Friday, July 12, 2013

Reorganisations - the last refuge of the incompetent

There is one ritual that happens in all companies periodically without fail - an organisation restructuring. Old structures and divisions are thrown out of the window and new structures are announced. HR types take great pleasure in redrawing organisation charts, rewriting job descriptions and the like. Communication types have an orgasm designing communication packs and writing words like "restructuring to stimulate growth", "bringing the organisation closer to consumers" and such other waffle. CEOs like to stand up to the press and announce the change , to make up for lack of anything else to say about their companies. MIcrosoft did just that today, the trigger for this post. Steve Ballmer's version of the blah blah is "We are ready to take Microsoft in bold new directions". Balderdash. I have never seen a more futile activity than an organisation rejig. And yet companies do it all the time.

The pattern is all too predictable. If the current organisation is based on product lines, it will be made regional to "get closer to the consumers". If it is regional, it will be made based on product lines to globalise and take advantage of scale. People will be moved around in boxes on organisation charts. The new guys have to go on a round the world trip to familiarise themselves with their new responsibilities. Lots of presentations and power point charts. Every four years or so the charade is repeated.  None of this matters one iota to consumers and shareholders. The only gainers are probably the management consultants who make lots of money.

What a thorough waste of time and effort. Structures are important in organisations, but they matter less than you think. The primal instinct of marking territories and defending against invaders, is what structures are. Structures are boundaries where defences are erected , by petty minded egoistic manages who need to feel important. Much effort is actually expended in organisations in crossing structural boundaries. Seasoned operators build alliances and have informal channels through which they get things done.Formal structures matter little to the determined go getter.

The root of the problem is man's territorial instinct. Man likes to draw boundaries and defend everybody inside the boundary from everybody outside. Alpha males who inhabit the business world suffer from an acute affliction of this instinct. Chief Executives and Boards struggle to overcome this and get the entire organisation to operate seamlessly. Fat chance of that happening. In this quest, organisational restructuring is the placebo. The placebo is particularly touted by the HR function, as a magic cure, which gullible CEOs swallow all to easily.

If Microsoft's leaders think they can solve their fundamental problems and compete better with the likes of Google, by an organisational revamp, well, perhaps its time to write their obituary.