Have you ever wondered why business leaders are so obsessed with redrawing organization charts when they want to improve company performance? We are amazed, and frankly disappointed, with this untempered urge given the countless restructurings and reorganizations that have failed to achieve their intentions and, in many situations, ended up destroying shareholder value. Think Robert Nardelli and Home Depot or Leo Apotheker and HP.Instead of resorting to boxes and lines, we think business leaders should heed the words of the famous American architect, Louis Sullivan. Back in 1896, Sullivan provided business leaders with the wisdom, and the key, to designing their organizations for sustained success:
“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.”
So what can we as business leaders learn from Mr. Sullivan? Before you embark on restructuring remember — Form Follows Function. It always has and always will. If you want to drive sustainable improvement in your business, you must begin by understanding its function, a.k.a, its mission and strategy. Once this is well defined and understood, your efforts should be directed at aligning your organization’s design and talent to most effectively deploy your strategy. Don’t fall prey to your childhood fascination with drawing boxes and lines — it is but one element of organization design and oftentimes the last element you should evaluate and modify. Apply Sullivan’s wisdom and consider using the following steps to align your strategy, organization, and talent for success.
Remember Sullivan’s words of wisdom — form follows function — and resist the urge to simply re-draw a chart or change reporting relationships to solve your organization’s woes. A parting question for you to ponder and share and thoughts on: Do you think today’s CEOs and in particular, American CEOs, have the capability, patience, and ego to follow embrace Sullivan’s wisdom?