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Analysis / Business

Upside Down! Why Turning Your Company Hierarchy On Its Head Could Be Good For Business

Any business you have owned or worked in will have had some form of hierarchy. It might have been implied rather than explicit, you may not have seen pyramid diagrams on your notice boards, but it will have been there. The Exec sit at the top of the pile looking down masterfully on their people.

Next you reach Middle Management. Middle Management are there to rally the troops and ensure everyone does their job.

And then you reach the Individual Contributors – the sales people, the marketing admins, the call centre staff. These individuals have their job descriptions and they get on with it. For them, progression ‘up’ the business means moving into a Middle Management role.

Where would you add your clients into this diagram? Well, I think you would add them below the Individual Contributors – after all, it is your Individual Contributors who they interact with every day.

Should Customers be at the Bottom?

Should Customers be at the Bottom?

In my mind there are two fundamental flaws with this approach.

1. Middle Management provide a barrier between the Exec and the Individual Contributors

In a hierarchy of this nature Middle Management tend to manage upwards. They can be keen to make their own move further up the chain of command, and can spend a lot of time looking upwards instead of down towards their team. In doing so they can prevent important information from the rock face reaching the decision makers at the top of the business. Perhaps it is details of how pricing is uncompetitive, or that a new product is not being received well. This information can tend to stay locked in the lower levels of the business, and unless proactive Execs punch through the Middle Management layer they can be unaware of what is really happening.

2. The Customer is at the bottom of the hierarchy

The customer is the most important part of the entire stack. Without the customer nothing happens. Every other tier can be replaced, but no customers means no business. Therefore putting them at the bottom of the hierarchy is a dangerous move. In a previous post Run your business like you’d organise a wedding – Start with your guests first we looked at the danger of focusing on your own interests above those of your clients. When clients are so far removed from the decision makers at the top of the business how are the right decisions going to be made.

A better way

It is so easy to rectify this situation. Simply take your hierarchy diagram…….and turn it upside down. Suddenly you have your customers at the top of your business – exactly where they should be – up on a pedestal and being involved in the product direction and market research.

Next step down you have your Individual Contributors. These are the teams that keep your customer’s happy and give them the service they need. They literally ‘support’ your customers and give you the competitive edge.

Information trickles down to the Exec.

Information trickles down to the Exec.

Now we reach Middle Management. Middle Management’s job is not to pander to the Exec, it is to support the Individual Contributors in their teams and ensure they have everything they need in terms of training, facilities, business applications and products to be able to do their jobs, hit their targets and support their customers appropriately. Managers work for their teams, not vice versa.

And finally at the bottom you have the Exec. This is not the bottom of the stack in a negative way, but more like the base of the trunk of a great Oak tree – providing an essential supporting role to the entire Corporate structure. Giving Customers and Individual Contributors this important position at the top of the hierarchy gives permission for important information to trickle down through the business to the Exec. No longer do you have the lasagne effect with multiple layers blocking information reaching the right people.

You might say, “Hang on – what has changed here?”

Nothing – if you don’t mean it. By simply turning the drawing on its head, the Exec have indicated a change of culture, but nothing actually happens if they don’t put this into practice. For this to be successful and not “another idea that didn’t change anything” those in the Exec need to practice what they preach, and need to give Customers and Individual Contributors the tools they need to perform their role at the top of the business.

The Exec need to push through this change of culture through Middle Management and weed out any that still think “I’m the manager, my team work for me.” With effort and dedication a new culture can be born, and the customer can take their rightful place at the top of the pile.

I hope you have found this post useful, and perhaps helps you to look at your own hierarchy in a different light. Do you have an explicit hierarchy? Where are your customers in the stack?

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Charlie Cowan inspires and enables partners at NewVoiceMedia, a Salesforce Appexchange partner routing inbound calls based on CRM data. Unusually for someone in the IT industry, Charlie holds a degree in Rural Land Management from The Royal Agricultural College. He lives and works in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, with his wife and three children.