Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I’m not entirely sure why, but it probably has some ties back to writing this blog each day.
Most people generally understand what “hierarchy” is. Even in companies that claim to be “flat,” it still pretty much exists. Some people think it might go away as the millennials rise up, but … don’t be so sure. Human brains need hierarchy to process “Who does what?” and “Who owns what?” even if most people aren’t really clear on those things either.
Then there’s “professionalism,” which is a concept we all talk about it in hushed tones here and there. He is professional; she isn’t.
There’s a weird intersection point between “hierarchy” and “professionalism” which might be the essential double-standard of life. Let me try and explain what I mean.
A couple of years ago, I got an e-mail at 4pm on a Friday from someone above me in the chain (hierarchy at play). It was completely devoid of context, I had never known anything in the e-mail to be an issue beforehand, and she basically wanted 19 different things done. Here was the catch: they had to be done that day. So, end of a Friday … 4pm becomes 8-9pm out of a clear blue sky.
See, that works on a hierarchy level, but it’s completely devoid of any professionalism. If you knew those things were deliverables and important to you, why did you wait until that moment to push it down to the person who actually has to execute?
It’s simple: you did it because you could do it.
So here’s this world we have, right? Professionalism can only apply up — > down, meaning it’s impossible for a rank-and-file to tell a manager “Well, I think being out of the office on PTO 25 days every two months is unprofessional.”
Hierarchy can also only apply up — > down, meaning “I can tell you to do this, but you can’t tell me to do anything in return — and if you do, I can ignore it and you can’t ask for feedback on why I ignored it.”
So now we have two systems that only run up — > down, and when we try to create new systems around it to let lower-level evaluate upper-level (“360-degree feedback!”), we basically recreate Nazi Germany.
Most people don’t care about this stuff — managers can be dicks so long as you get paid, right? “That’s what the money is for!”
But stop and think for a second: in any logical context, the chain would move both ways — on both professionalism and hierarchy. Human beings are human beings. It shouldn’t matter if one is an SVP and one is a new account manager. Breakthroughs come from everywhere, and always have.
What I wish we could change about work in general: less of a focus on middle managers protecting their turf and avoiding threats, and more of a focus on real relationships driving purposeful revenue decisions.