Who is the most knowledgeable person or has an idea you believe can help you achieve your company’s goals?
Quite often, that person is not at the top, but in the front lines.
Or you could say – at the “bottom” – the rank and file. These are the “foot soldiers on the ground” – the clerks in your retail stores, interfacing with customers every day. These are the service workers, who interface directly with the public (customers).
But rarely will that idea travel and reach the people at the top levels of management. This is how most companies work.
In today’s networked age, the old model does not work.
Have you ever played the game of telephone when you were a child? Let’s say there are 5 people in a line and the first person whispers something in the second person’s ear, who will then pass along the message the same way to the third, and so on. In order for a message to get out from a sender to a receiver, it has to go through a line of 5 people to relay that message.
That’s a total of 4 times the message needed to be relayed from one person to another. That’s four “middlemen”, four degrees of separation between the sender and receiver.
At one time, this was how communication used to travel, in a very linear progression. In companies, this was how the information got passed from one department or level of management to the next one below or above.
That was before the internet.
This is what often happens in large organizations, where information generally filters from top management to the bottom rank and file.
Here are 3 problems with the one-way telephone game that often happens in organizations:
- Depending on the quality of communication, some of the original meaning is lost. Or more, if the communication is of bad quality.
- Time delays and extra work are created from having to use multiple senders to multiple receivers of each communication.
- The flow of information is unbalanced. Most of the time (or almost always), information flows downward (from top to bottom), but rarely does it move upward to the top.
Here’s another problem:
Quite often the source of crucial feedback (and even major breakthroughs) happen from the bottom, where employee engagement is of paramount importance, and where time is of the essence.
Using the old model of management, information flows down from the top and is filtered through many intermediaries before it can go where it is needed. In some places, it doesn’t even go THAT far. Is it any wonder why it’s a common thing in companies: that top management is often guilty of being out of touch with the needs of the whole company or the customer?
In the past, this could be forgiven, because that was not how society was structured. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it still worked. This was also before the age of the Internet and cloud collaboration and crowdsourcing, where information didn’t travel as instantaneously or as fast.
It may have had its role and place before. But no longer.
Re-assess How and How Much Leaders Need To Work
Leadership used to be a top-to-bottom command-and-control power structure. Digital technology has changed all that. Much like the structure of the World Wide Web, teams are beginning to function more laterally, non-linear, and less hierarchically.
To use the telephone game analogy from earlier, there is no longer any degree of separation between sender and receiver. It is one direct line instead.
The sender has a direct line of communication with the receiver, no matter how many layers of management or departments separate them.
In many organizations, because department compartmentalization is the norm, information pathways tend to be more closed, rather than open. These technologies function well only in a sharing-friendly and open environment. Fostering a culture that is open; one in which sharing thoughts, ideas, opinions, and updates. and vital information is the norm is crucial.
Unlike the old days, this crowd is empowered with a new technology that moves ideas and thoughts along at the speed of light, and true leaders are those who accelerate the spread of information to anyone who will be empowered by it to participate.