Organizational Hierarchy – Breaking Down the Barriers

Some experiences happen in our careers which forever burn in memory.  For me, I will never forget the first time I was given the opportunity to present to a Vice President.  Early in my career, I came up with an idea to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by revising our existing processes, and my manager asked me to present the idea.  To be given this opportunity and for my idea to be heard left quite the impression on me as a young employee.  I never forgot the sense of empowerment it gave me – I felt valued.

Giving people a voice to be heard by leaders is a powerful opportunity.  It gives those who sit in remote parts of the organization a way to communicate their ideas.  People are often timid to share their ideas with their superiors in fear of rejection or worse.  Nothing shatters someone’s confidence more than hearing “yeah, great idea but we have never tried something like that before”. Hierarchy has always been a challenge for innovation and more times than not, an opportunity like the one I had are rare in organizations.  Having an avenue to share something new or different can give people an outlet and make them feel valued.

We designed our innovation management tool, PwC iPlace, to specifically remove any indication of organizational hierarchy. When an employee comes to iPlace to share their idea, the only information available to them is the person’s name.  There is no indication of the person’s rank, location, or experience.   As a result we have found iPlace to be a vehicle with which everyone can share their ideas. Here are three important benefits we have realized in breaking down the hierarchical barriers.

Emphasizes the idea rather than the person
By removing the hierarchical barriers, people focus on the idea versus where the idea originated.  When you don’t know where the idea came from, the evaluation becomes focused on the idea itself and removes a bias that would normally occurs when you know about the originator.  Do you think a one to two year employee would share his/her thoughts on the idea with an experienced Partner while on the job? Nine times out of ten, I would bet not.  People are naturally intimidated by rank and level.  We have found in iPlace that the exchange between individuals is focused on the idea since there is no sense of the ideator’s background. Staff comment on Partner ideas, Partners comment on staff ideas.

Creates a dynamic feedback and communication mechanism
Creating a “safe” environment encourages feedback and communication, which leads to improved brainstorming and open discussions. Many times when in front of a superior, some tend to feel like you have to have a well formulated and articulated point of view.  Although this is important at times, it is just as valuable to share gut reactions and thoughts to help evolve initial concepts and ideas.  This helps in terms of not shooting down an idea initially and gives the idea life.

Gives the power and permission to everyone
Having an outlet that allows everyone to contribute free of levels, ranks, and classes gives the power to the people to share their ideas and speak their minds.  Giving people the “permission” to share ideas is key to empowerment.  As much as we try to create a comfortable environment, giving an option like this will help open up the organization to share ideas and receive feedback.

We have found that iPlace has become the place where our employees feel free to share their thoughts.  We have experienced great representation across each level and part of our organization.   iPlace has started to break down the barrier of organization hierarchy and has proven to be instrumental in generating and evolving ideas. Now the possibility of presenting an idea to a leader with the ability to implement the ideas is no longer the exception, but the rule.

So how do you create a safe environment for your employees to share their ideas? What organizational barriers do you typically experience?


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1 Response to Organizational Hierarchy – Breaking Down the Barriers

  1. Marisa Walls says:

    I agree totally. Being the receptionist at PwC, in a Best Place to Work Challenge, I quoted the following:

    Best Place to Work is a place where we can say Hats Off to the hundreds and hundreds of insightful Innovative Thinking Caps found within PwC’s Innovation Community iPlace!

    Even though, I work for a conservative and hierarchical organization, iPlace allows 30,000 PwC employees a unique opportunity to “freely” Think Outloud, Think Outside the Box, in an Open Innovation Forum, regardless, of staff class and market!

    PwC’s innovation community gives 30,000 PwC employees an opportunity to put on their Thinking Caps to innovate, an opportunity to put forth their new ideas, thoughts, and suggestions, all while networking and collaborating across PwC lines of service to truly make PwC the best place to work!

    My innovative thinking cap, provides me with a fundamental understanding of PwC employee creativity, unique thinking at PwC, and more importantly, interesting insight into THE WHAT IF? question!

    All 30,000 PwC employees evolve ideas by sharing, voting, commenting, and collaborating with Xlos staff from across the Firm resulting in One Firm Approach Innovation!

    iPlace affords me and everyone at PwC with very important and valuable opportunities to learn more about the firm, such as the Advisory GDC acquisition, Knowledge Management tools, Corporate Responsibility, Diversity, Operational Business Practices, Pipeline Revenue Growth, Tax Technology, Cloud Computing, and much, much more.

    Hats off to iPlace!!!

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