In my work with business leaders and their organizations, the majority of them want to avoid "hierarchy" in the organization in as many ways as possible. Many of them are highly successful at doing so. They set structures in place to create more of a "flat" organization, they get clear on organizational values, and they get very intentional about the culture they want to create. While the reporting structure may have a hierarchy to it (this structure can be an intentional system that supports culture vs. hinders or lids it), the goal is to have a collaborative and peer-oriented mindset with non-hierarchical behaviors.
When I do IEP (Intentional Energetic Presence) Cultural Assessments for companies, I go in looking through the lens of "What's the energy of the company?" What's not being said? What's going great/where are they super strong? What needs attention? And where might possible blind spots be that may be creeping up, especially as they grow quickly and on-board more people?
Nine times out of ten, one of the core values and intentions of the organization is around people feeling safe and demonstrating "non-hierarchical" behaviors. Nine times out of ten, this is a blind spot that lurks in the corner.
This is easily addressed with a bit of intention, energy, presence, and thoughtful action.
5 Signs You're Modeling a Cultural Hierarchy
- Meetings. You start to have more and more meetings with the leadership team, behind closed doors. (Oddly, these meetings tend to get longer and longer.)
- Sharing. You get more ambiguous in sharing back the outcomes of these meetings, challenges the company is dealing with, and what the ripple effects might be on others in the company.
- Decision Making. You start to have a "club" of who can make decisions. (This is often an unspoken club, it's not appointed but everyone knows who's in it.) And even worse, when people want to step up to lead, you get wiggly on who can lead. (And often you go back to check with the "club.")
- Your Language. You use separation words like "we" and "you" when talking about your team and your employees.
- Your Energy. You have a general energy of "better than," "bigger than," "more important than..." You can't see it, but you can feel it. (This is a slippery slope.) One of the best indicators to check this is to see if you're actually PRESENT with the person you're speaking with, and if not, WHY. (Lack of presence is a symptom of a bigger problem.)
5 Signs Your Employees Feel the Impact of a Hierarchy
- The Collaborative "They." They get hooked into the collaborative "they". "They" won't let me do this, "they" won't listen, "they" make the decisions, it's up to "them."
- Waiting to Contribute. They stop contributing best ideas and going the extra mile because they don't feel valued, heard, seen or even that it matters. They stop leading initiatives, waiting for someone else to lead it.
- Collusion Clubs. They start to use language like "they" (in regards to leadership) and "we" in regards to employees. (They form their own collusive clubs.)
- Their Energy. Energetically they begin to show up "smaller" and less "powerful" when certain people are in the room.
- Carefulness. They get careful. Simple as that. You'll know it when you see it. (IF you're truly present to it.)
These lists are by no means all-inclusive. What would you add?
As you can see, all of these can be addressed with intention, energy, presence, and some thoughtful action.
What's the culture you're trying to create? You all create the culture together. In fact, every single employee, leader and executive in the company (regardless their title or role) emanates the culture. Done intentionally, this is HOT stuff.
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