally they came under the HR department. Since they were seen as corporate assets, they had to rotate in the obligatory fashion through the various units until they reached their final destination. They were converted into a corporate asset and became the best in-house ambassadors for the transformation process.
There will certainly be other ways of lining up the whole organization behind the same goal. But it is equally certain that some of them will indeed result in that power struggle. In my opinion, maybe the time has come to remember the mantra of the 1960s – “make love, not war”. That’s the way to go: peace, love – and labour!
Alberto Andreu Corporate reputation, institutional relations and social innovation director, Telefónica, and professor of organizational behaviour at IE Business School