A few decades ago there was a trend in corporate America to flatten organizations. Some of the benefits cited for this change included: 1) empowering lower-level employees—with fewer layers, employees could make more of their own decisions; 2) improved communication and collaboration as employees had greater access to all levels of the organization; and, 3) adaptability—organizations could adapt faster with fewer levels of bureaucracy.
How is that working out for us?
Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences to the flattening of organizations. The biggest problem is career stagnation. With fewer levels in the hierarchy, there are fewer opportunities for advancement. Often the only way up is to move out. This has caused a churn effect.
Many of the business leaders that I talk to are frustrated with the expectations of rapid advancement from their younger employees. They assume it’s “a Millennial thing,” but that’s not entirely true. Mature employees in flat organizations are just as frustrated, but they tend to be more patient and, therefore, endure longer than their younger counter parts.
Just like stagnant water, stagnant organizations can become toxic environments.
The solution is to offer more levels in your company and a clear path to advancement. They do not need to be major advances with huge raises. In fact, smaller steps taken more frequently would provide a greater sense of progress for employees than major steps made less frequently (or possibly never).
What about the benefits of flat organizations? Frankly, I haven’t seen these benefits come to fruition as a result of less hierarchy. Just because an organization is flat doesn’t mean the employees feel empowered, or communicate effectively, or collaborate more often, or that the company adapts to change any faster. The leadership of the organization and the culture that they create enables those conditions, not the organizational structure.
Give your people the gift of advancement because stagnation is toxic.
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