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Flipping my world upside down

  • SIMA
- Posted: November 8, 2017
By Rick Huffman, CSP

When asked to discuss the flipped or inverted organizational chart our team uses, I struggled with where to start. The visual is simple - conventional organizational charts have entry level on the bottom of the pyramid, mid-level management in the middle, and the top brass, executive management, and C-level executives resting atop. Every level reports to the one above them, as everyone strives to be the boss.

As I “climbed the ladder” of a very prominent organization and eventually became part of the exclusive executive management team, I felt that I had arrived. The longer I was on that team, however, the more I realized how disconnected we were from the true team - our front-line mid-level managers and our supporting staffs. That’s when a burning conviction began for me to be someone who cared, someone who was different. So, after 26 years I left, excited to begin impacting lives.

It’s important to understand the dynamics of the concept of an inverted organizational chart where human actions and focus are key. They cannot be faked; they must be genuine. This isn’t a task-focused organizational chart where the president/management dictate down and everyone has a role. This is a cultural organizational chart driven by the vision. Its sole purpose is to align with our core values and mission. If everyone feels like a valued piece of the family and wants a job that impacts lives, there are rarely any issues with job-related tasks, employee engagement and empowerment. Most of those issues come from folks that are disengaged and not “feeling it.” So, we strove to make an organization based on these principles: culture and values first and job roles and skill sets second.

ValueVisionChart (650x527)

Who’s on top?
The basic layout is new hires are on top of the chart since they need the most support. How many times does a new hire come in and get a 30-minute talk that ends with “here’s your desk” and is left to figure most of it out on their own? We need to make sure these folks sense how important they are and how excited we are that they have joined our team, our family.

We strive to celebrate their arrival. We have “New Family Member Parking” up front that is decorated with balloons and is next to our “Member of the Month” spots. If they are in an office position, their work area is fully set up. How many times has someone started in a company without a desk, functioning email and misspelled names on their business card? Even worse, how many times have people forgotten someone was starting that day? That makes a new hire feel amazing - NOT.

Our executives park in the far back. We perform a four-corners walk, our way of seeing and talking to everyone in our path. It also allows us to gauge safety items and the image of our fleet. Front-line members will be more open and direct one on one out in the yard or in the shop with me, rather than being called into my office. That’s being real - it’s about them, not me.

Who’s in the middle?
The next level, supporting the new hires, are the advocates. These are the vital piece in the organization. They live, breathe and embody everything our company is about. Their ultimate job duties are to nurture, mentor and get to know as much as they can about our new family member. We treat every member like a mom, dad, brother or sister. They are full of love, energy, empathy and passion for what we represent. On top of their other duties, they advocate on our behalf to our customers and fellow family members.

Who’s on the bottom?
On the bottom of our cultural organizational chart, the bricks and mortar of our group, are the foundational partners and chief advocates. This team makes sure we are living and breathing our culture and our vision of “Impacting the Lives of Those We Touch.”

We do this primarily by living our core principles and never compromising. These principles are moral character, servant oriented, charitable, humble and real. We are there to help with onboarding, which is a lifestyle and a process. We go out with the crews regularly, not to spy on them but to be (as they call me) “a very expensive technician.” We are there for “tailgate talk,” to get real insight into what they’re dealing with at home, with children at school and much more. When I’m shoveling a walk at a local hospital, laughing and busting out walks with them, I earn their trust. As they say, “We feel you ‘bro’ … you’re a worker, man.” Spending time with them enables me to learn their challenges so we can adapt our focus to be servant-oriented and help every member of our HLM family.

Rick Huffman, CSP, is founder of HLM Property Management near Canton, OH, and is a member of the SIMA board of directors. Email him at
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