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Cognition

Build Your Annex

If you work in a small organization, chances are your org chart was (or still is) a horizontal line, commonly known as a flat organization. As your organization grows, so does the chart. It gets taller, with lots of lines, some solid and some dotted, connecting lots of boxes. It’s been the case at our company, as well as lots of other companies I’ve gotten to know through Bureau events.

I often think of an org chart like a house. When you have a small family, you can fit comfortably in a ranch home. When the family gets bigger, you need more rooms. Before you know it, it’s time for a split-level. While the number of people inhabiting the house may increase, there may also come a point when the house itself may stop expanding, because it gets expensive adding levels.

We often view org charts as opportunity paths. Naturally, the intent is to ascend the chart. As a practitioner in a small organization, once you’re promoted through the hierarchy, you may start to get the feeling you’ve hit the ceiling. And unless you’re a partner in the business, you’re justified feeling that way.

Often times, becoming a manager is an expectation of promotion. And if you’re not comfortable with the added complexity of managing people on top of your own work, you’re not very happy. Then, the onus is on the organization to identify career advancement opportunities that might provide more possibilities for you outside of managing people.

So here’s an idea. What if you could build an “annex” onto the house that is your org chart? Better yet, what if you could build an annex that is self-sustaining, akin to a house that’s completely off the power grid? And what if you could be the first to move into the annex and enjoy all of the luxurious space that surrounds you? You can. Don’t think the org chart you currently live in as the org chart you’re forced to live in. Here are some tips:

Mind the Gaps

There’s opportunities all around you—sometimes hiding in plain sight. Sniff them out.

Say you work in a service organization. In the process of providing your services, perhaps you find yourself routinely advising clients about ways they can improve their clumsy internal processes. So how about spinning up a practice within your organization that fixes your clients clumsy internal processes? Perhaps it’s optimizing broken publishing workflows or optimizing integrated marketing campaigns. Productize a solution and charge real money for it. All too often, service organizations give away thinking for free as they’re charging for the things they were hired for. Adding value is nice, but building value is more fun.

Make it Automatic

Recurring revenue is king. As articulated in this Inc. article, it’s the reason security company ADT’s market cap is $5.87 billion on revenues of $3.3 billion (every dollar is valued at $1.78) and Ford Motor Company’s market cap is $30.4 billion on revenues of $123 billion (every dollar is valued at only 25¢).

When you sign up for ADT, you sign a three-year monitoring contract. ADT knows that once you clear the three-year mark, you are highly likely to remain a paying customer of theirs—perhaps for another 5-7 years.

Find those gap opportunities that lend themselves to recurring billing models. Paid search and content marketing companies are crushing it because they provide so much data-driven value that they become line items on marketing budgets. Clients can’t afford not to spend money on their services. This is your home off the power grid. It pays for itself.

Don’t Ask Permission

Think like an entrepreneur and go for it. Legendary computer programmer and U.S. Navy veteran Grace Hopper once said, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Or, in other words, if it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait for someone to ask you. Run with it. One minute you’re wondering if you’ve hit the ceiling in your organization, the next minute you might just be scrambling to fill all the open positions for the new division of the company you’re running, all because you chased a rabbit down a hole.

Personally speaking, I’d be hard pressed to scuttle a compelling idea that someone took the time and energy to pursue. In fact, I feel business leaders should encourage that kind of autonomy and entrepreneurship by setting up discretionary budgets to fund such endeavors. I know I’m not alone in thinking this, but I also know, in some organizations, it might not be of value. Which leads me to my next point.

Value It

Our company recently completed an exercise where we collectively re-defined our core values. Themes that emerged consistently centered around the ideas of “curiosity” and “innovation.” After distilling these ideas to a single sentiment, the working draft that has emerged is:

Be Curious: Turn over stones. Ask questions. Don’t accept the status quo. At the point you feel you’re exiting your comfort zone, you’re in the right place. Change happens incrementally: one person, one team, one issue, one project at a time.

If you don’t see a path upward, make your path outward. Build your annex.

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