Major problems confront those who would attempt to restructure organizations. Kanter has described a case in which the director of one function, (company division) experimented with flattening the hierarchy. He tried to collapse three levels of managers into one, giving them all the same titles and having them report directly to him. He hoped thereby to improve communication. He was soon moved to South America, however, and after his departure, the new director reinstated the titles. In any case, responsibilities had not changed, and everyone knew that levels one, two, and three of the new management positions corresponded to the old hierarchical grades ( Kanter 1989).
Kanter has illustrated both the attack on hierarchy and its resilience. For those who consider hierarchy an evil, it is reassuring to know that it may not remain a permanent fixture. Yet, hierarchy is deeply entrenched not only as a traditional structural form but also in the culture of organizations and the memories of workers. Long-held values hamper restructuring. An attack on the legitimacy of a hierarchy may conflict with the core arrangement of a number of religious views, family traditions, Western society's assumptions, and patriotic feelings. Not only is it difficult to change long-held views, but attacks on the legitimacy of one to command another are also, in some respects, attacks on the moral base of reference for large numbers of people and on the ways in which they organize their personal relationships and societies.
Individual self-interest also impedes a movement against a hierarchy. Those who have benefited from or believe they will benefit from hierarchical organizational structures will continue to be advocates for them. If, for example, seniority leads to a higher position in a hierarchy (and includes better pay, status, etc.), a self-interested individual would not be likely to lobby for the demise of that hierarchy. Although the move in much of the United States business and government sector has involved an increase in the use of group decisionmaking and more participative management, the final decisions and the direction of the organization are often commandeered by those who control the resources or who are direct financial investors. Until there are equal resources involved in the start-up and maintenance costs of organizations (not compatible with a capitalistic society), it remains unlikely that a genuine sharing of power and control over them would result.
Accountably in a partnership arrangement, (in contrast with a hierarchical manager-subordinate arrangement) is intriguing because questions remain about who hires and fires and by what criteria people are retained or dismissed. What are the measures of success or failure? If goals or projects are not deemed successful, does expulsion of the entire group occur, or do nonproductive or unsuccessful groups continue? Hierarchical organizations simplify the problems of employee separations and judgments of success, judgmental as it may be.
Finally, concerns with efficiency, accountability, and semblance of order will tend to bolster the use of some form of hierarchy in organizations, especially in times of war and in militarily constructed institutions -- at least until a truly alternate form of organization has been proven to "work better" or is accepted as effective. Tradition and a belief that hierarchy is the "best way" to structure an organization will hinder the use of alternate forms.
Given the changes in many contemporary organizations in terms of the nature of duties and responsibilities expected from employees (which has widened) and the distinction between the relationships of roles among workers (which has narrowed), it is unlikely that the tall vertical structures of the modern age will ever be as popular again.
LISA A. DICKE
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