Hierarchy- Limits the Growth

A jillion smart, energetic people submitting to the ‘right’ incentives won’t get you a micrometer closer to the customer unless the dead weight of a vertical hierarchy is lifted — almost entirely — off their backs. There’s no liberation when much more than a semblance of the superstructure remains.” — Tom Peters, Liberation Management

A rendezvous with a friend over a steaming cup of coffee – “does hierarchy in an organization limit the growth of talented employees?”

An Engineer joined an organization, as the market (during that time) was volatile and since he could not make good use of his engineering degree, so he decided to earn his bread and butter by opting for a career in HR. Within a few years, things started getting in shape but the market value of this guy was not rocketing, although education wise things were going immensely well for him (he completed his MBA), yet he was lacking the right opportunities and his talents were not being recognized. The company he worked for took a Manager’s work out of him (he was asked to do a growth analysis and find the gaps in hierarchy) this was all hush-hush and the actual implementation was done by the GM. Every year his review was left in the middle due to some pretext or the other and the GM would tell him later that, “Ghar kee baat hai ho jayega”.

The Vertical hierarchy; that this guy had to follow was actually limiting the knowledge expansion and also his promotions, after much coercion from his friends and family, this guy realized his value and asked for a promotion. However, he was told that there was no place in the hierarchy for him at that point of time and even though a position of HR Manager was there but then for that he would need to take a double jump to get there.

What kind of a system is this? Where on one hand this guy is asked to do the work of an HR Manager, but when it comes to giving him the right position, there are zillions of excuses being made.

Why do we have such systems? Talents get wrapped, burden of supervisor falls on their back and creativity is enveloped behind the closed walls of the structure. I really doubt that people would excel within such systems where you have to cross so many barriers to get an approval for even a small thing.

Yes, the answer to this may be Matrix organizations, or flat structures, or may be functional but knowing this we are still working in such complex structures where our growth from the executive to managerial level may take 7-10 years or may be even more. Sometimes the structure becomes so much complex that it affects the customer relationship as well, as the above mentioned quote suggests the tyranny of such systems.

Work environment, communications, growth, personal motivation and creativity- all this is lacking in such organizations where hierarchy defines everything. So what is the solution for such organizations? Here are some suggestions:

Foster Ideas and creativity at all levels: Believe in the system and trust your people; any employee can bring in the change with just one idea so view each member as a source from where an idea can change your company’s life or profits….

Share power and decision-making with others throughout the organization: the major problem with such organizations is power and decision making, let’s start empowering others. Create focus groups, give them some powers and then see the change. The idea should be to reach the masses and find out the hidden talent.

Employee participation: Its more or less related to empowerment, make your employees participate may be with small changes of having suggestion boxes, and then implementing few of those that can make an  impact and help in their motivation.

Encourage relationships and the building of networks: Networking within the organizations can bring in many changes, sometimes any vital information, a supervisor is holding on to, can leave his pockets and reach up to the top level…and yes, that makes a blow.

Environment of learning and innovation: Cultivate the environment of learning, with that you will also sow the ‘out of the box’ thinking. Higher studies, development programs, cross functional movements, talent shows within the organization where you can find out the hidden talents(no we are not talking about singing or dancing competitions) but shows where you can invite solutions from your team members for any problem where your leadership is stuck.

Career Advancement opportunities: Yes, last but not the least on my list is that as a good leader one should provide an equal opportunity for the members to grow within the organization. There are people who have loads of potential but are stuck at one level for years, take the example of accountants who have hardly any growth – one reason being that we don’t give them the opportunity.

Try it…and see the impact…:)

These are only few of those things that can help the organization find their high potential and for the low level staff members – who are like the bird in a cage, fluttering hard to show their hidden talent but are trapped by the clever supervisors!

  • Ajay

    Having a flat organisation has its own challenges. The career growth aspirations of employees are better addressed in a system where there is a longer hierarchy. The perceived career growth of employees is better in longer hierarchy organisation when compared to flat organisation .

