by Peter B. Nichol

First, define “good” to scale your organization

Oct 29, 2019
IT Leadership

Reposition your organization for success by connecting your vision to behaviors for organizational growth.

leading tech bench mark measuring success measure tape
Credit: Getty Images

Next year will be here soon. As the new year begins, your leadership will be shouldered with the same challenges. Team gaps that slowed progress this year will still be present unless the team structure, department, and organization change.

Have you recently been asked to step in and help transform an underperforming team? What’s the first thing you do? Maybe you quickly identify low-hanging fruit (immediate gaps) that could be solved in under 30 days. Next, you might explore tactical areas (short-term wins) that could be addressed in 30-90 days. Finally, you may look at strategic areas that would take more than 90 days to solve (game changers). There’s just one problem. You’re taking the same approach and applying the same tools as your predecessor.

Stop asking your team what activities they’re doing. That approach doesn’t work. What does work is defining “good” up front.

Use influence to define “good”

Constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower today remains one of the most-visited monuments in the world that visitors have to pay to see. The tower spans 324 meters—about the height of an 81-story building. Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier were co-designers of the Eiffel Tower and published the first designs of the tower in 1884. However, credit for the tower’s final design and engineering is usually attributed to Gustave Eiffel.

Eiffel had a vision of what good looked like, which was based on the influence of existing architectural excellence. Eiffel could have modeled the tower’s structure to be similar to the copper Statue of Liberty designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. His vision could have mirrored the Washington Monument, designed originally by the architect Robert Mills and constructed of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss. The Washington Monument was also the tallest structure in the world at the time. Eiffel might have leveraged the design of the Cologne Cathedral as a model of architectural brilliance, illuminating the original Medieval plan. The cathedral was completed in 1880 and is constructed of stone with wooden internal features.

Despite the more than 5,300 plans and drawings that had been created for the tower, Eiffel took an alternative approach. He first defined good and then took advantage of progressive materials available at the time—specifically, puddling iron, a precursor to construction steel.

Focus on the right stuff

You’re not alone in your struggle. Each day in the office, you’re putting out fires. Business relationship managers (BRMs) are fighting to move from tactical order takers to trusted strategic partners. You strive to have that strategic discussion, pontificating upon a mythical day in which there’s team stability and consistent value delivery nine months down the road.

Inevitably, the harsh reality of today’s organizational dysfunction brings you back to address recurring problems—problems thought to have been previously solved. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • The license for one of your development products expired.
  • A vendor was working at risk after a statement-of-work expired.
  • Resources had been working hard—just on the wrong stuff.
  • Work appeared to be happening, but the outcomes weren’t being realized.
  • The team size was perceived as bloated, yet delivery continued to waffle.
  • A hero complex was embraced when issues arose, and root-cause analysis was an afterthought.
  • Operational urgencies had bled out strategic energy.

Often, leaders fail to define good before taking action. When absorbing a new team that’s struggling to perform or recharging an existing team, don’t ask everyone on the team what activities they perform. At best, you’ll document the current state of activities that defined low performance; at worst, you’ll miss the real activities not being performed that directly contribute to the dysfunction of the team. You must first define good.

A blueprint for organizational redesign

Let’s take a lesson from Eiffel about his approach to building the Eiffel Tower. A similar approach can be used to shift organizations from low-performing to high-performing.

The Applied Convergence for Organizational Excellence approach (ACOE, pronounced as “ace”) is a technique I’ve modeled over the years. The process has 10 steps to help you define good for your organization or team.

  1. Apply frameworks for influence
  2. Elaborate specialized roles
  3. Align capabilities to roles
  4. Assess the capabilities
  5. Clarify the roles
  6. Define good
  7. Map individuals to roles
  8. Interview for role misalignment
  9. Reset job responsibilities
  10. Share the vision

You now have defined good.

Illuminating the journey to good

Apply frameworks for influence means basing your capabilities on one or more frameworks such as Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT), Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), IT Service Management (ITSM), Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), or IT Capability Maturity Framework (IT-CMF).

Elaborate specialized roles means you expand each capability or function into roles that would be applicable for the most mature and specialized organization.

Align capabilities to roles refers to defining twelve core roles and aligns all capabilities into one of these twelve roles.

Assess the capabilities involves reviewing each capability to determine the maturity level of that capability (0% non-existent, 25% developing, 50% defined, 75% managed, or 100% optimized).

Clarify the roles means capturing individual feedback and ensuring that resources participate and provide feedback on the roles.

Define good is a step that sets the stage for what good looks like in terms of organizational capabilities and roles.

Map individuals to roles refers to linking existing individuals to the newly defined roles.

Interview for role misalignment involves asking each individual in a role today to identify responsibilities they believe are within their job description. It doesn’t matter if the resource says, “yes, it’s in my role” or “no, that’s outside my responsibility.” Your goal is to identify the gaps not being addressed today; e.g., the gap between poor performance and your definition of good. A simple application of this step is to put the role responsibilities in a two-column, PowerPoint slide and then highlight any responsibility the resource feels is outside the scope of their work in blue. The responsibilities in blue highlight the organizational gaps by role to get to good.

Reset job responsibilities means creating a new job baseline for the resources and establishing clear ownership for all capabilities and functions.

Finally, Share the vision is a process that communicates the converged vision of the new capabilities and roles across your organization.

At this point, you’ve defined good. The current organization’s responsibilities are clear, and the gaps to advance the organization to good are identified by role.

Champagne at the top

It’s important to consider the influence of great organizations when designing organizational structures to foster high-performance teams. However, like Eiffel, be sure to apply new materials, ideas, tools, and techniques in your approach. The creators of existing organizations didn’t have the luxury of incorporating these new patterns and designs into their models. If they did, maybe they’d be on top of the Eiffel Tower, toasting at the champagne bar. It’s hard to beat a good glass of bubbly.

Your peers are going to suggest you survey individuals to understand organizational gaps by taking an inventory to capture all the aspects of poor performance. Think differently—play chess while your competitors are playing checkers—and begin by defining good.