This post was originally published at CPSRenewal.ca.
The Clay Layer is this amorphous, eternal layer in the middle of organizations “through which no light shall pass,” and to which no one admits being a part of. It is where communications and good ideas go to die. People send ideas on journeys down or up the chain, seemingly with all the supplies needed, but never hear word from the destination.
Here’s how it works: The President of an organization has a Great Idea. They instruct their lieutenants, the VPs, to make it happen. The VPs turn to the directors, who tell the managers, who tell the supervisors, who implement it with their employees.
Except they don’t.
In some organizations the Clay Layer may actually be a management layer. In others, it could be people, policies, or processes. But my contention was that it is more so a mathematical inevitability.
Hierarchies and ideas just don’t get along. If there is anything less than unconditional support for a given idea, every layer in an organization represents an opportunity for support to break down. Worse, the chance for resistance, or non-support, at each layer compounds, multiplied by each additional layer.
So, the chance of meaningful implementation of that President’s Great Idea is equal to:
Expanding this example, with 6 nodes (a President as node 1 and an employee as node 6), and a 85% (dare I say high?) chance of support for an idea:
- Minimize y: reduce the number of layers involved by flattening organizations
- Maximize x: ensure high rates of support for ideas through compelling presentation, cultural norms, and sheer persistence and reinforcement of key ideas
So, one has to disrupt the features of hierarchies. If the President receives feedback from multiple levels, they can better understand the implementation of their ideas, and adjust their approach if needed. Likewise, if the President can directly engage multiple levels and empower them in the implementation, the assumptions on which this equation rest dissolve.