The 2012 Fortune 100 lists Google as the number one company to work for—quite possibly because of the free food it offers employees—but, what else makes Google so appealing? Chief Culture Officer Stacy Savides Sullivan said Google’s core values from the beginning were to have “a flat organization, a lack of hierarchy, a collaborative environment.”
Flatter organizations—those with fewer levels of management—encourage employees to take initiative without needing approval from multiple managers. “Instead of “shifting the responsibility” up the management ladder, flat structures empower employees to take charge, help make decisions and feel responsible for the company’s success,” said Dana Griffin, from Demand Media. In order for this model to succeed, flat structures requires a fully competent staff with likeminded interest in the success of the company.
Employee retention is among some of the reasons why more businesses are trying to flatten their hierarchical structure. At TUCON, CIO Chris Robinson talked about why KPMG, a global audit and tax firm, wants to make their hierarchy flatter similar to Apple or Facebook’s organizational structures. KPMG experiences nearly 20 percent turnover in its global workforce every year. “A lot of people choose to leave any organization because of silos and hierarchy,” Robinson said. “Our challenge is how do we change the hierarchy so it isn’t one of the top three reasons people leave?” Being from the financial industry, a heavily regulated industry where risk departments often say ‘no,’ “You have young people coming in and saying I don’t really conform to that sort of style of organization,” Robinson said.
“With social computing, we’re looking to flatten our organization, make it less hierarchical and retain a 21st century workforce that expects these tools when they come into the office every day,” Robinson said.
“Organizations are turning to enterprise social networking because it breaks down the silos, creates a more open environment where employees can be more collaborative, think nontraditionally and share innovative ideas across the organization with the integrity of doing what’s good for the organization. It flattens hierarchies by creating an environment where employees can dialogue with anyone from their organization.
In a recent article, Gautam Ghosh challenges the adoption of social software. He says enterprises must “work on the culture” to get more employees to contribute to their internal social network. “Culture can be molded, by working on the visible aspects (or the archetypes) of culture, the stories, the systems, the structures and the processes within the organization.”
I think it works both ways. Enterprise social networking, as a tool, naturally allows for a more open culture by providing a platform where anyone can contribute. At the same time, it takes a slight cultural shift, a nudge from upper management and a likeminded interest from the community for it to reach its full potential. With both forces are at work, organizations will become more decentralized and employees can work together to make faster, better decisions.