Hollywood likes to portray corporate bottom feeders as powerful. This plays to the audience of sitcoms and improves ratings. Think Radar in MASH. Think of the secretary that is always one step ahead of the boss or the employees of “The Office” that manipulate Michael Scott.
While low-level employees can certainly disrupt an organization and even destroy initiatives or productivity, the truth is that no amount of good work at the bottom can make up for bad management.
Bad management wastes enormous amounts of time by causing subordinates to “chase their tail” in an effort to complete “fool’s errands” – a task that has no hope of completion. A manager with no practical experience has no idea what resources are necessary to complete a task. Wanting to please his manager, he takes on initiatives that require more time and resources that can possibly be acquired. The result is paralysis.
We’re all lazy, but people at the bottom have no choice but to do what they’re told. Management, by contrast, can delegate their “management” work to other “subordinate managers,” and very often do. Managers hire other managers to “manage” their reports, freeing them up to make “the big decisions.” This tendency toward “insulation” creates management “bloat.” I’ve worked for companies where virtually everyone above me (three levels of managers) spent all day in meetings trying to decide what I and other reports were to do. The irony is that these “big thinkers” draw up to six times the salary of the bottom feeders and many times can’t even put together a cohesive PowerPoint presentation.
In an effort to look good or curry favor with higher managers, low-level managers often play political games, start rumors, and form coalitions in an effort to increase power. This maneuvering is a drag on productivity and hampers decision making.
In the age of the PC, very few organizations need to be more than three levels deep. One strong leader, department heads, and worker bees.