Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is this the end of hierarchy?

With the current economy, the only case for hierarchy might be in the military. Have you ever wondered what a Senior Vice President General Manager Grand Pooba Chief of Everyone does? Me too. Who is making up titles this long and complicated? Companies too large to get out of their own way. 

The more I talk to my friends about their jobs, the more I hear the exact same frustrations continuously. "Not able to get anyone "of power" to listen to my ideas." "Tired of feeling like I don't count because I'm not a high enough rank." "Why do 18 people need to approve every small decision we make?" "Why is everything SO SLOW here?"

There are many reasons for this commonality in their frustrations. It could be because many of my friends are on that cusp of being young though with enough years of experience under their belt to make bigger decisions than their titles "allow". It could be that my friends are much smarter and more worldly than their bosses. It could that they're all having a bad day - at the same time. 

The real reason I think they're getting irritated is because the rules of the corporate game have changed and no one told their bosses, or their company CEOs for that matter. Seth Godin talks about industries as ecosystems, meaning they are dynamic. The rules change all the time, meaning corporate cultures need to change all the time. Adjustment, constant adjustment, is the name of the game. What worked for companies 10, 15, 20 years ago won't work today. This is a brand new world. And it requires an intense curiosity and desire for growth that will keep today's established companies relevant; without curiosity and growth they will be obsolete in the blink of an eye.

So what can big corporations do? Are they doomed? No - they just need to flatten out, especially at the top. A friend of mine recently attended a corporate training session and the trainer said that whenever they encounter a senior leader they need to look at their feet and let that leader run the whole conversation. I almost got sick. Who wants to work for an organization that not only doesn't value youth, but does its best to make its young people feel insignificant? If corporations want to hang on to young people, they better learn to how to utilize their energy and ideas, quickly. Flatten out and give everyone at every level a chance to participate!

And for my friends who are frustrated with corporate rigidity? A few suggestions: think about branching out to try a new venture, maybe not for pay, but for peace of mind - for hope of what may pan out down the line. Offer your services to a start-up, or try something new like a language class that could have professional value in the future. It's also powerful to gather the experience you can from where you are for however long you're there. We all always have something to learn from whatever situation we're in. Make sure to capture those learnings and take them with you when it's time to give yourself a fresh start.      


COL said...

i see this trend too. there is a lot invested in legacy in large institutions. people who "paid their dues" and expect young people to do the same. thing is, they paid their dues to a world that is gone now. it's no longer in employees' interest to stay at a company very long because we (young employees) don't get pensions and incentives are all geared to the short-term. we need to manage our careers as such and demand more pay and opportunity upfront. it's all about supply and demand and who has the skills to pay the bills.

Christa said...

Totally agree, Col! That world is long since gone - we're seeing the last few remnants of it crumble in this economy. Big companies are going to have a tough time hanging on to young talent when the economy rebounds - right now the only reason they're staying is because jobs are scarce. My hope is that this whole financial situation sparks a massive wave of entrepreneurship...fingers crossed!

runner52 said...

Wonderful idea. Its time that the corporate bosses take a hard look at what they do and are their contributions equal to their salaries. Corporate America is here to stay, the question is will non-corporate America be here with them? Job hopping is something relatively new, Recent college graduates need to have immediate gratification for what they do..this stems from everyone making the "select team" in town soccer leagues or making the "all star" team for the local baseball league. Once a person get unconditional praise, they expect tpo get it all along. In my line of work, I see younger people expecting to start at the top...and why not? They've always been told how special they were...if someone is going to job hop for a better opportunity, thats great,but if it becomes part of a regular routine, then the retirement is effected, promotions are missed, and the new employer may ask why you don't stay at your past jobs....nice article

Adriana said...

I've been thinking about this too. Though I've been looking it at from the perspective on how the web is impacting organizational structures. In Clay Shirky's book (Here Comes Everybody) he says that the typical org chart was a way to transmit information more efficiently. Org charts were based on the railroad system. So I think the dissatisfaction with organizational structures and processes comes from having a new flow of information, which sets up different expectations on how things should work within an organization. We want people to be more accessible, more transparency and more democratic participation and free flow of assignments. Isn't that what we get with the social web?

Christa said...

Hi Adriana,
Thanks so much for reading the blog and for your comment. I absolutely agree with you that the social web gives people a way to participate in the dissemination of information - exactly in the format they want to have that information in. Companies need to get on board with what's happening out on those networks. Gone are the days of customers calling into their customer service 1-800 numbers to voice their complaints or employees sticking around even when they are frustrated. Young generations are taking their concerns to a much wider audience. Love Clay Shirky's work - I saw him present last Spring at the GEL conference and he was very inspiring!

Christa said...

Hi Runner52 - love your idea that corporate America is here to stay but will anyone want to hang around with them?! Let's hope this recent economic downturn inspires a whole generation of entrepreneurs!