Flat Is The New Black
The ‘Flattened’ organization. The age of the ‘New Workplace’. ’Work 2.0′. And yes, when taken to their logical conclusions, even terms like ‘Social Business’ and ‘The Connected Company’. All share a proposed common trait of an organization with fewer layers of hierarchy. Sometimes that is a very explicit goal, and sometimes it is simply an implied outcome of the other changes an organization is undertaking.
Is that a good thing? Sure. However, there’s a big difference in understanding what organizations in general will need to trend towards to be successful in the future and dealing with the realities of today. In business we tend to be a people of extremes. We either aggressively pursue a large, disruptive change, or we acknowledge an inevitable future, pay it a little lip service, and then go back to our day to day activities with blinders on. What we often don’t do however, is find simple measures that move us along an incremental path.
Incremental Paths To Action
The key to incremental paths is to keep in mind that things like ‘having a flatter organization’ are not the objective. It’s the attributes and benefits that come about because of it that are the objective. Things like speed, agility, adaptability, etc. All great traits to be sure, but do we really need to wait until some large, organization-wide, change management initiative is in place to *improve* on these things? Do we really need to have buy-in at the very top before action is taken?
Part of what we do at SideraWorks is develop and oversee change management plans targeted at achieving these very traits, but no one should be waiting around for folks like us to develop a cohesive long term plan instead of being vigilant to what they can impact *now*. Regardless of your sphere of influence or the existence of any budget, there is always something you can do to move closer to those traits you desire.
Focus On The Why
Maybe you can’t ‘physically’ flatten your division or department today but nothing is stopping you from ‘virtually’ flattening it to some extent. Want to get some of those gains like improved communications, speed and quality of decision making? Then focus on why flatter structures make those gains happen in the first place. You know that more direct access to the problem/solution cycle and the people involved in them creates a heightened understanding of where roadblocks are and the day to day issues that personnel deal with.
That in turn means it’s easier to recognize where those roadblocks can be removed and how decision making is improved by better understanding the ‘soft’ variables that tend to get lost when the ‘telephone game’ of communication by hierarchy is in place. It also dampens the bias that is introduced into communications by political maneuverings within those management layers. And by increasing the ‘share of voice’ that the lower personnel feel they have, you improve the overall culture and morale.
An Example Of Action
Would it really be so difficult to dedicate a couple of weeks out of your year spent working within the various roles at the lower levels? Do you really believe that you wouldn’t spot issues daily that you could easily permanently resolve and improve upon with your experience and empowered position? Don’t you think you’d spot talent to groom for future leadership positions that is being hidden from you right now because of fear from the layer between you? Don’t you think your improved understanding of how things *really* work vs. the filtered version that you receive in your management meetings would be useful? Don’t you think you’d receive greater respect and that those you’d work beside would be more aligned with your vision if they saw how you applied that vision to *their* jobs in a personal way? Don’t you think you’d receive a massive return on that investment of a couple of weeks a year?
What’s Your Excuse
What would stand in the way of you doing that? Ego? Lack of desire to really improve the organization or lack of initiative? Disbelief that you’d really do more good during those two weeks than you would applying your normal day-to-day work? Fear that you could justify it? Concern that your middle layers would feel they were being undermined? What?
Big change is difficult, rocking the boat is difficult. But you don’t need giant initiatives, global empowerment, or large budgets to make large improvements. Those are often just excuses to put off until tomorrow the leadership you could be exhibiting today. What’s your excuse? Have that debate with yourself and see if you’re really trying to *improve* or if you’re just trying to be the best you can be with the structure you were given. One is about surviving, the other is about thriving. Which are you trying to do?
Matt Ridings - @techguerilla
Image courtesy of Travis