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The Case for Keeping a Fluid Employee Structure

Structure is often thought of as something that is immobile. However, the structure of a company is more about how people fit into a complex and changing business plan.

Change is inevitable in a growing business. Who you are today many not be who you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. One of the hardest parts of growth is adjusting the structure of your business appropriately.

The story of OtterBox is one of constant and consistent change. We had to change our way of doing business early in order to become a company set up for long-term high growth. Along the way, we learned some pretty important lessons about how to, and how not to, tackle the evolution from small business to Inc. 500 honoree.

As a company grows, its needs change. OtterBox had just six of employees in 2002, and they were responsible for everything. Today, we are 600 strong with specialized roles. As a company starts to create dedicated positions, several questions arise: Who is most qualified for that role? Where does the position fit into the overall structure?

Structure is an area that growing companies often miss the boat on. It is often thought of as rigid, like a building. However, the structure of a company must be malleable in order to accommodate fluctuating needs.

The structure of a sports team is not stagnant. In football, the playbook is constantly evolving with changes week-to-week in order to address the next opponent. As the playbook changes, so too does the team and coaching staff.

A business playbook, or plan, should not change quite that often, but it should be evolving regularly to address new challenges and opportunities--shifts in the market, customer expectations and growth, for example. Many businesses attempt to make the plan fit the structure, but that's backwards. The structure must change to facilitate the plan.

It's not easy, but it is necessary. The structure needs to be fluid, and its best to incorporate this early. The bigger a company gets, the harder it is to change the structure. We've made adaptability part of our company culture, but it still isn't easy.

Structure is always the hardest agent of change within an organization. It requires leaders and employees to ask where am I now and where do I fit in tomorrow. Companies can facilitate this by offering training and professional development classes as well as opportunities to delve deeper into what an individual's strengths and goals are.

OtterBox has changed a lot, quickly, because we've had to. The mobile industry in which we operate is a rapidly changing one. As the plan changes, as it will often do, the structure must adapt with it. What is working today will almost definitely not work tomorrow. Success comes from addressing change with elegant agility and a strategic plan for the future.

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Last updated: Jul 10, 2012

CURT RICHARDSON | Columnist | Founder and CEO of OtterBox

OtterBox founder and CEO Curt Richardson created the first prototype of a waterproof case in his garage in the early '90s. OtterBox evolved into a leader in protective cases for mobile technology.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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