How confident are you that your employees are doing the best job they can, every day? Have you been avoiding conversations with some employees about their work habits and commitment? Are you stretching your employees, and for that matter, yourself? Is publicly rewarding success part of your culture? Do you complain about what’s going wrong more often than what’s working?

Engaged employees are central to your organization’s success. Turf wars, conflicting duties, needless rules and regulations all do more harm than good. If your growth is being limited by challenges such as these, it may be time to restructure how your business works. And organizational design may be the answer. It’s one of the most powerful and yet more misunderstood tools in business today.

Fortunately, we can point you in the right direction to a more effective, and profitable, organization as you evolve to meet new challenges. Here are just a few starting points; for more detailed HR consulting, email us here.

HR Consulting:

Create and communicate clear values.

Why are you in business—why do you do what you do? And what do you want your employees to understand about your answers? You created and are building your business based on a set of values. And to succeed, your employees must not only understand them, they must also believe in and embrace them as you do.

Just as important, your organizational values aren’t a part-time endeavor. They must be communicated and practiced with everything your company and employees do every day. Clarity and consistency are essential.

That’s why it’s important to screen job candidates closely to make sure they’re a good fit for your organization. Do they share your values?

Align your business structure with your goals.

The world is moving faster than ever before. New technologies, shifting markets, tighter competition and an uncertain economy are driving businesses everywhere to rethink their strategies to not only survive, but thrive. Often, this becomes a reactionary vs. ‘big picture’ approach. And as a result, businesses make incremental vs. holistic changes to their organizations.

As your business objectives evolve, so too must your organizational design. Are you shifting employee roles and functions to align with your new direction? If not, you may create confusion and even conflict among employees with unclear or overlapping responsibilities. That lack of coordination can only hamper morale, but can also have bottom-line consequences due to needless complexity and stress, slower decision making a failure to share the best ideas.

Organizational design can break down the silos, improve operations and ultimately—your successful growth and profitability.

The Importance of Organizational Design and Structure     

One of the wonderful things about being a coach is that I meet hundreds of executives who freely share their business and leadership challenges with me. As well as helping me understand how hard it is to run an organization, they show me how they are managing to adapt — or not — to changing organizational structures.

A constant theme during meetings over the last three years has been how globalisation and the economic crisis have forced organizations to rethink their strategies and change they way they operate. From what I can gather, much of this has been “on the hoof,” with companies switching their focus from markets to products or competitors, rather than looking at the big picture. This can result in lots of piecemeal change initiatives rather than looking at the overall organizational design.

I rarely come across leaders who advocate wholesale organizational redesign or use it as a way to support their people and business. When organizational strategy changes, structures, roles, and functions should be realigned with the new objectives. This doesn’t always happen, with the result that responsibilities can be overlooked, staffing can be inappropriate, and people — and even functions — can work against each other.

Often, I see little more than a traditional hierarchy flattening out, perhaps broadening into a matrix structure in parts of the organization. More often than not, though, the hierarchy remains embedded in the “new” structure, which can cut across its effectiveness and leave people confused. Worse, organizations rarely show people how to operate in a new structure, which can also undermine effectiveness.

Many of my clients tell me that they find it increasingly difficult to operate within outdated or dysfunctional structures. My prevailing impression is that organizations either overlook the importance of organizational design or simply don’t know what to do.

This isn’t surprising since the subject is complex and often poorly explained by academics and consultants, finding a practical approach to organizational design can be difficult, although some business schools are attempting to simplify things.

It is also a pity since structure dictates the relationship of roles in an organization, and therefore, how people function. An outdated structure can result in unnecessary ambiguity and confusion and often a lack of accountability. Structures can be complicated: one British bank where I coach has a clear hierarchy at the top but a complex matrix structure further down which, according to my clients, allows some managers to dodge their responsibilities while others can move troublesome staff around or “exit” them easily.

Poor organizational design and structure results in a bewildering morass of contradictions: confusion within roles, a lack of co-ordination among functions, failure to share ideas, and slow decision-making bring managers unnecessary complexity, stress, and conflict. Often those at the top of an organization are oblivious to these problems or, worse, pass them off as or challenges to overcome or opportunities to develop.

Here are some of the stories I have come across recently — if you have experienced anything similar or have different insights, it would be useful to hear them in the coming week. Any suggestions for pushing back or reshaping unnecessarily complex or outdated organizational structures are also welcome!

The “unworkable” job: a Swiss engineer told me that his boss had bolted on so many parts to his original role that it was becoming impossible to do his work as one part of his role contradicted the other. Moreover, he was stretched beyond his limits by the scope of the role and the fact that he had to operate across several time zones.