  • Vaishalee Parkhi

    Very good article. Like Accountants, the same is the case with secretarial positions. The unfortunate fact is very less companies understand it and implement remedial action. The punchline ‘the low level staff members – who are like the bird in a cage, fluttering hard to show their hidden talent but are trapped by the clever supervisors!’ says it all !!!!!

    Vaishalee Parkhi

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Hi Ajay,

    Agreed…but think of the problems one has to face in order to reach to Manager level in such organisations. I’m completely in tune with you not to have flatter organisation also, instead there should be a proper combination of Horizontal and Vertical structures. Hope you will agree to…

    Do share your views, we can have a very healthy debate on this. :)

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Thanks Vaishalee..

    The statement depicts the trauma of many of the front liners and yes of accountants, etc. I have seen it happening and sometimes they are treated very badly even with their number of years of experience on their side. Sad but true. Lets change the system specially as HR we surely can do something.

  • Samina

    Hi Archana..
    Gud suggestions really.. i m a new comer of this side n dont have a vast experince of job. Being a HR person ur articles helps me alot. when ever i get the time i read ur articles.and its a really gud forum every one share his/her own views realting to work place.

    Samina Hassan

  • Rs

    Dear Ajay,
    I think there is no thumb rule. Both types have their pros and cons, here question is intent to provide growth and communicating it to the employee. Opportunities never get seized, its matter of how we initiate.
    In terms of opportunities both type of organizations can create it.

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Thanks Samina dear….

    The write ups mostly are drafted to cater to the needs of professionals like you who have just started their career in HR. Thanks so much for your appreciation and I’m glad that we @citeman are able to fulfill your expectations.:)

  • Matt Sabetti

    “Congrats” on another great article. My brother and I feel this artificial attempt at command and control with respct to change in the organization is inorganic. Information can be cut off or sabotaged at any level, and most importantly it doesn’t reach the right people in a timely manner so that change can be implemented in an effective, holistic, and consequently less stressful manner. We’ve developed a paradigm we refer to as a wholearchy, in which the organization is led from a sense of the center outward in a general sense in concentric rings (for conceptualization.) It also corresponds to the way energy or movement occurs (dropping the pbble into the pond.) Instead of having nice linear boxes to fit in, individuals have areas or fields of responsibility without the generally unnecessary multiple planes that confer an addiional “level” of superiority found in most hierarchies.The orgnizational activity generally takes place on one plane, though has many facets with a onepointed desire to help influence organizational wholeness. I’ll spare you the fulsome detail here.

    Suffice it to say that in my research, I found that “great places to work for” don’t worry about job titles in the usual way. They act in a way that makes sense for thei company, without egos getting in the way. This affords many of the best firms to solicit ideas from the middle and periphery or fontline workrs of the organization, sometimes being able to implement changes in record time. When you consider it, the entire notion of “opensourcng” that Linux is based on depends on a free interchage of ideas – both within and beyond the organization’s walls. Many of the top 100 firms to work for give out bonuses as a thank you for creative ideas. For example, one frm solicited suggestions for making 100% of the “scrap” in a production process recyclable. Within one month, it had received hundrds of ideas and now has no refuse at all!!

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Hey Matt,
    Thanks very much for value addition to the editorial. The examples narrated above actually tells us about the saga of most firms, reading your views I think it is the same story world wide. Front line employees or the one @ lowest ladder of hierarchy are cornered like a cougar in a tree yearning to escape and struggling to show their capabilities, which are blocked by the supervisors!
    Would love to read more about the paradigm – wholearchy in detail,how it works and how companies are benefited.

    In India, Godrej is one such example, where team members are awarded for creative ideas and for innovations.

