Structure in a Performance-Based Culture
Regardless of culture, industry, or business model, organizations need a structure for logical division and coordination of work in order to be successful. This structure must make sense to employees and provide clear expectations; direct manager-employee reporting relationships and appropriate feedback mechanisms; and cross-apply specialized skills. Even employee-owned organizations, such as DLR Group, need a clearly defined structure so each of us can perform our best.
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 desired skills, but allows for application and cross-training with other skills. Cross-training enables employees to learn from others with different skill sets, as well as to master the functional skills employees must utilize and manage 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. This approach also facilitates consistent application throughout the organization, and logical methodology for development and evaluation.
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 for a defined period of time until project completion. The team leader is usually not involved in managing team member careers or skill development, but rather applies those skills to the task at hand.
Setting up Structures
Structures primarily operate in two different ways: Mechanical or organic. Mechanical organizations are more rigid with tighter spans of control, while organic structures are more fluid in terms of 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 naturally present bottleneck that affects decision making. Organic structures can encounter 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. 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, and client needs rather than professional needs alone.
The Principles of a Successful Performance-Based Culture
Five principles can help define structure in a performance-based culture to ensure consistently successful results across an organization.
- Clearly and consistently defined expectations: These are typically found in role descriptions and are managed within a function.
- Single manager for employees: An employee should have one person they go to who is responsible for their employment, compensation, goal setting, and development.
- Provide cross-training: Cross-functional teams and work groups provide opportunities for employees to apply unique skills alongside those of other functions.
- Frequent feedback: Regardless of the review structure, feedback should be compiled from peers, project managers, team leaders, and others with whom the employee frequently works for a singular source of delivery.
- Accountability for results: If all of the above principles exist, the environment is set for results-based accountability versus activity-based accountability.
Where Structure Meets Substance
An individual’s role must be clearly defined in terms of expectations and performance measurement. Every role is a piece of the puzzle. If it doesn’t fit the puzzle, the role is in the wrong puzzle box. The purpose of a role description, for example, is to define the shape of that puzzle piece to make sure it fits into the overall solution.
The content of a role description should be a clear outline of task and purpose for that individual. Think of how you work through a puzzle. Most people start by laying out the edge pieces and corner pieces, which is a pretty easy and efficient way to start. Next, many will group pieces by color or image. Finally, as a matter of preference, some 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.
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 ensure it was applied correctly to organizational standards. 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
Think about your favorite 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 player performance after a game and providing 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 within the cross-functional team on the field. When the play is over, 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. 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; every player knows what his or her role is; and they all receive coaching and training specific to their role.
Establishing a proper and consistent structure brings clarity to everyone. To thrive, employees need consistency with whom to discuss performance, promotion, compensation, or any other issues. An organization needs consistency in how employee groups are structured, managed, and skills applied.
Interested in joining our performance-based team? Visit our careers page to see if DLR Group is looking for someone with your skill set.