As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 14th 2016
Most organizations start with just a handful of individuals. I recall Michael Joseph former Safaricom CEO at an interview, recalling how it was five of them at an apartment at Norfolk Towers in 2000. In an owner-led start-up, the founder is the only one and has to act as the sales person, the receptionist, the messenger and offer customer support all in one. In such a situation, the structure is as flat as a pancake (to remind myself of English similes that I have not used in decades).
As organizations grow, staff are recruited and organizational structures start to change. Most entrepreneurs tell me that the first person they recruit is an accountant or a clerk able to do some credit and debit. Further growth results to the need for more staff and some important question arise. How best should we organize ourselves? Who should do what? The staff, the tasks and the responsibilities are then organized either in a structured way or in an amorphous format. In most cases, the organizations form naturally into functional units such as sales, finance and admin, support etc. resulting to a functional organizational structure. A hierarchy grows as the organization matures.
Organizational structures are seen as formalized arrangements of the tasks to be performed and the people to perform them. Even when the structures emerge in an amorphous, way they soon take a certain shape. Most people like to be familiar with their organizational structure because it shows who reports to who. The structure should more importantly be able to point out responsibilities that people will be held accountable for.
Alfred Chandler a renowned strategic management scholar in 1962 published a book describing how structure should come about. He coined the phrase “structure follows strategy” stressing on the need for the structure to be in line with the chosen strategy in order for organizations to perform optimally.
Looking around, there are many forms of structures. They range from the simple structures in start-ups, to divisional structures, to the matrix structures found in multinational corporations. There are also the rare unique structures such as that of Zappos.com. In April 2015, the radical Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh known for delivering happiness to his customers introduced the “holacracy” structure. This is a “self-management” structure invented by programmer turned management guru Brian Robertson. The new structure did away with manager roles and job titles and created circles with lead links but no hierarchy. An article on NPR.com in July 2015 described Zappos as “A workplace where no one and everyone is the boss”. As at March this year, Fortune.com reported that 29% of the staff had voluntarily left Zappos after an attractive severance offer was made giving the staff an option to re-join the company after 12 months. The radical management structure whose main objective is to get things done faster is still in place to date.
Ideally, the choice of customer service structure an organization adopts should be informed by its customer service strategy. Key questions should be – How can we make it easier for our customers to transact with us? How can we be faster? How do we restructure to make it painless for our customers? Any smart organization should do whatever it takes to reduce unnecessary bureaucracies and bottlenecks in serving its customers.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy