Dutch business executives and government administrators are digesting the findings of a recent study addressing how to best organize departments, functions and divisions for the 21st century. The report, The Emergence of the Multidimensional Organization, from the Universiteit van Amsterdams business school, revealed through field research with 40 Dutch organizations that there is a shift in thinking. Most firms or government agencies traditionally organize around a unit, sometimes a profit center concept, where managers have both authority and accountability for what they can locally control. But is this suboptimal?
Economists have struggled to determine the appropriate organizational structure for implementing business strategy. In the 1970s professor Alfred D. Chandler of the Harvard Business School led the field with research and published articles that explored the three Ss of management: strategy, structure and systems. He proposed that organizations should highly value fit-to-market and fit-to-strategy tests. Businesses have constantly shifted organizational (i.e., human) structures to attempt to achieve better performance. Why might a new shift be needed? What role does IT have to enable or accelerate this shift?
The Dutch study observed that overall enterprise performance is improved by defining accountability for sales volume, profit and loss simultaneously over multiple dimensions (e.g., by product, region, account, market segment and industry). This multidimensional concept means that a separate manager is held accountable for each dimension - and with consequences of reward or punishment. (To learn more about incentives, read Accountability and Incentives for Rewards: How Disconnected Are They) However, commensurate multidimensional management information and reporting with multidimensional coordination and control processes is required. A major enabler is the dramatically reduced cost of information storage and the capabilities of business intelligence software with multidimensional data analysis and modeling. Examples cited by the studys authors are IBM, Tesco and Nokia.
This multidimensional concept is fundamentally different from matrix management with an employee team reporting to two different supervisors. An individual employee may serve three or more functions or processes. An individual in the multidimensional organization will be held accountable for his (specialized) contribution to the common objective (whereas the unit manager is held accountable for the financial bottom line profit of his unit). In practice, what does this mean to pragmatic managers with little time for theory? What are the decision rights and financial budget authority of managers in this new arrangement? How does a performance management framework contribute to put this multidimensional organization into practice?
A primary force influencing this emergence of a multidimensional organization is the increasing amount of required resources outside the boundaries of an individual managers control or authority. An example is shared services, especially the increasingly expensive IT function. Another force is that customers themselves are increasingly multidimensional, such as with locations in different countries or different markets. This means that a divisional unit, not a global one, of a larger organization only having a product manager or customer account team accountable for results will be suboptimal. The customer expects to trade with a single organization, not many.
Some characteristics of a multidimensional organization are: