Larissa Tiedens of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Emily Zitek of Cornell, assert that “we produce hierarchies to make our lives easier cognitively… (so we) like them more.”
They conducted a series of studies, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, to investigate organizational structure preferences and their impact on organizational performance. They suggest that organizational design should be determined by organizational objectives rather than allegiance to the ideal of “equality” in all situations.
Tiedens and Zitek demonstrated that there was a negative correlation between remembering and liking hierarchies; that is, people didn’t like what they couldn’t easily remember, and they liked what they could remember.
They observed that participants had difficulty understanding and learning symmetric organizational relationships, in which people could give orders to peers and receive orders from these same peers.
Their final experiment determined that participants more quickly memorized hierarchies in which men were at the top, and surmised that male hierarchies are more familiar and expected than other types of social structures.
As with the other experiments, the subjects were more likely to express a preference for the structure they learned the quickest.
Tiedens and Zitek conclude that people generally understand, learn, and like hierarchies more than egalitarian relationships because they are predictable and familiar.
If firms eliminate hierarchies, Tiedens suggests making explicit specific role because “people need a way of organizing information, including information about relationships among people. You need a way to enhance people’s ability to understand what the organization is and how individuals operate within it.”
-*Which organizational hierarchies do you find most memorable? Which are most attractive to you?