Where is your organization located on the matrix?

Tim Haggerty

Organizations face a seismic shift toward a post-pandemic reality, one without baby boomers. While United States payrolls swelled 6.4 million in 2021, the labor force remains 4 million jobs short of prepandemic levels. Attribute the difference in part to the so-called great resignation.

Who, exactly, has resigned? Over the past few years, it’s been baby boomers. That leaves an influx of Gen Zeds — Zoomers, if you will — and a leadership gap. Understanding your organizational culture will allow you to navigate this shift. 

To help, I present the complexity and capability matrix that exists within all organizations. Understanding the complexity and capability within your organization enables you to distinguish critical from mundane and focus on pressing issues. And if ever there’s been cause for complexity, it’s the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I’m sure some will utter  “no duh.” But bear with me. In most cases, it’s the obvious observations that lead to the most elegant solutions. 

Here’s the first no-duh insight: When the complexity within your organization exceeds capability, you’ll have a poor to underperforming operation. 

The second no-duh observation: I know of only three ways to affect this matrix: reduce complexity; increase capability; or, my favorite, do both.

Imagine a giant X in the middle of a sheet of paper. The left side is the complexity side. The right side is the capability side. All of this rests upon the foundation of any organization — culture. Right or wrong, good or bad, your culture dictates short- and long-term success.  

I’ve found the following three descriptors for any organization: poor performing, performing or high performing. 

Poor performing teams share attributes. Operational complexity exceeds organizational capability. The organization struggles to meet daily business needs. There’s continual crisis management. Most activities are reactive rather than proactive. Little to no sustainable improvement efforts are evident. Management is too busy fighting fires to drive sustainable change. The organization has no time to build capability, adding to the poor performance spiral. You can place these elements to the left side of your paper and well within the confines of the complexity of your organization. 

Performing teams also share attributes. Organizational capability equals operational complexity. Operational processes enable front line employees to meet daily business needs. Management allocates sufficient time to continuous improvement efforts. The organization has time to build capability. These teams belong in the middle of the matrix. 

High performing teams share these attributes. Organizational capability exceeds organizational complexity. Established processes and procedures enable flawless daily execution. There’s virtually no fighting fires. Leaders spend adequate time on continuous improvement. Success breeds success as free time is used to build additional capability, further widening the gap. These teams are located on the right side of the matrix. 

Many factors affect complexity and capability. New equipment, poor maintenance practices and changes in management and work force are but a few of the variables that must be identified. That’s not to mention an exodus of baby boomers and pandemic.

At the core remains a constant that must be continually nurtured and developed. That core is your culture. What makes or breaks any culture is the people within that culture. 

So the matrix is now complete. But what do we do with it? How can we use this matrix to the advantages of all? And why for all? Keep in mind your culture is your foundation. Leaving certain groups out of the loop or giving favor to certain members will erode that culture.