Playing hard to get: Strategically managing relationships at work

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In this post, Kyury Kim explores how to strategically manage hierarchical relationship at work to achieve a more effective deployment of talent and sustain innovation. Leading up to the Degree Show, she shares her perspective of the Anti-Solutioner as an Innovation Manager.

Innovation is a paradox because you have to unleash the talents and passions of many people but at the same time you have to harness them into a structured framework that is actually useful. Thus, my research has led me to believe that the successful organization of the future will have two organizational structures: a hierarchy with egalitarian and adaptive network. Because, while the hierarchy is as important as it has always been for optimizing work, the network of people and the interaction within them is where innovation will happen.

To prove such point, organisations commonly use words and terms including empowerment, participation, teams, and distributed leadership to suggest rather a level playing field. We see many organisations moving away from traditional forms of vertical organizing to alternative decentralized, networked structures where more emphasis is placed on horizontal processes. However, hierarchy still remains embedded in the ‘new’ structure. Why? This is due to organizations undergoing in lots of piecemeal change initiatives instead of looking at the overall organizational design.

Simply flattening the organisation structure does not permit to mobilise the full creative talents of the employees since it ignores the persisting power relations. In fact, structural change in organizations is nothing more than a reversal of the social order by which the formerly powerless acquire the characteristics of the former power-holders.

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” (Albert Einstein, German-born physicist, 1879-1955)

Being an Anti-Solutioner myself, instead of trying to solve the problem by suggesting a change in the organisational structure, my paper focused on taking a more holistic approach for answers. I looked at the underlying reasons behind why organisations structure the way they do and constantly questioned why hierarchical social orders still thrive in both organisations and in relationships. I aimed at understanding how power is gained, exercised or lost, by looking at human nature, emergence of ‘new power’ and different power relationships within organisations. I truly believe that organisations need to understand the fundamental power relationships that employers form with employees in order to create better structure, and most importantly to achieve a more effective deployment of talent. After all, it is the people and their relationship to one another that construct the structure of an organisation.

“What creates a unique and attractive strategic differentiator is the way of doing things – the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’” (Kornberger, 2010, p.119).

Strategically managing different hierarchical relationships will be the key in the future. In fact, the role of the leader will become more prominent but as ‘network engineer’ who orchestrates the desired pattern of relationships rather than someone who simply manage individual people. Additionally, I believe that when organisational strategy changes, structures, roles, and functions should be realigned with the new objectives. This will result in a different kind of management with different perspectives, different ‘ways of acting’ (Brassett, 2013) for the leader and follower, different ways of coordinating work, different sets of values and different ways of communicating.

*Brassett, J. (2013). Networks: open, closed or complex. [Internet] Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2015].
*Kornberger, M. (2010). Brand Society. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.