Jun 9 2011

Sometimes, Things Are Messy

Sometimes, Things Are Messy

Many people who run companies have highly organized and methodical personality types – in lots of cases, that’s probably how they got where they got in life.  And if you work long enough to espouse the virtues of fairness and equality with the way you manage and treat people, it become second nature to want things to be somewhat consistent across an organization.

But the longer we’re in business at Return Path and the larger the organization gets, the more I realize that some things aren’t meant to fit in a neat box, and sometimes inconsistency is not only healthy but critical for a business to flourish.  Let me give a few examples that I’ve observed over the past few years.

  • Our sales team and our engineering team use pretty different methodologies from each other and from the rest of the company in how they set individual goals, monitor progress against them, and compensate people on results
  • The structure of our sales and service and channel organizations in Europe are very different from our emerging ones in Latin America and Asia/Australia – and even within Europe, they can vary greatly from country to country
  • Although we have never been a company that places emphasis on job titles, our teams and leadership levels have become even more inconsistent over the years – sometimes a manager or director has a bigger span of control or more impact on the business than a VP does, sometimes individual contributors have more influence over a broad section of groups than a manager does, etc.

It’s taken me a while to embrace messiness in our business.  I fully acknowledge that I am one of the more hyper-organized people around, which means this hasn’t come naturally to me.  But the messiness has been very productive for us.  And I think it’s come from the combination of two things:  (1) we are a results-oriented culture, not a process-driven culture, and (2) we give managers a lot of latitude in how they run their teams.

I’m certainly not saying that striving for some level of consistency in organization is a bad goal – just that it’s probably not an absolute goal and that embracing messiness sometimes makes a lot of sense.  Or perhaps phrased more actionably, allowing individual managers to use their own judgment and creativity in setting up teams and processes, as long as they follow high-level guidelines and values can be an incredibly productive and rewarding way of maximizing success across an enterprise.