I raised my hand to knock on Hobart’s door and felt the familiar feeling of trepidation. “What!?” he snapped gruffly as I stepped into his office and glanced around. The office was a throwback to the 1940’s, with a large metal desk, grey metal file cabinets, and piles of paper stacked everywhere. No computer in sight, although he did own a laptop. It was probably buried somewhere under all the piles of paper. Hobart was writing furiously on a manila notepad – one of his treatises on management probably. Nobody read them because they didn’t understand what he was talking about, but that didn’t stop him from writing.
Hobart never liked it when I interrupted him. He was intense, focused. But he liked a new case, so I knew he’d come around.
“Well, don’t just stand there, what do you want?” he said.
“We’ve got a case,” I said.
“Anything interesting?” he asked.
“Well, they are in crisis mode so they’re highly motivated. Just did a restructure.”
That’s the golden word for Hobart. As long as I’d been working with Hobart at Management Mystery Investigations, or MMI for short, a restructure always seems to instantaneously change his mood from sour to mildly upbeat. He loved the aftermath of a restructure; there was so much chaos which created the motivation for change.
Hobart was a real detective consultant. He figured out what was really going on when no one else seemed to – just like Dr. House on that T.V. show, except unlike Dr. House, Hobart didn’t almost kill the patient in the process. He was a brilliant diagnostician, but not so good with people. That’s where I came in. I translated what Hobart meant to say into a language that the client could understand. Somehow, it worked.
“I suppose they want me yesterday,” he said while still writing.
“More like last week.” I paused before delivering what I knew was going to be bad news. “They’re in California.”
“You know I hate California.”
“I could ask them to move their headquarters for you,” I said sarcastically.
Grunt. “Who called?”
“Mike Malone, Senior VP of Operations at Diversifier, Inc.”
“That’s good.” And since he was no longer paying any attention to me, I left to take care of the arrangements for the trip.
Hobart wouldn’t have taken the case if it wasn’t a senior leader who had called. He told me he’d learned long ago that unless the senior people were committed and involved, nothing would end up happening and he wasn’t going to waste his time. Hobart hated to waste his time.
“Penelope!” Hobart shouted.
I walked back to his office and leaned my head inside, waiting for whatever it was that he wanted.
“Who did the restructure for them? Assertion?”
That was that. Hobart hated the big consulting firms. He said they don’t know how to restructure properly and they don’t know how to operationalize the structures they do create. I tried to tell him that it’s more work for us, but he just grunts at me. Grunting for Hobart can have a myriad of meanings. Only the highly attuned, like myself, can decipher them.
The following week we were off to sunny Los Angeles. The sun wasn’t something to be coveted by Hobart. He seemed to like dark and gloomy better. Who doesn’t like the sun? What is wrong with that man?
We checked in at the security desk at Diversifier corporate headquarters – very modern, very minimalist. “Penelope Long and Hobart Filmore to see Mike Malone,” I said.
“Sign in here,” the guard said, which we did and he handed us our passes. I put mine on, as one is expected to do, and Hobart slid his into his jacket pocket, as one is not expected to do. He hated following the rules.
Mike’s assistant, Claire, escorted us to his office which was in sharp contrast to Hobart’s. There wasn’t a scrap of paper in sight. Mike greeted us and asked us to sit at the glass conference table overlooking the corporate park.
“Thanks for coming at such short notice,” he said.
Hobart grunted and eeked out, “We are glad to be here.” I looked at him with surprise. He never uses niceties. But then the real Hobart got right to the point.
“What’s the problem?”
Mike looked a little taken aback but then seemed to understand that Hobart isn’t a man who indulges in small talk. “We restructured our supply chain into a matrix two months ago, and . . .”
Hobart gave me that look, the one that says here we go again, and Mike saw it too.
“What?” Mike asked.
“What gave you the idea that restructuring makes you a matrix?”
“Our consultants said that we were restructuring into a matrix structure – with regions on one axis and products on the other. Are you saying we’re not a matrix?” he seemed extremely confused.
“Oh, you are,” said Hobart, almost cracking a smile, but not quite.
“What Hobart means,” I interjected, “is that you were actually a matrix before the restructure, that restructuring your vertical dimension, which is what you did, moving the boxes around on an org chart, doesn’t make you a matrix.”
Mike still looked confused. “So, what does make us a matrix?”
“The need to operate both horizontally, where you align to your customers,” I said while describing the dimensions with my hands, “and vertically where you align your resources to your functions.”
Mike looked pensive and then that light bulb moment hit. “Oh, so it’s an operational thing, not a structural thing.”
“Right,” barked Hobart.
“What restructuring typically brings up is some of the challenges that come from operating two-dimensionally. So, what challenges are you experiencing?” I asked.
“Well, we have product managers who steer our products through the supply chain, and before the restructure they had people reporting to them – planning, materials management, technical people, the typical product team. In the restructure we changed the reporting relationships of those team members so now they report to the plants. We wanted to get more regional alignment.”
Hobart got that look in his eye, the one that tells me he is about to go in for the kill.
“So, you had a product alignment, which meant you weren’t aligned with the regions. You restructured, meaning you moved reporting lines from the products to the regions…” said Hobart.
“Exactly.” Mike seemed pleased that Hobart was getting it.
“So, you don’t want a product alignment anymore,” challenged Hobart.
Mike seemed flustered. “Well, yes, we need to focus on products as well as regions.”
“So, you want both?” Hobart already knew Mike’s answer, and the glint in his eye said checkmate and I’m about to take your king.
After a pause, Mike responded, “That would be great, but you can’t have both. They either report to the product managers or to the regions.” Hobart seemed satisfied with that response.
“So, what’s next year’s restructure going to look like? Have teams report to the product managers again when you aren’t getting enough product focus? Where did they report before you restructured this last time?”
Mike looked defeated. “To the regions.”
Hobart softened a bit. He hated to rub his victory in anyone’s face. “You see what you’re doing, don’t you? You are operating in an either/or, binary world. Either they report to the regions or to the products. It’s a win/lose proposition. Either the regions win and the products lose or vice versa.”
“But what’s the other option?” asked Mike.
“Forget about reporting relationships as a way to create alignment. You have to think outside the restructuring box you’ve been in.”
Mike was trying to process this new information and then Hobart ended the conversation.
“Now we need to meet with a product manager.”
“What? Oh, okay. I set up a meeting with you and Lucy Matasume.”
“Thanks,” I said, “we’ll finish this conversation later when we all get together and talk about our findings.”
Hobart shook Mike’s hand and left the room. I thanked him for his time and said we’d see him in the afternoon. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, but that wasn’t all bad. If change was going to be made here, people had to be a bit uncomfortable. **********
“Coffee!” said Hobart.
“Not now, we have a meeting,” I replied and he grunted. This was an okay, but I don’t like it grunt. The I’m not happy grunt, but I’ll acquiesce.
Lucy greeted us outside her office. “Mr. Filmore, so glad to meet you.” No one called him Mr. Filmore. He hated that designation. But he smiled at her nonetheless. He liked women better than he liked men.
I introduced myself because, of course, Hobart wouldn’t think to do so.
Hobart sat down and began his interrogation. “Let me get right to the point. What’s changed for the product managers in the restructure?”
“Well, the biggest thing is they took away my direct reports, so I no longer have a team.”
“What happened to your team? Are they lost?” he asked, chuckling to himself.
“They report to the regions now.”
“Have they been assigned to new jobs?”
“So, they still have jobs related to your product?”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“I don’t have any authority over them. They do what their regional bosses tell them to do.”
“Well you are up the proverbial creek then,” Hobart said sarcastically.
“Of course, you’re not,” I interjected and shot Hobart a look that said stop it!
“Anything else you’re uncomfortable with or worried about?” I asked.
“Well, we’re no longer leaders so how am I supposed to get my job done?”
“What do you mean you’re no longer a leader?” challenged Hobart.
“I don’t have any direct reports, so that means I’m no longer a leader. The people I need to negotiate with are leaders. They aren’t going to listen to me.”
“I understand your concern. Anything else?” I asked.
“This has been very difficult. I really liked my job. I felt like I was making a contribution. Now I have no idea how to get my job done. It’s a real blow. Sorry to unload on you.”
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “Restructuring is a difficult change to go through. I can see why you’re upset.”
“We’ll sort it all out this afternoon,” I said.
“I hope so.”
And with that, we left to get coffee. Hobart had to have his continual fix of coffee. It was his one vice as far as I knew.
“Let’s meet with the head of OD, what’s her name?” Hobart asked.
“Joyce Bancock. Let me see if she’s available.”
“Tell her to meet us at the coffee bar.”
I got on the phone with Joyce and asked her to meet us at the Atrium Coffee Bar. She said she’d be there in 10 minutes.
Hobart and I sat sipping our coffees in silence, waiting for Joyce. He drank his black. I liked a decaf latte, extra hot, no foam.
Joyce arrived right on time. Good thing. Hobart hated it when people were late.
Joyce was waiting for Hobart to start the conversation but he said nothing while he gulped down his coffee. Finally, he said, “So this restructure. How much chaos is occurring?”
Joyce looked relieved that there would be conversation. “Oh, a lot.”
She seemed surprised at his response. “Good?”
“Yes, chaos is good. People are ready to change when they are in pain.”
“Right,” she chuckled. “Well we’re ready, but I have to warn you that the senior leaders are tired of the whole thing. They’ve been at it for 18 months, planning and rolling out this restructure. They don’t have a lot of appetite for any more big changes.”
Hobart shook his head slightly. “I see.”
That was that. Joyce and I chatted and Hobart looked off into space. I guess he was thinking, but most likely he had all the information he needed and knew what the solution would be. I’d just have to wait until the afternoon meeting, like everyone else, to find out what that was.
END of PART 1