When we say hierarchy, it has different meaning to different people though it has a common meaning. It is widely misinterpreted when somebody says my organization is non-hierarchical. To somebody it means there is no hierarchy in the organization and to some other it has a different meaning. He feels that you can call everybody here by name. There are absolutely no harm calling people by name when we know how to do that with different people according to their age group and experience but does that really mean that we are non-hierarchical? Every organization has a hierarchy. Without hierarchy, it’s just impossible to run an organization. What I understand non-hierarchical means we can communicate to all in the organization irrespective of their hierarchy and it provides a healthy and open work culture where everybody can have a feeling of equality which fosters growth. People feel at ease sharing their views and idea in a group when they don’t have a feeling of senior/sub-ordinate kind. At the same time we should maintain common courtesy in all kind of communication like email, telephonic etc. Here we should follow guidelines of corporate communication in all kinds of interaction like how to wish any of our colleagues at work when she/he is up/down in the hierarchy. There are special training sessions available in the areas like corporate communication, behavioral workplace ethics and many others.
Why is hierarchy important? I have asked this question myself several times. Hierarchy is the pillar for success and growth of any organization. Let’s don’t get confused with rank of a person when we talk about hierarchy. Rank-based organizations are different like defense departments where people get recognition with their ranks like somebody is a general, a major, a colonel, a brigadier etc. On the other hand more transparent companies like that in the IT industry are peer-based where success is shared across all levels and people are all treated equal. We respect our peers and work together for mutual success. These kind of peer-based organizations are often termed as non-hierarchical. What does that mean? Let’s understand.
The term non-hierarchical does not mean there is no hierarchy. Every organization has a hierarchy. It’s not posible to function smoothly without establishing hierarchy. Non-hierarchical means we treat people equally irrespective of their position and hierarchy. It’s not like somebody is more important and the other person is less important to us. We can’t get success without correct understanding of hierarchy as it’ll not be possible to maintain work-flow when nobody listen to their peers and they want to do everything on their own. It’ll break discipline. Everybody in the organization are equally important as long as they follow company vision and values.
Everybody feels valued and feels to have equal opportunity for growth in non-hierarchical organizations. It’s useless if we don’t understand values. How to develop an organization where people understand the correct meaning of hierarchy and drive their growth with values? Non-hierarchical organizations can function perfectly where people understand the need to respect each other and guide themselves at work with correct values. They need not be taught who their boss is as they already understand that well and know how to keep her/him happy. There is no inferior/superior kind of culture but rather a friendly work environment and people don’t complain against one another. The person we report is always our higher authority and with this culture in place nobody (superior authority) treat their people (reporting subordinates) as inferior. It’s not easy to build such an organization where most team members are having a maturity level that of kids. Actually our value system, communication and hierarchy are all connected and inter-dependent. One can’t function well in the absense of the other.
A case study (my own case):
I got puzzled with hierarchy… how to establish hierarchy in our communication?
Do hierarchy has any connection with our day to day communication? My answer to this question is Yes. To understand it better we need to build a system where people can practice it and our medium of communication can be of great help. Let’s find out the best mode of communication where we can practice hierarchical communication everyday. What comes to my mind is our email system we use most in any official communication. It is the best media as it can reach a mass audience at once and we can review it later too at our leisure. A good official email should be able to explain our understanding of organizational hierarchy to a greater extent.
We should not write the email id of one person more than once in any email communication. It’s bad manners and treated as a form of misconduct though unintentional. People start thinking of us as careless. For example if i am sending an email, i need not write my email again in CC. Some people argue they are doing this as that want to keep that in their inbox for future reference. That is really not required as we can find the same email in our ‘sent items’ folder anytime we want. Still if we want to save it we can move that from sent items to any archive folder.
