98 – Is your organisation an echosystem? How would you know, … know, … know?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          530 words

The scream

Does everything seem to echo around? Messages are usually heard when they reverberate off distant walls? Management decisions are revisited regularly – ‘Hasn’t a decision been made on that already?’ Worse still are the matters that keep coming up, decisions aren’t made and they keep going up and down the organisational hierarchy. Perhaps your echosystem is afflicted by re-managing.

I suppose you are thinking what is ‘re-managing’. I didn’t invent the term. I have borrowed it from Managing the White Space by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache. They use it to describe the behaviour of senior managers when they re-manage the work already carried out by the managers below them. In local government the senior managers are typically Directors or Group Managers. You may ask why they find the need to do this. After all, haven’t they got more ‘strategic’ work to do?

Rummler and Brache describe re-managing as a result of an organisation being managed according to its functional structure instead of its processes. This occurs when managers view the organisation as a vertical functional structure. They argue that seeing the organisation this way affects managers’ behaviour and that they start to manage the organisational chart instead of the business. This creates and reinforces silos that impede cross-functional decision making and, as a result, more of the decisions required at the critical interfaces between functions rise up to the silo managers. When managers fail to make the required decisions, or they encounter interface issues themselves, enter senior management.

Senior management then become involved in making decisions, many of which are highly operational. Sometimes they can do this alone but frequently they too have interface issue. Silos seem to go all the way to the top. This leads to situations where people start to say, ‘that will need to go to the Executive’. The Executive meetings are longer or more frequent. Agenda items are deferred or postponed. Executive meetings become a decision making forum despite assertions from its members that it doesn’t make decisions. In reality, being required to wait for a decision until the Executive has considered an issue and provided their view is effectively making the decision.   Although, maybe it is technically just ‘decision stopping’. You decide.

What is the solution? Rummler and Brache suggest that you take a systems view of your organisation and recognise the horizontal process dimension (as well as the vertical functional dimension) and appoint owners for the major processes, especially those that deliver services to customers. They would make sure that processes meet customer and internal requirements. Critical interface management would become their responsibility and they would work with functional managers to achieve functional goals that have been aligned with process goals. As Rummler and Brache describe it, the process owner is the ‘conscience, evaluator and champion’ for their process.

There are already process owners in local government; we just don’t call them that. Corporate Planners, Procurement Coordinators and Recruitment Officers all own processes. Mostly they are internally focussed and councils have yet to explore applying the same approach to services to the community. What if we did? No silos. No interface conflicts. No need for re-managing. No echo, … echo, … echo.

Rummler, Geary A., and Brache, Alan P., 1991. Managing the White Space, Training, January.