The People Pro

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Location: Small town, Northern Wisconsin

Barbara is an author, speaker and psychotherapist in private practice. She provides keynote presentations and is a Certified Professional Speaker, a designation held by fewer than 8% of the speakers in the world. She has appeared on FOX, CNN, and CBS and is considered an expert in relationships.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

For Best Results, Look At Structure

By Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro

“His work displays excellent quality, but he never gets it finished on time.”

“I keep telling my staff the same directions over and over again. They don’t seem to follow through with details.”

“This is the third person we have had in that position. Why can’t we find good help?”

Statements such as these can be overheard in any office and are often delivered in a blaming, whining voice. With a focus on employee failure, little attention is given to the structure of positions, performance expectations or the operational design necessary for positive results. This is surprising because most of the time, other than an attitude problem, the reason employees are not successful is because of structure.

It may be the actual structure of the position including workload, reporting relationships, and working environment. It may be that accountabilities are too hazy or too rigid or there is a lack of feedback. The pay structure may be out of sync with the market, making it impossible to recruit quality candidates. Whatever the issues, it is helpful to remember the following principles about structure when performance is a problem:

  • Structure determines performance. Whether a car, space shuttle, the Titanic, or a work team, structure drives outcome. Structure is not stagnant, it changes frequently and needs to be evaluated on a regular basis to see if major or minor modifications are needed. This is one of the advantages of regular, even monthly, reviews with staff members. It allows an opportunity to examine what is working and what isn’t. Structure can be “tweaked” and reevaluated for performance improvement.
  • A well-designed structure naturally gives you the results you want. It eliminates the need for “micro-managing” or the “detail dictator.” Positive results are inevitable, because the structure drives the everyday decisions and work flow. Expectations are clear and concise. Positive performance is reinforced with verbal feedback and appropriate salaries.
  • When you know what you want but aren’t getting it, the structure you’re in is likely to be the problem. People don’t come to work to fail…they want to do a good job. So if the work is not getting done the way you want, look at structure before blaming the employee. Especially in situations where there is a lot of turnover in the position. Maybe the problem is the position. Is the workload realistic? Do they have a level of authority to match the responsibilities? Is the reporting relationship clear? A NO answer to any of these questions will deliver a poor performance.
  • The best structures allow for information to flow laterally. Change is not top-down. While many CEO’s delude themselves with the belief that they are the catalyst for change, the best changes in an organization occur when work teams cross-pollinate and share ideas. This is created structurally by eliminating competition and encouraging cooperation. A work environment that includes a healthy dose of fun and good humor drives this kind of change, as people are more creative when they enjoy what they are doing.
  • Some of the most powerful elements of the structure are invisible. Consciousness is itself a powerful structure; it determines the way in which we design our systems and thus the results we are getting. Employees that are encouraged to use their creativity for problem solving and given time for creative thinking will produce new ideas. This type of creativity cannot take place when employees are buried in busy work and choked in waves of paper.

    “Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he’ll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.”

    Barbara Bartlein, CSP, is the People Pro and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which provides training and consultation to business. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by e-mail at: or visit her website at