It’s possible to determine hierarchy in a larger group of employees too. We can follow some standard practice like clubbing members in a group when size is more than four. The group can have any name like TMs/Managers/Leadership etc., as per relevance. Let’s take an example where i’ve been asked to report four senior members whom i have never met before. I’ve not seen them before and don’t know them personally too. I’ve joined a new team where all are strangers to me by face and name. The challenge before me is to follow a standard practice in email communication. My knowledge here is limited and i know that i need to place all the email id’s of people up in heirarchy to me in CC field. That is the only knowledge i had and i approached a senior member among our colleagues to discuss about the same. The following paragraph is about our conversation.
He also suggested the same as standard practice and told me what better you can do is ‘place them all in CC in some order say ascending as per their hierarchy’. I asked how can i know that when all are new to me. He replied just apply your great thoughts in action and still if you can’t find a great solution, come back to me. I took some time and thought about it. The only information i had was their email id’s and i had an email client pre-configured where i can write email to them. I just typed emails of all in the new email compose window with the hope of finding some more information about them and it worked for me. When i double-clicked on an email i found information about the person like alias name, email, office, phone, job title, department etc. These information really could not help me solving my problem and the challenge was still there how to determine hierarchy among these four people. I could not sleep well in the night as time was running out and i had to send an email (with correct standards) anyhow before start of lunch hours tomorrow. I just waited the night to pass and approached my mentor early morning next day around 7 AM at his home. I explained him everything and told him i could see only indivisual employee information for all of them but i still could not determine the order. One among them is a vice president and the other people having designations as vice president, senior director and senior vice president. I never got a chance to know them personally and i don’t know their hierarchy and reporting structure. How to determine an hierarchical order to email. My mentor suggsted, they are all in the leadership team and vice president position is up in the hierarchy to a manager or director. So, it’s simple. Likewise you can find out the hierarchy between a manager, senior manager and director. I’ve nodded and told him i was also thinking in a similar fashion but i still have ambiguity. To add more to my pity and turmoil (a state of mental agitation i was going through) i found two people in the group having same designation as vice president. What to do?
My mentor took some time and was staring at me straight to my eyes. he replied… can you find out information like their employee id and whom they report. I replied, what will i do with that i only need to be concerned about my reporting manager and team. Why should i collect that information? That is none of my job responsibility. People will think of me as a non-sense fellow having no work to do. As more and more negative thoughts crippled my mind, i forgot all basics and asked him ‘are you really helping me…?’ He just put a gentle smile at me and asked me to cool down. He told, i understand you are under pressure but we need to come up with a solution. So, take my words at ease and i will tell you why? He again started thinking for a while and as usual strated conversation with a smile.
See Debasis… I know you are a very talented person who cares to check for minute details in all your activities. Thats good and we should not do something without correct understanding where there is a scope to learn things better. Wih my suggestion, i had no intention to treat you as a fool or make people laugh at you with your gestures. You are quite correct, asking these questions may create a bad circle for you. It may prove good to you too if you find few optimists who cares for all. It’s upto you how you want to conduct the experiment. The easy way is to approach somebody you trust having correct information who can provide you employee id or any unique id and manager details. I’ll tell you why you need to know that. Listen to me patiently for a while. The second choice is for those who are new to the team like you and who find it very difficult to approach somebody to ask these questions. If you can’t ask anybody, still there is a way to find these information. My hint and suggestion would be to dig deeper into the information available in your company intranet and email client. You can definitely find these information there.
Now, what to do with these information? Do you have an idea? I hope you ahve already started thinking about it. Take few minutes more and then talk to me. Now it’s 7.30 AM and i am sure we can find a better solution by 8 AM today. You can reach you office in time by 9 AM with renewed and vibrant thoughts that will make you whole day filled with energy. I was quite impatient to find a solution in a hurry and also i had fear in mind what will happen if i failed to send the email correctly in time. I just replied in five minutes .. No IDEA Sir ! He told me i can read your face that you are in a hurry and looking for shortcuts. You have not put your thoughts into action.
