And now back to school 🙂 Revising our discussion in class on Thurs the 17 Nov …….
Most organizations that we come across are structured to incorporate Line & Staff positions. Having a Line & Staff structure makes sense as both have distinct roles to play. Line people are the ones who contribute directly to the operation or service and Staff is in support or advisory role. Line specifies the chain of command or line of authority. Line moves the work flow forward as it involves procurement – manufacturing or assembly – sales – retail. Staff includes functional specialists, R&D scientists, Designers, Manufacturing (not shop floor level), marketing strategic or policy, HR, Finance Director (also called CFO) and CIOs and Director Internal communication.
Why the distinction
Each has a different role and clarifying the same avoids functional dilemmas. The relationship between the two is interesting. Generally the Line is considered as the action guys – the sleeves rolled-up types and Staff are viewed as the chair-bound support folk. This perception exists because Line contributes to the production volumes, sales turnover, revenue generation and profitability. A few years ago Jigar Patel an ex-student had given a nice explanation for the difference between the two – “Line has the authority to take decisions and is accountable whereas the Staff deals with the paper work and policy making and not authorised to take decisions on ground issues. The Staff advice is not mandatory for the Line to follow as the responsibility of outcomes lies on the latter.
Staff personal could either be pure specialists or may have had Line experience in earlier assignments. Their advice can be valuable or at times may not be practical due to difficulty in visualizing the ground realities objectively. But if the latter happens too often the Line may view them as ‘has-beens’ and ivory tower folk. In extreme cases depending upon individual personalities the differences may get accentuated leading to tension and conflict.
Role of Staff
The Staff also plays an important role of collecting information progress reports and other data on a regular basis. This analyzed and CEO briefings at HQ levels are done frequently. This too can become another source of difference. Line which is otherwise busy dealing with hitches and problems and dead-lines does not like to be reminded by Staff to expedite their reports. However Staff members earn respect from the Line if they exercise tact and adopt a helpful attitude towards the Line.
In a globalized world organizations have operations in several countries as such Staff advice and support if ignored may prove detrimental. As they act as coordinators between business units and conduct valuable liaison functions that help the ground executives to perform better.
Role of top management to maintain balance
It is the top management team that needs to boost the importance of Staff and acknowledge their contribution as valuable. Staff role is to analyse the data and information and disseminate to appropriate country managers or product divisions. They also play a strategic role, plan and forecast way ahead being free from the nitty-gritty issues of the shop –floor. Line is preoccupied with the ‘here & now’ of fire-fighting in the trenches.
Drawing a simile from the Army in all the Armies of the world Staff plays a very important role in the overall functioning of the organization. And officers who are bright and have done well in executive assignments on ground are selected to undergo a comprehensive Staff College Course to equip them better in their staff roles. They are looked up in respect and their communications considered seriously by the ground executives.
It is the top management who is responsible to maintain a good balance between Line and Staff. They must take care not to overlook the Staff and deal with the Line directly unless in urgent situations. The organization can thus enable a harmonious climate with high morale and productivity.
Questions & comments are welcome! Keep smiling 🙂