Do you have a structure problem?

Sometimes what appears to be a performance problem—employees not doing the job up to your expectations—is actually a problem with the organizational structure of your business. If tasks go undone because they are falling off someone’s overfull plate, or because they are on several different plates, or because they aren’t on anyone’s plate, you’ve got a structure problem.

Sometimes what appears to be a performance problem—employees not doing the job up to your expectations—is actually a problem with the organizational structure of your business. If tasks go undone because they are falling off someone’s overfull plate, or because they are on several different plates, or because they aren’t on anyone’s plate, you’ve got a structure problem.

Structure problems tend to show up at times of rapid growth, when jobs expand and new duties arise and no one is sure whose responsibility is whose. But structure problems can also arise when jobs are built too much around individual personalities, without regard to the overall needs of the business. And paradoxically, they can occur when job descriptions are imposed on situations without due regard for the abilities of the people in the jobs.

The good of the whole enterprise needs to come first. Even though you want to be a compassionate employer by accommodating an employee’s personal needs, consider the impact on other staff. Allowing people to work “tiny” jobs of just one or two shifts per week puts an extra burden on those who work more hours to provide continuity. Absentee managers can’t provide adequate support to their staff. Employees with specialized knowledge who aren’t available at the time of greatest customer need aren’t doing any favours for either customers or co-workers.

Finding the right people

At the same time, you can’t always find people with the complete skill set needed for the job you want to fill. This is particularly true for management positions where people need not only in-depth product knowledge but also supervision skills. A natural retailer had a produce manager who was an excellent buyer, related well to growers and always met his margin targets; but he just could not bring himself to speak to employees about performance issues, and his department seethed with resentment. The solution was to redefine his job as a buyer, and hire a manager who supervised the buyer and the other produce staff.

If you are the manager of your store, build around your own strengths. If you are good at marketing, take that on. If you’re weak with numbers, hire a professional bookkeeper and/or use an outside accounting service. Just remember that in designing jobs for others, assign tasks that logically go together. Don’t turn a new position into a dumping ground for all the tasks you don’t want. This is frequently a problem with assistant manager positions.
How many direct reports are too many?

In a very small store, you can be everyone’s direct supervisor. But at some point, if you have too many direct reports, you’ll have an unsustainable job for yourself and frustrated staff who see no room for growth.

How many direct reports are too many?

There’s no magic number for every situation but ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I continuing to supervise everyone because I’m afraid people will feel demoted if not directly reporting to me??
  • Am I allowing an interpersonal conflict between two people keeping me from taking the logical step of having one person supervise the other??
  • Do I have a hard time giving up control even though an employee has proved capable of taking over an area of responsibility?

Ultimately your organizational structure makes accountability possible. Clear structures empower people in certain positions to hold others accountable, and let everyone know to whom he or she is accountable. But structure alone does not ensure that accountability will happen. Without supervisors holding their supervisees accountable, no organizational structure can function properly. In other words, once you’ve solved your structure problems, you can then effectively address performance problems.

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