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Taking on the Organization

As the snowbanks of Maine, crusty for weeks now with road dirt and empty Moxie bottles, melt into a special kind of adhesive mud, and the daffodils begin poking up among the old pickup truck tires and six-pack rings, I’m reminded how well hidden value can sometimes be.

Take organizational charts, for example.

Now, I’m not an org-chart kind of guy, as a rule. In fact, I hate them, as a rule. A few years ago I developed a kind-of psychotic dislike for the Human Resources profession and all who practice in it. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that I generally find HR professionals to be among the most creativity-stifling, risk-averse, imagination-free people on earth. I like lawyers better than HR people.

So imagine my surprise when I met a perfectly lovely lady named Lois Melbourne who founded a company called TimeVision in 1994 with her husband to make software that automates the process of generating organizational charts. Lois might have also restored some of my respect for HR. Or for org charts, anyway.

“We started with a relatively simple idea, which has blossomed into an awful lot of power ... which is kind of nice,” says Lois disarmingly when we met. I was curious how she and her husband had settled on the creation of organizational charts as a compelling business need, since—I couldn’t help myself—I didn’t think they were all that important.

“And a lot of people don’t think they’re all that important,” Lois agreed, being altogether more polite than I deserved after that crack, “until they discover what org charts can actually do for them.”

From Family Tree to Strategic Opportunity

So by now I’m hooked, and Lois proceeded to give me what-for on the subject of org charts:

“Some people start by wanting to better know what their organization looks like and who the players are,” she says. Starting with the business need—namely, wanting know what capabilities and talents reside within the company and how to locate the expertise—“they sort of back into the need for an org chart,” explains Lois. “Others approach from traditionalism,” she goes on. “They say, ‘I need an org chart because I’m supposed to have one.’” This is the business-school grad for whom an org chart just comes with the territory. “Once they find the product, they then begin to discover the analytics power.” Like those daffodils in the dirty snow, the real beauty emerges rather surprisingly: “How many people do I have in the Western division who speak Spanish? OK, now how many of those people also are skilled to do ‘X’? Great, I wonder if there’s an opportunity for us to better develop our Hispanic market for such-and-such ...”

So the value of this seemingly simple tool—an organizational charting tool—begins to reveal itself the more you think about it. Thought of as a management-analytics tool, an org chart can be used to fine-tune a department or re-deploy skillsets where they can be best applied from a strategic perspective.

As a direct management tool, an org chart (at least one that has been fully developed to capture the necessary data) can help identify team members for a specific project—pure expertise location in all its clean, graphic, color-coded glory.

As a human resources tool, an org chart can obviously point out people for whom there may be a promotion or re-assignment opportunity. But furthermore, it can address the dicey political ramifications that always occur when you want to cherry-pick members for a project team. “Who am I gonna p— off if I enlist this guy for my product-launch team?”

If nothing else, as a basic corporate resource, an org chart builder is potentially the world’s greatest corporate directory ... complete with background, interests, report-to’s and a nice color photograph to put a face to the name.

Recent events have exposed another unexpected but potentially devastating situation that could have been avoided—or at least predicted—with a properly deployed org chart tool. When the armed forces began calling up Reservists to fulfill their service obligations in Iraq, for example, it is believed that few large companies had the foggiest idea how many important skilled managers would be suddenly removed from their company. This conflict, more so than the 1991 Desert Storm operation, involved many more senior, manager-level men and women. Many companies were blind-sided as a result, with no strategy in place to re-allocate human resources.

So, thanks to Lois, I learned my lesson. Things are not always what they seem, and value can reside where you least expect it.

(You can learn more about Timevision’s OrgPublisher at TimeVision

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