How Do You Pivot From Role-Based Teams to Task-Based?

Forrester’s Victor Milligan had a pretty interesting presentation at #Inbound18 (yes, I’m still downloading all my notes from the event, why do you ask?). The talk was aimed at CMOs but it had a lot of resonance for me as a manager and for my team too when I told them about it. He had several topics worth sharing with you but the one I want to discuss right now is his prediction for how businesses will be reconfigured over the next decade. If he’s right, it’s going to get very interesting, very fast.

Essentially, Milligan stated that companies who are maximally focused on customer service and being easy to do business with will undergo three shifts in organization:

  1. A move to matrices instead of hierarchies
  2. A focus on projects not functions
  3. A focus on tasks not jobs

It makes sense when you unpack it: customers don’t care about your org chart, they just want you to their experience painless and valuable. Think of the times you’ve been transferred around a company trying to resolve some problem:

“Ok, ma’am, I’m going to transfer you to our Senior Technician to take care of this.”

“Hmm, actually this is an accounting issue. I’m going to patch you through to our Corporate Finance Alchemist to resolve the problem.”

“Yar, this problem be with our ERP software. T’is the Grand Developer ye be needin’!”

Being stuck in an organizational hedge maze is irritating because as a customer, I don’t need to speak to the senior customer success specialist, I just need my dang billing problem fixed. This is the flipside of Dharmesh Shah’s bon mot from a previous post: “Don’t make your system my problem.”

Milligan had a more positive term for this: customer stewardship. Companies who are good stewards of their customer will focus less on getting the customer to the right job title and focus more on identifying and executing the task the customer needs to be successful.

Easier said than done though, right?

I want to take this to heart at my own company but we just celebrated our 70th anniversary, so there’s a lot of organizational inertia pushing in the direction of traditional hierarchies and traditional job roles. Even so, I think there’s things I can do to prepare the way for a major paradigm shift if Milligan is right.

The first and easiest thing to do was to simply open up a blank spreadsheet and list as many tasks as I could think of that my team and I perform. In just about 20 minutes, I identified about 40 individual tasks we’re all responsible for. In a second column, I noted which of us was currently performing that task (or should be).

The last thing I did was take a look at our company goals for 2019-2021. I went line by line through the task list and noted which of the company goals each task influenced. Fortunately, every single task was relevant to one or more goals. If any particular task hadn’t been, that’s a great case to maybe stop doing that task.

Every company is different so I’m not going to pretend I have a great answer for how to prepare for Milligan’s prediction in your company. If you’re a startup with 4 employees, you’re already probably pretty task-based. If you’re a 5,000 employee behemoth, I can’t even begin to imagine how a change like this would happen. Plus, we haven’t even gotten into the fact that many people really like having a specific job with clearly defined roles. Taking that away from them could have consequences…

Even so, I think you’ll find it a valuable exercise to list out all your personal or departmental tasks somewhere, even if only to show department heads during the yearly budgetary alms-begging process. Most importantly, make sure that somewhere behind every task is a value-add for the customer. After all, without their business, a clearly-defined job role is only good for making your resume pretty when you’re looking for another job.

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