The Chaos of Orgs and How it Hurts Employees: Management by Influence Hurts When Clarity is Absent

Two weeks ago I met with someone who just left Yahoo!. We commiserated about our experiences at Yahoo! and I asked about this person’s experiences and why they left the company.
It was a familiar tale from many of those recently leaving Yahoo!, and also one that was just beginning to manifest itself when I left in 2004.
As Yahoo! attempts to reinvent itself, a lot of chaos and reorganization is happening under the hood. This person related to me how they had, over a period of only a year, several managers and being passed around to many groups. As this person attempted to do their job, direction was confused in the parties this person supported. As these parties’s ALSO underwent many reorgs and change in management, it caused confusion and a lack of ability to approve anything or willing to make a decision, or even figure out who it was who could really authorize a decision.
That doesn’t mean nothing gets done at Yahoo!. In fact there is (was?) a huge cadre of people who, having grown up with the organization, knew exactly how to get something done. This was accomplished through personal relationships, keeping up with who really supported what technology, and what levers to push in the organization. I call this “management by influence”. The problem is that a huge percentage of the old timers at Yahoo! have or are leaving the company. This leaves a huge void in the company.
So as the people who can really get things done leave, people find it harder to get things done outside their own sphere of knowledge and influence. Add that to a org who may give firm responsibility to people AND announce that publicly and thoroughly enough so that everyone knows who to go to for what they have to get done, and confusion and chaos grow. The funny thing about this is, if you ask any upper level manager if there is clarity in the org, I bet they will say there is total clarity. The problem is that they announce something, but the message nevers get into the lower orgs, or is detailed enough to be clear as to exactly who they should go to for what. Now let’s add communication problems issues to an org too busy to formalize communication. More chaos ensues.
The scorecard now is:
+ Reorganization causes chaos. Too many managers has a negative impact on the employees.
+ Management by influence works for the old timers but they’re all leaving. New timers used to go to the old timers/management by influence experts but now they’re all gone.
+ Communication problems exacerbate the problem.
Employees need stability to perform the best job. They need clarity in their jobs and know that they have a stable manager who cares about them and can direct them effectively. Part of this is because of the dependence on what I call management by influence versus clarity which I argue has obscured the lack of clarity of the organization. By clarity, I mean there is a person you go to for this and everyone knows this. This division does this and does not do that. And on and on.
In small orgs, this is easily achievable. You know someone does something and it easily fits into your mental map of how things work in that company. In large orgs, you have to institutionalize communication and clearly delineate lines of responsibility to the entire company. If you’ve ever worked at IBM, there are huge documents, memos, and directories which document these lines of responsibility. Is it heavy and unwieldy? Yes, probably. But it is definitely clear and removes the need for management by influence alone. People can remove themselves from the org but the position is always there, even if the person is not.
The other part of creating a stable environment for employees is to stop shuffling them around like chess pieces. They are not pawns; they are humans. They need to stop dealing with the chaos and turn that energy on what they got hired for. Those of us in upper management would do well to create these stable environments where employees can flourish, feel needed and valued, and are clear on who to go to to get something done. If you don’t, you’ll get the exodus which ultimately drove this person, and tons of others, to leave.