Chart Your Course

Chart Your Course

If you could start your company over, would you hire the people you have now? Put them in the same jobs they're in now? Thinking these questions through in a structured way can help you tweak your organizational structure to take better advantage of your staff's strengths.

The first step is to draw up that much-maligned tool, the organizational chart. Do it as if you were starting entirely from scratch. Write down the jobs you need filled and which skills or talents you would look for in filling them, and forget about who's doing them now. If your company is growing quickly, draw up the organizational chart so that it reflects the expertise you'll need within the next year.

Then take a fresh look at everyone in the company and see where they fit. You'll want as much employee input as possible. That means you'll need to explain the project gently, without causing everyone to freak out that they're about to lose their jobs. Explain that you want to take the company to the next level and you need to maximize all the talent on your bench. Have one-on-one conversations with each employee, asking questions such as what they think they're good at and what they love to do.

Leon "Chip" Marrano III, president of New York-based Marson Contracting, went through this process in 2004. Marrano drew up the org chart himself, the first for the 59-year-old company. Then he worked with his top two executives to identify which employees would be good at which jobs. Marrano and his managers sat down with everyone and discussed where they fit in. Some employees, of course, thought they deserved a higher position on the chart. In those cases, Marrano explained why he had placed them in a particular position. But he also told them what they needed to do to move up. "I explained this is not set in stone," Marrano says. "It changes as people change."

Marrano says the chart has made a difference in his own job. With more clarity about who is responsible for what, he says he is free to focus on business development and big-picture strategy.

It's important to remember not to let the process becoming stifling. After all, one of the key assets of a small company is the ability to be quick and agile. Marrano has a 33-year-old staffer, Robert Rainone, who doesn't fit on the chart. Marrano says Rainone is involved in everything from marketing to information technology management to the preparation of job proposals. "I don't know what his title is," Marrano says. "It would take ten minutes to tell you, and it wouldn't fit on a card." When Marrano drew up his org chart there was no clear need for this sort of person, but Rainone wears so many hats so well that his boss doesn't worry about it. "I know he wouldn't work at a big company because he'd have to be pigeonholed," says Marrano. "He's like the mortar in [between] the bricks. He keeps everything together." Actually, that can fit on a business card.

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