Tag Archives: levels of work

Accurate Measure of Capability

“To do otherwise, to create an org structure, working relationships based on something besides timespan, creates dysfunction within an organization?” I asked.

“One doesn’t have to work in a company for very long to have the following experience,” Pablo explained. “As a team member, have you ever had a manager who micro-managed your every step, who was always breathing down your neck?”

I nodded, “Yes.”

“And what did you think of that working relationship?” Pablo wanted to know.

“At first, mildly annoying, frustrating, then intolerable. A personality quirk,” I surmised.

“Rarely,” Pablo chuckled. “At your level-of-work, you were vested with an undefined timespan of discretion, decision making? Am I right?”

Another affirmative, “Yes.”

“And, because your authority to make a decision was not defined, your manager presumed to make your decisions for you. A micro-manager. In fact, and this goes all the way to the CEO, your manager did not trust you to make the decisions appropriate for your role, appropriate for your level-of-work.”

“And, accordingly, my manager was accountable for my output, so was accountable for my decisions, hence the distrust of my decisions,” I flatly stated.

“Without timespan,” Pablo said, “your manager had no defined criteria related to decision making appropriate to your role, appropriate to your level of work. But, with timespan, your manager has a very clear understanding of decision making appropriate to your level of work. With this understanding, those decisions delegated to you and those decisions reserved for your manager become clear. Your experience was not a personality quirk, it was ambiguity related to decision making and problem solving.”

“But, what if my manager still didn’t trust me to make the right decision,” I countered. “After all, my manager is accountable for my output.”

“That’s where timespan changes the game. Instead of an ambiguous level of distrust, your manager now has a clear idea of the authority required to be effective in your role.”

“Okay, my manager has a clear idea of the authority required, but still distrusts me.”

“Then, how did you end up in the role in the first place?” Pablo asked. “If your manager is accountable for your output, and knows precisely the timespan of discretion, it is incumbent on your manager to hire a person who has the capability, necessary experience and skill to make those decisions. Timespan becomes an accurate measure of decision making.”

Accurate Measure of a Decision

“So you are suggesting that managerial layers in an organization rests on the two ideas of accountability and authority?” I restated as a question.

“I am not suggesting,” Pablo replied. “To do otherwise creates the organizational dysfunction we so often see.”

“And you are connecting timespan to those two ideas, accountability and authority?”

“Timespan is like the discovery of the thermometer. Our ability to accurately measure temperature led to the precision of melting points, the beginning of chemistry, as a science. Timespan is the beginning of management, as a science. Our ability to accurately measure accountability and authority provides us a precise method of organizing structure.”

“Structure being, the way we define the working relationships between people?” I added.

Pablo looked at me carefully, then clarified. “Structure being the way we define accountability and authority, the working relationships between roles. Timespan works to define those two things.

  • A supervisor (S-II) is accountable for the output of the team for timespans ranging from one day to three months, with the longest authority for decision making at 12 months.
  • A manager (S-III) is accountable for the output of the supervisory team for timespans up to 12 months, with the longest authority for decision making at 24 months or two years.
  • An executive manager (S-IV) is accountable for the output of the managerial team for timespans up to 2 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 5 years.
  • The CEO (S-V) of a single business unit is accountable for the output of the executive management team up to 5 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 10 years.

“Ten years?” I wondered.

“Unless it is a larger organization,” Pablo continued.

  • The CEO (S-VI) of a multiple business unit (holding) company is accountable for the output of the single business unit CEO up to ten years, with the longest authority for decision making at 20 years.

“And?” I nodded.

Pablo smiled. “You’re playing in the major league, my friend?”

  • The CEO (S-VII) of a multiple business unit conglomerate is accountable for the output of the holding company CEO up to 20 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 50 years.

“And, what kind of company might that be?” I wanted to know.

“Those would be the largest of global companies, Apple, Halliburton, Microsoft and government entities, US, China, Russia.” Pablo sighed. “Those are the organizations whose decisions will impact lives for the next 50 years, maybe more.”

