Org charts and OTDR traces

July 1, 2019

Recently I had the opportunity to address a company that had just moved into a new facility. They graciously invited me to be part of the facility’s ceremonial opening, and I was honored to be there. They even allowed me to say a few words. While drafting those comments, I went on kind of a stream-of-consciousness rant. Because I had only a brief time to address the gathering, and because I didn’t want to make history by being the first person to be escorted by security out of their new facility, I delivered the short, sanitized version of my remarks. But because you and I are friends and I know I can trust you to keep a secret, I’ll share with you the portion of my speech that was left on the cutting room floor.

I think organizational charts should be more like OTDR (optical time-domain reflectometer) traces. Here’s why: The efforts of every member of a company matter greatly to that company’s success. Regardless of a person’s daily duty or where their function resides in an organizational chart, each worker’s efforts, competencies, and achievements contribute to success. We’ve all seen org charts. Regardless of how wide the chart might be, it is vertical in nature. There are a few important functions on the top and then kind of a waterfall effect. An org chart can appear scattered as it goes through several vertical tiers. That structure implies, subtly or blatantly, that what happens at the top of the chart is more important than what happens near the bottom. The way a company really operates would more accurately be displayed along the lines of an OTDR trace—horizontal in nature, with each element along the way carrying the signal, carrying the message, making appropriate connections, and executing as needed from one end to the other.

Politically, many companies function vertically. Workers spend time and effort impressing higher tiers on the org chart. Many have ambitions to reach those higher tiers. Operationally, companies function horizontally. Whether the company is providing a product or a service, every step of the process from concept to delivery must perform well enough for the complete, end-to-end system to meet customer expectations. One significant flaw anywhere along that horizontal path can put the business in peril. Everyone’s effort matters. I hope you work in a company, or run a company, that functions accordingly.

Please note my new email address, [email protected], in case you want to tell me how brilliant, or how foolish, you find my OTDR analogy.

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