The urge to organise



In my final student years, I had a flat mate, who was setting up his own business. He registered at the Chamber of Commerce, got himself a VAT number, bank accounts, logo’s and printed materials and he filled files to describe his offering to his potential clients. He never actually signed on a client, but he was very well organised. A lot of effort gone to waste, you could argue from an entrepreneurial perspective.

It seems to be a deeply ingrained need for some people to organize themselves well. A little of this organizing capability may proof useful, especially when a business grows, but it can really stifle the spirit of entrepreneurship and growth as well. Many large companies and especially financial services companies suffer from this lethal urge to organize. Earlier this week we had some fascinating discussions in a fast growing company about their global sales approach. As the company has grown through acquisitions a few people from different operating companies realized that they used different sales approaches.

The urge to organize immediately popped up and resonated with others: “How come we may tell a different story to our clients about our company in different parts of the world?” “Here in Malaysia I don’t know how to position our company as a whole, especially since we are unable to serve our clients in all business lines.” “Don’t we all need to tell our clients the same story in a 20 second elevator pitch?” The questions seem simple and rhetorical.

It requires some courage to resist the seemingly obvious urge to organize: why do you need one similar story for so many different clients in different businesses around the world? What is the problem explaining to your Malay client that you are not yet ready to give them the full blown overview of all services the company is offering the rest of the world? Is that what the client wants? Would a client not be much more interested to jointly explore how the larger company can support her with its challenges?

In the HR function, I sometimes come across the ultimate urge to organize. They often call their first priority: “house in order”. Would you want to live in a house that is in order? Or has that killed the very spirit of the house in the first place: to be welcoming, fun, alive and kicking and somewhat messy as a result?