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  • Writer's pictureSara Hartary

Structure and Culture - BFFs

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Today's blog post is inspired by a recent conversation I had with one of my clients.  Their business is doing great!  It's growing and expanding to include additional headcount and leadership.  Inevitably we got on the topic of the growing need to set boundaries and hold others accountable in the same way the partners do themselves.  The hesitation had been that putting in more structure would be at odds with the awesome, flexible culture the company prides itself on.

But Structure and Culture aren't enemies!  They're BFFs.  For real. 

I realize that statement is a little silly and a very informal way to say it, but I want to bust up the myth that if you introduce structure you will kill your entrepreneurial or flexible culture.  In fact, structure in and of itself is not going to be at odds with any culture.  Let me show you what I mean by taking a quick tangent over towards information technology software development life cycle (SDLC).  Don't worry, we won't go deep.  Just stay with me!

SDLC has phases (we won't go into methodologies like Agile v. Waterfall here).  Just know that at the most basic level SDLC is made up of: Requirements (the "What"), Design (the "How"), Build (the "Make it"), and Test (the "Did you make the What right?").  Good requirements don't have built in designs because that presupposes how you're going to make something.  Good requirements are just the What you want at the end.  So if your What is "Invoice clients monthly," or "Have a shared location for electronic documents," then the How, or the Design, is the way you accomplish that.

Focus on the What first and then the How.

Now, back to your business.  Let's say you are struggling to invoice promptly because people aren't getting their time in when they should.  But you don't want to be "one of those places" that makes people submit time every day.  Focus on the What first: You want to get invoices out promptly.  Boil that requirement down before jumping to the How.  If time needs to be in the system by the last day of the month, simply start there.  There are many ways to accomplish this and you can set a policy that feels comfortable and in line with your culture. 

Is yours a flexible and independent business?  Have seasoned resources?  No problem.  In our example of monthly billing, tell your resources when time has to be submitted and leave it up to them to follow their own path in getting there.  Do you have a lot of young employees with great potential but who need coaching?  Add a little more oversight by telling resources that time needs to be submitted weekly.  It keeps you from getting behind the 8 ball and going crazy at the end of the month.  Is submitting time on time simply not a strength of your workforce?  Is their focus elsewhere (e.g., making service calls to clients)?  Ok, work time entry into the regular business process that everyone follows and train your folks to put in the time at the end of each day, or consider a clock-in / clock-out app which could be an even better fit.

Structure can strengthen your Culture!

In all these cases you still get the What you're looking for, but you go about it (How) according to what works best in your culture.  Structure is not the enemy of culture.  Get them working together and you'll see that they positively reinforce each other. 

Think about your own business.  Imagine taking one or more of these different approaches to something as mundane as preparing for invoicing.  Picking the right one will feel comfortable.  Picking the wrong one feels out of place.  Extend this same thinking to things like shared document repositories, expense tracking, status reporting, meetings, training, working hours, etc.  Supporting the structure of your business with policies, either in number or specificity, that are in line with your culture reaffirms that aspect of your business.  Your resources will feel it.  Even your clients are likely to notice it.  Don't sacrifice the What your business needs.  Go for it.  Just keep your culture in mind when you go about determining the How and you'll have a stronger business ready for growth.

Hartary Consulting strives to build great client partnerships by providing practical business operations advice to small and medium-sized companies.

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