What Now: The Future of HR – Part 2: Organizational Structure
*This blog is based on a presentation given by BambooHR CEO, Ben Peterson, at the 2017 Summit about the future of HR. In part two of this three-part series, we’ll discuss how best to navigate our organizations’ changing organizational structure.
As people’s expectations are changing, organizational structure is changing along with them. The speed of organizational evolution is increasing. We need to respond to this fundamental shift by thinking more about where and how people get their best work done.
We’re seeing a constant cycle of change, and even the simplest technology changes can have far-reaching consequences. Adding a new accounting program or support desk software might change role responsibilities, reporting accountability, headcount needs, and more. And then when these programs upgrade in six months, it can all happen again, not just in one department, but throughout your organization.
In the past, many organizations relied on centralized or decentralized structures, where one or a few leaders handled most of the strategy, and training programs only needed review once in a great while. Now, leadership is more about developing the strategic thinking to keep up with constantly shifting data, including changes in the people who are working for us.
Research around teams has been especially fun to watch. I think of how teams collaborate and strive for efficiencies in their processes; from how QA interacts with product development, how content creation services marketing needs, and HR workflows interacts with all departments for onboarding and training.
Why do some teams succeed and others fail? What attributes of people, projects, individual behaviors, and organizational structure lead to a long-lasting—not short-term—successful outcome in the fastest possible way?
Google wanted to know the answers to these questions. So, after their successful research into what makes a great manager, they undertook Project Aristotle and started studying what makes a successful team. As they put it, since everything at Google revolves around data and statistics, they thought they could find the optimized, quantifiable combination of experience, personality, leadership skills, and friendship to make the perfect team.
What they found, though, was that those qualities did little to predict a team’s success. What ended up mattering most wasn’t any one team member’s attributes, but the dynamics of the team itself. They listed five attributes:
- Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high-quality work on time?
- Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
- Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
- Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
When it comes to the full effects of our organizational structure, our work space matters, how we communicate matters, how we behave towards one another matters. And, encompassing all of these factors and more, culture matters.
From Perks to Permanent
Look at the different methods employed by various firms, especially in high tech, to attract and retain talent: laundry service and an onsite chef, yoga classes, game rooms, dry cleaning; the list goes on. Many people think of these perks when you mention culture.
But what does the data say? It says that the impact of these artificial substitutes is short-lived. It doesn’t take long for employees to see the truth of your workplace. All the perks in the world can’t whitewash a toxic environment, especially if employees see them as strategies to keep people in the office for longer hours. And what happens when 40 percent of your workforce is suddenly scattered across the globe?
Instead of short-lived substitutes, we need to focus on the questions that really matter. Is my work meaningful to me? Do I have a cause? Do I have influence, purpose, alignment? Without these, our workers will succumb to distractions, whether they’re from the perks we provide or the worries and cares they bring with them.
I’m not saying that the perks don’t matter or can’t work. But every perk you offer should support one of your goals and have a well-defined purpose.
A successful organizational structure is a function of the individual’s ability to learn, change, and execute. When you create a strong culture that focuses on preserving these individuals’ needs and developing them into effective teams, then you’ve taken the first step toward keeping up with the changing world.
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