Org Design, Podcast

Growing a company from 6 to 120+ and getting thrown into Org Design with CEO Tom Douglas

Expert author: Thomas Douglas

Tom Douglas, CEO of JMARK, emphasizes the importance of organizational design in business growth. He highlights the need for clear responsibilities, respect between teams, and a culture of appreciation for all processes. Challenges arise when there's a lack of clarity and continuity in responsibilities, often indicated by constant problem-solving, employee resistance, and workflow disruptions. External expertise and a customer-focused perspective can help identify areas for improvement. Douglas also underscores the importance of adaptability, alignment with customer and employee needs, and creating a supportive structure for employees.


Also on Spotify


or Apple Podcast


[00:00:00] Tim Brewer: Welcome to the org design podcast. You've got Amy and myself, Tim Brewer co hosts today, and we are joined by Tom Douglas. Tom joins us from the Midwest USA, Springfield, Missouri .Tom is the CEO, and founder of JMARK a company there in the Midwest. They do IT services, well in excess of a hundred people, and Tom, congratulations. You just became one of the midwest's best places to work. And I saw on online that you just won the award. So congratulations. But today we wanted to see a little bit behind the scenes or hear about your journey as it relates to org design with your organization. So welcome to the show and we can't wait to hear you share.

[00:00:43] Tom Douglas: Appreciate you guys having me on. It's a privilege.

[00:00:47] Amy Springer: Yeah. Thanks, Tom. So, Tim mentioned, CEO of JMark out of Missouri. We know you've grown that business from 6 to 126 people. Tell us about how you then got... Into org design and how that played a role in the growth.

[00:01:07] Tom Douglas: yeah, I mean, you get thrown into the mix. I mean, it's not something that you want to do. It's not something that you think you're going to have to do. But as the business grows, you realize that you need different pockets of expertise and different sets of responsibility in the environment, and if you don't change the way that the organization serves the different parts of the company, then and ultimately your customers, then, then the company breaks down.

I think what we have realized over the years is that the number one reason that businesses break down Is because they don't do a good job handing information or workflow from team one to team two to team three to team four, and if you don't have a good organizational design that has clear responsibilities and expectations and upstream and downstream respect, then then the company like falters and we have such a high degree of pride associated with what it means to deliver our promises to our customers that, that we just couldn't afford to take a chance on things not working out. And so when I had the chance to meet with Tim and, you know, we worked together for a long time, but he helped me to orchestrate, an orchestra of workflow inside the organization that has really evolved into an environment where our team has not only a respect and an appreciation for what we describe internally as upstream and downstream, so how does, how does work come to us and how do we hand work off? That, that it's become such a point of pride within our organization. It's like, I, I can't do a disservice to my teammates by handing them bad information or bad workflows, I respect my team, and so I want to hand it off well. And, and as a result of that, you have to get really clear on what handing information off well is or work product is, and if, if you hand somebody good product versus bad product, it makes the entire difference of the success of the company, and that has resulted in massive acceleration in the business.

[00:03:20] Tim Brewer: Yeah, Tom, that's sounds easy, but I know in an organization and a growing organization, that's a lot of really hard work can you tell us about when things don't go so right? Like if you're talking to another, I know you speak a lot and it probably should disclose, I also have been lucky enough to serve on your board of directors for the last eight years, so we do have a relationship. We, we both iron sharpen iron, iron sharpens iron. I think it's the same. But maybe if you reflect back to those moments where you thought maybe we have a challenge with organization structure or that handoff process, not enough resource, that's getting handed to, tell us about like, if you were talking to another CEO, how do they know they've got an org design problem? Like what are the

[00:04:07] Tom Douglas: well,

[00:04:08] Tim Brewer: you see in other people's organizations in your own around structuring

[00:04:11] Tom Douglas: can, can I be like really candid? Is it okay?

