Hierarchies. I hate them.
OK, that’s not strictly true. It’s not the structure I hate, so much as the behaviour it fosters. Any well run organisation, from Gary’s Sandwich Shop to GlobalCorp, obviously needs clear lines of communication and defined responsibilities. Everybody needs to know what their job is – what’s their problem and what’s not. And when things are blurred, as is often the case here on Planet Real World, the blurring should be a commonsense response to an issue, so stuff still gets done as it should be. Put more simply – if the bread knife snaps, any one of Gary’s team can take £5 out of petty cash and go and buy a new one. If faulty parts have been delivered, the line supervisor can halt production for as long as it takes to source new parts. And, more relevant to my current role – if a policy or practice is making it hard to serve the customer properly, anyone should be able to point that out, no matter where they are on the ladder.
So I don’t have a problem with structures, or with leaders, or with communication policies. I don’t even have a problem with the flapper culture I occasionally encounter. As far as I’m concerned, that behaviour sows the seeds of its own destruction. I’ve worked with a few people who’ve patiently constructed a pyramid of access rights around themselves, only to find they’ve just made it easier for others to eventually sidestep or remove them. I’ve been very good though, and hardly ever laughed out loud when it happened.
No, my problem is with the people at the bottom of the pyramid who accept it as ‘the way things are done’. Those who know their place, won’t speak up, don’t want to be visible.
Harsh, huh. Why have I got it in for the little guy? Because he or she is brilliant. The front line workers, and in fact staff all the way up to mid-ladder, do the most crucial work from a customer’s point of view. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they can articulate it in two sentences or less. Spend ten minutes in the smoking corner, or by the kettle, or in the canteen, and you will hear the day-to-day discussions that prove the point. But these same awesome individuals clam up when they have the opportunity to speak. They don’t want to speak out of turn, cause offence, possibly ruin their career, by saying the wrong thing.
OK, fair enough, you say – then isn’t it the jargonaut’s job to make a fuss, collect all these brilliant suggestions and get them heard? Well, yes and no. I can do that, sure, but I already get centre stage a lot of the time – far more than I deserve – purely because I’m bolshy enough to speak up whether or not I’m invited or expected to do so. And if you need translations from tech to plain English or vice versa, I’m your man. But when it comes to this information, it has less validity once it has passed through me and a layer of corporate filters. It needs to be heard coming from the people who know it, experience it, feel it every day, in their own words, for its impact to be properly appreciated.
So to all the colleagues currently stepping back and letting me present their ideas – I’m inviting you to step up with me and be listened to. I promise it won’t hurt a bit.
Hierarchies. I hate them.