NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Two organizational structures clash in the world of work, and to reconcile them, leaders must pursue another thing entirely: belonging.
Hierarchies and networks are the two forces in conflict, Luminate Co-Founder and Chief Movement Officer Seth Mattison told attendees at the 2019 Disability Management Employer Coalition Annual Conference. The former is the organizational structure most seasoned professionals have known throughout their entire lives, Mattison said. The latter characterizes a burgeoning world, one that bases itself in "networks of information and resources, talent and people," he said.
Hierarchy provides stability, clarity and predictability, Mattison said. Networks give way to freedom — freedom to access information, contribute to a goal and build community. "But with that freedom comes ambiguity and uncertainty as things move and change very fast," he said.
As a network-based reality emerges, business leaders will want to preserve at least some aspects of hierarchy, according to Mattison. "After spending time inside organizations in almost every industry, what we realized is the future is about finding a balancing act between these worlds," he said. Hierarchy makes workers feel safe, Mattison said; "We want just enough hierarchy to make people feel safe."
A blend of hierarchy and network, however, will pair the safety workers need with the freedom they crave, according to Mattison. Leaders can provide clarity in workplace policies to help employees feel safe in their jobs. That's "baseline" safety, Mattison said. He encouraged attendees to also provide employees with a "higher order of safety" — psychological safety.
This psychological safety beckons forth the freedom of networks, Mattison said. When employees are psychologically safe, they can present themselves authentically in the workplace. "It's the idea that I can bring my full self, my most authentic self, that I can allow myself to be seen at work without fear of retribution," Mattison said. "This is a fundamental, core element of high-performance teams."
The authenticity borne of the network-and-hierarchy harmony should spark interest in business leaders, especially those dealing with people management. "I believe that this is going to be one of the most important trends over the next decade when it comes to talent," he said. "One of our greatest opportunities as leaders and influencers in our organization is to look for opportunities to help others feel like they belong." This can be as simple, and as bold, as buying an employee a shirt, Mattison said, citing a manager who purchased the long sleeve blue shirt his workers wore for a new employee who couldn't afford one.
Mattison gave attendees one more call to action in closing: Leaders must secure their own sense of belonging before they help others find theirs. To love and accept others, Mattison said, leaders must love and accept themselves.