[00:04:15] Tim Brewer: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:16] Tom Douglas: Because it feels like a shit show because every day you walk into another painful situation I mean because people don't know, they don't understand it's painful and as a CEO or as a senior leader in the organization and you're constantly having to swoop in and solve problems that shouldn't be something you need to solve because from a senior leader's perspective, you think it's common sense. But when you come to like Boots on the Ground and the people that are doing the work, it's like, wait a minute, that's not my job, but we think they know that it is their job, but they don't think that it is, and it's like that area of responsibility is supposed to be over there and they're supposed to do X, Y, and Z, and I'm supposed to do A, B, C, and there's like, like that, that continuity doesn't exist, and that creates this chaos in the business, and so you walk in and it's like, I've got my plan for the day and I'm going to do these things, and I'm not, I'm going to go put out a and I'm going to go do this, I'm going to go do it. So it turns into this freaking chaos. And that's when you know, it's like, time to really evaluate responsibilities. Whatever breaks down to, I mean, it's just like lack of clarity, like anything else in the world. Like when, when there is no clarity, it automatically creates chaos. And chaos means that none of us get to have a good day.

[00:05:44] Tim Brewer: the chaos. Well that's pretty good. But how, so let's say you've walked in the last couple of weeks have been a shit show, as you said, it's been a terrible time thinking, Hey, I've got an org design problem. Where do you even start? Like, how do you typically start the process of thinking about that, over time and what, what's worked really well, like what have you picked up from others or tried yourself and just said, like this one thing is so meaningful to DIY org design in your own organization?

[00:06:15] Tom Douglas: Yeah. Well, I. You know, I think the beautiful thing about business is so many problems have been solved already. We have to be humble enough to like be okay with the fact that somebody's already solved the problem and we just need to shut up and listen instead of trying to do it ourselves, and, and that's, that's been kind of the beauty of working with you and navigating through these situations because What the fundamentals are that you start with the end in mind, what's the promise you're trying to deliver on and how do you make that clear at each phase and each step along the way, and if you know the promise that you've made to your customer. And you know, the people who are responsible for delivering components of that promise as it goes, then, then it becomes kind of an architectural problem within the organization. Who's going to be responsible for creating step one, step two, step three, whatever it may be, and then it becomes kind of a natural progression, but, but you have to, you have to be humble and you have to, you have to want to solve the problem. More than the current design of the organization, because as you scale the company, the company breaks and you have to recognize that, that, that, that because we did it yesterday doesn't mean that that's the right way or a good way to do it, and it requires a shift in order to scale it at a larger level. I mean, when you break it down, it's, it's actually a little bit simple that if you have a manufacturing line that is used to Rolling out Model Ts to the tune of 10 a day, and you want to quadruple that, the same assembly line process can't be used in order to do that. You either have to have four assembly lines, or you change the assembly line process so that you can speed it up, and, and within the business we, we aren't always good at recognizing that there's a time to stop, drop, and roll, and change the way that we're doing things so that we can shift and, and create those velocity opportunities, and so what's been kind of fun through this process for us over the years is that when we went from 25 cases today a day, to 50 to 75 to 100 to 500 cases a day, I mean, the assembly line has to change and you have to, you have to accept the fact that the old ways are, are done and the new ways have to reign, and when you do that, then it helps you to have the right perspective to like, Oh, time change, different areas of responsibility.

[00:09:04] Amy Springer: How do you think your team are going with that? So it sounds like you have been able to respond to these shifts in strategy and shifts in your operating model. Do you think you now have a team around you that see the benefit of those changes or is there still a bit of a "oh no we're changing again This is scary"?

[00:09:25] Tom Douglas: Yeah, well, I think that that correlates to the pace of growth and the pace of change the first major reorg design that we did was probably close to 14 or 15 years ago now, and people thought I was crazy. I mean, like I walked in and I was like, we're, we're changing all of this. And they're like, dude, go go back smoke on whatever you were smoking and quit bothering us and, and but what, what it evolved into is that, it it allowed us to focus as an organization and now we understand that growth equals change and in the change means that we have to adapt in order to serve the customer. And I think the thing that's important about it is that you realize that that the promise to the customer is more important than the structure of the organization or the workflow of the organization, and when you get comfortable with the fact that our promise is more important than the way that we used to do it, then, then the team starts to accept responsibility for the need to change. But it, it took us, it took us three or four years to get comfortable with it. It was hard at first. They, they, they fought it, and then they didn't. Then they embraced it.

