Increasing globalization and the exponential growth of companies relying heavily on innovation and critical thinking make it critical for organizations to reduce the power distance in order to ensure competitive success. However, creating a low power distance culture within the organization involves cultural change, and inducing cultural change can lead to resistance and upheaval.
Technology-based levers and information technology jobs help breakdown hierarchies and flatten the communication framework in high power distance organizations. Here’s how.
1. Create open forums with equal participation for project feedback. Technology has the power to dramatically collapse the space between individuals of different standing. For instance, a random citizen in Mexico can openly question Donald Trump, the most powerful leader in the world, on Twitter. In low power distance societies such as the Dutch society, it is typical for managers to ask subordinates for feedback on their output and subordinates can openly question the logic of managers. In a high-power distance society such as India or China, managers asking for feedback can be misconstrued as a lack of authority.
A virtual, open technology-based forum can help level the space between managers and subordinates in such cultures and encourage multilateral communication. Initially, managers might need to coax subordinates to comment on their approach and instill the confidence that open criticism would not be met with hostile reaction or punitive action. Although some managers might dread such a system, eventually they will learn to value it as they become mindful of how suggestions from subordinates can lead to timely course corrections on critical projects. The apex leadership at Aditya Birla Sun Life AMC, for instance, decided to open up the company’s Budget Document to all employees to gather their thoughts and received 600 overall reflections.
2. Develop interactive systems through networks of cross functional teams that drive high levels of collaboration. Seamless collaboration between different functional teams is essential to innovation. Building dynamic networks of cross functional teams that are enabled with interactive systems for communication can increase the levels of collaboration. For example, in a healthcare environment, even while a physician remains at the helm, an interactive system can help teams of registered nurses, advanced paramedical practitioners, and other clinical staff to collaboratively deliver care in a low power distance environment. This model can be applied across industries. Intuit’s Great Place to Work Ambassador Program emphasizes the power of collaboration by inspiring employees to share their feedback and best practices across teams.
3. Encourage and enable open communication channels. Typically, in Asian organizations, individuals approach their immediate managers and do not take their issues to higher levels of management. Similarly, communications from the top are rare and the exchange of ideas between the lower levels of the organization and the top is non-existent, leading to dissonance between management and workers. Even in flatter technology companies, the executive layer is often cut off from the teams on the floor, leading to mismatches in intended strategies and applied tactics. Open communication channels between all layers and departments of the organization can mitigate this challenge and drive faster innovation and time to market. Senior executives need to consciously develop a culture of open communication and the HR needs to play a critical consulting role in enabling such low power distance relationships. Marriott Hotels offers a tech platform that enables associates to collaborate with their managers and leadership teams every week and analyze guest comments to improve customer service.
4. Build an easily accessible knowledge sharing portal and ensure active participation. A highly accessible and open knowledge sharing portal with a high level of interactivity can drive innovation and reduce power distance. Often breakthrough knowledge is hidden in the minds of people on the floor who are otherwise thought to be inconsequential to the general strategic scheme of things. When executives spot such ideas in a forum where everyone contributes equally, they can pick up and prioritize actions based on such information to make strategic shifts and drive innovation. DHL’s United Learning Day focuses on continuous learning and knowledge sharing. All employees log in simultaneously and develop their Individual
Development (IDPs) Plans through discussions.
The genius of low power distance is that it empowers organizations and individuals with better problem solving and critical thinking faculties. Whichever technology solution you choose to create a low power distance culture, it is essential to take a holistic approach: engage HR to drive campaigns and designate an ombudsman to ensure that lower power members participate and speak up in interactive forums.