Category Archives: Values
Organizations that operate using a “chain of command” hierarchy are quickly becoming an outdated management model.
A chain of command model takes it’s roots from the military chain of command. It’s the order in which authority and power in an organization is wielded and delegated from top management to every employee at every level of the organization. Instructions flow downward along the chain of command and accountability flows upward.
Proponents of this method feel that the more clear cut the chain of command, the more effective the decision making process and greater the efficiency. Military forces are an example of straight chain of command that extends in unbroken line from the top brass to ranks.
This model of leadership became very prevalent in the mid-20th century but ceases (outside of the military) to have any relevance in today’s organizations, especially those that are looking to have more employee engagement and voice into the overall performance of the company at large.
Where the shortcomings of “chain of command” leadership often happens can be seen in the following simplified example (to which I have seen repeated far too often):
- Employee voices concern to manager based on objective criteria
- Manager makes decision but discounts the validity of employee’s input
- Employee decides to express concern to the manager’s boss
- Manager’s boss says employee needs to follow the “chain of command” and talk to manager
The resulting interactions result in an employee caught in a no-win situation. They walk away feeling disregarded, less valued, and that they cannot voice their concerns if they are not agreed with by their direct boss. As issues continue to come up, and especially with more serious issues, the employee loses more faith in their leadership and will disengage more and more. And any attempt by the employee to circumvent the chain to find a voice for their concerns gets thrown back in the employee’s face for not following the hierarchy.
Where “chain of command” succeeds is enabling poor leadership to manifest, not be bothered by what they don’t feel is important, and keeping leaders at the higher levels less and less accountable for how they engage or value their people.
Where it fails is on all other levels. Leadership accountability, collaborative efforts, shared vision, voice, and values are often minimized or cast aside in favor of the hierarchical “chain”.
This type of leadership also succeeds in defending itself because if it doesn’t fit into the “chain” it will not be recognized.
The most successful and people-oriented engagement models in any organization are those that foster open input from all sources, give avenues for ideas and innovation as well as concerns, and keep upper levels of leadership accountable both from above and below.
Chain of command is a weak leadership mode. Take the time to break it.
(Chain of command definition http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/chain-of-command.html)
Does your company go chasing rabbits every now and then?
Chasing rabbits is when any thought or action disrupts what is relevant and takes people off tangent of the current course.
For example, an email can cause a ripple effect through a department when people jump to conclusions or immediately respond to the “urgency” of the subject or discussion, causing people minutes to hours of disrupted work.
When a company chases a rabbit without intent, such as the above example, it can create unintended consequences in stopping the flow of work. But if done intentionally, it has far more damaging effects.
I was involved in the leadership team of an organization that met weekly. The chief executive would strategically take a conversation off course by throwing out a thought that the rest of the team would pounce on and discuss quite fervently. We soon discovered that when certain issues were brought up that could shed light on some of their improprieties, they would throw us off and down a rabbit trail in hopes that we’d get distracted. It worked for a time but when it finally caught up to them, we had gone far off our mission and realized the wasted time and resources that were affected by their behavior.
It’s easy to go down a rabbit trail – knee-jerk responses, emotional ploys, fear, anger, bringing others in that bog down the disruption, and playing off assumptions and urgencies that don’t exist.
In order to prevent your team from going down the rabbit trail, ensure your team:
- Knows what is mission critical
- Communicates consistent priorities and never shuffles them
- Keeps the vision clear and prominent
- Pauses to consider the tyranny of the urgent versus the need of the important
- Stops to think before following on feelings
A team that has enough people that is grounded in the main tenets of their culture will protect themselves from both intentional and unintentional rabbit trails that come their way.
I usually run into two types of organizations.
Vision driven organizations who look to gain influence.
Fear driven companies who try not to lose influence.
Fear driven and vision driven organizations have diametrically distinct cultures that create starkly different results.
Fear driven companies usually have two styles of leadership.
This first is the motivation by fear style. This is where leadership uses punitive measures to grow business, achieve performance, or exert their individual influence over varying individuals across the company. This type of culture may lead to short term results. However over the long haul, as disengagement and turnover manifest, productivity and trust start to erode which show the toxic nature of this type of leadership. It can also be called fear-driven. The Chicago-based water faucet company that installed swipe cards on their bathrooms to limit restroom breaks tried to instill fear of increasing productivity by limiting bathroom breaks embodies this type of culture.
The other type of fear driven company is the one that is held back by fear. This is the type of company that is afraid to get out of their comfort zone, fearful to spend money, or nervous about taking risks. On a smaller scale these are individuals who are afraid they can’t afford the negative online review or to spend a few dollars to invest in their fledgling business. In the larger organizations, these are leadership teams that are afraid to embrace shifting industries, or blossoming technologies. Companies with this culture miss opportunity, and are held back from stretching themselves and their people to see what they can truly achieve. Blockbuster Video is a good example of a fear-driven company that was held back by this cultural mindset.
Visionary organizations are much different in their view of themselves. Yes, the best visionary organizations have a view towards the future, and even have a wider view of the market and world landscape they sense is developing. But they also see their very own culture in a visionary way. By and large these organizations see their people as vital to their success, valued individuals with a voice, and as persons on which they can trust and depend on. Fear driven companies do not possess nor have the capacity in their current state to be visionary both externally and internally.
Small companies such as Mainstay Technologies and Cornerstone have a deep culture of vision for their industry coupled with a vision for their people. This vision drives their standing in their industries and separate themselves form their competitors. Mainstay’s vision of positively impacting every life they touch and Cornerstone’s pursuit of people who are well-rounded, self confident, and creative personify what vision driven organizations do. They define a culture of long-lasting excellence and success, no matter how large or small they may be.
Don’t let fear drive your organization. Replace it with a vision so large that there is no room for fear.