[00:10:43] Amy Springer: Is there anything in particular that you remember helping?

[00:10:48] Tom Douglas: Grace. I, I think it, it, it, I mean, it started with grace. Like this isn't going to be perfect. But you know, we have a concept. We're going to, we're going to implement the concept. And, and, and on paper, it looks good, and, and I think, I think what we did right. Was is we said we don't, we don't think we're perfect in the way that this is going to roll out. So we need the team's feedback and we need customer feedback in order for us to know if what we are assuming to be the truth. Actually was the truth. And, and, and it wasn't, it was close, but it wasn't perfect. And so we, we, as an organization adapted as we went along. And then when I think that what made it acceptable for our team was, and then when they showed us what we needed to do, we were able to adapt to it in a positive way, and that, that adaptation to the situation made it possible for the team to recognize that it was okay to make suggestions, and, and that we would we would respond to that And and I think it comes back to one of the fundamentals in business growth that when you have good psychological safety in the business And people can communicate candidly about what's good and bad and otherwise, then it gives you permission to change the business on the fly and make those adaptations and when you listen, people respect that.

[00:12:22] Tim Brewer: Tom, it's super interesting. We chat about org design culture, culture that lends to you being able to change the shape of your org to match the internal and external needs of the business, and it sounds like you've gone on a bit of that journey. I know one of the other things that you've done is recently you released a book and you've been speaking on that a little bit. Was there any parts of the Adapt or Die your new book that you think kind of lend a hand to thinking about org design or the shape and structure of your organization, people and resources in the right way?

[00:12:57] Tom Douglas: Yeah, absolutely. Because, I mean, so the fundamental requirements of businesses today is adaptability, and if, if you refuse to respect market demands, customer requirements, and employee requirements, which, I mean, workforce challenges are one of the biggest challenges in the world today, and so if you refuse to respect the, the outside influence of those things, then the business is going to ultimately crumble, and, and so, so what, what I wrote about was the inherent requirement for businesses to recognize that. It's more important to respect the truth, respect the facts, and adapt to those things in a positive way, be receptive to them, and, and then ship. And so many businesses think that because I've had 50 customers, 100 customers, 200 customers, 1, 1000 customers, throughout my history, then I'm... Then, then I have permission because I have all those customers to demand the way that people are gonna do work or the way that people are gonna respond to a product or the way that people are gonna buy, and that is no longer the truth. I mean, when you, when you just look at, at the way that people, as, as employees, respond to the changes within an environment, they, they no longer respect somebody because they have been doing it for a long time, or because they have earned a certain role in an organization. They want someone who builds them up, who, who leads in a respectful way and all of those things. So, so when you, when you think about that in the lens of org design, it's well, how do you, how do you create an environment that both facilitates success and value for the customer, but also creates value and life balance for the individual. And if you can't marry those two together, you're going to have internal competing priorities. Like if, if as an example, the only way that the customer can be successful is if the employee sacrifices their home life, you, you have conflicts and you're never going to be successful in the environment. So if you can create the alignment in the business, so that the customer succeeds at the same time that the employee succeeds, then you can accelerate and speed the business up and that becomes a gift because everybody wins in that environment.

[00:15:20] Tim Brewer: Yeah. Tom, that alignment for a lot of people seems elusive. How much time in a, in a week? As the CEO of a hundred plus people, do you spend thinking about kind of alignment and being agile as a business or being able to adapt?

[00:15:41] Tom Douglas: Yeah, all of it, in some form or another, it kind of never ends because the world changes and technology changes and requirements change, you know, in a, in a practical sense, I would say that, probably five to 25 percent of my week, is listening to the challenges of workflow and what does it mean to take away the resistance or the frustrations in workflow so that people can do their best work and be their best selves, and that's, that's our job as a leader is to take the resistance out of doing good work. You know, I, I, I wrote about it in the book, you know, one of the things I learned about a long time ago, and Tim, you helped me learn this is, at the end of the day, good people want to do good work. So get the hell out of their way.

