Tag Archives: competence hierarchy

Dilemmas in the Construction of Hierarchy

With a group of competent people assembled in the same room at the same time, now what? Why organize, how to organize?

Without a why, there will be no coordinated effort toward anything. Most organization founders begin with a personal why, a defined mission and that’s the beginning. The mission may shift over time based on market conditions, maturation of the CEO or maturation of the organization.

How to Organize?
With a defined mission, someone still has to decide what to do, sequence of what to do and resources required to do. In the beginning, it’s the founder. As the organization grows, decisions are distributed from the founder to others. But to whom? And with what authority? We now have a hierarchy, intentionally or by default, based on some value. The nature of that value will determine the nature of the hierarchy and determine its energy flow. Organizations get to pick that value. If the value is power, we create a power hierarchy, not sustainable.

If we create a competence hierarchy, decisions made about what to do, sequence and resources can now be based on competence. The proper distribution of decision making and problem solving goes to those roles the organization identifies as requiring the most competence.

Degrees of competence determine which roles make which decisions. If we draw this on a piece of paper, this is organizational structure. But, what is the design criteria for competence? How do we determine, or consider who may be more competent than another? In a competence hierarchy, we certainly contemplate that we are going to have more than one competent person, so who gets which decision?

These questions determine how we divide up the work, who will have the authority for which decisions and who will be accountable for the outcome of those decisions. At some point, we run into conflict. The conflict may be about the priority of a resource, priority in a sequence or if a task needs to be completed at all. If there are layers of decisions, how many layers? Who decides?

This seems like a ton of questions to answer, and the questions keep coming. How do we define the working relationships between people and keep it all straight? What is the framework to guide us? What are the metrics in that framework?

We started with chaos and order. How do we examine the chaos to find the lynchpin that brings order to the organization? I am a structure guy. If you get your structure right, your issues related to motivation and management largely go away. What’s the lynchpin?

Flow in a Hierarchy

Hierarchies are naturally created as a sorting process using a defined value. If the value is power, it’s a power hierarchy. If the value is command, it’s a command hierarchy. If the value is control, it’s a control hierarchy. If the value is competence, it’s a competence hierarchy.

In a power hierarchy, energy flows from those with the power. Authority is assigned to those with the power. Decisions are made by the person in power. Problems are solved by the person in power. Critics of hierarchy likely have this value stream in mind and complain about top down, command and control. It’s not a bad argument, but their angst is directed toward hierarchy, not power.

What’s so bad about a power hierarchy? There are a number of problems. First is organizational speed. If all decisions have to made by those with the power, the speed of decision making will slow down or stop. If all problems have to be solved by those with power, the speed of problem solving will slow down or stop.

If decisions require local knowledge about the subject at hand, those with power must stop to learn the local knowledge. If decisions require technical expertise, those with power must stop to learn the technical expertise. The decision slows down.

If the power hierarchy vests power in those who have the power (circular reference with a purpose), how do those in power remain in power? The only basis for remaining in power is by edict, corruption or tyranny. The justification resembles the parent response, “Because I said so.”

The initial response from a child is obedience because the child is dependent on the parent, but the impact on the psyche of the child is none too positive. “Because I said so,” eventually creates counterproductive sandbagging, passive aggressive behavior, outright defiance. The endgame for the child is to create a condition of independence and leave the family, sometimes not so amicably.

The impact in a power hierarchy is that team members will seek to become the person in power or they will leave. Except for those employees who remain dependent on the structure for their own survival.

Those who seek power in a power hierarchy will use whatever means to gain that power, which may include intimidation, tight control, harboring knowledge and deception. Those who leave create a turnover statistic which eventually gets noticed by HR. And those who stay, because they have no other option, will behave in all manner to remain in the good graces of those in power. None of these scenarios create the culture of a thriving, forward looking, innovative organization.

But, what if the value in the organizational hierarchy was one of competence? A hierarchy of competence.