The Importance of Structure in a Performance-Based Culture

— December 20, 2017

The Importance of Structure in a Performance-Based Culture

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Regardless of culture, industry, occupation and business model, all organizations must have a structure that consists of a logical division and coordination of work to be successful. It must make sense to employees and provide clear expectations, direct manager/employee reporting relationships, the proper feedback and cross-application of specialized skills.

The Principles of a Successful Performance-Based Culture

Adhering to these five principles of structure in a performance-based culture will ensure consistency in results across an organization.

1. Clearly and Consistently Defined Expectations. These are typically found in role descriptions and are managed within a function.

2. Single Manager for Employees. An employee should have one person they go to who is responsible for their employment, compensation, goal setting and development.

3. Provide Cross-Training. Cross-functional teams and work groups provide the opportunity for employees to apply their unique skill sets alongside those of other functions.

4. Frequent Feedback. Regardless of the review structure, feedback should be compiled from peers, project managers, team leaders and others who the employee frequently works with.

5. Accountability for Results. If all the above exist, the environment is set for results-based accountability vs. activity based accountability.

Setting up Structures

Structures primarily operate in two different ways, either mechanical or organic. Mechanical organizations are more rigid with tighter spans of control while organic structures are more fluid in terms of span of control and decision making. Mechanical structures work well in process-driven environments where decisions need to be made at the top and tight control over operations is required. Organic structures work well in dynamic environments that need to move quickly.

The biggest danger of a mechanical structure is the bottleneck that is naturally present affecting decision making. Organic structures will find themselves in danger if roles are not well defined with clear expectations.

In both environments, a functional structure is required to organize employees into groups that require certain knowledge, skills and abilities that are led by an individual with the same. This allows organizations to divide work based on specialization, which creates greater synergies, quality and efficacy. Providing the opportunity to work on cross-functional projects or teams avoids silos and keeps everyone focused on products, services, clients needs rather than their professional needs.

Questions To Ask

Do you have distinctly different skill sets and disciplines?
Do these skills sets have their own distinct standards in application?
Do these skill sets require different training and development?
If these three conditions exist a functional structure must be established.

Performance-based Cultures Rely on Structure

The ability to apply varied skill sets within an organization requires a structure that not only develops and fosters those skills, but allows for application and cross-training with other skills. Cross-training enables employees to learn from others with different skill sets, but to master their functional skill sets employees must work with and be managed within their specialization.

Performance management and career development are most successful when managed within a specialization since employees are usually applying their specialized skill set in their work. It also facilitates consistent application throughout the organization of those specialized skills, a consistent method for evaluating those skills, and a consistent method for developing those skills.

On the other hand, high-performing teams typically excel because members are able to take on defined roles, usually based on a specialized skill set. In this case, the cross-functional team is usually assembled for a defined period of time until project completion. The team leader is usually not involved in managing their career or developing their specialized skills, but rather applying those skills to the task at hand.

In order to achieve certain outcomes, an organization needs to leverage specialized skill sets and apply them in cross-functional teams to produce desired outcomes, services and products. This is only successful when those skills are properly developed, applied and managed.

Where Structure Meets Substance

An individual’s role must be clearly defined in terms of expectations and how their performance will be measured to avoid people just showing up and working on stuff. Every role is a piece of the puzzle. If it doesn’t fit the puzzle it’s in the wrong puzzle box. Therefore the purpose of a role description, for example, is to define the shape of that puzzle piece to make sure it fits in the puzzle.

The content of a role description is outlining task and purpose for that individual. And if outlined correctly is the international language of how that role/specialization fits into the cross-functional team, known as the puzzle.

Think of how you work through a puzzle. Most people will separate out the edge pieces and corner pieces. This is a pretty easy and efficient way to start. Then many begin grouping pieces by color or image. Finally, as a matter of preference, some will start building the edge or some will start putting together the unique images. Either way, the assembler is applying the identifiable aspects of the pieces to completing the puzzle. An edge piece goes on the edge, it’s pretty clear.

Specialized skill sets should be managed in much the same way. The functional leader needs to evaluate the technical application of the employee’s skills and work to ensure it was applied correctly and based on the standards of the organization. It only makes sense, that this same leader is responsible for evaluating, hiring, coaching, rewarding, and if needed, terminating employees within the function. All these things are tied together and can’t be accomplished by separate individuals.

Bringing it All Together

Establishing a proper and consistent structure brings clarity to everyone. To thrive, employees need consistency in who to discuss performance, promotion, compensation, or any other issues with. An organization needs consistency in how employee groups are structured, managed, and skills applied.

Another example of this is any sports team. A football team has a hierarchical structure comprised of about 10 different coaches all responsible for different functions. They are responsible for training plans, positioning of the players and application of those positions in certain situations. They are responsible for evaluating their performance after a game and provide the necessary coaching and development. However, when a play is being run on the field, all those coaches sit on the sideline and watch their players to see if they are applying their skills appropriately to the cross-functional team that’s on the field being. When the play is over, the coaches are there to give immediate feedback and guidance for the next opportunity.

After the game, and during practice the quarterback coach is not working with the linebackers and the defensive line coach is not working with the kicker. No, each coach is working specifically with their position players to improve performance before the next game.

This same philosophy is what makes up an effective performance-based culture where highly specialized skill sets are developed, managed and then brought together on a cross-functional team. Just like the football team, every player knows what the play is, and every player knows what their role is and they all receive coaching and training specific to their role.

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Author: Jesse Kook

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