One of the most prevalent views of organizational management it seems is the idea that the chain of command can not be democratic. I am not specifically referring to textbook directives or management guru writing but basing my statements on general observations.
Having worked in multinational organizations and interacted with companies in over 20 countries, some leaders assume that loyalty has to be blind. Even in countries that are considered democratic we often find organizations led by dictators. In these companies questioning the leader is equated with disloyalty.
The challenge is that organizational behavior swings like a pendulum between anarchy and authoritarian rule. So in an effort to establish order some managers confuse discipline with edicts.
Interestingly, those organizations run more like a military structure than a consensus building organization. In this context the argument is that the chain of command allows for swift action and reaction to market conditions.
Is running an organization like flying a plane? If we think about it, the captain of a plane is the ultimate decision maker. This person is not going to ask for the opinion of flight attendants and passengers when it comes to piloting the plane or avoiding disaster.
In the case described above consensus and democracy is likely unrealistic. However the corporation rarely moves at he speed of a plane. Perhaps there is value in creating a consensus building culture.
Can the managers and leaders of organizations empower people to provide needed input and actually take that input into serious consideration in the decision making process?
This may be possible in a small organization but can it be achieved in large enterprises? I believe the answer to this is one of segmentation. It requires classifying decisions based on profiles of stakeholders. For example, it is not realistic to expect the custodial staff to be involved in strategy setting due to a skills mismatch issue.
Ultimately however the only way to move closer to democratic management requires decentralization. Decentralization is not only about production and service. It is also about decentralizing decision making. To do so requires a great deal of coordination and synceonization. Sadly most organizations and leadership teams are ill-equipped in this arena to facilitate this transition.
We have to start with a simple question. Are leaders serious about decentralization and do they see the benefit to the organization? If the answer is no, then the organization will not likely be able to transition to consensus and will continue in it’s authoritarian style.