Strategy, Structure, Staffing

4 minutes of reading to outsmart your day

Let’s face it, defining org structures is difficult. Reorgs are an iceberg problem; They appear simple at first but get massively more complex as you dive deeper. There are many choices: Should we be hierarchical, or matrix, or a super-sexy hybrid approach? Should we build two-pizza teams like Amazon? They optimize for different outcomes: Do we want tight control and high leverage, or high velocity, or some mix of both?  Not to mention reallocating resources, training, realigning teams and individuals to the changing strategy… It can be exhausting.

Strategy, Structure, Staffing is an approach to org structures that simply works, and is very good at pointing out when you are doing it backwards.

The Strategy, Structure Staffing paradigm cuts through the many considerations and provides a powerful lens to look through, while considering all the latest buzzwords and org models.

Strategy: What do you want to get done for the business?

Structure: What structure will lend itself best to supporting that strategy?

Staff: What roles are needed to fill that structure?

Some individuals will fit into your new roles. Some may not. Give yourself permission to help them find a place where they will fit and thrive. Yes, this will likely be outside of your new org structure, which might mean outside of your business. Some roles may need filling. Likewise, give yourself permission to design the right structure, and get the right roles and people in place.

I have found this to be such a natural approach, it needs only that much explanation for most to get started. What follows are some examples to add a bit of color.

Looking through this lens is totally natural, like looking through binoculars the right way vs. backwards. You get clarity from confusion when you do it right.

Consider the evolving case of one international internet retailer’s acquisition of a US-based shopping site. The strategy was to leverage the acquired technology to augment monetization on the retail site with advertising revenue. The structure that made sense at the time was to roll under the GM of the North Americas and build a “sub-hierarchy” under him to support the new business. This mirrored the larger organization, so it was familiar, but gave the new organization the independence it needed to integrate with the acquired company and stand up the tech stack, etc. Staffing ensued; some people stayed, some people did not, some people were added.

Fast forward and the strategy has evolved. It is now international monetization, and the advertising revenue is meant to compete, in a healthy internal auction, against other possible revenue streams on the site. The strategy has evolved, so now the structure might have to evolve, and indeed it does. Now the advertising and customer experience rolls up under one VP of customer experience responsible for balancing the whole portfolio. Staffing changes follow. This is an example of the Strategy, Structure, Staffing approach working well.

Similarly with Marketing organizations in general. It used to be that the top job, the CMO or VP Marketing had a traditional background (i.e.: non-technical). That evolved some 5-10 years ago, now the majority of our marketing leaders have technical backgrounds (unofficial data, possible hyperbole). The strategy changed to be tech-driven, so the staff changed to be tech-driven.

Likewise, the teams driving individual channels evolved to be more technology-driven and supported by Product, rather than Channel Managers and manual work. The structure changed to support the strategy, and the staffing followed, etc.

With today’s automation, access to big data and ML, and cross-channel audiences, organizations are evolving again. They are becoming product and technology-driven, and those technologies reach across multiple channels. You can connect the dots on this example.

Contrast all that with a recent experience a friend had in California at a company that shall not be named. A new, inexperienced VP was brought in to run Marketing. The structure had not fully evolved as described above. It was in a state of transition. Some Product Teams worked independently supporting the entire Marketing org, while others languished under Channel Managers who would not, or could not fully grasp the value of the transition.

The VP wanted to make some changes, as they always do, and started moving people around. When asked what he was trying to accomplish, did he have a plan or a strategy, or what his vision was for the department, he answered quite refreshingly bluntly; “I have no idea. I don’t have a strategy, we’ll figure that out later. I just want to move things around the way I want to.” Needless to say, it was rather transparent this particular leader was acting from Staff-first. In other words, he was moving around those he wanted to work with, either because of congeniality, trust, or some other consideration.

That is not to say we should not work with the people we believe we will be most successful with. We should! The insight here is that he would have been much better off if he had done that after carefully designing a consistent structure that supported a coherent strategy. As it was, he managed to alienate some of his staff, befuddle others, and lose a few who found sanity elsewhere. Sanity eventually prevailed months later after a wasted quarter spent Storming (of Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing model).

How many roles or teams do you have acting independently, simply because that individual is a standout, or because of legacy reasons, or whatever? Are they confusing the org and adding drag? Is your staffing driving your structure, and influencing your strategy? You might do well to turn that around. Let your staff serve the structure that serves the strategy. We’ll all find our place in the world either way, but this way, we’ll also be more likely to be effective in executing the strategy. Also, you won’t look like this guy…

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