We’re doing it wrong?

Sabri Tuzcu
The process in business, for as long as I can remember (and I’m old so I can remember a lot, just not your name), is the following:

  • Create a strategy, a target that you want the organization to acheive
  • Restructure the organization so that it is more likely to achieve that target
  • Get the people onside, change the culture so that the strategy is achievable with the structure you created

Seems reasonable doesn’t it?

But what if it’s wrong?

Not just a little bit off, but the wrong order?  But how can it be?

Let’s take the example of an existing company that’s in the greeting card business.  The owner, however, has an idea, and that is to capitalize on the growing market for board games.  High end board games.  So he creates himself a strategy, what he wants to achieve and when he wants to achieve it.  He then goes through his existing company and reorganizes it, creates a Board Games division and puts people in those spots.  And while he’s busy reorganizing the company he starts telling everyone of his vision, his goals and the changes he wants to make.

Is he going to be successful?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Let’s try a different scenario.

A young man has an idea for entering the board game market.  High end board games.  He talks to some friends, works out some ideas and finds some like minded people.  They work together on the strategy, figuring out is and is not possible.  But they go ahead and do some dreaming anyway.  As a team they self-organize, they find the spots that each one is good at (or maybe not so good at but the job needs to be done anyway) and they create themselves a company.

Are they going to be successful?  Not sure, it depends on the ideas for the board games, but the odds are, given the identical ideas, they are going to be more successful than the guy in the existing company.


It all comes down to the people, the culture involved.  In the first case the people only got involved after the strategy had been created and the organization was being changed.  They may not have been blindsided, but were they filled with the same excitement about board games?  Do they even care about board games?  Some might.  Some won’t.  Some are comfortable where they are and change, any change, is something to be feared.

Rather than working with those people the owner of the existing company forged ahead on his own.  After all, it is his company, right?  But in doing so he left people behind.  He needs the culture to change, but he never involved anyone until after the fact.

The other guy?  The one running the startup?  His first step was people.  Finding “like minded” individuals, people passionate about the target – high end board games – and worked with  them on creating the strategy.  He worked with them on the organization.

I would much rather work for an organization where my ideas can help shape the organization.  I would much rather work where my ideas are used to help shape strategy, change the course of me and fellow co-workers and help shape how we work.

Too often “getting people on board” (no pun intended) is the last thing that an organization does – “Look at all this beautiful work. Don’t you love it?” – when it really should be the first.  Sometimes the dictatorial approach works, but as society changes, as people shift to the gig economy, loyalty to a company is on the decline.  In order to engage people, make them want to stay, you need to talk to them early in the process.  You need to involve them in the process.

By delaying the inevitable the culture, the people, are going to be working against you, causing you drag as you work towards your goals and as your organization tries to change.  This will place unnecessary strain on the organization and the people, threatening to derail any progress.

It didn’t have to be this way, but this is the way that people have been taught for years.  “It’s business and this is how business is done.”  Lots of companies think this way, but fewer every year as they quietly, or sometimes not so quietly, close their doors and let their competitors, those who communicate before the change, take over.

Change is inevitable.  Change is good.  But if you don’t involve the people early, before the radical decisions are made, then you’ve made the change more difficult to implement.  You’ve done yourself and your staff a great disservice.

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