Many companies tout a more open culture, where the layers between senior management and the front lines are minimal. In some of these organizations, the harmonious tone between and among employees and top leadership cultivates trust and transparency.
In other organizations, however, the hierarchical layers remain in full force, often times weakening communications, dampening trust and reducing productivity.
So, for those organizations wanting to make the transition to a more level and engaging environment, how do they do so? What action steps might be taken to spark (or improve upon) the process of building a flatter enterprise? Following are two starter steps as well as a third tip for improvement that companies promoting a flatter structure may want to consider adopting.
1. Create position descriptions across the enterprise that invigorate individual value.
While it may be tempting to assuage employee egos with inventive job titles such as “Get-it-Done Guru,” the best way to elevate individuals is through more straightforward titles enhanced by value-laden descriptions.
In other words, while “Project Manager” is likely the most straightforward position title for a role “planning, procuring and executing a project,” and therefore more searchable when job seekers are looking to work for the company, the description for such a position can vary widely.
One way to differentiate the description from the plethora of other companies advertising for a project manager is to provide specific examples of projects the employee can expect to hit the ground running on as well as how those projects support the enterprise’s overall mission.
As well, describing particular and unique aspects of the role and what soft and hard skills are required to fulfill those requirements will help deepen the value of the role beyond the generic job title. Keeping the individual message centered on an overall corporate mission that is shared by all employees, from entry-level to the most senior executives, and rallying around that goal, helps abate hierarchical layers and in essence, helps level the playing field.
2. Reinvigorate communications openness between and among the top-level and throughout the organizational various layers.
In other words, instead of communicating through middle management, senior executives such as the President, CEO, Vice President, and so forth can make it a practice to not only visit with their individual employees but also to actively engage.
By asking open-ended questions and getting to know their employees on a deeper level, they can establish a connection. Taking this initiative can lead to greater levels of respect and trust between both the executive and the employee. Employees no longer envision the CEO in an ivory tower, out of touch with their day-to-day and have a sense of being valued at a personal level. This ultimately can lead to higher levels of productivity.
Conversations may center around the individual’s role in the organization, including inquiring about particular challenges and solutions the employee is facing. It also is an opportunity for the senior executive to reveal a bit more behind the curtain regarding strategic goals and vision for the future on a one-to-one basis.
Communications should also include personal exchanges regarding an employee’s life outside of the business doors, ensuring they feel cared about, beyond their job.
As well, CEOs and their executive reports can find other ways to regularly integrate with their staff. For example, working out in the company gym or enjoying a meal, elbow-to-elbow with employees in the lunchroom can bridge disparity and link senior-level executives with front-line (and everything in between) workers.
3. Nurture Talent for Advancement
Some employees complain about the lack of job-advancement opportunities in a more level organization; e.g., less of a natural progression or “job chain,” can leave ambitious career climbers frustrated. Designing opportunities for advancement while still maintaining a level playing field may be challenging, but is necessary.
Ensuring a career development and mentoring program is in place is a key solution to this sort of hurdle.
One of the common threads when reading reviews by employees of companies listed on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work, is the sense of independence employees feel; e.g., very little micromanaging; lack of ego (leadership and everyone else described as humble); and an overall sense of shared purpose and inspiration. All of these descriptions align well with a flatter organizational structure.
Being presented with increasingly challenging and complex problems, being encouraged to collaborate or to strike out on your own to build, grow, catalyze, change, lead or turnaround also are signature traits of these organizations less focused on hierarchy and more centered on a productive, interconnected, creative and invigorating employee culture!
For a full exploration of some of the other characteristics common to Best Places to Work winners, download Culture Codes of Best Places to Work.