A note inspired by this very good post by Tom Davenport. Not only enterprise 2.0 won’t change hierarchy but also it’s essential it won’t. Pretending to knock down hierarchy is, according to me an heresy, an utopian dream…and something very dangerous.
Hierarchy is essential to any form of organization. The fact is it’s considered responsible for a lo of things it doesn’t have anything to do with. Perharps there has been bad uses of hierarchical power, but hierarchy in itself must endure. The problem of the non-agile and jamed enterpise is not hierarchy but the vision people have of it.
If fact, this debates is the proof we too often mistake the way we decide for the way we work.
In an enterprise, decision is essential. If everyone decides on oneself it will be the death of organization because of a lack of coherence. That’s the purpose of hierarchy : say who have to decide and who takes over in case of conflict. Because decision must be the fact of one person. Decision implies responsability, and it’s proved that diluted responsability make people withdraw from taken decisions. When decision is good you see people saying “great ! I’m a part of it”, it the decision appears to be wrong you see everyone looking at the sky and saying “heu….it’s not me…it’s them”. That’s why hierarchy is essentiel, because it stands surety for responsability.
But it’s not because decision must be the fact of one that its process musn’t be collective. I’m talking about the number of people who participate to the reflexion that preceedes decision. Diversity of point of views and analysis brings more material to the decision maker, and may bring him to take a decision settled on a largest base, the less questionable. We can even reach the point where the decision taken is the opposite of the decision that should have been made without involving people in the decision making process.
Social computing allows mainstream feedback, collective analysis. Decision makers base their decision on reports, analysis and social computing allow all competences express themselves, to discuss, to co-think. And it doesn’t go against the fact that there’s one people who will decide and assume.
In this process, the decision-maker can (and must) get involved, lead the team and sustain reflexion, and not as a hierarchical power but as a part of the team, as a stakeholdder. That’s an aspect of the “flat enterprise”.
It’s an essential point : enterprise’s future is the flat enterprise. Is it contrary to the concept of vertical hierarchy ?
I don’t think so. Flat enterprise describes the way people work, vertical hierarchical enterprise is a mode of decision. Both have to live together.
So the purpose is not to flatten hierarchy but to teach decision-makers to go from horizontality to verticality depending on they’re on a work situation or a decision situation. A new kind of gymnastics that as a lot to do with the way people consider their position, their status, the way they consider their power and their obligations toward the group.
Enterprise 2.0 is to make horizontality possible. Asking it to knock hierarchy down would be exceeding its purposes and playing a trick on the enterprise.
So the lever is mainly human : make behaviors more flexible where horizontal meets vertical. The stake is not so much how to go horizontal but the managerial, organizational, behavioral work to make on the intersection to make flexibility possible.
As a conclusion, enterprise 2.0 is the ally of a hierarchy that want itself to be agile and efficient.