That seems to be what many CEOs nowadays are going for: “Chiefs at Big Firms Often the Last to Know” (paywall), in yesterday’s Wall St. J. The argument goes
Bosses need to know what’s going on to make informed decisions, but that knowledge is dependent on what direct reports choose to tell them.
So you have lots of levels and filtering going on at every level. Pity the poor CEOs at the end of the chain.
To which I reply, “Only if they’re stupid.” Or their idea of management is to sit in their corner offices, ponder their enormous salaries, and receive the ministrations of minions.
Let me put it simply. Good leaders know what’s going on in their organizations. It’s as much a part of their orientation as what customers are buying. They employ a set of tools for doing this:
- First, they create an organizational climate based on Einheit, which means, among many other things, that they are told the truth and those who don’t tell them the truth are quickly and visibly eliminated, and the vast majority of members of the organizations see these executions as just, needed, and overdue.
- Good leaders have Fingerspitzengefühl. They can sense the health of the organization and, in particular, if games are being played.
- Good leaders have networks within the organization that keep them up to date with what’s going on. I know this sounds like spying on your own people, but it’s a fact and a necessity. The caveat, as Boyd would emphasize, is that you must never take disciplinary action based on what you learn from these informal networks.
- The last technique that I’ll recommend is similar but strange to many American corporate leaders. Good leaders place members of their staff at key points within the organization. This is done openly — everybody knows who they are and what their job is. As a quid pro quo, these “directed telescopes,” as Martin van Creveld called them, take some of the reporting burden off the line units. As he wrote in Command in War: The system of sending information from the bottom up should have been supplemented by its active pursuit from the top down (164).
Directed telescopes provide a cure for single point failure in the chain of command. They also, as van Creveld demonstrates, create an atmosphere where initiative is not only prized but demanded. The fact that this seems counterintuitive to most corporate leaders shows how far they are from creating an EBFAS-like climate.
However, the last three ideas come with a huge caveat. You have to use them within an environment that preserves and improves Einheit.
Because truly stupid people don’t survive the bureaucratic warfare to become CEOs, I can only conclude that “chiefs at big firms are often the last to know” because that’s how they want it.