HIERARCHY - Everywhere, Dangers
It is a rare organization that is not hierarchical, with a ladder (hierarchy) of status, privilege, and power. This is found both in business and government, as well as in the civic (nonprofit) sector.
Hierarchy seems to be the most convenient structure when a large workforce must be supervised. Many of us believe it is the only possible structure. Let’s question that (for now) while we consider that hierarchy carries significant costs and dangers, especially two.
ONE DANGER is illustrated by scandalous examples where a senior ranking person acts abusively (even criminally) towards subordinates (e.g. sexual abuse) and escapes any sanction - until their long-delayed downfall — in a few cases. Out of how many, still unexposed?? The cases that become public show how high rank in the hierarchy includes the power to intimidate both the victims and potential whistle-blowers within the organization. Beyond the single abuser/autocrat there may be an entire group and culture of abuse at one level of the hierarchy preying on lower levels.
THE OTHER DANGER is even more rarely revealed, though it may be more widespread. It is the blindness of senior managers to significant problems in their domain - whatever they may be. This blindness of top managers is due to the common practice of well-meaning staff to serve the boss by filtering all incoming information to remove “low priority” and “negative” news.
Good managers can find ways around that problem but it is hard - e.g. Open Door policies and “management by walking around” .
Org. Development contributes. These workshops often focus on two topics: 1) our vision for the future and 2) our realistic assessment of current performance and obstacles to improvement. But how to avoid the filtering that still inhibits such conversations and how they are reported to the bosses?
An effective approach that addresses
the social dynamics that usually inhibit honest critiques - even when requested by bosses) is reported by Beer et al. —. As external consultants working for the top management team (TMT) they get the TMT to commission a task force of some highly regarded middle managers, which will interview a sample of workers in all main areas. The survey question is about what obstacles frustrate workers as they try to implement the company’s strategic plan.
The results are clear and credible to the task force. How and when they will be reported to the TMT is carefully orchestrated by the consultants. They know it will be painful for some TMT members and therefore hard for the reporters. So the design is that all members of the Taskforce will report together at a joint meeting with the TMT. This allows the reporters to feel support from their peers and from the consultants. This process is managed by the consultants but all the data collection and assessment is done by the Taskforce, handpicked by the TMT. That should protect the credibility of the report for the TMT.
Next challenge: Since they know well that org, assessments rarely lead to management attention or follow through, they have arranged with the TMT that they will meet again (without the Taskforce) after hearing and questioning them in the joint meeting. Then the TMT is supposed respond to the Taskforce report with their followup plan.
Will this TMT feel an obligation to follow through? If so, that would be positive for the effort to improve effectiveness, plus a step towards increasing the respect and trust these middle managers feel for their bosses and deepening their commitment to this org..
Hierarchy, Information, and Strategic Blindness
Information has never been more available to seekers (including scholars, spies, social media fortune seekers, and strategic planners) than it is today.
But the ability to see and use information strategically remains a serious disability. The precious information that is readily available but not used due to systemically induced blindness - especially due to hierarchy in organizations.
The struggle to overcome this serious management blindness
goes hand-in-hand with the effort towards becoming a “Learning Organization” and using an organizational structure based on Adhocracy.