Upside Down

One of the things I have always been curious about is how companies organize themselves. When I have the opportunity to speak to managers at other companies, I ask a lot of questions about how they draw up their organization, map their responsibilities and communicate it to their employees.

Remember the 1980s term, "Yuppie?" It stood for Young and Upwardly Mobile (the upwardly referring to climbing the corporate ladder in part). The idea was that you paid your dues and climbed over other people to get to the top, or at least to a higher spot, on the organization chart. That is such a legacy way to think of business.

It has always seemed to me that managers actually should be more about serving the people at the company, than being served. The bulk of the people at any company who interact with the company's customers are not managers. For this reason, the manager, or even the manager of managers (VP, SVP, CEO) should be doing everything they can to assist their folks so that they can better serve the customers. When you walk into some companies that have this same thought process, you know that they appreciate you. That is a mindset coming from managers serving their people who in turn serve the customers.

At Benefitfocus we draw our organization charts "upside down". We draw a cloud showing customers, partners, potential associates at the top and then the associates who interact with them every day are at the top with them. The managers are below our associates and as you go down the chart, the titles get bigger. Our idea is that our managers and leaders have the responsibility to support our associates, not be supported by them.

We certainly are not the only company to figure out a unique way to develop our culture of service, but we do have a different way of drawing it out. It frustrates new managers because the traditional organization chart software does not support this. You have to draw your charts with other tools and it is not as efficient. But while you are struggling to get the chart drawn upside down, it reminds you that we are doing things differently. It is one more way we keep our culture moving forward.