So create the workflows, create the structure so that good people can do good work and fundamentally that It's hard But it's fun and it's exciting and it's challenging so that people can apply their talents and skills and proficiencies You know in a way that speeds the business up and when you get that right Just get the hell out of their way and let them go.

[00:16:54] Tim Brewer: Yeah, well, we'll put the book we've got the book link. We'll drop it in, in our show notes.

[00:17:00] Amy Springer: Yeah, Tom, you said you spend so much of your time thinking about these concepts in your business. I'd love to know what makes you feel like you've got the confidence to make some of those decisions yourself within your business versus when are the times you feel like you need to get some expertise from outside.

[00:17:20] Tom Douglas: Well, I think that businesses hit thresholds. I think that businesses hit thresholds over and over and if you really study org design, which I can't say that I have, I've just had a good coach. But, but if you study org design, you recognize that, that, that organizations hit thresholds. And for us, it was 25 people. It was 40 people. It was around 75 people. And it was around a 104, 105 people, and when we hit those certain points, it was like, Oh my gosh, the world is on fire, things are not okay, like workflows aren't happening and you have to rethink the world. In terms of how you're handling work, handoffs or responsibilities, or you scaled to a point where the old way doesn't work anymore. And, and I think it's when you hit those thresholds, and as an organization, you have kind of internally, you have no expertise about how to go from 50 people to 75 people or 75 people to 105 people. Those, those thresholds create new sets of challenges, that require new ways of thinking, and those of the times that I would recommend that you bring somebody else in who's, who's helped to scale a business or who has seen a lot of it, that could maybe shine a new light on the challenges associated with it, because as a business owner, it's hard. I mean, the blinders are on and, you know, history has a place in, in our perceptions, and, and so if you don't, if you don't have a fresh look at the way that you do things, you're actually going to hurt the organization and you're going to have some turnover and frustrations within the business that become very, very unhealthy, and change is hard, but the lack of change is harder. When you hit those, those moments, and it can actually cost you the business or customers or employees that are really meaningful, and so you owe it to a team and to your customers to be willing, to like, well, we've got to rethink it.

[00:19:27] Amy Springer: So for other CEOs like you, who haven't had a really great coach or haven't got a clear team that can come in and help at those moments, you need outside help. What's one skill you wish that you could wish upon them, if you could?

[00:19:43] Tom Douglas: Well, I actually, it wouldn't be a skill. It would be time. Take the time to step away from the business and rethink the design. I mean, it's been pivotal for our business, probably four times in our history of growth, that if I, if I wouldn't have intentionally stepped away from the business and rethought the way that workflows happened and expectations and things like that, that, that it would've broken our world. And, and, and so I, I think that, that, that, what I would suggest for people who don't have the coach or the time or whatever the circumstances may be, is force, force the pause, step away from the business. I mean, my living room was lined,. You know, like those, those great big, like 3M, like stick it on the wall that are like, you know, two feet by three foot or whatever they're like, my whole kitchen was lined with those things as I was rethinking org design. It was critical that I left the business and I, and I went and looked at it through the lens of our customer, and that time away, and the coaching that I received was critical. So what I would recommend is pause, use the tools, use capabilities and the knowledge that's now available, you know, when I was trying to solve this problem 15 years ago for the first time, tools like Functionly and org design tools, like they didn't exist, like they were not available to us, and, and if I could have like dragged and dropped it on my screen, that would have been such a gift. Instead, 18 copies of this stuff all over my kitchen, and my wife thought I was crazy. It's important to take the step back into to consider how it could be if you had to build it today and and looking at things through that lens gives you new gifts of workflows that you wouldn't realize otherwise.

