Our Superstitious Fear of Hierarchy
By Michelle Malay Carter on October 8, 2007
Superstitions develop in the absence of knowledge.? When people lack understanding, they can give cause and effect status to items simply related by time and space.? If enough people repeat it, it becomes truth.
- I saw a black cat today and then broke my arm. B lack cats are bad luck.
- I work in a hierarchy. Decisions take forever.? Hierarchy is bad.
- I work in a hierarchy. Decision happen too quickly.? Hierarchy is bad.
- I work in a hierarchy. My boss is a micromanager.? Hierarchy is bad.
- I work in a hierarchy. I get too little direction.? Hierarchy is bad.
- I work in a hierarchy. The policies are stifling and rigid.? Hierarchy is bad.
- I work in a hierarchy. The policies are ambiguous and inconsistent.? Hierarchy is bad.
It is en vogue these days to bash hierarchies.? The editor of Harvard Business Review conducted an online survey asking readers what they thought the ?modern? industrial organization would look like. ?News flash: ?Hierarchies, the design by which humans have organized themselves since the beginning of time, will be pass? in 20 years.
Certainly, employees are hurt at the hands of hierarchies, but people die at the hands of bacteria.? Yes, bacteria can kills us, but without them we couldn?t digest our food.? They are a necessary and natural part of the human ecosystem, and we can use knowledge to ameliorate their destructive power and exploit their positive properties.
When people prattle about the elimination of hierarchy, that by implication means an organization without levels; even a two layer organization is a hierarchy.? Would you really want to work at an organization without levels? ?What would that mean?? Talk about unintented consequences!
- All decisions need be made by vote or consensus ? hiring, firing, strategy, marketing, research investment, vendor selection, who receives personal development opportunities, what the logo looks like, which benefits we offer.
- Everyone is accountable for creating global strategy, answering the phone, cleaning the bathroom, and everything in between.
- Everyone is accountable for all decisions, even ones they vehemently opposed.
- Everyone gets the same pay.
Maybe it?s not hierarchy that is the problem, but rather it is our ignorance surrounding how to structure them to our benefit rather than our detriment.
Consequences of Too Many Levels in a Hierarchy?
Yes, there can be too many levels in an organization.? This causes buck passing, slowed decision making, turf wars and work overlap.? This breeds frustration, inefficiency and hampered production.
Consequences of Too Few Levels in a Hierarchy?
Yes, there can be too few layers in organizations.? This breeds overwork, ambiguity, and unrealistic expectations.
Humans both seek leadership and contain the potential to provide leadership to others.? We are wired for hierarchy, and that is why humans have been creating them since the beginning of time.
Rather than fighting against hierarchy, why not seek to understand work levels and human capability and naturally align them to release employees? full potential and to offer employees satiating leadership.
That is really want people want ? a job that taps their full potential and a manager who can provide leadership.? Contrary to popular folklore, an appropriately designed hierarchy will provide just this.
It?s not magic. It?s science. Through knowledge, we can eliminate the superstitious fear of hierarchy.