The Role of The Boss in a Flat Organization
Skyvision centers is a hybrid organization that brings together multiple, disparate skill sets in a medical environment. If you ask any of the staff or doctors who we are and what we do you will hear something along the lines of “we’re a customer service business; our product just happens to be eye care.” The founding principle for Skyvision was the creation of a truly patient-centered experience achieved by borrowing liberally from such customer service stalwarts as Nordstroms and the Canyon Ranch Spa organization. These practices were then layered on top of a flow process that was adopted from the Toyota manufacturing system in order to allow the doctors and staff to provide medical care that exceeded all industry standards for outcomes, safety and efficiency.
It became clear very early in the development of Skyvision that a traditional management structure would be counter-productive. Most small businesses, and essentially all medical businesses, are run using a steep pyramid set-up: doctor at the top, office manager next, and all kinds of middle management on top of the folks doing the real work of caring for patients. Command and control was exactly the wrong strategy for us. We adopted the ultimate flat organizational structure, the POND.
The Pond Theory of Management is best viewed from overhead. Unlike the pyramid of the traditional management flow chart, the Pond Structure is nearly invisible when you look from the side. Staff members “float” on the pond like overlapping lily pads. Tasks are determined initially by job description. Responsibility for seeing that larger projects are accomplished is determined by “mutual affirmation” in the overlapping individuals, and those who affirm a leader take on the responsibility of helping that task leader succeed.
With the appropriate systems in place and so much of what we think of as traditional staff management happening on something that looks like “cruise control”, what is the role of the “Boss” in a flat organization? Rising just above the lily pad-covered surface of the pond are the very few “flowers”, the leaders of the organization. If the “Tribe of Adults” is managing its own intra-staff personal relationships and taking responsibility for outcomes, what does the Boss do?
The common misperception of management in a flat organization (and in groups practicing TQM/CGI) is that there is no longer a leader or “Boss” role at all. This, of course, could not be further from the truth. The primary role of leadership in a flat organization is to make broad policy decisions and set major goals for the organization as a whole. The first of these is to choose to have a flat organizational structure! It is the few leaders who are charged with setting the general course of the business, from choosing the products or services to be offered, to determining the variables that will be measured to keep the organization on track.
Once the organization is up and going it’s important to identify the metrics necessary to maintain a tight focus on the goals that have been chosen. Monitoring these metrics and reacting to them is the responsibility of the “Boss”. From just above the Pond an effective leader is able to offer broad guidance without being involved in the minutiae of the day-to-day machinations of the business by reacting to these metrics. This also frees up the Boss’ time for critical planning, meeting with significant customers, and other larger picture tasks that will help the business grow and prosper.
It seems as if the flat organizational structure is designed to inoculate the Boss from any real staff management, doesn’t it? In reality, the only thing that the Boss might miss out on is any of the fun aspects of day-to-day interaction with employees. For better or for worse while the Boss may not do the hiring it is the Boss, and only the Boss, who must do the firing. At the end of the day, a business that chooses a flat organizational structure is not immune to any of the factors that make an individual employee an unsuitable member of the team. Remember, there are no managers, only a Boss, and no one else available to perform this (hopefully rare) task.
The role of the Boss in a Flat Organization is at once bigger and smaller than in a traditional hierarchical structure. Smaller in that the number of management tasks he is asked to perform is radically reduced. Bigger since the remaining tasks are more global and reach into every aspect of the business. Certain types of individuals are more geared to fulfilling this role (it helps to be a little more laid back and patient), and certain abilities are more helpful (delegation, data analysis, “blue-sky” planning). Indeed, the more of these characteristics one has in a leader, the fewer leaders you need!
The better the Boss, the flatter the organization.
This entry was posted on Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 at 2:53 pm and is filed under Eye Care, Health Care, Healthcare Economics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.