CEO Top-down Postulate
Sean Parshad
21

This is like reading a sex manual written by the Pope (or Elizabeth Holmes’s manual of Clinical Management). You’ve never, based on your resume, worked in even a moderately-sized company — and you think you’re qualified to diagnose and treat the problems of a company that has six levels of management?

The reality is very different. Low-level employees often understand how to perform their work well — and how it could be improved. They have no way to use that information to effect change, because nobody listens. All the typical boss wants from them is “Do what I say.”

Once they get promoted, their new boss says “I need this from your department; make sure your people get it done.” Which leaves them with two alternatives: Fight a battle to change things (and risk getting fired) or tell their direct reports “Do what I say.”

And so it goes. Companies are not dysfunctional “ because the structure is built bottom-up.” They are dysfunctional because the structure is built top down. The CEO and the VPs (who typically don’t pay any attention to what the customers say) tell the Directors and Managers what to do — or else — and the action memos roll downhill.

Meanwhile, the people who do the work have no mechanism to explain that (a) the Grand Strategic Plan doesn’t make sense and (b) they don’t have the people, processes or tools in place to do it. Also, they’re terrified of getting whacked if they say anything.

(This is, by the way. based on 20-odd years of business process consulting to Fortune 1,000 corporations or equivalent organizations. Granted nobody calls a consultancy when things are going well. But even the well-run places have elements of this.)

Also, ever worked for a two-person team? Didn’t think so. Every decision takes twice as long to get made, because they both want to weigh in . If they can’t agree, there is no way to break the tie. Often they spend a lot of time knifing each other.

The solution isn’t two man teams — or the idiocy known as “holacracy” — but proper training and clear lines of communication. If employees perceive that something is going wrong, it would help if they could speak up and get a sympathetic ear and a substantive answer. Bosses need to grasp that they are paying money to employees for a reason.

Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor runs a $60 million business doing things this way.

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