[00:21:40] Amy Springer: So, so what's the radar? What's the, what is it they're feeling in them? What could you help them articulate to say, hey, this is that moment where you need to stop and you need to,

[00:21:52] Tom Douglas: you need to pause. Yeah, it's it's it's tired. It's being tired of putting out the fires. It's like I'm walking into frustrations. Again, I'll be candid. It's like I'm dealing with bullshit inside the organization every day instead of focusing on my customers, instead of focusing on culture, instead of focusing on growing the business. Instead, I, I, I'm literally putting out internal fires every single day of this person can't get the work that they need, or they're, they're meeting, missing the deadlines, all of that, that frustration that exists. It's like, you can't control your day anymore. And when you lose control of your day as a leader, that means you can't move the business forward.

Therefore, you're letting the company down. And so you're just not doing what you're supposed to do as a leader. So when they, people feel that or when they start to see it, I mean, I waited too long. I waited until the world was on fire. As soon as you see the smoke, pause.

[00:22:57] Amy Springer: Yeah, sounds good. So practically for that person, what are some of, what are some of the things you've considered when you've gone into that process? You know, what are your data points that you've gathered to help you sit there and take that break and step back and re, reorg

[00:23:15] Tom Douglas: well, I think, I think it starts with facts and in separating the facts from the emotions. So many businesses respond to situations and frustrations through the lens of I'm pissed, I'm angry, I'm tired, you know, when, when emotions and feelings step into it, it lowers our IQ, and so we have to take a step back and we have to say, well, what is the truth, and what are the facts of the situation? So what, what is shifted, what's changed in terms of our volume or velocity or capabilities or promises to our customers, and when those facts start to wane and thing in the numbers start to tell a different story, then it's a good indicator that we need to, we need to change the design of the business to respect the numbers and, and then once we understand the facts of the situation, then we have to take the time to understand the emotions. So how are people feeling about it? You know, what are the frustrations and the concerns? But if we focus on the emotions first, then we, we step into making assumptions and we're, we're placating to individuals versus the facts of the situation and it has the potential to take away the pain initially, but that doesn't mean that it's good org design, it doesn't mean that we're gonna serve our customers the best. So, starting with the facts and understanding the volume changes and then deal with the emotions and how people feel and take the time to listen to your team, listen to your customers, what they like about your service delivery and not, and when we look at it through that lens, it helps us to see the truth, and, you know, one of my favorite things to say is that you have to love the truth even when you don't like it, and, and in, in terms of customer feedback and employee feedback, it's absolutely critical.

[00:25:08] Tim Brewer: Yeah. Tom, thank you so much for joining us. It's. It's been a privilege, your time, your humility to chat to us about JMark and we will pop in the show notes your new book you've just released, Adapt or Die, and I know you're enjoying speaking about that in and around the US. I haven't been able to get Tom across to Australia yet, so if there's someone that wants to bring Tom down to talk about the great company he has built , it would be great to bring him out here and show him thekangaroos and koalas.

We believe there's no perfect org, but listening to each other, learning from other leaders and other people that have done it before us, like you said, Tom, I think is a great takeaway from this call and just continuing to evolve, evolve our skills and working out how to build, adaptable organizations that are really well aligned, so that we can have organizations that we lead and look after that are the best places to work, just like JMark. So, we really appreciate you joining us on the call. Thank you for your time. I know it's probably about middle of the night, US time, and we're, we're in daytime in Australia right now. So thanks for coming on the show. I'm looking forward to seeing you in person soon.

[00:26:20] Tom Douglas: Yeah. Thanks for letting me be a part of it, and if I can help in any way, please feel free to reach out.

[00:26:26] Tim Brewer: Yeah. Amy is always amazing. Co host Amy Springer really leads the podcast and our, our content efforts in our community.

[00:26:34] Amy Springer: Thanks, Tom

[00:26:35] Tom Douglas: see ya.

Org Design Podcast

Subscribe Now

Listen to the world’s best organizational design experts & and leaders share their stories on how they designed and built the best organizations. We’ll highlight the challenges and breakthroughs of designing structures, organizing charts, optimizing teams, and building workplaces people love.

Subscribe at your favorite place to listen:

spotifylogo    google-podcasts   Apple-Podcast

Listen to Podcast (Buzzsprout)

Get started now

Your first step towards a more effective organization.