How hierarchy is hampering your business (and what you can do about it)


Hierarchy is a horrible word and largely a horrible idea. But it’s one that we have accepted very easily.

At one time or another, you’ll have found yourself in a scenario where there is a person telling you what you ought to be doing or how you ought to be behaving.

Now remember exactly how you felt when you were in that scenario. Probably quite frustrated.

Hierarchy can be frustrating

In fact, doopoll is an idea borne out of frustration with this very situation. Before we created the doopoll platform, we were doing creative communications work.

On one job in particular, we found ourselves in a board room with junior and mid-level staff from the communications department.

Throughout the course of these meetings, we would discuss with these staff who had been sent to make choices about the project we were working on. Decisions would be made based on research, testing of ideas and other information.

At the end of each meeting, we left with the lovely warm feeling that we had collaborated with people who wanted to make their business better.

That’s when we’d get a phone call. Almost as soon as those junior staff had climbed the staircase to the upper floors where their bosses and board of directors sat, we would get a ringing phone. On the other end of the line, the head of communication for the business would tell us: “Yeh – we know that our staff decided this. But we don’t like it so we’re going with this other option.”

The frustration in this scenario was based not on the rejection of our ideas but really on the imposition of authority over informed choices.

And that’s when we got the initial idea for doopoll.

Does hierarchy make sense?

We thought that it would be unproductive for people to continue to discount the ideas of their junior or mid-level staff based on their personal preferences or a hunch.

Think about it objectively and you’ll see the folly of hierarchies.

Let’s take an average business. There is a single CEO. That person is rarely involved in the day to day nitty gritty of running the company. Their role is a much more high level one.

And then you have the senior staff. There tend to be more of them but their daily contact with customers and clients is minimal – generally they have a managerial role.

Then it gets interesting. The greatest number of staff in a business or an organisation tends to be at the mid and junior levels. These are the people who are in the trenches. They understand deeply the frustrations or pleasures that their customers are feeling. Perhaps even more interesting is that they’re more likely to have recently joined the company and have a very good understanding of how people outside the company or organisation see it.

That’s invaluable!

Let’s look at the numbers

So doesn’t it seem crazy that the greatest influence and decision making power within an organisation lies with the least hands on people who also happen to be proportionally smaller than the junior level staff?

Looking at this a different way, we can probably build a model business around the following ratio:

Junior Level : Mid Level : Senior : CEO
1000 : 100 : 10 : 1

These numbers are completely anecdotal and yet seem oddly accurate if you take the first ten companies that come to mind.

Now let’s assume that everyone has an idea or a feeling towards the new product that the business is planning to launch.

Taking our model business, there are probably around 1111 staff members in the organisation. Traditionally, it is the CEO who will have the final say. But does this really make sense?

The traditional hierarchical business will willingly negate the work and ideas of 1100 people in favour of the 1 CEO because he or she has a hunch about the marketplace or distaste towards the product.

Flatten that hierarchy and say that there are just 1111 staff. Now everyone has decision making power which means that, in real terms, the majority will be the decision maker.

If more than 50% of those people think that the product will flunk, that’s OK. The crowd probably has a good idea of the market demand or the failure of the product to meet that demand.

And they may still be wrong, but as a CEO you’d be crazy or power hungry to overrule the other 1110 intelligent beings in your company, each one an expert in his or her area.

Hopefully now you can see that one of the biggest failures of a decision making process is enforcing a hierarchy onto it.

So what can you do?

The first step is admitting you might have a problem. That takes some buy in from the upper levels of your business.

The easiest way to get that acknowledgement is to be the change you want to see. Begin asking the people below you in the hierarchy what they think. Involve them in a meaningful way in decision making processes.

How does that look?

Well, it’ll look different for every business, but here are three top tips:

  1. Start by thinking — what will you do if the people below you have a different opinion to you? How will you react and will you be able to take their advice? If you’re not ready to do this, stop here.
  2. Now start asking — now that you’ve realised that your juniors and mid level staff might have some incredible ideas, start asking. Make them feel safe by asking for anonymous feedback and make it easy for yourself by not asking for free text.
  3. Then start doing — it’s no good asking if you don’t start implementing the changes that your people are telling you ought to happen. As soon as you see those results come in (hopefully in real time by using doopoll), start to implement some changes. Start small, build it out from there.