3 Organizational Issues Most Leaders Fail to Get Right

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When surveys find workers feeling disrespected at work as a leading reason for quitting, it can be all too easy for leadership to brush this off as either a generational problem (“kids these days”) or something that only HR can address.

When it comes to getting the most from your team and delivering quality results, it’s up to organizational leaders to create the right environment for the job. As a leader you have organizational oversight that allows you to optimize the workspace to get everyone’s best work.

Unfortunately, leaders will often overlook or misdiagnose ongoing problems that are reducing their efficiency and productivity. Failure to find appropriate solutions can lead to chronic issues that completely undermine your company goals and vision. In my own experience, there are a few key organizational issues that leaders are more likely to overlook than others.

Misaligned Metrics and Incentives

All too often in my work, I’ve seen businesses struggle with cross-functional rivalries. Different departments don’t get along and are effectively siloed off from each other, creating undue friction that undercuts the business’s overall initiatives.

More often than not, this friction often derives from poorly aligned metrics or incentives. Rather than aligning work by defining the shared result that is important to the entire organization, departments are given different performance incentives, resulting in conflicting messaging that treats these metrics as mutually exclusive.

Quite often, poor role design is the underlying culprit.

Misaligned metrics don’t just create rivalries and divisional politics. They can reduce productivity, create delivery bottlenecks, and even stifle innovation.

As Vikas Gupta, a leading expert in supply chain management and logistics as senior vendor manager at Amazon Web Services, explained during a recent conversation, “Leaders must present metrics in a way that different departments will view them as part of a cohesive whole. Each department’s metrics must reinforce collaboration. Joint access to analytics can help keep everyone on the same page and keep everyone focused on the business’s primary goals. Transparency and openness in the structural hierarchy—and a willingness to recognize when metrics should be adjusted—will help foster collaboration and unity.”

Poor Role Design

The Great Resignation has generated countless headlines over the last several months—and according to a July 2022 survey by McKinsey, 40 percent of employees are still considering leaving their current job within the next three to six months.

When surveys find workers reporting issues like low pay, no opportunities for advancement, or feeling disrespected at work as leading reasons as to why they quit, it can be all too easy for leadership to brush this off as either a generational problem (“kids these days”) or something that only HR can address.

What leaders can’t ignore, however, is when organization-wide retention challenges persist. This is more than just a toxic manager or wanting a raise. Quite often, poor role design is the underlying culprit behind employees’ dissatisfaction and turnover.

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This problem typically encompasses two extremes. On one end, multiple jobs are consolidated into overly broad roles. Someone might be wearing three “hats,” so to speak, in their current role, and as a result feel overburdened and stretched beyond what they can handle. On the opposite end, a narrowly defined role can be so specific that individuals require constant coordination with others to actually accomplish their job, leaving them frustrated and unfulfilled.

Instead, roles should be based on desired outcomes associated with a set of responsibilities. Sure, a superstar employee may be able to take on both accounting and finance—but the average employee likely can only handle one of these roles. The better organizational solution is to design and define roles based on the competencies required to help the company meet specific metrics. Then, assign the right people to the right roles.

Too Much Managerial Responsibility

Too often, when employee surveys return low scores for metrics like “my manager is available when I need them,” people assume it’s because of a time-management issue or because leaders don’t make an effort meet with their direct reports. When this happens, managers are given canned tools that tell them how to hold more effective 1×1 meetings or better prioritize their tasks. Training on empathy may get added to the leadership curriculum. Coaches may even get hired. But, in reality, this issue tends to reach far beyond individual leadership practices.

As a company leader, you depend on the managers within your organization to have more direct oversight of various departments and employees. But do you depend on them too much? Similar to the organizational issue of poor role design, managers can become overworked and unable to deliver quality results when they are given excessive spans of control.

As Gupta noted during our conversation, “Managers aren’t just dealing with numbers—they’re dealing with real people. You might be able to automate the process of collecting data on whether someone is hitting their metrics. But you can’t automate delivering meaningful feedback that helps employees feel valued and improve their performance. A narrower scope of responsibility shouldn’t be frowned on. It actually gives leaders greater bandwidth to effectively manage their teams.”

In my own work helping businesses address their organizational issues, I’ve seen situations where leaders feel that they have too many direct reports to give adequate time to each of the employees below them. Not surprisingly, these employees reported that they didn’t get enough direction or feedback.

In reality, the span of control should be adapted based on the complexity of the work those under a manager are doing. Managers who oversee complex, high-risk tasks that require more coordination should have a narrower span to ensure safety and quality standards are met. Managers who oversee more repetitive or standardized work that requires less oversight can have a wider scope of responsibility.

Adapting based on these nuances can ensure that managers are accessible and have the appropriate bandwidth for those who report to them.

Optimizing the Organization

While it’s true that a business is only as successful as its people, it should also be understood that those people will generally only be as successful as the company’s organizational framework allows them to be. When leaders prioritize these vital areas, they can implement meaningful change that enhances the work environment—and subsequently improves the potential output of their team.

Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.

Reprinted with permission from Forbes.