Top down thinking
In top down organizations information flows up and decisions come down. The military is an example of a top down organization.
People in top down organization exercise top down thinking. They aren’t designing creative solutions and exceeding expectations because top down organizations require and honor conformity.
We should expect top down organizations to produce conformists.
If you’re a leader in a top down organization the natural tendency for followers to tell you what you want to hear is nearly insurmountable.
The sad truth is people in top down organizations naturally shift from an outwardly focused vision to self-advancing, self-protective personal agendas. Top down organizations turn inward, develop sluggish bureaucracies, and require customers to adapt to them.
Top down organizations include; religious denominations, governmental and political agencies, and educational institutions. I believe top down organizations eventually suffocate themselves. The only times top down organizations create something bold and beautiful are during life threatening crisis. Only a crisis transforms conformists into innovators.
If you’re creating a top down family, business, or organization, expect conformity. Expect others to tell you what you want to hear. Expect your followers to fear failure and embrace the status quo. I think you’re developing dependent followers.
Three Problems with top down organizations
#1 – Leaders in top down organizations create and affirm people that comfort each other by clinging to the status quo.
#2 – Leaders in top down organizations never get the real picture because people tell them what they want to hear.
#3 – Followers in top down organizations live in bondage to bureaucratic hierarchy.
You’ve just read an opinion. Do you share this opinion? Can you advocate in support of top down organizations? What other down sides of top down organizations can you list?
Excellent post Dan and all so true. Top down organizations stifle innovation, creativity, self expression, and don’t allow ample room for “participatory leadership.” I have never subscribed to the notion of vertical hierachy and especially in Healthcare today the industry I am in, team work and horizantal integration are critical. Feedback from all parts of an organization should be able to flow easily so everyone can benefit including especially the “C” suite.
I’m delighted you stopped in and left a comment. Thanks for the expression “participatory leadership.” It’s filled with ramifications.
Al is connected to the Harbin Clinic. It’s the largest privately owned multi-specialty physician group in Georgia.
Dan, Great Post! This reminded me of a video post which I recently saw “the irrelevant boss” by Vineet Nayar. http://www.vineetnayar.com/the-irrelevant-boss/
Thanks for the link. I went and watched the video. The information you’re pointing out expands the general topic of top down thinking into an area I hadn’t explored. I appreciate that.
I hope you keep coming back.
Best to you,
Your post is spot on, Dan.
The grandest example of Top Down Thinking we all are experiencing at the moment is how the U.S. federal administration is running our country.
It always fascinates me when I watch people who have never had to make a payroll tell industry how to run their businesses.
Simply stated, Keynesian economics is Top Down Thinking and Capitalism is Bottom Up Thinking. There has never been a working example of Keynesian economics as much as those who believe in it Hope it will Change our way of life.
As I read you comment I thought about how silly we are to think a government that can’t balance it’s budget is going to solve our financial woes.
Great to hear from you my friend,
Jim is a business man in Arizona. He owns the Leemann Group – http://www.leemanngroup.com/
Well done, Dan.
I appreciate the irrelevant boss video too.
If we don’t become our own internal boss and find what we passionately want to forward and win at, excellence remains elusive at best. My blog focuses on cultivating ‘internal boss’.
Thanks for the good word… I wish you success as you extend your influence for good.
Best to you
Tracy shares her wisdom at: http://tracyelpoured.wordpress.com/
Again, thank you for your insight. This applies to parents as our children get older.
Thanks for bringing these ideas into the family context. Like you, I believe they apply. I wish more mothers and fathers would see themselves as leaders and passionately enhance their leadership skills.
Best to you Joli,
As a retired soldier turned HR Practitioner, I would like to add my 2 cents.
Yes, I agree the military is a classic top down structure, but let me confess that, contrary to general perception, there is much room for bottoms-up feedback towards creativity, challenging status quo and systems improvement. Underneath the highly regimented lifestyle, there is lots of “participatory” leadership.
Soldiers are the best employees in the world because they have the duality of being disciplined to follow through actions and flexibility to tweak the course of direction against obstacles. They are mission oriented and teamwork centred. Everyone is a star and no one gets left behind. They don’t have to worry about retrenchment, politics, performance increment, annual bonus, bullying at workplace, flexi-time, Job descriptions, career growth, training, etc. The system is so well oiled and fine tuned through continuous improvement, all they ever need is a clear mission/task. They complaint less and are more resourceful, tapping on “initiative”, the military parlance for creativity.
