Flat Organizations

JJ Hicks
2 min readSep 23, 2022

The company prided itself on running “flat” minimal layers of management. It allowed the company to minimize overhead, make decisions quickly.

But there was a focus on developing leaders too. On the lower ends of the ladder there was room to promote through the supervisor and managerial ranks. On the upper levels of the ladder — not so much.

People were trained, coached, and guided to do more and achieve more. The upward pressure of highly capable people strained the “flat” philosophy. These people kept doing more, being more, achieving more. Soon their titles did not match their outstretched responsibilities.

When there was no change to the structure the brightest left for other opportunities. The business struggled to loose such capable people. A change had to be made. But nothing happened for years. It would be costly to recognize these people appropriately.

Closed door meetings began. Whispered discussions fluttered about here and there. HR was unusually quiet. After a time, the remaining upper level leaders were brought into a conference room. They were given the promotions and papers. Of course, there would be no change in pay. And of course, with the title change more expectations were, well, expected of them.

It was a tough pill to swallow but not uncommon. Their contributions helped the business. In time, salaries and bonuses would shake out. They had too. This was a good company.

But the needs of the company and the underlying demand for “more” made other priorities — profit priorities — greater.

Shortly after the promotions, the leaders who had been prompted were fired — one after the other. Some quickly and without warning. Others with dignity and a fond farewell. In a few months after their promotions, many were all gone. In less than two years the rest were let go.

In their place, promoted up into those new titles they had fought so hard to attain were each of their lieutenants. The managers they had developed and coached under the auspices of “succession planning” now held those titles and their created roles.

The company saved a fortune on payroll by only giving the managers a little more and eliminated the talented leaders who had earned so much albeit underpaid for their experience.

The terminated were left with a brief title and a perpetual explanation of why or how they got fired so soon after getting promoted. None of the interviewers or recruiters were surprised.

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JJ Hicks

JJ Hicks is an author in the wee-hours of the morning and an IT Leader by day. You can find out more about me at www.jjasonhicks.com