Pecking order


Showing disregard for our superiors at work could backfire and we could be shown the door.

WORK culture is fundamentally hierarchical – the rules of the corporate game operate from the top downwards.

Although many modern businesses try to be flat-based in their management structure, they are still not absolute democracies. Employees today have to deal with many employers and even more career changes, with every change requiring adaptation to the various business styles and corporate cultures.

Where does hierarchy come into this picture and what part does “rank” play in the purview of the corporate culture?

Rank is all about the pecking order. Every society – be it the family, a company or a social service organisation – has a specified hierarchy where there are bosses and subordinates. Even peers have a pecking order. In the family, the father is the “CEO” (head of the household) even if he is not the breadwinner. The firstborn is always respected as the eldest and given more opportunities even if the youngest member of the family is the real leader. In many Asian families, sons are favoured over daughters and choice education is their gain.

In the business world, the selection of the person who holds the reins of the company is often carried out with great care. Leadership skills are considered and selected. The leader of the team has an obvious rank but the team members may or may not be ranked. The work culture of the team/organisation is determined by the management style of the team leader. It may be autocratic or democratic, depending on the leader’s personality.

Within the business world, particularly in Asia, the pecking order is vital for the smooth workflow in the organisation. Employees are taught the following:

  • Respect the hierarchy.

  • Respect the position even if you do not respect the person.

  • Do not offend your bosses. Even if their decision-making is wrong, you may, if you dare, bring it to their notice discreetly and only if you have a good relationship with them and have earned their trust. Even then, there is a risk that you could offend and suffer a major fallout!

  • Never bypass your boss. If you have a grievance and do not have faith in your boss’s fair play, duty and rank demand that you inform your boss of your decision to see the bigger boss. Still, be prepared to lose out, as the pecking order may not see the urgency to declare a “management selected boss” as a bad choice.

    New management styles dictate that bosses be more democratic and more of a team player. Although your rank is for the purpose of identification, you are still responsible and accountable for everything that happens in your office. Above all, your role is to see that the members of your team achieve the following:

  • Learn the skills required to grow in the job as well as develop a career path.

  • Develop interpersonal and leadership skills for succession.

  • Learn to manage upward and downward communication effectively.

    Notwithstanding all these new ideas, respecting rank is still very much in vogue.

    In the business world, rank means power. Why do you think people are so conscious of the fact that their job titles should sound classy? Who wants to be an “office boy” at the age of 35? “Office assistant” or “executive assistant” sounds much better. Being ‘”assistant manager” does not sound as good as “assistant vice-president”. Even housewives are now known as “homemakers” or “domestic directors’. The job specifications are the same but the titles make a difference.

    One should always be conscious of the position of the person with whom you are dealing. It does not matter how familiar the person is to you. You should not forget your status. Just because the chairman takes you into his confidence does not mean that you can dispense with the basic courtesies extended to one in his/her position. Hence maintaining a respectful distance in whatever you do keeps the balance in the relationship.

    Consider the following instance where commonsense did not prevail and familiarity did breed contempt.

    A bank manager was posted to a small town where a long-serving bank clerk became his “trusted assistant” in helping him fit in. Over the year, the manager decided that the clerk’s hard work should be recognised and promised him a promotion. However a small crisis in the department forced the manager to make a decision, which was not appreciated by many employees.

    Being familiar with the boss, the clerk took it upon himself to question the boss’s judgment. The manager, who was offended, decided that he would not promote the clerk and later told the clerk that if he did not understand and respect the pecking order, then promoting him would be a big mistake.

    Thinking that your boss has lost the plot does not give you the liberty of offending the pecking order. I know of a senior manager who decided that his CEO was going crazy trying to bring about changes to an established work culture which he did not buy into. He tried to undermine whatever his boss tried to do. He stopped all forms of communication, thereby offending the CEO, who was trying to be a role model and show the staff that he was a very hands-on person.

    This lack of communication developed into total disregard for management directives as well as the basic courtesies and protocol given a CEO. When employees decide that they no longer need to abide by the rules of the corporate game – established or changing – the only way out is through the door.

    Hard work, sincerity, being knowledgeable and being highly skilled are laudable qualities in any employee, but these will not hold you in good stead if you do not show loyalty and respect for the hierarchy. Management wants people whom they can trust. Organisations want employees who understand “management perspective”.

    You may not agree totally with what they do but you need to understand their reason for doing it. Saying “My job’s great. It’s my bosses that I can’t stand” will do you no good. If you offend the pecking order, be prepared to be shown the door.

  • The Star


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