    Heartfelt appreciation for such great insights from you once again…..:)

  • Matt Sabetti

    Thanks again, Archna. Please understand, I’m not trying to push ny book, but I’d love to get you a copy of Resonanz: Energy Dynamics in Conscious Organizations– From Hierarchy to Wholearchy, which is on Amazon and Amazon UK. We go into the wholearchy in great depth there, including key new competencies requiired for a more engaged employee base. Imagine some of these executive decided to forego bonuses so the hourly people wouldn’t suffer layoffs during the downturn!!! This is organizational consciousness. The list is endless. At FedEx, during Hurricaine Katrina, employees used to “Chaos moments” jumped in and helped establish uplinks for communication and logistics for the delivery of food, water, med. supplies, etc. Your point about companies all over being similar is especially poignant, given the true global nature of our markets. We are all in it together, yet in competition for global resources like talent, water, rare earths, diversity in workforces,etc. These are complements in the whole, not oppositional, the way the old Newtonian linear view sees the world as a rational, mechanistic, Descartes-like clock. It’s often hard for people to see it’s possible to be distinct without being separate.
    This project really stemmed from a confluence of my background at Bain&Co and Wall St and my brother Stephano Sabetti’s lifelong endeavor into spiritual wholeness. He’s written many books on the subject, and his two great influences were Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti.

    Anyway, we decided to put the two together, and lo and behold, we found that the FORTUNE list of 100 “Best Places to Work” shared this sense of connection, of caring for one another and a set of principles from which they wouldn’t be deterred. The two guys who make the lists now have a best list in India. For 2010 here are the first 15: You can Google Best Places to Work in India to get the entire list!! !!

    1Google India Pvt. Ltd.
    2MakeMyTrip (India) Pvt. Ltd.
    3Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd.
    4Marriott Hotels India Pvt. Ltd.
    5NetApp India Pvt. Ltd.
    6American Express, India
    7NTPC Ltd.
    8PayPal India Pvt. Ltd.
    9Ajuba Solutions India Pvt. Ltd.
    10SAS Institute (India) Pvt. Ltd.
    11Crowne Plaza Today
    12Dow Corning India Pvt. Ltd.
    13Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
    14Godrej Consumer Products Ltd.
    15Whirlpool Of India

    You can e-mail you email me at mattsbos@yahoo.com so we can correspond.

    Take care

  • Shailesh Pateliya

    Guys, I don’t know the Indian corporate world. I work in a Charitable Trust. To me if no hierarchy, probably answer is team leadership. My conclusion is that team leadership in Indian context is a myth. What works is hierarchy and so ‘Healthy Hierarchy’ is the way out. Thought?

  • Matt Sabetti

    Hi Shallesh

    I don’t mean to imply that it’s rule by committee. Here in the U.S. there was less “Network” leadership than in Europe, but the problems with a network are that often everyone must sign off. Thus, nothing gets done. Certainly, at some point, hopefully sooner than later, someone must make decisions. But the implications of traditional hierarchies are that all important decisions flow from the top down. Information is doled out on a “need to know” basis, and infighting, political positioning, data hoarding to make oneself important, and fear protecting fiefdoms are common.The traditional rows and boxes are also an inorganic and linear way of imposing structure from above or outside. While the benefits are clear – clean lines of authority, responsibility, etc. these objectives can be achieved without “killing off” the natural complexity that that can develop in an organic system that allows movement to develop into fields, fields into processes, processes into forms, and forms into structure instead of attempting to engineer change and in the process control the rate and direction of change. Most companies have found out the hard way that despite what people say, they have what I refer to as a holophobia or fear of wholeness that real change can bring. They’d prefer to hold on to their hard-earned illusions about the way things “should be.” No question, empowering individuals to make deccisions has to checked for resonance with objectives, and individuals must be willing to say, wait a minute here…If not, a chaotic disorder or going off the rails can happen. But the best companies have found that it’s worth having the creativity and innovation of a reasonable group of people they trust. In today’s global marketplace, companies are moving to more input (think open sourcing) just to survive in the competitive waters. And many of the best ideas come from those closest to the customer or production line, not from the corner office.

