Chain of command: How COVID destroyed corporate hierarchy

Overnight digitization and flat management structures have rocked the boardroom

Chain of command: How COVID destroyed corporate hierarchy

For many organisations the combination of advanced technology plus a global pandemic has radically shifted the way offices function. Besides the looming Zoom meetings on a daily basis, hierarchical structures have changed with more flat management formations coming into play allowing for quicker and more efficient decision making.

“The use of technology has broken down the hierarchical structure of our office through an increase in transparency and efficiency,” Adam Flynn, state director of Coronis Group,  Victoria, told HRD. “In real estate, we had to adjust to working remotely almost overnight and the use of technology has actually expedited our processes regardless of where our team is operating from and a by-product of that has been an increase in communication within the team and individuals stepping up into their roles in a more competent fashion.

“This has enabled me to step back from working ‘in’ the business and allowing me to work ‘on’ the business because the use of technology has created open lines of communication between team members who ultimately work together to solve problems rather than always coming to me for assistance. The culture has also improved as competence has been highlighted and those who are excelling in their role are receiving positive feedback from the team at large.”

Expediting decision making allows individuals to grow within their roles. Giving people autonomy to do their jobs properly and without someone looking over their shoulder every five minutes, installs confidence and breeds leadership.

Empowering individuals to take responsibility will quickly sort out the natural leaders from the followers and those wanting to advance their career will relish the challenge.

“The chain of command does still exist, however, with the use of technology people have become more competent at self-management which has reduced the amount of management required from the upper level,” Flynn added. “Essentially, each person now commands their own chain because they take more ownership of their individual roles, which has empowered them to grow within that role thereby reducing the chain of command to become flatter and less hierarchical. This has also reduced the hours on me is now working in the business because individuals are operating at an increased level of autonomy.”

The flat management structure embraced by many companies, especially in technological and start-ups, would seem to be a growing trend, where individuals are given more responsibility with broader job roles, allowing them to be more creative and proactive, rather than reactive and stationary.

“I believe flat management structures work,” Flynn added. “Technology empowers employees in their roles so there is less responsibility assigned to me resulting in less need for layers of management. Staff are empowered within their role and encouraged to grow. I believe in the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time they can problem solve and find the solution themselves which is encouraged within our office and 20 per cent of the time they come to me, as the last line of defence, for guidance.

“Technology also promotes delegation and enables me to be in the office less and I often operate remotely now as do some of the team. Productivity has also increased as a result.”

For Paul Milchem, managing director of AIMS Industrial, the chain of command has changed due to the employee of today being vastly different to employees of the past.

“The employee of today is educated, independent and looking for fulfilment in their work,” Milchem told HRD. “At the beginning of the year we began to move to a 'self-management' model whereby there were no longer any managers in our small business and we have a total of 22 staff based in Sydney and Manila.

“This is challenging for the owner/manager because it really means letting go. It is beyond empowerment. It is actually allowing people to act at work the way they act at home - like mature adults. It is also very challenging for many employees. Particularly older ones who are more used to having a 'boss' to tell them what to do.”

AIMS set up a system where tasks were set for each person by agreement, there was no defined ‘boss’ and small decision making was left to the individuals, while big decision making involved discussions and negotiation.

“We trust each other and do the right thing,” Milchem said. “We don’t ‘box’ jobs anymore, we define roles based on skillsets and development. We now have increased visibility across the organisation and it is working.”

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