Hierarchy in Tomorrow’s Workplace

While different industries exhibit vastly different business practices, there’s one common thread that is laced through the corporate world: a strict hierarchy and chain of command. Since the days of the Industrial Revolution, there’s been a cut-and-dry organizational chart, starting from the top down, detailing who’s in charge, who matters, and who is next in line.

The problem? There’s no room for this version of doing business in the Digital Age. This archaic organizational structure is constantly being flattened as we progress further and further into Industry 4.0. Constant innovation, automation of day-to-day tasks, and a growing number of relationships required for getting things done has revealed that this hierarchy of power was never really effective in the first place.

The strains of structure

“When you look at real organizations, having a clear hierarchy within your firm actually makes people turn on each other when they face an outside threat.” – Lindred Greer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University (Walsh, D. 2017).

To Greer’s point, organizations with a rigid and obvious ‘food chain’, so to speak, can often feel like cut-throat or competitive environments. Instead of unifying team members, many workers take on an ‘every man for himself’ attitude, each attempting to climb the corporate ladder higher and faster.

In the Digital Age, though, an increasing amount of collaboration and teamwork is required. There is a need for a de-centralization of power, but that’s not to say a complete abandon of structure either. There will still be a CEO, a senior manager, and so on, but there’s a need to recognize leaders at all levels. We cannot prepare one singular team for leadership when all of our employees are facing leadership moments every single day.

In today’s business landscape, org charts look more like this.

Artificial Intelligence vs. Human Intelligence

By now you must’ve noticed the rapid pace of innovation and technological advancement in all facets of life. The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) industry alone has grown 20% year over year, and is expected to generate US $5 billion in revenue by 2024 (Deloitte, 2019). The business of technology is booming and it is completely shifting the corporate world as we know it.

Artificial intelligence may be monumental, but it can not operate alone. People are needed to evaluate and analyze the data, to understand customers and businesses, and to provide an emotional level of intelligence that no robot or machine could ever provide.

It’s important to note that yes, while our corporate world is shifting, technology is not displacing people from their jobs. Historically, technological advancements have created more jobs than they have destroyed (Deloitte, 2015). The introduction of these new machines to our workplaces has only exacerbated the need for exclusively-human skills like problem-solving, pragmatic thinking, and empathy.

Flattened organizations

People’s jobs are evolving into super jobs or “hybrid jobs”. Positions and roles are changing on the daily, and it’s getting harder to create a concrete list of daily to-do’s, must-haves, and quantifiable skills. This shift is forcing organizations to foster a more collaborative environment and be more flexible with what they require or need from their staff.

Instead of an emphasis on hard skills like data-entry or specific programs, organizations are placing higher value on employees with soft skills like interpersonal communication, analysis, and customer listening. These soft skills are inherently important to the next generation of leaders. When machinery can replace mundane tasks with quicker, automated processes, it’s imperative that employees can step up to serve as the human problem solvers in the face of constant change.

Further, completing projects today requires an infinite number of cross-organizational relationships. The boundaries between internal departments are no longer as stark as they once were. Each employee provides a unique perspective, and all different types of perspectives need to be invited to the table. There can not be a singular source of truth, but rather a collaborative discussion of findings, analysis, and understanding that inform solutions and innovation.

Re-skilling for the future

Adapting to Industry 4.0 and the constant changes of the Digital Age requires a whole new set of skills – skills that go beyond understanding and operating new tech. As worker’s roles evolve to answer new needs and new business initiatives, the hierarchy of the workplace must evolve with it.

The strict chain of command is outdated, and it’s time to prepare all leaders at all levels for the future. In Deolitte’s 2019 survey, 84% of respondents who said automation would require re-skilling have increased their budgets for training (Deloitte, 2019). Organizations need to prioritize their employee development programs now more than ever. Breeding talent that can adapt and navigate the confusion, complexity and volatility of today’s world is invaluable.


Deloitte (2015, August). Technology & People: The great job-creating machine. Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/finance/articles/technology-and-people.html

Deloitte (2019, April 11). Introduction: Leading the social enterprise-Reinvent with a human focus. Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/human-capital-trends/2019/leading-social-enterprise.html?id=us:2ps:3gl:confidence:eng:cons:41819:nonem:na:6P2vPZOP:1149430522:344233497246:e:Brand_Future_of_Work:Brand_HCT_Intro_Exact:br

Walsh, D (2017, September 5). Rethinking Hierarchy in the Workplace. Retrieved June 26, 2019 from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/rethinking-hierarchy-workplace

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