Politics: a Hong Kong retail executive said his role was “schizophrenic” because he was required to influence a group of internal stakeholders who had been instructed by their boss not to co-operate with him. The anomaly was the result of historical turf wars between his boss and his boss’ peer: the latter had used his influence to restructure the department and bring it under his control.

Over-regulation: a British banker explained how he was required to get approval from so many people for a major project that he wasted six months trying to get it off the ground, severely limiting his ability to compete in the market.

Applying for your own job: a French executive of an international food company explained how a new chief executive wanted to make his mark by restructuring the group. The exec made people apply for their own jobs, and determine who was redundant.

Cultural clashes: I once worked in a consultancy firm where a sizeable group of people still defined themselves by the organizational culture of a company that was taken over 20 years before. This group made a point of working against the new culture and subverted the company in small and far-reaching ways.

Creating employee engagement through culture and job design

When I hear about a satisfied workforce, I want to learn more about the company. So, I recently reached out to Jim Franklin, CEO of SendGrid. Named a 2013 Top Workplace by The Denver Post, SendGrid has built a refreshing culture around “4Hs” that drive every aspect of how they do business—honest, hungry, humble, and happy. Jim shares his company’s approach to employee engagement in the interview below…

Lead Change Group (LCG): Jim, describe the 4Hs to us in more detail.

Jim Franklin (JF): Honesty is a sense of trust and transparency. We like to say “Trust First Trust” is a reflexive property: you put trust out; you get trust back. We have a high-delegation culture. We need to rely on—to trust—the judgment of front-line employees.

Honesty is also about being respectful but direct, not ducking hard conversations, and confronting brutal facts. We expect this of each other.

Hungry is a sense of high-striving and goal-setting. It’s about taking initiative and stretching to pursue a well-defined end. A lot of what happens at our company is bottom up. Want a new job? Create one.

Humble. What can we learn from others? Even if a manager disagrees with an employee’s proposed approach, we often allow the employee to proceed, even if this leads to making a non-trivial mistake. That’s how we learn.

If you want a high degree of collaboration, everyone in the group needs to be a student—willing to consider divergent opinions, willing to have assumptions challenged, willing to be wrong. Humility is also about giving credit to the team, instead of wanting the spotlight.

Happy. This is a general feeling that things will work out and a sense of being thankful for what you have. I canceled our annual company trip to Mexico. The employee reaction was… “That’s cool. It was great while it lasted. Maybe we’ll do it again down the road.” (The trip is back on, by the way.) What I don’t like is when benefits become entitlements.

LCG: What role do the 4Hs play in employee engagement at SendGrid?

JF: The 4Hs are manifested every day. For example, in marketing, we don’t do search engine optimization on competitors’ trademarks. It’s not illegal, but it’s not Honest either. When a competitor is having a bad day, we are not happy but rather Humbled, knowing that it could just as easily have been our bad day.

Engagement is driven a lot by job design (this is where the Hungry comes in). I like to aim for 2/3 Rising Star and 1/3 Been There Done That. This means that 1/3 of your job you have done previously and are already good at. This is how you pay for yourself. The other 2/3 of your job is something adjacent to what you have done, but is a new skill for you to learn. This kind of on-the-job learning drives a lot of engagement, even though it can be chaotic.

In addition to the 4Hs, we also believe the following factors are important for engagement:

Knowing the big idea.

Knowing exactly how your daily work influences it.

Measuring progress toward that goal every day.

LCG: Suppose an employee is working in the “2/3 Rising Star” mode and finds himself over his head. He took on something that was a stretch, but he had the confidence to give it a shot. Now that he’s in the middle of it, he’s not feeling at all confident that he can deliver what’s needed. How does your company handle a scenario like this?

JF: This is a first H scenario. Be Honest with yourself. A manager may not have expertise in an employee’s job area, so managers have to be trained to encourage employees to self-report when they are in over their heads. We are ok with failure and weakness. We will get you the training, advisors, mentors or other help you need to be successful. This is also very closely related to our Humility value. Our founder said “Help” when he needed a CEO, for example.

LCG: What advice do you have for organizations that are struggling with low employee engagement and need a “turn-around strategy” for improving morale?

JF: That’s a hiring problem. If your organization is grappling with low engagement, the first step is to get clear on your values. Step 2 is to articulate them. Step 3 is to interview (and fire) based on them. Getting values consistency in your workforce will go a long way toward driving organizational health. We carefully screen candidates for the 4Hs. Further, we design the work environment to give employees general direction and then stay out of their way.