To be a successful executive you must know how to knock down walls. I don’t mean the walls of brick and steel that hold up buildings; I mean the bureaucratic barriers that hold up communication.
In many companies, communication flows through narrow channels, usually from the top down — chimneys of power, they’re called. People walled off from these chimneys are left to work in an information vacuum.
Today’s successful corporations have demolished the walls that prevent the lateral flow of communication. With the walls gone, information permeates the organization.
Such organizations find it easier to achieve the “Four F’s” that management expert Rosabeth Moss Kanter tells us are essential to business success. A successful company, she says, must be focused, flexible, fast and friendly.
- You can’t focus the efforts of your entire workforce if your organization is crisscrossed with walls that impede the flow of information.
- You can’t be flexible if you have a rigid corporate structure in which every division and department is a closed information loop.
- You can’t be fast if information has to seep slowly through layer after layer of management.
- And you can’t be friendly if your people don’t talk to other people inside and outside your organization.
If you look around, you may see plenty of boundaries in your own company that need to be removed. One of them may be the door to your office that remains closed to input from your employees. Another might be a rigid boundary between hourly and salaried employees that keeps people in one category from talking freely with people in another. Or it could be a boundary that shuts out ideas that don’t originate in your own organization.
Other boundaries might be the lines that run between divisions of a corporation. If one division develops a new method or a new technology, does it keep it to itself or does it share it with other divisions? Among the toughest boundaries to dismantle are the ones individual managers erect around the borders of their turf.
In the old days, corporations became overpopulated with people who were promoted to their “levels of incompetence.” Armed with the word “manager” in their titles, they staked out their own little turfs and guarded them jealously.
In a corporation without boundaries, advancement means moving into positions in which knowledge can be put to productive use as coaches, advisors or knowledge workers; where expertise is interchanged throughout the organization.