3 Steps towards Building an Amoeba Organization*

Is your organization structured like an Amoeba?

Successful businesses can continually alter its organizational structure to meet the changing demands of the environment in which they are operating. Each of that change helps them propel forward to achieving the goals the organization has set for itself. And finally, it is not bound the rigid boundaries that are prevalent in the industry or in other industries. Let us take each of these with an example

Business is no Biology, Why then are we talking of Amoeba, here?

An amoeba (/əˈmiːbə/) is a type of organism which

  • can alter its shape, primarily by extending and retracting pseudopods.
  • propels forward (and feeds) by using and extending a pseudopod and let’s go its rear portion
  • do not form a single taxonomic group and are found among the protozoa, fungi, algae, and animals.

A successful business means these 3 things

1. Altering the structure:

Altering the structure of an organization is usually a daunting task. It requires a leader to think out of the box and often begets undesirable resistance from HR and other units that look for status quo for ease of administration. Even in the many cases where an organization undergoes reengineering and restructuring, it often is a laborious exercise and involves months of planning and years of execution. It is anything but simple. But then creative leaders know can get this done.

In one exceptionally large organization that I was working, it was boom time and the business team was quite successful in meeting and exceeding targets. We had an extremely capable sales team and marketing team. The technical team was terrific. The Unit was on a super-fast growth. Yet, burnouts and the low compensation started to take its toll. The Business Unit leader was fully aware of the consequence and had many meetings with HR in vain. So, in this case, he hired a ‘marketing manager’ and the job role was clearly defined as an ‘excitement specialist.’ The measurement was about creating excitement in the team and help the unit be a fun place. The new-hire, an ex-advertising professional from a reputed Advertising Agency exactly knew what to do to build that excitement in the team. She was successful and the need for that position had been done away within 12-18 months when intended results of retentions and motivation were achieved.

There were other times, what was needed was ‘just a process to be set in place,’ or entire unit was to be focussed on ‘competitive win back.’ The organization structure changed countless times, where the required people were brought in or moved out and/or roles changed dynamically. Such changes could not have been reflected under the rigid structure, but with a creative leader, we were able to achieve none the less. The organization not only survived one of the worst dot com busts but propelled forward to be a leader in the industry as competition floundered. And that brings us to the second point.

2. Propel Forward:

To propel forward is a simple term but then defining the forward is the key. The forward could mean winning competition even at a short-term loss or it might earn profit maximization. It might mean the need for PR or need for better sales closers. There can be a couple of areas where one needs to move forward, and it only means adequate resources are deployed in those areas for that duration to make them successful. Any less, the effort would go waste. Any more, we might not be doing it efficiently. Propel forward for an organisation unit may be different from the standard industry practices.

The key to propelling forward is to let go of the past that is holding us back. We could have had an organization that was great and successful in the past but continuing the same activity and being tied to the past will slow the unit down. The key to propelling forward is to let go of the tenets that gave success in the past and unbound and unleash itself.

3. Unbound and hence Unleashed:

The core tenet is being unbound and unchained by the dogmas that exist in the organization and unit. Any change like this is seen as maverick and would lead to eyebrows being raised and questions being asked. The only way to address such criticism is to continue to deliver on outcomes. The team would need to be fully aware that they are being taken into full confidence and it needs to work on ‘a mission mode.’ Goals are pursued as a mission, and the team sees itself as a task force and a crack team. Call it permanent beta, disruptive innovators – any name that you wish. The idea is to take the team along and make sure they are unbound and unleashed all the time to deliver their best.

Go ahead try it! Build your own Amoeba Organization*.

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 This above article first appeared in the Times of India on April 03, 2019

Rajesh Soundararajan is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Futureshift Consulting, a boutique consulting outfit that helps organizations chart their business, marketing and technology strategies that generate demand, drive predictable revenue and achieve impactful outcomes.

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*I am not talking here about Amoeba Management, which is a system designed by Kazuo Inamori, the creator and current honorary chairman of Kyocera. Amoeba Management is different from building an Amoeba Organization that I am talking of and is primarily composed of personnel in a company, with a clearly defined purpose of making a profit for itself.

Aspire to be a CEO: Only bet on yourself!

When my nephew was seven years old, his favourite cricket team Deccan Chargers was clearly winning, with 12 runs needed off 36 balls and two wickets to spare. Convinced of the victory, he offered to bet his grandfather on the outcome of the game. His grandfather laughed and agreed. The stakes were $4.64, all they money that the seven year old had. In the next five minutes the bowler took two straight wickets and the boy lost.
The kid hated to lose and as he was giving away his life’s earnings his grandfather said, “Only bet on yourself. Don’t bet on events and people you can’t control to influence. Don’t bet on what you don’t know or understand.”
These golden words hold immense wisdom in business. History is galore with examples from sub-prime crisis to Wall Street crash to the dot-com burst. These events had downed hundreds of companies and rendered millions unemployed. They had one common characteristic. The executives of the failed firms had an appetite for risks. More importantly they were betting on risks beyond their control; on things they did not understand and on things that they did not believe in.
Was it then a surprise disaster was in the making.
The golden rule of any successful manager or entrepreneur – he would should bet only and only if he can influence and has control. Risk taking is not a great idea if you do not control the risk factors.

Aspire to be a CEO: Push ideas not paper.

As modern corporations grow to become global businesses, there is an increasing need for ‘replicable models’ and ‘standardized processes’. This need slowly takes the form of “Bureaucratic Creep”.
While, practically every organization and every job description demands the need for qualities like entrepreneurship, innovative and risk taking – that precise quality that is being killed every day in most organizations. Pangs of growth, they would say!
Corporations are afraid of internal entrepreneurs. They cannot handle personalities that build businesses. Most managers cannot deal with informal, anti-policy, anti-procedure style ,idea people and business builders. They want monthly reports, detailed expense accounts, personal reviews on paper, quarterly reports, year-end reports, stock reports, one hundred page business plans and many more. Do not get paper-strapped. Papers are means to an end.
Do not get paper trapped. Do not accept those handcuffs. The zillion reports, if they do not help in decision making – do not prepare them. If some report has to be done and you know no one  looks at it, avoid it at all costs. If it is unavoidable, delegate it to the junior-most level staff. Just do not do anything  that does not improve your company’s performance.
PS: At the same time please do document the statutory things that are important for your company existence.

“Bureaucratic Creep” is a term you will hear used a lot around leadership and management conferences.  It refers to the inexorable progress of developing bureaucracy to deal with the issues that arise when a company grows past a certain point.  Bureaucratic creep is really just a function of laziness, taking the easiest path to a desired end.  Rather than deal with individuals, we find it easier and more efficient (at least in the short term) to set up policies and “class actions,” which say, “anyone who falls into . . . category will be dealt with by  . . .  means”  In small companies, we see much less of this “efficient” behaviour.