Anyway, let’s start walking and we will discuss more on the way to your home. You can reach your home in time having the solution and i too can enjoy my morning walk. So, tell me what you think you can find from the employee ids of the two vice presidents that you need to report. Tell me anything abstract coming to your mind as everybody have some idea and there is nothing like ‘No IDEA’. We have twenty more minutes to discuss during our walk and i can tell you my thoughts in just two minutes before you leave. So, don’t worry and put your thoghts in action.
When i observed there is no route to escape, i replied… Sir, probably a person with smaller employee number have joined the organization earlier to a person having a higher number. That’s correct and that’s the way we do the numbering. We never reuse an existing employee id even long after separation. So, a person who joins later will get a new employee number which is plus one to the employee number of the person joined us last. So, what next? So, probably this person (older employee) is having more industry experience and senior to the other person. He replied .. Not necessarily always. That could be true in this case of two vice presidents but you need to check another area. What is that Sir.. i am getting confused. Check their managers whether they are reporting to the same manager and different people having a different hierarchy. Please give an example i asked. He told, one among them could be reporting to a senior vice president and the other person to Executive vice president and EVP position is higher up in hierarchy to an SVP. A person reporting to SVP has a position lower in hierarchy to a person who direcly reports to EVP and likewise you can find hierarchy for n number of people. If they report to the same person, the person having smaller employee number is senior to the other person. I hope this can help you. Yes, Sir. Thank a lot i replied and left the place with great smile in my face as if i won a contract.
How to establish hierarchy in an organization? What to gain with it and what to lose without it?
By demonstrating these values at work and at every other place of need we can become role models for our younger generation. They will again act as catalyst for their offsprings and the cycle will go on with everlasting values. This is basically a top-down approach which is a proven methodology. Some people feel if we want to achieve great success we need to think out of the box and do different things. Does that mean to prove ourselves different we should do all as we think that to be correct without respecting viewpoint of others? Don’t you think it may end up with all non-sense activities if not driven by values?
During a discussion i came to know about a person who feels she should not read too many books as she aspire to become a writer. The big question is “Shall we think like good readers can’t become good writers”. When i argued there is no harm in reading books to build your career as a writer i got strange response. I even suggested you may not read too many books at random but can choose among selected categories you like. Her response was when you read books/thoughts of others, you tend to be like them and can’t produce great thoughts of your own. how strange? I am still thinking about it. Learning from others is no issue when you are unique having the required self-discipline and control. With this approach you will not get biased but can always generate great thoughts and judiciously plan an action.
There are absolutely no loss in this approach but without hierarchy established we’ll completely lose our value system. Establishing hierarchy appears as a loss at first to some people as they feel it’s against our corporate philosophy as we are non-hierarchical. I am again saying it’s highly mis-interpreted and it’s because of our lack of understanding. Non-hierarchical does not mean we don’t have or we don’t need hierarchy. Hierarchy coupled with values can do wonders for anybody aspiring to be successful. When we give respect to others we gain that in return. A strong value system can transform our society.
Let’s build a peer-based organization where hierarchy exists for good of all and everybody understand it well. There will be no discrimination and equal opportunity for all those who respect others. Road is always open for all who have lost their original track but want to come back to the main stream with proper learning/understanding. We can grow when we accept and learn from our mistake.
I was just thinking what i could do better improving my communication skills with this awesome idea. Believe me i won many hearts and i am quite hopeful i’ll wear many hats in coming times as i learn more from you and do better at work. Do you have a challenge before you and do you have an IDEA to confront with it! Please discuss with me if i can share some information with my past/present experience. Also, share with me how you have dealt well with the challenge from you personal experince. Help me learn better from your case studies. Tt does not matter whether they are true stories of your life experience or as you learnt that from others. I’ll be very happy to find your personal comments and email. Let’s start sharing our stories!!
** You may share thoughts by your valuable comments or can send me email too.