Hierarchy – Friend or Foe?

Hierarchy – Friend or Foe?

Nothing is quicker to discourage employees than the specter of some far removed manager sweeping in to beat them over the head with archaic rules and overbearing regulations, looking down their over-paid nose the whole time. The term ‘hierarchy’ oftentimes brings to mind scenes like this and instills a disdain for the whole idea of rigid, top-down control mechanisms. With all that being said, however, it is important to separate the instances of poorly implemented structure in a company or business from the valuable and imperative systems of hierarchical organization that are routinely responsible for maintaining the order that helps small businesses grow and larger groups press onward successfully.

It Has a Dark Side and a Light Side and Binds the Universe Together

Not all hierarchies are created equally. That’s not to say, though, that they aren’t essential. Look at something as simple as your Waze app or your Reddit account – there are built in ranking systems that inherently sort people into categories of power, experience or access. The Occupy Wall Street movement is another example of a group of people with no formal organization, leaders or decision making structure organically giving rise to a system of leadership and guidance that stretched from a recognized top tier down to the masses taking part. Even in companies that nominally do away with titles, hierarchy arises despite people’s best, although misguided, efforts to dispel it. When it comes down to it, businesses and organizations need a system of hierarchy in place. The tricky part is simply how best to do it.

You Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone

A quick look at what happens in the absence of hierarchy shows the negative effects it has on an organization’s ability to function successfully. Although managers, business owners and employees like to believe that everything can be approached and dealt with in a wholly collaborative manner in office buildings with no offices or placards, experience indicates that this is simply not the case. Without a so-called pecking order, workers tend to be less productive and effective and also display less commitment to their team or group of similarly tasked colleagues. Coordination and cooperation take a big hit and overall a dysfunctional competition for status, power and influence emerges. None of this is good for your business.

Recipe For Success

So what are you supposed to look for when designing a successful hierarchy for your outfit? The essential point to bear in mind here is to strive for clarity over control. The more transparency up and down the chain of command you have, the better. The goal of a good hierarchy is to direct the flow of work and information within an organization in the most efficient way possible rather than striving for tight control. Instead of using a hierarchy system to reign in power in the top levels of an organization there is enormous value to be had in pushing power down the ranks into the hands of workers from the bottom up. By maintaining a clear system and well-oiled flow of information up and down the chain, decision making responsibility can be placed spread across the system confidently and under scrutiny from everyone involved. Position in the system of hierarchy, however, should never be confused with the amount of respect an employee deserves or commands. From the top to the bottom, each employee’s position mustn’t be equated with the amount of respect they are given by those above or below.

Organize and Order Your Way to More Efficient Business

The goal, then, is not to decide whether or not to institute a hierarchical system, but to implement the best one possible. Hierarchy serves not just to organize your endeavor but also to destroy the bad bureaucracy that so often inhibits efficient business. A well managed and clear-cut system will do wonders for reducing friction between your employees, diminishing the incompetence that can hold up tasks and projects and mitigate the politics of an office or workplace that oftentimes get in the way of doing good business in a clear and orderly manner. If you’re a small group looking to upscale and grow your business a clearly implemented hierarchy system will help provide the framework for growth.

About author

Philip Barry
Philip Barry 19 posts

Philip Barry is a featured contributor to AgeOfTheSmallBusiness.com. After graduating from Fairfield University with a B.A. in French and International Studies he lived in Bordeaux, France for four years before serving with the U.S. Peace Corps in Ethiopia.

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