Hierarchy – What is it, meaning in society and companies

We explain what the hierarchy is, its origin and the hierarchical organization. In addition, the social hierarchy, in companies and values.

Hierarchy is a way of understanding order.

What is the hierarchy?

Hierarchy is a mode of organization in which a subordination of the elements with respect to the upper rung is applied, that is, is a structure in which each element is subordinate to the previous one. Any structure that is governed by the notion of hierarchy can be considered a hierarchical organization, be it an army, a categorization of objects, or a business organization chart.

The word “hierarchy” comes from the Greek words hieros (“Sacred” or “divine”) and arkhei (“Order” or “command”). In other words, it was initially understood as the divine mandate, that is, the power exercised by the clerics in charge of the sacred rites of the ancient Greek religion.

However, the notion of hierarchy was not born at that time, but has been present in human organizations and ideas since the beginning of time: it is a way of understanding order, which subordinates some elements to others.

Thus, for example, the hierarchical organization was put into practice when building partnerships in which a caudillo, a pharaoh or a council of elders enjoyed power and political authority above the rest of the settlers.

Also used when classifying known materials, going from the most to the least pure, or at the time of classifying animals, in what today we know as the evolutionary tree of species. Perhaps the most natural case of hierarchy is that which arises within the family, in which the parents came before and exercise authority over the children.

Today, in any case, hierarchy is part of all areas of our life and is constantly put into practice, either as a natural order of things or, on the contrary, as a form of human organization.

Hierarchy of values

At the personal level, a hierarchy of values ​​or scale of values is the ranking of individual interests between most and least important, according to the weight they have for our subjectivity. For example, one person may value their family above money and leisure, while others may regard money as the most important thing in their lives.

Every hierarchy of values ​​comprises a set of elements that must be ordered according to the moral, affective, intellectual or even ideological considerations of a person or of a community. Thus, a classification is established regarding what is a priority and what is secondary, that is, what things have a hierarchy over the others.

Social hierarchy

social hierarchy
The medieval social hierarchy was much more rigid than today.

A social hierarchy is one that organizes and stratifies members of society. This order determines and is determined by the place that each individual has in the productive processes, or in political power. It can be more or less rigid, depending on whether he allows subordinates to rise to the role of their superiors, or if he understands society as an immobile classification.

The social classes of industrial society, for example, constitute a mobile hierarchical order, in which (difficult as it may be) a class can ascend (or descend) to other rungs, and there is some room for maneuver. On the other hand, the class and caste society that existed during the European Middle Ages was strongly hierarchical, distinguishing the nobility from the commoners according to their birth and without allowing inter-caste mobility.

The social hierarchy is immanent in the social order and the structure of societies, and we cannot think of life without it. However, not necessarily of a single type: there may be more just and egalitarian hierarchies, or brutal and vertical hierarchies.

Hierarchy in companies

In a similar way to societies, companies and organizations tend to be governed internally by an organizational hierarchy, that is, by a structure that establishes heads and subordinates for each productive area of ​​the company. This structure tends to be pyramidal, gaining authority and responsibilities as one ascends to the top, where the CEOs or general managers are.

A) Yes, tasks and responsibilities are distributed in a specific way. In addition, authority is sectorized so that, as one moves to the top, the company’s perspective can be more general and less focused on details.

However, this is not to say that all styles of management and leadership should be the same. For example, a hierarchy that is considered unequal or unjust, that isolates the different sectors of the company or that fosters an oppressive and police work environment, will be a factor detrimental to the well-being of the organization.

In fact, nowadays, many companies are committed to innovation in managerial and hierarchical matters, that is, to soft and dynamic structures that promote dialogue and a sense of belonging in the work team, instead of the feeling of being he is going to obey the orders of a tyrannical foreman.