Some Thoughts on Doing Fewer Things Better

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In my previous blog, I wrote about some of the warning signs that your HR function might need a jump start. One of my points was that as organizations go from a smaller (sometimes start-up) size to becoming more of a “grown up” company, they often experience role proliferation. This naturally occurs as the business reacts to the circumstances of the day. But you get to a point where you look at what everybody is doing and realize that, had you built it out knowing what you know now, you would have done it a little differently. This isn’t an indictment of any past decisions (they were likely the right decisions at the time), but now it’s time to clean things up. Below are a few thoughts on what to consider as you begin to clean up your role definitions:

Focus

A good role has specific focus and centers around outcome driven responsibilities. This doesn’t necessarily mean that if your organization does 100 things that each person only does one, but it does mean that all 100 people don’t do all 100 things. There is both an art and a science to chopping roles up in a way that gives focus but that doesn’t drive boredom. The “art” part is to create roles that are interesting, engaging, and something that the person doing it could feel proud of. The “science” part is understanding what everybody does and methodically dividing it up in a way that has logical breakpoints and that balances the workload. People really like to do things that they do well – focusing roles, and putting people in those roles that best fit them, makes everybody happy.

Accountability

When you have focused roles, people can be held accountable for their part of the process. This doesn’t mean that some draconian scorecard needs to be implemented to track people down to the millisecond, but it does mean that people need to answer for what they are responsible for using clear metrics. When everyone is accountable for everything, nobody is accountable for anything, which promotes a “hero” mentality – a great trait to have in an individual, but not sustainable across the org. And when good people get blamed for something they weren’t given clear direction to do, or clear ownership of, you frustrate your best people. Give people fewer things to be accountable for and then hold them accountable with a few, clear KPIs; don’t make them “kind of” responsible for everything.

Career Mobility

If roles aren’t defined it is very difficult to objectively determine if someone is doing a good job. And with everyone doing everything, you don’t allow for roles of increasing responsibility and increasing span of control. In other words, you can’t tell if people are ready to be promoted and you don’t have a place to put them even if you think they are ready! Even in a highly matrixed environment you can allow for broader roles – or even new roles focused somewhere else. Your best people will welcome the opportunity to get good at something, mentor someone else on it, and then move on to a new challenge. This approach maintains structure but breathes fresh perspective and a sense of continuous improvement into the organization.

If you run a startup with five people it’s hard to hit all three of these elements – and I wouldn’t recommend you even try. But if you are growing, and seeing that inefficiencies are starting to creep in, and it’s hard to tell who’s doing what, it might be time to take a fresh look at how things are structured.

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