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How Okay Is it to Use Competitor Org Charts?

I’m writing this post because we heard from someone recently who thought we obtain might org charts from employees of those organizations.

We do not.

If that were the case, then it might be a problem. But we do not obtain org charts from anyone. We build them from scratch using robust investigative research.

Moreover, we do not assert that the charts that we build are identical to internal org charts of companies. Rather, our org charts are close approximations — accurate enough to be extremely valuable to our clients.

Clients typically use the org charts for benchmarking, organizational design, sales prospecting, and executive search. Those clients are highly-regarded global corporations listed in the Fortune 1000 and Global 2000.

In other words, as described, competitor org charts are totally okay.

How, Exactly, Do You Build Your Charts?

We painstakingly review publicly available information. We start by examining what reporting relationships have been verified by the company itself in biographies, news releases, SEC documents, news reports, and other sources of data.

Biographies frequently reveal the direct superior of an executive. Press releases announcing recent hires, promotions, and reorganizations often spell out reporting relationships. They may even list all the direct reports of an executive.

Jackpot!

Next, we make inferences. Let’s say you have an Executive Vice President of a function. Then let’s say you found 5 Senior Vice Presidents of that specific function. Can you tell me who the boss of those SVPs is?

Right. It’s the EVP.

Of course, if the function is not centralized, it gets a little tricky. But you can tell a lot from the level and function expressly mentioned in a person’s title.

What if you can’t tell from a job title what a person does and whom they might report to? Well, we check out the career site for literal descriptions of teams and titles. Frequently those sites spell it out for you. We check job descriptions in jobs postings. We check other social media profiles where people describe what they do.

All the examples I have given you leverage information that is publicly available, most of it made available by the company that we are mapping. Consequently, our mapping research is not mining confidential information.

However, our work is extremely valuable because we piece together all those random bits of information and turn that into something pretty amazing.

Few people have the time, patience, or ability to do the kind of research needed to generate an org chart.

How Long Does It Take to Build Org Charts from Scratch?

If the company is global and if the org chart goes deep, then a single chart down to, say, the Vice President level can take a month or more. Large Fortune 500 companies can take months to chart. But once you’ve built the chart, all you have to do is keep it current.

So if you have competitors that you go into frequently for recruitment, the investment may make sense. Charting of smaller companies usually goes much faster. 

Of course, you don’t have to org chart an entire company. Some clients come to us asking us to chart a specific function to better understand the size and shape of that function at their competitors and other kinds of companies.

They usually do it for benchmarking, recruiting, organizational design, and sales prospecting. Sales teams of enterprise technology companies seriously benefit from org charts of the IT and technology teams. Those org charts help them identify the buyers and decision-makers as well as the influencers.

What about Privately-Held Companies?

Good question. Those kinds of companies are usually just as easy to org chart, unless they have chosen to be secretive about what they do. (Shout out to Apple, which is famously discreet.)

Companies that choose to be opaque may decide not to list their executives on their website. They might not announce executive hires, promotions, and reorgs. They might ask their employees not to share details in social media profiles. They may be in stealth-mode.

Yeah, those kinds are targets are more challenging.

But our firm was founded by an investigative journalist (that would be me). We employ people who have been investigative reporters and data journalists, people who specialize in finding things out.

Stealth target? That’s where our after-burners kick in. For example, we may dig into little-known sources of publicly available information, such as government databases at the local, state, and federal levels.

And yes, there are other cool investigative techniques that we use. But again, they do not involve obtaining org charts from employees.

If only it were that easy.

But if it were that easy, then what we do would not be as valuable.

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