August 2011


Check out Michael's recent headlining article in Perspectives, entitled:

Top 10 Signs that You Are NOT Taking a Strategic Approach to Talent"


The Organization Chart is Dead!

I first read about the concept of "white space on an organization chart" in the 1990 book by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache, Improving Performance: Managing the White Spaces on the Organization Chart. The importance of organization white space came rushing back to me recently after working with technical leaders, engineers and program managers at two global manufacturers. In both instances, we were discussing what it takes to be successful as a technical leader, now and into the future. It dawned on me that organization charts no longer even come close to depicting the way we work (even if we add dotted lines!)

Who-reports-to-who doesn't make much difference when most employees really don't just have a job in a department anymore. Their critical contributions come from the roles they play in key business processes (which could be several) and on project teams (which are usually multiple). No one really has a single boss - employees may spend more time with process and project leaders than with their "manager." Managers of major product platforms don't have anyone reporting to them but must accomplish mission-critical customer projects through multiple cross-functional teams.

Rummler and Brache wrote about effectively managing the white space on the chart. I believe the additional challenge in this millennium is helping employees navigate the white space successfully. The background has become foreground.

The success factors for leadership have changed. Some employees are OK with not having a clearly defined box on a chart. They are comfortable when things are up in the air, can shift gears comfortably, and are flexible and adaptable. They are agile learners that know how to get things done in the organization and can manage by remote control and communication. They can influence others in multiple ways.

The problem � these employee competencies are often rare skills that are difficult to develop. It is more likely that employees are comfortable with a box, a single boss, and stability.

So what's a company to do? Send the org chart to the dungeon! Long live "Network Descriptions Of Multiple Role Charts" . . . ummm, that doesn't work . . . how about "Un-Organizational Charts". . . that wouldn't sound good to the investors . . . how about "" . . .

My point - let's begin by communicating that work is complex and that things will be ambiguous at times. The message starts by changing the competencies on which we hire, coach and develop critical talent. Management by annual objectives may not always be the best tool. Our compensation and reward systems need to change from being job-based to recognizing role and project contributions.

The Organization Chart is Dead! Long Live (Fill In The Blank)!

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Are Customers or Employees Your Most Valuable Asset?

. . . that was the question on a recent LinkedIn discussion. At first, I thought this was not a question worth pondering. Who cares? I than began thinking that there was something useful in thinking about a response.

From a strictly balance sheet perspective (items that constitute the total value of an organization) the answer is simple. Receivables from customers are assets and employee payroll obligations are liabilities. Case closed.

However, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal indicated that the valuation of today's businesses comes from three intangibles � customer base, intellectual property, and brand (think Google.) Potentially, you could acquire a company by paying for these three assets; get rid of all the employees and still have the same value. (The value would quickly erode without employees to maintain and grow value but that wasn't the question.) The answer — customers again.

Another definition of an asset is "somebody that is useful and contributes to the success of something". AHA! Then the answer is employees or both employees and customers, right? Well, I'm not so sure. I think the answer is more nuanced. Not all customers contribute to the success of an organization. Some are not value buyers, cost more to acquire and maintain then they are worth and should be dropped. In the same way, not all employees are value providers that contribute to the success of an organization. Some jobs exist because they are a business necessity, not because they add value.

So my answer is, "It depends." It depends on the value proposition that the organization uses to exert influence in the market place. Employees and customers that contribute to that strategy are assets. The benefit in asking the question is making sure that your organization's value proposition is clear.

Which customers and employees are assets for your company and how will you decide the answer?

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Having Hard Conversations with Subordinates

By Timothy Edris
Emerging Leaders Institute


My subordinate is performing his duties well but his interactions with co-workers are abysmal. What do I do with this guy?


Hard conversations at work are a reality of any work situation. How we handle them is one competency that differentiates highly effective managers. The conversation is about helping a subordinate understand the destructive effect he has on those around him as well as making efforts to preserve his identity in the process. When people can separate their behavior from their identity, they are much more apt to hear the feedback and make positive changes.

Do you have the track record in place with them to be influential or not? If you can honestly say yes, then you will have an easier time setting up the conversation. If not, then you have a little more work to do. Lets look the some steps an effective leader would use to handle this situation.

  1. Make this a face-to-face conversation and not one done via email or phone call. You need to be able to read all the cues that are being presented during that conversation, and email and phone drastically limit your ability.
  2. Set up a time when you and your subordinate can meet. Tell him it about leadership development and an opportunity for him. This will initially set the tone that this is not a meeting about coming down on him.
  3. Do a little bit of preparation before the meeting. What do you hope you will accomplish with this conversation? What is the ideal end goal? What is your purpose for calling the meeting? What is not the purpose of this meeting? By doing this little bit of homework you now have a very straightforward and helpful way to start your conversation.
  4. Ask permission to share the perceptions with him and then brainstorm some ways to increase his influence via addressing the perceptions. This step reinforces that you are on his side and are inviting him to an adult conversation.
  5. Provide some concrete examples of how his past behavior has kept him from being influential with his fellow employees. Often people need to see their behavior linked to consequences in order to see how it is affecting them.
  6. Invite the employee to share his perspective of the situations. He needs to have some say in this conversation. Hearing his perspective can help figure out the best course of action.
For more ideas on handling hard conversations, you can read the full posting at:

This article is an excerpt from Eli's Blog, A place to find practical information
for your organizational culture and leadership.

Timothy Edris
Emerging Leaders Institute
[email protected]

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