reporting lines blog
Fewer reporting lines, more story lines
Hans Donckers
For those over the age of 14, there’s a good chance you’ve worked (or are still working) at an organization that places far too much emphasis on reporting lines. Where they encourage employees to focus on an overly narrow set of tasks until everyone is competing with each other over minor details of how tasks should be done, whose job is more important, and the typical corporate drama. These companies will often even try to implement results-based performance evaluations, wherein each person is judged based on how quickly and effectively they perform their own narrow range of tasks.

As well-meaning as they are in implementing such performance-based reports, too often these systems function entirely to give people even more incentive to narrow the focus of their function within the company, and fight harder to ensure that these metrics are maximized regardless of the impact on the company. These organizational failings can be distilled into a single failure: Disconnecting Process from Product.

Painfully slow

Placing importance on how things are done, rather than why they are being done, can be a death knell for any organization if left unaddressed. Under the best of conditions, these companies respond painfully slowly to changes in the market. Instead of quickly adapting to give customers and coworkers what they need, each detail of change turns into a maze of administrative process, focusing on the paperwork and approval systems. By the time anything actually happens in the organization, your competitors are already one step ahead of you, and the required change has been revised so many times by different department managers that it won’t be exactly correct, anyway. To make things even worse, all this extraneous nonsense really reduces productivity, so that you’re paying far more per unit of production than you should be.

Scrapping the red tape

Production. That’s really the point, though, isn’t it? Is everyone in the company looking to the story lines of the company’s purpose in producing something that improves the lives of their customers, or is everyone looking to the reporting lines of task and process? This is the difference between leaders, and those who are just managers. By empowering employees and streamlining operations, an effective leader can drive each person to take ownership of their role and define their professional success based on what they have done to help the company succeed. By scrapping all the administrative red tape, everything moves much more quickly and costs far less money, which translates directly into both a stronger competitive position as well as more efficient operations. It also helps employees contribute more directly, sharing in the goal of the organization and achieving a bit of self-actualization as they get to see their decisions and suggestions really have an improvement on their customers and coworkers.

The way in which things are done should not be ignored, particularly as companies grow and they need to standardize specific operations for consistency. Abstract purpose isn’t very useful if people don’t know how they can help to work toward that purpose. A company is most effective, though, when it has been engineered to ensure people are putting that purpose into concrete actions.

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Hans Donckers
hans@beanmachine.be