Are Hierarchies All Bad? LO6927

Carl Gundlach (
Tue, 23 Apr 96 15:19:17 CDT

Replying to LO6873 --

Andrew writes: "My previous guess was that another purpose of a corporate
hierarchy, asides from control, is as a selection mechanism for decision
makers to filter the information they make decisions with - to provide
decision makers with high quality information - information on what's
important to various stakeholders in the system."

(end of extract)

I usually just lurk here (albeit faithfully), but I'm going to come down
out of the bleachers long enough to comment on this one. Just for the
record, I come from the land of hierarchy; Fortune 500, multinational,
well over $10B in revenue, well over 50K in people. Expert? Hardly, but
over the past 27 years I've been a member of (and managed) organizations
of 10 to 1000 -- in both Operations and Staff. I've certainly seen enough
hierarchy to have some opinions on it.

There's a small sign posted over the desk of a young engineer down the
hall. "Gray's Law Of Bilateral Asymmetry In Networks: Information flows
freely in networks, except that bad news encounters high impedance when
moving upward." I always thought it would be a lot funnier if it weren't
so painfully true.

Andrew, there is no doubt that hierarchy "filters" information. I just
have a hard time believing that the process is a purpose of hierarchy. It
is more likely a consequence; and rarely high quality. Instead, the
iterative outputs produced are increasingly sanitized, increasingly
broader brush messages with neither the benefits of clarity or substance
added in the successive layers of "wordsmithing".

On the other hand, there is prioritization in hierarchies. The really big
issues, the ones that can't be ignored, eventually do make their way to
the top. Their specificity may be lost, and any personal accountability
will most certainly be redirected, but the issue will rise.

The good news is that it's changing, and actually seems to be getting
better; although certainly not quick enough, and not without a lot of
pain. I would like to argue that today's flatter organizations are at the
heart of the change. I'm not sure I can. Most of the "flattened",
"down-sized", "right-sized" "reengineered" organizations I have seen are
the victims of "dumb-sizing" rather than the result of a coherent plan.

Even so, I think the communication has to be better; because every time a
layer is removed, so too is one iteration of ego and manipulation ... one
more case of faulty "I-sight".

'Don't know if this adds anything, but *sigh* I know I feel better. So,
if you'll excuse me, I'll just climb back into the cheap seats.

Thanks for the use of the hall,

Carl Gundlach

"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who
hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

Casey Stengal


Carl Gundlach <>

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