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© 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.
Excerpt from www.NDMA.COM, © 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.

Analysis: Combining Client Liaisons and Planning Functions

mixing the client-liaison function with planning functions builds in inappropriate biases

by N. Dean Meyer

[excerpt from the book, Principle-based Organizational Structure]

In a growing accredited university, Sondra was hired to enhance corporate "outreach." She was given two goals:

    1) Encourage corporations to utilize the University as part of their professional development programs (a sales function).

    2) Build a "School of Continuing Studies" to deliver continuing education to these non-traditional students.

What Went Wrong

Sondra was good at sales. She pulled together existing corporate-outreach staff, and gave them the sales training they needed. She developed sales objectives, and a dashboard to monitor their performance. The result: She increased revenues by nearly $4 million in just one year!

But Sondra failed at her second objective.

The President had hoped she would sell the University's current course offerings to new audiences, perhaps repackaging them into smaller programs for badges or certificates, or defining new paths to existing degree offerings. To do this, Sondra would have to bring opportunities to the rest of the University (who already knew how to put together programs and deliver education) and coordinate enterprisewide initiatives.

Instead, Sondra came up with her own plan, as if she were setting up a parallel school. Her plan was inconsistent with the University's processes, and wasn't feasible.

Bottom Line

Coordinating enterprisewide initiatives is a challenging job in its own right, requiring competencies quite different from sales. Sondra's failure was not because she was a poor performer, as her sales success proved. It was because the structure gave her two very different jobs, and no one could be expected to excel at both.

Fortunately, the President studied the science of structure, and saw the real problem before firing a great sales leader.

It's both futile and cruel to blame people for poor performance when structure is the root cause of problems.

The wrong signals can induce staff to fight with one another, seek independence rather than teamwork, and cling to old ways. It can demand the unreasonable, disempower people, ignore important functions, introduce unintended biases, establish weak or destructive incentives, and create dead-end jobs.

Even the best people will prove disappointing if the structure is poorly designed.

Until you examine your structure, you can't really know whether individuals are at fault, or good people are being set up to fail. To know the difference, you need to understand the science of structure.


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