Our CLAN organisational model was launched in 1991 and is still the approach preferred by high-performing 'group' companies who want to enjoy the best of two worlds: autonomous business units within the group, and an across-the-group connection which ensures that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In the CLAN model, action takes place in the businesses whilst networking between them is driven from the centre. Without this continuous championing and cajoling, networking falters (see the story in the box).

One approach sometimes tried is to co-ordinate cross-business procurement on an as-required basis by giving a senior manager the task of making it happen. This is a valid attempt to achieve co-ordination by focusing on a process of interaction, as distinct from structuring a central team around the task. However the manager's own 'vertical' responsibilities to his or her own business get in the way of 'horizontal' across-the-business process management. Further, observes one vice-president given this special responsibility, "the process only works when I personally kick-start it". In between times, participants in the process are drawn into their local priorities as opposed to seizing cross-business opportunities. The issue addressed by CLAN is not 'how to organise tasks' but 'how to organise so that cross-business co-operation happens in a sustained way.'
(Purchasing Power, page 73)

CLAN's attraction is that it provides a powerful and more stable, yet still flexible, alternative to centralised or de-centralised management of key business functions. Those who are fans of acclaimed business guru Charles Handy will recognise, in the CLAN approach, a practical way of applying the concept of federal 'subsidiarity'. This is described in Charles Handy's excellent book 'The Empty Raincoat.' Initially set in a procurement context, the CLAN model has also been successfully applied to the organisation of other business disciplines.

Traditionally, a company structure is likened to a pyramid. Solid this may be, but one side of the business cannot see across to the other, and the stones at the bottom cannot see where the top is pointing. We prefer the imagery of the light, transparent connected structure of The Louvre, Paris …….

The Louvre
But CLANs are not always the right solution. There are occasions when autocratic top-down leadership is essential, for example in a time of corporate crisis. Likewise it is unlikely to be the right choice in a company that is so intent upon task that it ignores the 'processes' whereby people work together. Contact us for a copy of our checklist to see if your company is ready for CLAN and the competitive advantage it can give you.

CLAN bibliography