Article: WhatsApp killed the organizational chart

Life @ Work

WhatsApp killed the organizational chart

Traditional organizational hierarchy and its many variants have helped identify clear roles, allocate accountability, implement streamlined processes and manage growth. However, in the era where both employee and customer are king/queen, organizations are looking to redesign their structures.
WhatsApp killed the organizational chart

There is a new addition to the CEO’s goal sheet – figuring in the “Best Employers” listing. The methodology could vary from sourcing ‘likes’ or votes on a social media platform to the more traditional surveys across organizations. But the verdict is loud and clear — being an engaged employer and appearing to be so is crucial for hiring talent and retaining them.

 These rankings have existed for a decade or so, and it is a sign of changing times that employee experience is being discussed and deliberated as much as customer experience. With technologies such as cloud, 3-D printing, blockchain and big data leveling the playing field across sectors, talent has been identified as one of the key strategic differentiators.

 The criteria for evaluating these employers include –

  1. Would you recommend your organization to a friend?

  2. Likes and views by employees and non-employees etc. This clearly signifies that the next generation of employees are looking for a specific personal experience and not collective platitudes. The Organization Development expert’s problem is further complicated by the fact that the pre-millennial workforce needs to quickly adapt to a man-machine work environment where your colleague may soon be a robot.

Organizational hierarchy, according to the classical model of management, defines the hierarchy of managerial control. Over the last century or so, many organizations have challenged the traditional organizational structures, put their own spin on it or added many geometrical dimensions (flat, horizontal, matrix, divisional etc). The traditional organizational hierarchy and its many variants have helped identify clear roles, allocate accountability, implement streamlined processes and manage growth. However, in the era where both employee and customer are ‘king/queen’, organizations are looking to redesign their structures.

Innovations in organization structure

Organizational structure is not just about who reports to whom but a powerful tool to: 

  • Determine who gets what and how much 

  • Recognize and appreciate good work 

  • Communicate the common purpose and mission 

  • Knowing the pulse of the workforce 

In the digital era, organizations are now reimagining their structures to meet the changing demands of business and talent. Some examples include:

Zappos: Has implemented Holocracy, a comprehensive practice for structuring, governing, and running an organization. Instead of the traditional organizational chart, the team at Zappos defines what work needs to be done and allows the employees to figure out what work they are most connected to. An employee may hence be doing different roles at one point in time.*

Buffer: Moved away from having long-term, static teams, and  have shorter-term, more fluid task forces which are formed for a specific purpose and then disbanded once that task is completed.**

Uber: In the wave of the leadership upheaval at Uber, the current leadership is working on a structure where the control is decentralized and not vested in the hands of a few.

Network of Culture Keepers

While an organization chart does well in defining where the control lies, in all likelihood, it may not depict the network of culture keepers in an organization. We define culture keepers as those who help deliver the common goal and purpose of the organization, not always in line with their role or designation.

As a microcosmic reflection of society, every organization has some individuals who knowingly/unknowingly imbibe the message and help foster a sense of solving a common problem.

The culture keepers also have the trust of the leaders and help communicate some on-ground realities that may not travel upwards. Some may argue that this role may also create discord, for there is no real responsibility unless the job description says so, but one cannot deny their existence. One only needs to check his/her mobile phone to check the number of WhatsApp groups with office colleagues. These do not follow the norms of traditional corporate etiquette, ideas are welcome anywhere and the gratification is as instant as it gets.

The new generation organizations should consider empowering culture keepers as their influence grows wider and stronger with these new forms of informal communication.

It may be unproductive for HR or business leaders to engage with each and every individual but in the absence of such engagement, many may feel left out or that their contribution went unnoticed as not every action or idea can be measured. Culture keepers can help propagate a culture of creativity and agility with a sense of safety and security. 


* The-zappos-holacracy-experiment

**  How 4 Top Startups are Reinventing Organizational Structure

Read full story

Topics: Life @ Work, Leadership, #KillHierarchies

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?