    Some of the most successful companies decentralie decisionmaking wherever possible. It starts by paying strict attention to the hiring process to get individuals who have a similar consciousness to the organization in the right seats. It’s not foolproof, and it’s not meant to imply that everyone should be automatons. Indeed, sensing and feeling as an individual are part of the team consciousness!! John Chambers, at Cisco Systems, is noteworthy in this area. Or, consider A.G. Lafley, recently retired CEO at P&G. He had a serious issue. P&G possessed a great R&D group. Yet, Lafley saw that most innovations were coming from small, nimble companies. To solve the problem, he entrusted his vaunted R&D team to go after the best innovations and using P&G’s clout help shepherd the development and integration of the product into the company. In this way he didn’t alienate a strong group but directed their strength that freed up other senior people to do more “leveraged” work.

    My brother and I have developd a fungible paradigm called the wholearchy, which in times of extreme stress or disorder, can quickly assume the shape of a hierarchy to reestablish order in a system that has bifurcated. But generally, great people, given the right demeanor and tools, will perform admirably. Micromanagement just slows eveything down, like trying to “herd cats.”

    I suggest you look at FORTUNE’s Best Companies to Work For in India for a look at 50 of the most innovative global companies doing business there. We have a list here in the U.S., and there’s one for Asia and Europe too. While all firms have their unique core values, the key is a consciousness shared. Consciousness doesn’t equal intellect. In fact, the intellect is limited, because it ignores the information we receive from all other sense. It’s lived as a lifestyle, not practiced as a work ethic. Since most decisions are made on this gut feeling in the end anyway, it pays to understand what it is and isn’t. It’s not some airy, new Age idea. Consciousness is what lives inside us as the result of the sum total of our direct and indirect experience. This learning is alive and trumps abstract learning from books that our educational systems are based upon.

    This may be why more and more business schools are requiring field experience as part of their curiculums, e,g, Columbia University School of Business and others. Even Harvard’s case method is an attempt to make real the concepts they are trying to impart.

    Hope this helps!

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Hi shailesh and Matt,

    Thanks Matt for responding to shailesh.. Healthy hierarchy is surely a way out and there is not denying the fact, but as Matt suggested don’t micro manage them, they will feel caged, even i feel caged in such system where they just need 10 Yes Mans down the line and no one to question you back. And in due course the lowest level remains the lowest, there ideas, their talents untapped.

    Matt, we do have a list of “Great Places to work” in India too, and the companies making it to the list surely have innovation, new practices to talk about.

    I’m really grateful to both of you for such nice debate… looking forward for more thoughts…

  • Matt Sabetti

    Thanks Archna. Yes, as I noted in my response to you, which you may not have seen, I listed the first 15 companies from 2010 in India. If you go into the detail more, at least that’s how it is here in the States, you’ll find articles that refer to , for example, the Wegman’s Way., or the Nordstrom Way. If you peel through the innovation, you find a fundamental consciousness that respects the confluence of the part and the whole, the individual and the group siimultaneously. It’s a running theme with these successful firms, and it’s what I refer to as “phole” awareness. The idea of “holons” is discussed in physics. Again, why should a firm behave fundamentally differently from the way the rest of the interconnected universe does??

    Talk soon left my email in other response to you, but it’s mattsbos@yahoo.com

  • Bijaya K Shrestha

    Dear all,

    It’s a really great places to know and share our day to day works and our ongoing our life. Hope for this topics is impact all organizations. Healthy Hierarchy is the most important things and team leadership is going together. In Nepali context it’s most important matter for hierachy.
    Hope hearing you

  • Akasthana03

    very good article. Wish bosses realise this

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Thanks Bijaya…

    everywhere else also hierarchy is an important matter, specially in India too…very rightly added that healthy hierarchy is the solution…lets work towards it…:)

    keep reading and sharing more..