Article | California Management Review | Fall 2012

The Flattening Firm—Not As Advertised

by Julie Wulf

Abstract

For decades, management consultants and the popular business press have urged large firms to flatten their hierarchies. Flattening (or delayering, as it is also known) typically refers to the elimination of layers in a firm's organizational hierarchy and the broadening of managers' spans of control. The alleged benefits of flattening flow primarily from pushing decisions downward to enhance customer and market responsiveness and to improve accountability and morale. Has flattening delivered on its promise to push decisions downward? In this article, I present evidence suggesting that while firms have delayered, flattened firms can exhibit more control and decision making at the top. Managers take note. Flattening can lead to exactly the opposite effects from what it promises to do.

Keywords: Organizational Structure; Governance Controls; Decision Making;

Citation:

Wulf, Julie. "The Flattening Firm—Not As Advertised." California Management Review 55, no. 1 (Fall 2012): 5–23.