I must admit, I’m a bit of a physics geek. I really love all those Nova specials where they explain all the theories on where is the center of the universe and how it was formed. It’s comforting to know that a center exists.
Even the non-physicist among us can relate to the notion that organizations have a center. That center may be the CEO, a product line, a division or even a location.
Wherever it is, your organizational center of influence is important to calculate since it’s really the center of your organizational universe. It’s the place where important decisions, strategies and directives radiate from.
A Little Bit of Physics
The center of gravity of an object is the average location of the weight of an object. Knowing the center of gravity allows you to completely describe the motion of the object through space. In flight, airplanes and rockets will rotate about their centers of gravity.
Determining the center of gravity can be as simple as balancing the object using a string or edge. The point in which it balances is the center of gravity.
As the Organization Turns
Instead of centers of gravity, organizations rotate around their center of influence. This is important to know for the following reasons:
Decision makers stay close: Key decision makers will always be as close to the center as they can get. This gives them the most influence over the organizations trajectory as possible.
The farther away, the faster the ride: Ever been on a Merry Go Ground? If you have, then you know that the ride gets a lot faster, the farther out you go. Same thing with organizations.
Most decisions radiate from the center: Organizational decision making will tend to come from the center and radiate out towards the far ends of the organization.
Changing it requires a tremendous amount of work: Changing the organization direction takes a great amount of force. The farther out you are, the tougher it gets. Mostly because you have to overcome a tremendous amount of momentum.
When it shifts, the ride gets bumpy: A sudden shift in the center of influence of an object will make it wobble about until it can settle into a stable trajectory. Organizations do the same thing when events disrupt the status quo.
Messages quickly loose strength and clarity: The farther out you go, the weaker the organizational message. A weak message means influences reduces. This is true communicating back to the center as well.
Calculating Your Organizational Center of Influence
Unlike physical objects, there may be several centers of influences within your organization. These centers will influence your career, projects and the companies overall results. When organizational centers of influences fight (e.g. For resources), the effects on the organization can be profound. In physics terms, it could tear the object apart.
Calculating your organization center of influence is not as straight forward as you think. Many a time, the most obvious ones really don’t influence your organizational life. Listed below is a simple 5 step process to calculate your organization’s center of influences.
Step #1: Who Pays the Bills?
Figure out which group, division, product line or team generates the most revenue for the company. These groups are the most obvious center of influence because the organization relies on these people for it’s continue existence. These areas are protected as long as the revenue keeps coming in.
Step #2: Growth Potential
Growth is what most organizations strive for. Growth demonstrates longevity and vibrancy. Without growth, an organization will soon lose that spark that drives improvement and keeps it’s completive. The areas of growth will be a prime center of influence.
Step #3: Leadership
Leadership sets the tone of an organization. The background of the leadership will always be a center of influence since it’s what’s familiar and can be easily influenced. The executive staff will naturally have centers of influence but it’s the background of the C-level people that will give you the best clues as to what they will focus on. Those focal points will naturally create centers of influences.
The location of leadership is another center of influence since it’s where they physically are and therefore, where they have the most influence and interactions.
Step #4: Visionaries
Find the visionaries. They hold the key to the future of the company. Their centers of influence might not have yet fully formed but soon they will. Visionaries can be tricky to find. Worst than finding them is figuring out which ones will be successful. It’s important to at least find them and watch how they progress.
Step #5: Crisis De Jour
Organizations will quickly rally to a crisis and that will temporally (and sometimes permanently) change their center of influence. If an organization does this too much, then the organization starts to wobble. Regaining stability will take either new leadership or something else to steady the trajectory.
Shifts in Organizational Centers of Influence
In our every changing universe, objects lose and gain mass. This process shifts their centers of gravity and can make them unstable on their present trajectory. Organizations go through the same process when the following events occur:
Acquisitions: Acquisitions always put a strain on an organization and will shift it’s center — mostly toward the new acquisition.
Layoffs: Anytime companies downsize, the mass shifts and therefore the center shifts. Be aware of these shifts when they occur since it can make things unstable.
Competitive threats: Any and all competitive threats will shift priorities and resources to address the threat. This then shifts the center to somewhere else.
Key leadership leaves: Leadership usually creates a vacuum that needs to be quickly filled or the organization will spin out of control. When new leadership does arrive, the center will shift toward them and their strengths
Lackluster financial performance: If your organization is for profit, then any kind of negative financial performance will create new focus and new centers of influences.
When one of these events occurs, the center of influence will shift. This makes the whole organizational wobble until a new, stable trajectory can be established.
See, Organizational Physics is Not All That Bad
Organizations are dynamic. They tend to rotate around their centers of influence and will resist changes in their trajectory unless a force pushes them to do so. Be aware of your organizations centers of influence and how they change, strengthen and dissolve.