Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hierarchy is bullshit

Ever thought about why we need bosses? I have, and I've never been able to understand why we need them. What are bosses for other than to earn more than us and tell us what to do? But we don't need anyone to tell us what to do, and we certainly don't need them to earn more than we do!

So why do we have them? Because its a great way of maintaining control and a great way of making us accept that we are worth less than we actually are. Now I guess some of us have worked for an inspirational boss at one time or another. But for every good boss there must be a least a dozen poor ones. They tend to range from the ones who just aren't up to it to those who are careerists, desperate to climb the greasy pole, who see each job as a stepping stone to the top, and of course some are just downright bullies.

So why do we put up with them? I'm not a psychologist but it's not too difficult to see why. We are socialised into it. As children we look up to our parents - the 'grown-ups' who comfort and protect us. Then we go to school and are trained to accept the authority of another grown up - the teacher.

When we finish education we are usually starting on the bottom rung of of the ladder in a large organisation. We accept that those who've been there longer than us and have more experience and prestige. So it seems natural that we defer to them. But is it? Respect should be earned - not taken for granted.

The system works well for those at the top as we have seen recently in the banking debacle. These top bods claim they are special people. Without them businesses and organisations wouldn't be run properly - but were the banks run properly? More recently we have seen Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, floundering over the Ross and Brand debacle. Do we seriously think that no one could have handled it better? I doubt it.

So why do we tolerate these people? - especially when there is plenty of evidence that we just don't need them. Lets go back to the start of the century when there was an economic crisis in Argentina. Years of corruption and privatisation lead to a run on the banks. While the rich took their money and ran, ordinary Argentinians were left in the lurch, unable to access their bank accounts. Businesses went bust, and in many cases bosses just abandoned their businesses, making the workers jobless.

But many of the jobless refused to give up - they took over the abandoned businesses and kept them going. Many are still successful today, and still owned as worker co-operatives. Not all successful co-operative businesses start in this way though. The US company W L Gore and Associates is very successful, and it doesn't have any bosses. Don't believe me? Then read this article. You'll probably know the company because it makes Gore-Tex. In fact the The company topped the UK Sunday Times "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for 4 consecutive years, 2004–2007.

The hierarchy that surrounds us is manufactured bullshit. There is nothing natural or desirable about it. It is maintained because it suits the purposes of those at the top who cream off the wealth from society and require us to to accept less as a consequence. Attacks on this system are described as sour grapes or envy - but they would be wouldn't they? The most efficient and effective forms of organisation are cooperative and consensus-based. As I've posted elsewhere on this bog, cooperatives  have a higher success rate than top-down companies, and they add much greater value to the communities they are based in. If we want our economy to work better we need a horizontal, collective democratic approach.

Postscript 08/11/08: I don't usually add anything to a posting but there is an interesting article on the front page of Guardian Work today by Don Tapscott about inter-generational attitudes to hierarchy that is worth reading. I searched the website but couldn't find it so I can't make a link. here is a brief quote:

"Too many organisations are still stuck in the old unproductive hierarchy, which divides worlds into the governors and the governed. Most people above the age of 40 accept this..... The goal in hierarchy is to move up, and have more people reporting to you"

Don believes that the 'net generation' have a different attitude to hierarchy - lets hope he is right.


Anonymous said...

And there was me, thinking you were a boss yourself!!



Howard Thorp said...

I'm just one of the workers :-)

Anonymous said...

Am not convinced by this; are you really sure that, without any managerial control (I am assuming you have a job), you wouldn't be tempted to sit and blog all day instead of doing your job?

Like people I work with who "work from home" and then tell me about the jobs they did in the garden...

Maybe I am too sceptical, though (or I work with a bunch of wasters!)


Howard Thorp said...

The people you work with more than likely aren't motivated if they spend all day skiving. This frequently happens when people are not empowered or don't have much of a stake in their workplace.

If they owned and controlled their workplace they would be better motivated. It is common nowadays for those who control companies to claim they they are empowering their staff but this empowerment is usually an illusion which people see through very quickly.

Anonymous said...

They brought in a new pay scheme - to motivate us. It failed!!

I can't work from home (I just rent a room) hence me being the lowest paid yet working the longest hours...

Am sort of hoping the 'crunch' helps out in terms of affordable flat prices...!!