In most businesses the vertical management structure is commonplace. In fact, it’s so common we rarely question it. But do those at the top of this ladder realise how employees at the bottom really feel and how this can affect the business?
The role of staff in a vertical hierarchy means people tend to work in narrow and tedious roles. They understand there is very little chance of climbing a career ladder;rather opportunities only arise when somebody leaves or gets fired. They feel like the archetypal small cog in the big machine.
Their ambition is squashed they often feel demoralised or suffocated and as though they are wasting their talents. As a result they go through the motions and end up playing the game for their paycheck. On a scale of 1–10 their motivation is often below five.
Why should business leaders be concerned about this? If they look a little closer they’ll understand success comes from the ambitions of well-placed people in the organisation.
It doesn’t come from corporate straitjackets and rigid ways of working. Look at any organisation and you’ll discover that often new business-growing initiatives are driven by the entrepreneurial spirit; by people who find ways to break free of constraints.
Of course in a large organisation human resources will say there is a need for discipline and corporate rules. This is true to a certain extent, but the fire and ambition of employees needs to be fuelled rather than dampened.
Vlad Dobrynin,CEO & co-founder of Humans.net, a third-generation social network has implemented a horizontal management structure at Humans.net.
He says: “People who cherish freedom and the opportunity for personal growth feel the most comfortable in horizontal management structures. If their financial stability depends on the outcome of their work, they simply become more driven. They pursue success, grow as individuals and make the business grow thanks to their ambition and endeavours.”
He points to start-ups as a good example of a horizontal management structure. His goal was to give employees the room to thrive push the business forward, unhampered by restrictive rules that pigeon hole people. Dobrynin believes this type of management provides tremendous scope for employees to thrive.
“In a flat structure, a person with no experience but talent can thrive and drive the business forward. Lack of experience is always mitigated by the desire to achieve. In a flat structure, people do what inspires them within the context of the business. They practically work for themselves. They come to the office happy because they do what they love,” adds Dobrynin.
Of course,employees must be managed. But a hands-off approach allows employees freedom,yet ensures they understand business objectives works because they strive to pursue their ambitions. The more people there are like this, the faster the company grows.
The only thing a leader has to do in a horizontal system is build an environment that motivates employees. That said there are key areas that need to be developed.
People must understand the objectives of the company, be proud of its values and relate to its culture.
They also need freedom such as different offices, the ability to work on the move communication tools of their choice and events that reflect their objectives within the company.
This sort of working environment will attract people who are independent and in some ways unique. These are the type of people who have problems with rigid corporate structures and this must be recognised. These qualities can have tremendous benefits for the business but they need to be managed.
A business leader in a horizontal system does this by builds an environment that motivates employees, enables freedom and also creates the right atmosphere for communication.
All of this may seem like a step too far for companies that have a long-standing tradition of vertical management. But even small changes can have dramatic effects.
In Germany, a company’s management team got rid of all the coffee machines on different floors and established one “coffee point” for the entire office on the ground floor.
After a short period of time, the atmosphere in the company completely changed; the number of horizontal bonds increased and conflict between departments was brought to an end.
People who rarely spoke got to know each other; they simply talked and discovered affinities with co-workers. The atmosphere was more harmonious, cooperation increased and the business thrived.
Dobrynin further says: “A flat company doesn’t need developmental limits. Managers don’t need to employ more staff. They simply outsource some tasks. Managers don’t need to create a vertical line underneath them.
“They have the minds of entrepreneurs; they hire resources, not employees. They strive to realize their ambitions and don’t seek control of people. They can deal with any process, regardless of the business area. They gain valuable skills and feel happy and fulfilled. As a result, the business grows and prospers.”