As consultants, one of the first things we analyze when engaging with a new client is their level of “organizational maturity”. Simply put, organizational maturity is how well-adapted their company – or an aspect of their company – is to their current size or the size to which they are scaling.
By understanding this first and foremost, we can better understand what their needs are and how we can help them. And for a company to understand this is to understand their greatest impediments to growth.
While it seems that maturity is a value judgement (after all, if you’re not mature then you must be immature, right?) – it is wholeheartedly not. Every company has gotten to the point where they are based on their current team and current processes – which is to say something worked. But, what works at one stage does not always work at the next, and it is often the case that companies get trapped by this – and in some cases this can actually be a deathtrap that causes them to falter and eventually fail.
There are a number of different ways of mapping models and maturity levels and each of their corresponding issues such as the CMM, OMM and OPM3 – each has their own divisions and issues and are a matter of ongoing discussion. For now, let’s just focus on some general issues you may see as your company grows no matter what stage you are in.
You can tell when a company has maturity issues by looking for some key signs:
- Everyone is way too busy. And it’s not “good busy,” it’s dumpster fires everywhere. Not a day goes by without some issue cropping up somewhere, and in many instances, there are issues happening at multiple levels in the process (production, hiring, sales, etc).
- There are lots of meetings that are often unproductive. Ironically, when things are breaking, people tend to meet more to try and get a handle on things but end up resolving less.
- Management tends to be highly tactical, and not at all strategic. In less mature organizations, less time is taken to look ahead. It’s a vicious cycle because immaturity problems need resolution, but not looking ahead prevents finding solutions.
- Rejection of change. In these types of organizations, implementing and adopting change is often extremely difficult.
- Inefficient work. It’s not uncommon with these issues to have some people doing the same thing and/or to have critical issues that fall through the cracks.
While these issues can crop up all over the place, they generally all boil down to one of a few root causes. Keep in mind that these issues can be systemic, so it is not uncommon to have more than one, if not all, of these problems happening in many places throughout an organization or department.
Here is what to look for:
- Wrong people. This is not necessarily because these employees are bad. Oftentimes they just need training. Simply put, the skills and experience that get a company from point A to point B are not the same as what is needed to get from point B to point C.
- Wrong processes. This can also be a complete lack of process. As a company grows, it is important that we constantly analyze and improve processes so that we may adapt to changes.
- No specialization. In a smaller company, it is imperative that people be able to switch context and help out everywhere – product managers do marketing, developers do QA, everyone does what they can. But as a company grows, it is equally imperative that people focus on their specialties and utilize best practices in those fields.
- Inexperience. Organizational maturity is akin to actual maturity – there may be individuals that simply don’t have the experience or skills necessary to operate at the organization’s current level.
- Not knowing what you don’t know. AKA the “Donald Rumsfeld scenario”. This is particularly dangerous because oftentimes key players in growing a small company simply don’t realize the shift that needs to take place to go to the next level – they’ve never been there, after all – and in that ignorance lies the root of many problems.
If you’ve come to the realization that you may have organizational maturity issues in your company or group, taking action can be difficult – but can be extremely rewarding as you watch your company propel into new markets, increase employee satisfaction and make your life easier. (see dumpster fires above) The important thing in discovering these root causes is to make sure that you are looking in the right place. For example, in software development, I have seen a lot of instances where people blame QA for shipping bad software when the real problem is somewhere upstream. (If you don’t have enough time to develop, guess where that time is made up…yup, less testing.) So if you are trying to discover issues in your own company, look hard and be honest.
- Be honest with yourselves. If you truly want to mature, you have to get an understanding of where your weaknesses are.
- Get outside help. Let’s face it, it’s hard to see from the inside. That’s why people go to friends, family and therapists for help. Don’t be afraid to utilize consultants. This is what we do!
- Train first. If you do find that your weakness comes down to people, offer training. Training good people is less expensive than hiring new ones, especially if you have valuable talent that just doesn’t have the skills to go to the next level. This includes hard skills and best practices, but also softer skills like management and leadership training.
- Fire if you have to. That said, some people don’t have it in them to adapt. It is surprising the damage a toxic individual can have in an organization – especially if they are in a key position.
- Keep looking higher up in the org chart. Let’s face it, it is the managers and leaders in your organization that are propelling it forward – in good ways and bad – it is important to go all the way up to understand the nexus of problems and implement ways to fix them.
Many companies are plagued by immaturity in one aspect or another. The good news is, true to the cliche: knowing you have a problem is the first and hardest step and you may be there now. The next step is to take a hard and honest look at your company all the way up to the top to see how and where you need to grow up.
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