The Anatomy of a Great Org Chart
Companies of all sizes and industries use organizational charts to define, at the very least, basic hierarchies of their operations. “This is Bob. He is a consultant, and he reports to Mary, who is a managing consultant.” Imagine that explanation in some digital or written form that includes boxes and lines, and you technically have an org chart.
We believe that example is oversimplifying the power of an org chart, but unfortunately, many organizations don’t get any more ambitious beyond that.. Settling for a plain, barely informative org chart wastes a golden opportunity to transform workplace communication, plan future strategy, and maximize productivity of your team. And if org charts are inaccurate or unusable, they can actually cut into efficiency. Your employees lose trust with these org charts and don’t use them, let alone even know where to find them.
Today, most organizations are stuck using static org charts—however, those that are switching to live org charts are the ones seeing improvements in the way their company operates.
Companies should build great org charts and reap the benefits of this valuable business tool. But what exactly makes a great org chart? Below are several features you should include—or should seek if choosing org chart software.
Ease of Use and a Dynamic User Experience
Some companies and managers design their own org charts—perhaps using PowerPoint or Excel, or even drawing one themselves and making hard copies for the staff—and then don’t understand why the chart is rarely referenced or is thrown into a drawer, never to be seen again. Org charts that are difficult to decipher, aren’t easily accessible, or look like they were written with a Sharpie don’t make enough of an impression for employees to value them, much less reference them when they need to.
User experience (UX) becomes a big factor with digital org charts, which is why PowerPoint, Excel, and Word usually fail as solutions. Again, if employees can’t derive functionality from the org chart, they won’t use it, even if it is online. The bottom line is, great org charts must be easy to use and offer a fantastic UX to maximize their potential. Give employees both elements—including the ability to quickly pull up the org chart on any device and retrieve information with minimal clicks—and they will want to use the tool.
Org charts that list just name and title will not tell you much about an employee other than . . . name and title. Great org charts, especially great live org charts that can be updated in real time, deliver so much more to tell the employee’s story—information that goes a long way toward team planning and goal setting. For rich descriptions, add the following data to each person’s entry:
- “Ask me about . . .” Add ways for employees to share the internal topics of which they are most knowledgeable (e.g., “Ask me about benefits”; “Ask me about compliance”), so that if someone has question, the org chart can be used to find the person to answer it
- Contact info (e.g., email, phone, Slack handle, and so on)
- Employee pictures (putting a face to a name is huge!)
- Fun fact(s) that tie to your company culture (thus humanizing employees in an org chart)
The last item in this list is one of our favorites and may become one of yours. At our Austin office, we like to ask employees what their favorite taco is (and here in Austin, everyone loves tacos!). These little tidbits of fun are another incentive for employees to consult the org chart, if only to learn more about their coworkers beyond name and title.
Great org charts give employees and managers a roadmap to the future. By identifying people and skills best suited for upcoming, proposed, and even pie-in-the-sky projects, you will have a leg up on planning and goals. Org charts can help with many examples of people planning, including:
- New teams: When forming new teams, an org chart assists with assessing who would be best on what project. It also allows clear communication to the rest of the company for who’s working on what.
- Future hiring plans: If you know new positions or roles are imminent, those can be added to the org chart ahead of time. Employees can see these opportunities and initiate communication with the appropriate managers before the job even opens. They also can help refer their friends to these roles.
- Succession planning: No one stays in one position forever; robust org charts can showcase the potential grow opportunities for employees.
- Reorganizations: To say reorganizations can be chaotic is being polite. A great org chart makes the process a little easier—you can pull in other leaders at the same time to collaborate on your org chart before your announce to the team. No need to send around endless files by email to collaborate on.
For a constantly evolving—and hopefully steadily growing—company, org charts must be able to keep up with changes. Some updates can be facilitated by a great UX, but increasingly, automatic integration with existing HR and IT systems is a must-have feature with live org chart software. The best solutions work with other systems, so if updates are made—for example, with someone’s job status via HR—those updates are also reflected on the org chart. Similarly, if employees leave the company, they are removed from the corresponding org charts. This obviously saves time, and also gives users confidence that the org charts they view are current.
Today’s workplaces aren’t tethered to the office—this is hardly news in 2018. Remote and virtual employees have changed the business landscape, and they need access to org charts as much as their cubicle-bound coworkers do. After all, a lack of accessibility reduces the likelihood an org chart will be consulted as needed, and employees won’t bother with updating info if they need to come into the office to do so. Remote accessibility isn’t just logging onto a laptop from home to see the org chart—mobile access and UX is important, too. Outstanding org charts are optimized for mobile devices so that they can be viewed and used on tablets and smartphones.
Scrolling through the org chart can be fun (especially if it’s loaded with fun facts about employees), but you also must be able to conduct a search within it as needed. Great org charts offer a robust search function in which you can look up any employee data point you want, beyond just name and job title. Need to consult with a superuser on how to set up an application? Or ask someone a basic HR question? Or see if you can get a group together for your favorite tacos (if you steal our fun fact)? A built-in search gets you that information quickly.
One last thing about great org charts: they benefit from great employees, who, in turn, benefit from great org charts. Giving employees the tools to better communicate, be proactive and productive, and see themselves within the company’s mission benefits the organization immediately and in the long term.