Kill the Hierarchy! - Employee High Influence

Transitioning People Through Constant Change

This post in the series “Kill the Hierarchy” I explore how organisations need to give employees the ability to influence and participate in the decision-making process if it is going to survive in a world of complex and constant change. A flatter hierarchy will be needed to achieve this.

For an organisation to survive and thrive in a world of constant and uncertain change, the organisation has to be one in which leadership is important, but MORE important is a collaborative workplace in which transparency and creative freedom reign over hierarchical boundaries. This enables innovation, creativity, experimentation, rapid decision-making, agility and employee ownership, engagement and influence. There is widespread autonomy and everyone leads.

No one ever did anything awesome or great just because they were told to!

The ‘Kill the Hierarchy’ model shown the diagram below, illustrates the changes needed to move to a flatter structure, and it is these changes that we shall be exploring in this series of posts.


Employee high influence

“It doesn't make a lot of sense to give the decision-making authority to the person that furthest (literally) away from the actual work being done”
- Morning Star Self-Management Institute
It’s far better to rely upon a broad base of individuals and leaders who share a common set of values and feel personal ownership for the overall success of the organization. These responsible and empowered individuals will serve as much better watchdogs than any single, dominant leader or bureaucratic structure.”
- W.L. Gore CEO Terri Kelly

Both of those quotes demonstrate the reason organisations need to give employees increased influence which is enabled via a flat or flatter organisational structure.

In my post “Decentralised Decision-Making” I described how Richard Semler, CEO of the very successful private organisation Semco, has put the power of influence in the hands of his employees.

Semler devolved and distributed power. Leaders from all over the world have flocked to Semco’s door for the past twenty years to learn from its unconventional approach (nearly 80 universities have published Semco case studies and Semler’s own book, Maverick, has sold over a million copies).

Employee power.jpg

Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, lists three elements that motivate employees which in turn increases productivity and the bottom line:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose


Research by Deci and Ryan on Self-Determination Theory has revealed that giving employees autonomy and support results in higher job satisfaction and better job performance.

Deci and Ryan (1985, 2000) found that there are three core psychological needs employees have – autonomy, competence and relatedness (the need for social connection and intimacy). Fulfilling these needs leads to autonomous motivation, high-quality performance and wellness.

Roll up sleeves.jpg

Autonomy does not mean to be independent of others but is the need we all have to steer our life in the direction we want. It means we want a sense of freewill when we are doing something.

Competence is the desire to control and master our environment.

Relatedness is our desire to interact with and be connected to others.

This research demonstrates that providing employees with high influence (autonomy and competence) will increase engagement and productivity.

Life at Zappos

Zappos, the highly successful online shoe retailer, is famous for an organisation that has flattened its hierarchy and has a culture that supports autonomy and competence as well as relatedness.


The following are the Zappos 10 core values all of which enable employees to have high influence.

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble
  • In the 1999 Tony Hsieh became the CEO of Zappos – then a little online shoe selling business.

Today, Zappos is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon (having been acquired for $1.2 billion in 2009) and its roughly 1,500 employees, headquartered in Las Vegas, produce in excess of $2 billion in revenues annually. 

Hsieh has focused on creating an organisational culture in which customer service representatives have the same level of authority to help customers, as does Hsieh.

At Zappos everyone has the responsibility to create WOW.  They can influence how customer service is delivered.

Game on at Valve


Another example of a successful organisation with a flatter structure and on in which employees have influence is Valve.

Valve is a smaller organisation than Zappos with around 250 employees, but just as well known for its organisational structure and culture.

The leading video game developer and digital distribution system does not assign managers to permanent positions, but rather has leaders on a project-by-project basis.

Employees are not assigned to departments but allowed to work on whatever project they feel they can contribute to and influence the outcomes.

Accordingly to the Valve Handbook for New Employees, Valve is more profitable per employee than Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

The Valve website says:

We’ve been boss-free since 1996.
Imagine working with super smart, super talented colleagues in a free-wheeling, innovative environment—no bosses, no middle management, no bureaucracy. Just highly motivated peers coming together to make cool stuff. It’s amazing what creative people can come up with when there’s nobody there telling them what to do”

On the same web page as the link above, there are is a list of Valve employees – not in order of any seniority – but in alphabetic order. This is the same as the credits on any Valve game.

The following diagram is from the Valve Employee Handbook describing how to work without a boss.


Essentially the employees can influence the direction of the organisation!

In short

A flat organization manages employees less and gives them increased involvement and influence over the decision-making process. These structures have leaders not managers

Employees are actively encouraged to influence outcomes and they are motivated to drive organisational success. When employees are able to influence, they have skin in the game.

Coming up!

Upcoming posts in this series entitled ‘Kill the Hierarchy’ will continue to explore how we flatten the hierarchy in order to achieve rapid and decentralised decision-making, employee engagement, high levels of collaboration, widespread autonomy, trust and respect, and an environment in which everyone leads.


More posts on their way over the coming weeks and months, exploring how we need to take a fresh and radical look at organisational change management, and the changes we need to make if we are to thrive.

In the meantime, please subscribe to my posts so you have no fear of missing out!

Also remember that older posts from me are available via the Resources section.



Karen FerrisComment