Understanding the Importance of Structure: Learning from the book "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith

A structure is an art of bringing order in a place that is largely unorganized or wrongly organized. It is the art of bringing order into chaos and does have a huge focus. In this sixth and the last article in the series of learning from "Triggers" an attempt is made to discuss the most significant points about the importance of structure.


Picture this. You have two shelves full of books on various topics. You do not read them every day. Yet, when you want to read a particular book, you search all the way and waste a full ten minutes.

Instead, if you had numbered the books and had an index from where you could spot the book and take it out so quickly, it could have made a whale of a difference. Ten minutes is a huge time. And the tension that goes along with it, could have been avoided. This is the simplest example of a structure in our daily lives. Mr. V. Krishnamurthy had effectively used the AIWATT principle in the process of turning around the giant SAIL. He had a clear idea of his focus and was very sharp in whatever he did. The earlier article spoke about this concept.

AIWATT is the acronym taken from the first five words in (pages 162-163)

Am I willing
at this time,
to make the investment required
to make a positive difference
on this topic?

In the article on AIWATT, the reference to the document called "priorities for action" that was evolved after discussions with thousands of employees and focused groups of employees, was a typical example of a big piece of structure put into SAIL's operations.

Cut to the book. Marshall Goldsmith talks about the importance of structure in a very simple way. He quotes the example of Alan Mulally, who was the CEO of Ford Motor company. He had gone on to be ranked as the third-greatest leader in the world, right behind Pope Francis and Angela Merkel in 2014, when Alan retired. (page 181).

Alan had a good deal of thought when he introduced the Thursday Business Plan Review (BPR) meetings.

"No side discussions, no joking at the expense of others, no interruptions, no cell phones, no handling off parts of the presentation to a subordinate. Each leader was expected to articulate his group's plan, status,s forecast, and areas that needed special attention. Each leader had a mission to help -- not judge-- the other people in the room" (page 182). The simple color coding was Green-Yellow-Red. Green for good, Yellow for concerned areas and Red represented poor. Each of the 16 top executives who reported to him had to fall in line and compulsorily attend the meetings. If they were on official tour, they had to chip in through video conferencing.

"To Alan simple repetition was the key -- in fact, the essential element in structure -- particularly the color code that encouraged division heads to highlight concerns in yellow and problem areas in red. Self-scoring, whether it was a letter grade or Alan's color coding, demanded transparency and honesty -- what Alan called "visibility". It encouraged everyone to take responsibility, which had an unexpected power in a public forum of CEO and peers. Everyone in the room could see if progress was being made". (page 184).

The importance of structure in our lives is now more important than ever before. Let us discuss this with a) specific reference to our individual lives b) specific reference to organizational experiences c) specific reference to society and d) specific reference to our age-old thought processes and need for change.

Specific reference to our individual lives

Apart from the library example quoted above, the need to document our learning and experiences is even more acute. This gets buried with the line of failures related to our New Year Resolutions. "I will really maintain a good dairy this year" is a very important resolution.

After the first ten days, we give it up and go on to do something else. What happens? We lack the discipline to get it done. The mind says okay, but the body does not. "If my memory serves right" is a common phrase in most of us.

Our memory does not serve us right at all. The learning could be some short cut on how to reach a particular destination by car. Or even the silliest thing as a new Net banking password. We mess it up, thinking that we will automatically remember it. That never happens, though.

We are lost in the ocean of so many activities. We are often lost in our thoughts. To give a positive shape to it, a structure in the simplest form does have to do with documenting learning experiences or some detail or whatever.

At a more sophisticated level, when discussing matters related to finding a suitable match for our daughter in an arranged marriage, the structure would relate to what exactly we would talk and not talk. It would relate to the diplomacy of a very tall order. It is stupid to infer that we could be "very transparent". We never know other people. They are strangers to us as we are to them.

Structure in that particular context would mean using the right words to elicit information on the boy's likes and dislikes, his ambitions, his idea about marriage and so on. Only when we are sure that wavelengths would match, should we allow our daughter to see the prospective bridegroom. Even here, the structure, in terms of our thought process, is very important.

Specific reference to organizational experiences

The Japanese call it 5S. It is a very simple method of work organization on the shop floor. It is a way of life at Toyota and all major companies around the world in the automobile sector. In India, it has been religiously implemented in the TVS group and it is a superb method of the real structure at work.

The 5S are Seiri which refers to sort, clearing, classify. The second "S" is Seiton, which means straighten, simplify, set in order, configure; the third "S" is Seiso which means sweep, shine, scrub, clean and check while the fourth "S" refers to Seiketsu, which means Standardize, stabilize, and conformity. The fifth "S' means "Shitsuke" which relates to sustain, self-discipline, custom, and practice.

One would notice that it is all common sense. Yes, it is. But how many of us as individuals in organizations, even organize a bunch of papers, as religiously and methodologically as the Japanese do? Quality does not come automatically in any organization. Elimination of search time is very important in organizations too. Doing this religiously and with passion calls for huge discipline. Yes, the Japanese have now taught the entire world what it takes to do things with world-class quality.

Nearer home, in the splendid Saravana Bhavan group of hotels, Chennai, that now has a turnover of over one thousand crores (trade estimates), 5S has been religiously implemented. Every TVS group organization has it. TAFE, the Rane group, Mahindra and Mahindra, Bajaj Auto and several other organizations have implemented 5S in a big way.

Specific reference to Society

The simplest reference is to the manholes so often seen, when the public works department is at work. The entire area should be cordoned off and there should be a danger signal.

None of this is seen. Innocent lives have been lost, when children play near such manholes and drown in the water. Or even the huge wastewater drainage pits. In our society, nothing happens until it is too late.

The railway electronic boards informing us about the position of the compartments is a big and welcome example of this structure. Better still, the newspapers dated today ( 28th Fe 2019) carry very good news that waiting lists of trains would be published in the official website of the Indian Railways even after the chart has been prepared. In the wider context of society, Google is the best innovation in structure. It has saved thousands of billions of dollars in savings as people have the benefit of information right in their homes. The need to go to libraries is far less now.

It is obvious that the likes of Google will only multiply in the years to come.

What we need to do is to help the voluntary groups like the self-help groups to become better organized. For example, the same color coding can be done in training of such groups, so that they can have a frame of reference for the work they do. We also need to implement 5S in a huge number of homes and get the message across. It is another matter that many pro-active housewives have already implemented 5S in their kitchens long ago. Still, the scope of learning and innovation is always good.

Specific reference to our age-old thought processes and need for change

One of such age-old thought process relates to public hygiene. In hundreds of villages, people still use public places. The Government of India is now doing its bit to change such thinking in the first place. This is the best example of the structure at work.

Similarly, the concept of fate has ruined so many hundreds of thousands of lives. We have never been to din it into the ears and minds of people that efforts do matter in any situation. Fate is not something that is written on our heads. If it were so, how does one account for the hundreds of new innovations that keep the happening day in and day out? How does one account for the terrific role that technology plays in our lives?

Similarly, we also need to discipline young minds and turn their minds to respecting women. If they do so, the new structure in their minds, in terms of thought processes, can and will bring about durable change.

We need to be alive to such challenges at any point in time.


We do need structure for our progress in every walk of life. It is high time that we learn from experiences, such as the ones discussed above. We also need to innovate as we go along.

Let us start somewhere if we have to make a big difference. The paperback edition of "Triggers" is very reasonably priced. Owning a copy will help any reader cement his learning and take it to the next level.


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