Saturday, November 27, 2004

Organisational Roles for 21st century Business

One of the key questions faced by leaders and managers is how to tap new opportunities through creative and innovative use of resources. The dimensions of this question are very vast. Some teams within the organization seem to be regularly innovative and creative in identifying and encashing opportunities in the business environment. Some others are lost in dealing with the daily grind. Organizations seize opportunities much better under some leaders than others. Why is this so? Is there any particular way or method to structure the organization to identify and tap new opportunities?

Organisations comprise:
  1. Skill sets: These represent areas of expertise available within the organisation. So Accounting is a skill set and so is Production.
  2. Relationships: These represent how the skill sets are interlinked to achieve the objectives of the organisation.

Tapping new opportunities requires developing "new" skill set or "new" inter-relationship between skill sets to achieve the new objectives. This determines how effectively we can tap the opportunity. If the "new" is a radical depart from the "old" we have disruptive change.


Unleash the "scouts": The job of the scout is to explore the "new" and translate it into meaningful opportunity relevant to the team and communicate it to the team. Organizations seldom have "identified" or marked" scouts. I cannot comment if scouts can be trained or they are born but I can definitely tell you that they have unique set of skills that are hard to find.

Bringing in the commandos: Commando teams have been seen in movies and their potential glorified. Here is a recap of characteristics of commando teams in organizations:

  • They are "multi-skilled team".
  • They have "authority" to call-off or take forward the venture.
  • They are expert trainers (they have to train people to take their roles).
  • They have very detailed knowledge of organizational capabilities.
    organizations use Commando units as a pilot. Commando units often "bootleg" resources throughout organizations for the new venture. Scouts work closely with commando units initially. As soon as the success is ensured scouts move out of the business to get back to scouting.

Bring in the "bureaucrats": Bureaucrats is a wrong term to use (as it maligned) but these are system specialists. They setup vital processes that take the focus away from day-to-day details to value adding activities. They create skill sets at required points in the chain. Commandos usually do not form the systems as their multi-skilled approach is in direct contradiction to this concept.

Setting the course: During the course of time a leader emerges and he sets the course of this venture.


Losing the scouts: Scouts are hard to find. Organization often lets go of the scouts during the phase it is involved with setting up the processes. Motivation for the scouts comes from the "new". Indulgence with the old is frustrating for these. Scouts' job is different as often they come up with nothing. Organizations set up wrong expectations from scouts similar to what can be done for process based skills. Scouts cannot be put to 90% success rate rule. It stifles creativity. Do you know who the scouts are in your organizations?

Forgetting the commandos: For each new venture in the initial stage a lot of work is done unsystematically. Often the team does not know what are the challenges in store for them and are faced with precarious situations. Organizations that jump into new ventures minus the commandos fall flat because no amount of systems and processes can replace the thinking-on-the-feet commando. If luck prevails and there are no significant challenges in the new venture (then it hardly is a new venture) then it’s an exception. Are there enough commandos in your organization?
Morphing the commandos: After successfully starting the venture the organization expects the commandos to man and run it as efficiently as the bureaucrats, a tough ask. Organization almost always will lose able commandos to either bureaucrat or they may just leave the organization. Have you seen a commando sitting in as a bureaucrat?
Forgetting the bureaucrats: organizations based on commando culture have their survival dependent on key people. These people are often identified with the organization, but as soon as they leave they leave a huge hole in the organization. The skill of bureaucrats is that they embed organization knowledge into systems thus making organization's survival independent of the people. If you are working for company that survived for a few years, I bet you have seen them somewhere up there and wondered why they went there. Have you?
Leadership dilemma: Typically “bureaucrat” leaders prefer “bureaucrat” top management and so on. This is not conscious but a commando “understands” the working style of other “commando” better than others for obvious reasons. This kind of working is unfavorable for the organizations interest in the long term. Intuitively it seems that leaders are a different breed in themselves.