This is a guest post by Mansoor Adenwala. Mansoor is a blogger, corporate trainer, process advisor, and generally a solution-finder in the world of ICT. He currently works for Business Beam Pvt. Ltd in the capacity of Managing Advisor and is based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The corporate world is a funny place. Everyone is in a constant battle to make more money, get more clients and more prestige. Each thinks up of new and innovative ideas to spur growth, â€˜out of the box thinkingâ€™ they call it, all to get that one big client or that one big dividend, yet each one of them ends up following the same basic strategies just packaged up in new words and phrases. One of these basic strategies which I will discuss here, relates to both human resources and organizational change. I call it the â€˜specialists vs generalists cycleâ€™. Lets dissect these two strategies and learn what we can about them. (Feel free to disagree with my point of view, afterall that is the true power of discussion)
For the purpose of this discussion, letâ€™s assume you are a CEO of an organization which is involved in many different verticals. Areas of business which just kept crept into your day to day workings because you needed the jobs done and done well. Youâ€™ve got people who are doing everything under the sun, whether it be marketing or quality assurance, because there was a need to do it in the first place. A problem emerges! These people, while performing adequately and getting the job done, are still performing adequately! Theyâ€™re not proficient in any one area and therefore theyâ€™re cutting into each otherâ€™s productivity by re-doing work. A marketing person, spending time doing QA will not be able to give a 100% to marketing, and vice versa. (Also, letâ€™s assume that outsourcing is not an option for now).
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Now that you have a large business, how do you ensure each department or division does what it is supposed to do? How do you know that your profit figures are actually profits from all streams and not just because one vertical is covering the inefficiency of others? You hire specialists! People who know one thing, and they know it well. They will have certifications and degrees or even whole career paths dedicated to that one area, whether it be marketing or accounts or technical support or development. It is common business knowledge (which is not too common mind you) that having the best people around you means soaring profits. And so you make it happen, a grand restructuring!
Fast forward a couple of years later, things are going well, departments are performing and the money in the bank keeps increasing. The specialists keep doing what they do best while you have people covering other activities. However, you notice that your costs of doing business are soaring as well. Profits could be higher if you could â€˜tear away the factâ€™ so to speak. So why is this happening? Well, in simple monetary terms, itâ€™s because specialists cost money! Way more money than their counterparts â€˜the generalistâ€™. Why pay hundreds of thousands for a group of people who only perform one task when you could pay hundreds ofâ€¦ wellâ€¦ hundredsâ€¦ to people who could â€˜shareâ€™ the responsibility, arrange themselves into â€˜cross functional teamsâ€™ and create â€˜synergyâ€™ between departments! Itâ€™s a brilliant idea! One that could save the company millions and still deliver quality services/products. Another restructuring takes place, this time people with multiple skills are brought in, siloâ€™s are broken down and cross functional is proclaimed the way to go.
Until, a couple of years later, communication overheads, rework, missed opportunities because people were busy doing things other than their â€˜core competenciesâ€™ and not having enough â€˜qualifiedâ€™ people to do the work lead you to believe, people are performing just adequately. They could be betterâ€¦ if only they had clear outlines on what they had to do, clear job descriptions and an area of specializationâ€¦
And the cycle repeats itself. Corporate memory is sadly, very short.
Being an advisor for the last three years, Iâ€™ve actually seen this cycle happen more often than not. Each new client is at one stage of development and wants to proceed to the other. Some want to break down the siloâ€™s while others want to build up specialized teams. So whatâ€™s the answer you ask? What is that one magic restructuring that will take away all your problems?
Itâ€™s simple, there isnâ€™t any. Both approaches are right in their own way and in their own time. The point here to remember is, the only thing constant in the world, is change! Whether it be from centralized to decentralized, specialist silos to generalist, these changes are what enable organizations to grow and become effective, efficient and profitable industries. Donâ€™t believe me? Think of the relics of our own local industry which almost died down because they would not change (SSGC, KESC, PTCL and Habib Bank), and the fascinating growth and corporate identity they spurred once they were brought out of it by new management.