Rearranging the Deck Chairs


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There is an old adage that form follows function.

In his book “The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done” (which is great and you should buy it) Peter Scholtes builds on that idea. He shows how the different parts of an organisation interact, one level following and supporting the next:

One level follows the next

  1. A company has a purpose. That is the top level, its reason for being. Under Steve Jobs, Apple’s purpose was to “delight customers“.
  2. Systems follow purpose, systems are the way the work flows to meet the purpose: Product Development and the Supply Chain are systems that help an organisation deliver its purpose.
  3. Functions follow systems, functions are the way the work is grouped: Marketing and Operations are functions that support the Product Development System.
  4. Capabilities follow functions, capabilities are the skills that a function needs to do its work, capabilities could be down to the people or the equipment: Risk Assessment is a capability, so is Programming.
  5. Jobs follow capabilities, jobs are the way in which the capabilities are delivered. A Programmer will do your Programming.
  6. Structure follows jobs, structures are the way in which the jobs are managed and arranged, reporting relationships, teams, policies and procedures.
  7. Personnel follow structure, people are how you fill your jobs and structure

Let’s not argue over semantics

Now we could spend a lot of time arguing about the language and the words:

  • Are jobs a lower level then capabilities?
  • Does structure follow and support jobs or is it the other way around?

But the detail isn’t the point and arguing about it would be a waste of time.

The point is that there is a hierarchy of levels or groups in an organisation and it flows from purpose at the top down through capabilities in the middle to people at the bottom.

Some of those levels have greater leverage than others.

Just think about that for a second. Do you see a hierarchy?

Now here is the killer question…

Where do you get most influence on performance? By changing your systems and capabilities or reorganising your structures and personnel?

And where do we spend our time?

Is all that activity really improving the situation? Or is it just changing it?

Are we just rearranging the deck chairs? What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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