There is always a flip side to everything. What is a boon can also become a bane. One hears of new fancy concepts like streamlining work and people, organising and re-organising work and its work-force, increasing efficiency and output, maximising results and such other glorious concepts. Then we have the Management gurus coming up with ways to implement these glorified concepts. One such method is Line Management. The hierarchical line of reporting! The good part of this concept is that each level of management deals with one level below it and not with everyone. The responsibility and accountability is more focussed. The senior management can spend more time and attention on serious matters rather than listen to every small problem in the company. It sounds great!
Let's flip the coin now. Let's take an example of a loyal and hardworking employee, who for some reason (not necessarily professional, could be personal prejudice) doesn't get along well with his line manager. If one adheres strictly to the principle of line management, the only source of redressing his grievance is to his line manager and no one else. The Line Manager is not very approachable and is already prejudiced. In this situation, the aggrieved employee has a rare chance of getting heard and more so of any suitable relief. The result is disgruntled or dissatisfied employees, whose work and efficiency is badly affected. So the very reason for which the Line Management principle is implemented is challenged.
Similarly in our Judiciary, we have a hierarchical system of Courts. If one is not satisfied with the result of the lower court, one can appeal to the High Court and finally to the Supreme Court. There is also a provision of a mercy petition to the President in some cases. The line management system in companies differs, because, the Line Manager may not want the matter to be escalated to the next level. The chances of the matter being stopped and closed at his level are most likely. So what is the possibility of the aggrieved employee getting any relief? Seems like a sad case of affairs.
The senior management sitting in their offices think the company is working efficiently with less knocks on their door. They feel the concept of line management is a great one. But can unhappy employees really give their best, to maximize productivity and ensure best results? On one side we have golden principles like loyalty, integrity and professionalism. But when the employee's voice is not being heard and he is dissatisfied, can he really be expected to be loyal to the company. Communication is core to healthy relation between the employer and the employee and not restricted to only one level up and down.
The management needs to strike a balance between efficient management and maintaining healthy relations with its employees. Could be a tough task but it still needs to be done. The benefits of maintaining healthy relation has advantages for both the company and its employees. A happier work force will no doubt be a more efficient one.If grievances of the employees are not heard, the company will lose a valuable asset. The loss will be of the company and not the line manager. So it is up to the employer to know when to apply the line management concept and when to have an open door and approachable policy.
For me personally, being a liberal, the line management has a flavour of dictatorship and is undemocratic. I have seen junior employees saying no to very important work of the company and doing silly personal errands for their boss, because the boss will decide on his increments and bonus. What the company is harbouring is not loyal employees but self-centred managers and their direct reports. The vision and mission of the top management is supposed to run through the entire strata of management. But does it? When one's goal is only to please his manager, where do the goals of the company come into picture?
Freedom of speech, democracy and right to defend oneself are cornerstones of most legal systems the world over, and must be so, for some good reasons. Machines cannot replace people, and tried and tested methods cannot be replaced with some mantra which is the flavour of the day. We are not talking of a coffee shop where Latte is replaced with a Mocca for a pleasant change. We are talking about employees who are the most vital asset of a company. People in higher office have a bigger responsibility. Their job doesn't stop at just talking about lofty ideals, "They have to Walk the Talk".
The role of communication is highlighted as "Corporate communications is the strategic management process by which an organisation communicates with its various audiences to the mutual benefits of both and to its improved competitive advantage." So logically, line management may have its merits but needs to align itself with the larger picture of Corporate Communication. Let justice prevail.Amen!!