I am still a die-hard believer of the TQM philosophies, eventhough many have dropped it as a fad. How can anyone disprove the wisdom and truisms left by Deming’s teachings in the quality crusade. I was introduced to TQM in the military. Two books turned me inside out on management – 7 Habits and The Five Pillars of TQM by (the Late) Bill Creech, a retired General of the US Tactical Air Command. He revealed “what’s wrong with the American manaqgement style” http://www.sci.fi/~fta/the_five_pillars_of_tqm.htm
There is no denying it was a tough cultural adjustment, considering soldiers are drilled to taking orders not questioning it. You must understand that ‘this” kind of conditioning is designed to simulate the battlefield scenario. You just can’t afford to “apply”, TQM principles, when you are faced with a combat crisis in hand. But, nothing stops them from walking the talk in peacetime, in the course of testing and improving the operational systems and procedures. In peacetime, the element of “management” is more aptly used in thinking. In wartime, it is more the execution of “Command” to win battles.
But, don’t be mistaken, no matter what the circumstances are, there is one thing for sure. The leadership never undermines or stifles “feedback” from bottom because they value the experience and information (intelligence) from those who have “been there”.
A good example of our feedback structure is AAR (After Action Review). Many in the private sectors have adopted this simple yet effective tool to improving their organisations.
It has been 10 long years since joining the corporate world. And, I have been trying to spread the TQM message. I have Production Engineers who don’t know who Deming was, what more of his 14 Points on Common versus Special Causes.
It’s sad to hear the cynicism on TQM. Yet, you get to hear people peddling Lean, TPS, TPM, Six Sigma, etc. My company has invested millions in ERP, thinking it will solve their quality and performance issues.
It’s quite interesting to follow the trend of regulatory checks and balances being instituted to US business environment?. But, why has this come about?. What has happen to the warrant and justify this call. Can capitalism go hand in hand with integrity and ethic?. Can we not say that the federal “intervention” is a way of questioning the status quo in bringing allignment between free market capitalism, good corporate governance, servant leadership and corporate social responsibility.
The crisis has broken the sanctity of TRUST in business. Do people realise the magnitude of what it takes to build it back. All these variations in opinion on how business should be run is centred on whether LEADERS – at the top – have a clear conscience of their obligation and accountability over what they do to further the mission and goals, in the best interest of “stakeholders”, instead of only shareholders.
Wow! Great comment.
Last night I was mulling over a post on overcoming top down thinking and you hit on one idea that came to mind. Top down thinking, the negative end of “conformity thinking,” can be overcome if organizations have a clear mission and an outward facing vision. Mission focused organizations can criticize themselves.
Love your comment. It’s filled with experience, passion, and wisdom.
If you intended todays blog to be provcative instead of inspiring, you’ve certainly hit the target. It’s so easy to use the Army as an example of a topdown organisation, because the hierarchy is visible on the shoulders of the leadership. But what is important is not what’s on the shoulders, but what’s between the shoulders. Over the years I’ve found that loads of civilian organisations and businesses are often more top down organised than the military.
Succesfull armies nowadays are networked and make maximum use of the sharing of information to reach succes. The classical hierarchical model where the only direct links are to one’s immediate superior or to one of one’s subordinates and where the informationflow does follow the same lines obviously does not fit in a networked environment. Therefore it’s necessary to differentiate between clear unity of command in an unclear operational environment (where a top-dow approach is clearly preferable above a discussion group) and a modern command and control system that can no longer function top-down.
Yes I did intend to provoke more than inspire and my blog on performance review is offered in the same spirit. http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/performance-reviews/
One downfall of committing to a 300 word limit is I don’t use words to address some of the criticisms or disagreements I know readers may have.
Using the military as an example of a top down organization and then complaining about top down thinking did cast the military in a negative light. I’m delighted that Yuvarajah took the time to correct my comments. You and he, in gentlemanly form are calling me out for over generalizing. Thank you.
I agree with you completely, the military must be a top down organization.
A very good post – with a caveat.
Although the military is primarily top down you will find that the most effective units and individuals within those units through all ranks are not. From an old soldier who was fortunate to work within the ranks of “quiet professionals’ I can confidently assert that the essence of special operations is the antithesis of top down management. This does not detract in any way from your post but i do take a little issue with the sweeping generalization that the military is all top down management.
Thank you for your comment. It is well taken. You and others respectfully let me know that my generalization concerning the military was an over generalization.
common beliefs are the key to future leadership roles in small companies to the big 100 corporations.. The tide is changing because the old gaurd is slipping into the past.