The battle between hierarchy and knowledge

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The accounting sector is known as knowledge intensive, where highly trained professionals own the workplace. Additionally, accounting firms are structured hierarchically, as certain levels of education are requisite to be able to eventually sign the Financial Statement. Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, are joining the workplace, but expect different power dynamics than previous generations. They expect to be valued for their knowledge, instead of their place in the hierarchy. This study investigated what role both forces, knowledge and hierarchy, play in the decision-making processes in the accounting sector. The data for this research was gathered by conducting semi-structured interviews and observer participant observations. The expectation for the outcome of this research was that expert power plays a positive role in the decision-making processes, and hierarchy plays a negative role in the decision-making processes. Moreover, expected was that expert power and hierarchy would show a strong cohesion. The findings of this research showed that both hierarchy and expert power play a role in the decision-making process at the accounting department at Bol Adviseurs. There is found a strong convergent relationship between the two power bases. However, in the end, expert power is never more important than hierarchy in the decision-making process. This research contributed to expert power and hierarchy theory in the context of accounting firms, firstly by showing that the hierarchy is found inherent to the profession and accepted by all generations. Therefore, young professionals do not find hierarchy difficult to understand in all contexts, as was stated by Schawbel (2012). Secondly, expert power and hierarchy theory is extended by finding a strong relationship between the two power bases in a decision-making process. This extended the study by Singh (2009), who stated that expert power has a substantial influence on decision-making processes. Expert power is found a basis for decisions, and requisite to climb up the hierarchy. However, hierarchy is found to defeat expert power in some specific cases.
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