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Apr 3, 201302:02 PMOpen for Business

with Jody Glynn Patrick

The nesting doll theory of managing business(es)

The nesting doll theory of managing business(es)

(page 1 of 2)

I have a set of Russian nesting dolls (“Matryoshka”), a series of wooden figures in a nested hierarchy that can be pulled apart to reveal another figure with some resemblance or common motif inside. Sets typically contain as few as five dolls or as many as 30. I sometimes think of each of our employees as a Russian nesting doll, a discrete and complete unit that is also part of a larger system. (The entire set of dolls comprises the company.) On a micro-level, every employee fits into a specific role that is necessary to the overall nesting quality, yet each is a unique size and holds a singular place in the organization.

Another way to say it is that I envision each member of IB’s staff as a company inside a company. That paradigm is easy with editorial staff, where every writer has his or her own “beat.” It’s easy to apply to sales staff, where each media specialist has a specific list of accounts. It’s easy with art; there is a creative director and he “subs” some work out to his assistant, who is used to getting outside freelance assignments, so she has that mentality, too. But does this logic extend to every employee at IB? Yes, but only if everyone is encouraged and authorized to reset presets and function as true entrepreneurs with clearly identified customers who hold them accountable.

Here’s a concrete example of what I mean. During a recent job evaluation with newly promoted Carol, I asked what challenges she anticipated in her (now) supervisory job. She mentioned she’d prefer job-sharing versus cross-training; she needed to better understand her subordinate’s previous job responsibilities, and she wanted to improve scheduling conflicts, as the other worker spent 10 hours a week telecommuting. I invited Carol to see herself as a vendor for IB, her customer. We’re happy to hire Carol’s firm, and we don’t care who does what, as long as our work gets done on time to our standards. What old presets were stopping her from moving ahead under that scenario, if she were CEO of her own company?

She asked a great question: Was her subordinate viewed as her partner or her employee? “It’s the Carol Company,” I replied. “You tell me.” Okay, Gloria is now her partner. Next challenge for The Carol Company? Only one person could input data at a time into a main database, so how could they really share workflow? Hmm … we put our heads together (as publisher, I hold the role of “consultant” for all of these businesses inside IB). The database accepts uploads via spreadsheets, so if we made an Excel spreadsheet with duplicate fields and did training on how to upload, both could be working simultaneously, and … all we had to do was reset a preset.

We ticked off other troublesome presets one by one: Her “partner” telecommuted on bank deposit days (change the bank pickup schedule to days they both were there to allow for vacation coverage); people were used to giving her partner assignments (redirect to Carol, who would make daily assignments), etc., etc. Carol needed the authority to reset the presets, and she was off and running as a new manager. (Continued)

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