"Structure First, People Second"

Posted by Walt Brown on May 11, 2022 8:45:00 AM


"Structure First, People Second" - Your Domed Topped Table - And what we really mean by "Structure"

Above is a drawing I share with my clients when setting expectations around the Accountability Chart work we will be doing together. The script goes like this:

"Let's imagine we have a team sitting around a meeting table, 5 people in this case, representing their Seats and Roles. Our table has a domed top and out of the sky drops an issue shaped like a ball bearing.  What is the ball bearing going to do? Roll of course, and what we can not let it do is drop off the edge of the table and slip through accountability or responsibility gaps hitting the floor, we can not let it get "hot-potatoed" between Seats or Roles, (normally Roles are the culprit) and we can not let it land in a Role that has no capacity because then it will just flow over hitting the floor anyway. No, our goal is to have so much structural clarity in our seats and roles that these things do not happen. We want our structure to be just right.

But what do we really mean by "structure" when we say Structure First

Hint: It is way more than Reports To, Seats, and Roles.

An easy way to understand this is to see the demands of Structure through the eyes of our "A Player" employees who are looking out into our organization from their Seats and Roles.

Your "A Player "Employees demand to know the answers that lie inside these four areas:

Why?     With Whom?     How?    and    What?  

These are the questions they are asking.

Why?: What is the purpose of my Job/Seat and all of the Roles that are associated with my Job? In the OCog model Roles are as important as Jobs – each Job needs a clearly written Purpose Statement and each Role needs a clearly written Purpose Statement. When you know the Purpose you know the Why.

With Whom?: With whom am I interacting? What Teams and Meeting? Who are the Entities I need to maintain a relationship with? Who do I Report To? Who do I turn to for Coaching? Do I have a Mentor, who is it?  

How?:  How a person does a Job or Role is directed by the Work Instructions, Procedures, and Policies (WiPPs / SOPs) that are followed. How these WiPPs fit into the overall workflow is called the Process.  Our Organizational Cognizance approach pushes us to make these connections and document the SOPS and WiPPs.  When the WiPPs are understood and linked to Roles then we can turn to the flow of work, the Process.  Skills are the underlying bedrock, employees need to know what skills they need to fill a Role - it needs to be linked, out in the open.  

What?:  What are my goals? What constitutes a good job?  Think OKRs – Objectives and Key Results. Normally Objectives connect to Jobs and Key Results (the controllable things) are linked to Roles.  When we define these, get them out in the open and link them up to Seats/Jobs and Roles, our employees will understand exactly what it is they are shooting for.

I know this seems like a ton of work and information. But, the good news is it already exists in the minds of your best-seasoned employees, we just need to get these elements and connections out in the open so they can be documented.

I had a mentor tell me early on: "If it is not written down, it does not exist." He was referring to business plans and strategy, but it goes deeper describing anything that is basically invisible inside an organization - things that are known but not seen, things that do not have mass or weight, but carry momentum, they need to be pulled out, documented, written down, visualized, made real = your structure. 

People Second - Think how easy it is to understand who is the Right Person from a capabilities perspective when you have your structure clearly defined as described above.

It is not a chicken and egg scenario, structure comes first.

Then you fill this structure with amazing people who are part of one single organization and who are saying Yes:

I Belong,

I Believe,

I'm Accountable,

I'm Measured well,

I'm Heard,

I'm Developed,

I'm Balanced.  

Yes does not happen without Structure.


Since 2006, Walt Brown has helped over 200 companies get their Structure Right - and their Culture Right by helping them put the right people in the right structure. 

He is the creator of the concept of the Organizational Graph and co-founder of a software company (OGraph.io) that uses modern Graph Technology and Databases to document and visualize the Structure described above.

Death of The Org Chart is his book that describes the future of organizational design and structure and introduces the Organizational Cognizance® Model and 14 Point Checklist.

Topics: Organizational Cognizance, Lulu TPO, Lulu Death

Read the Seven Promises® University Textbook

Listen on Audible
Buy Now

Read the Organizational Cognizance® University Textbook

Read Chapter One

Buy Now

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts