As a parent, I have the articles and books that speak to the importance of structure in raising kids. Some of it goes really far (like posting schedules of what’s going to happen every minute of the day…I need a little spontaneity!), but overall, the intention is clear. If my kids don’t understand process, boundary and authority, it will prove to be a difficult life for them. They will fight against “the man” most of their lives and waste the great talents they have.
In the workplace, structure is just as imperative. Have you ever worked for a company that is a bit of a free-for-all? Holy guacamole, is that frustrating or what? I mean, who is getting stuff done? I’ve watched employees meander from one cubicle to another discussing all sorts of stuff, whether work related or not, as if life is one big latte. Even the professionals at Google and URBN have structure, people! Not everyone is walking around with a dog, a cappuccino and a copy of “The Fountainhead” while wearing Toms (if you’re walking around work like that as you read this, um…sorry).
Process points to purpose. Giving structure in various areas of duty, responsibility and performance shows care. Employees want to know they fit and are contributing. Honestly, they don’t really want to wander. It does no one any good if an employee lacks the structure to do his/her job. Further, it actually dumbs down the skill set he/she has. Without practice and use, it will atrophy and weaken.
In high school, I was on the track team. My favorite event to compete in was the long jump. While I cannot say that I was the best on the team (because that would be a lie), I can say that I practiced daily. I ran down the long jump runway into a pit of sand dozens of times each day. I practiced sprinting so that my speed improved to catapult me further in my jump. I practiced on hurdles so that my “ups” would improve for takeoff from the long jump board. I lifted weights and stretched to strengthen those muscles needed for the in-air motion to extend my jump distance. And I knew to do this because my coach gave me structure. He led me and my teammates through the process of working out, through drills, through conditioning…in the cold, in the heat…daily.
Without the cliché, anything worth striving for has to be practiced and pursued consistently. Michael Phelps didn’t just happen to win all of those Olympic medals because he has a few good weeks over 12 years. He devoted himself to the structure needed to win. Our staff has to be invested in similarly. We need to have process in place for skill improvement, for discipline, for praise, for critique, for job enlargement, for job enrichment. We can lead them through the structure of career advancement within our organizations. We can offer resources to help them handle the processes better.
Having structure is not the enemy. Having purposeless structure, however, is demotivating and can lead an organization to think the structure is the enemy. What is the structure like where you are? Does it need improvement? Is it just not known and so a different tactic for communication has to happen? Are staff members afraid to offer some process improvement? Do they even know how to report improvement suggestions?
Perhaps you can take time this weekend while you are working out to think through one area that needs structure or needs it enhanced or needs it communicated better. Yeah, I know, I am making an assumption that you’ll workout this weekend. Maybe I am pushing you a bit. Maybe it’s time for this structure to be placed into your life. Maybe I will find myself back on the track this weekend working on my long jump skills. Maybe.