Like a Horse and Carriage

“We have to put leadership back in the hands of CEOs and their managers,” Pablo said. “Relying on control systems to manage our companies misleads us into the false sense that we actually have control.”

“You mean we don’t,” I stopped. “You mean we don’t have control?”

“Not over the things that really matter,” Pablo replied. “We don’t have control over our markets. We don’t have control over social trends, stock prices, pilot error. We only have the illusion of control. When we run our companies solely by its Key Performance Indicators, we remove discretionary judgement in the face of uncontrollable things. We have to put leadership back in the hands of CEOs and their managers.”

“By doing what?” I asked.

“By taking advantage of decision making and judgement at all managerial levels. The future is uncertain, ambiguous. Decisions made in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity are not calculated algorithms. If they were, we could let computers rule the world.

“We are back to two words,” Pablo continued, “accountability and authority.”

“Those are the two defined elements in structure,” I connected.

“Only when we vest decision making authority in the role of the CEO and the roles of managers, do we take advantage of their capability to do so. And only when we do that, can we truly hold them accountable for the results (output) of their teams.”

“I’m going to push back,” I countered. “I think most CEOs assume decision making authority at the highest level.”

“Some do,” Pablo agreed. “But, many run the company by the numbers, or offload accountability to their executive team, attempting to engage in democratic decision making. Then, wonder why the direction of the company goes off balance. We typically place accountability one level-of-work too low in the organization. Accountability and authority go together, you can’t have one without the other.

“Except in government,” Pablo smiled. “I always find it amusing, a government oversight committee, thinks it has all the authority without any accountability. If you have the authority, you have to have the accountability that goes with it.”

Complexity of the Problem

“I understand there is a difference in thinking-near-term vs thinking-long-term. Conceptually, I understand. How does that help us, as managers inside a company?” I asked.

“You are familiar with delegation?” Pablo asked, knowing the answer.

“Of course,” I replied.

“You say that so fast, I assume you do NOT understand delegation, except at its surface level,” Pablo stopped. “You understand delegation as a task assignment. What you delegate is not just the task, but the decision making and problem solving that goes with it. Inside any task assignment, as a manager, you must also understand the level of problem solving that goes with it.”

“Near-term vs long-term?” I confirmed.

“Yes, the timespan of the decision will accurately determine the level of problem solving required. If I delegate a step in a process that is due tomorrow, there are decisions that go with it, AND most of the variables are known. To meet a special order for a customer tomorrow, the team can work a little overtime with the materials at hand and we can meet the order. If we have another special order, how do we do that second order?” Pablo asked.

“The same way we did the first special order. Work a little more overtime,” I replied.

“But, what if we get 50 special orders?” Pablo challenged.

“Well, there isn’t enough overtime for 50 special orders, and if we focus on those, what happens to the regular orders that were already in process, it would play hell with our schedule,” I replied.

“You see, that is not such a simple problem. And, you immediately began to think about the impact in the future. Processing 50 special orders, with special setups, depleting our materials on hand, some of which have lead times, delaying our current scheduled commitments to customers with whom we have contracts, the timespan impact of the problem grows. I would submit to you, the complexity of the problem is not just more moving parts.”

“But this is not an unusual problem, companies face this all the time,” I said.

“And, companies figure out the solution all the time. We can accurately measure the complexity of the problem by identifying the timespan impacts of each of the elements of the problem. The timespan impact of each element leads us to the complexity of the solution. Lead times of depleted materials is a clue. If the lead time is six weeks, we don’t have an immediate impact of one delayed order, we have a six week impact on all orders. We cannot solve this problem by working overtime.”

The Measure of Complexity

“Would you agree,” Pablo asked, “there are some simple problems that most people can easily solve?”

I nodded, “yes.”

“And, would agree that as problems become more complex, some people struggle?”

Again, I nodded, “yes.”

“So, how do we measure the complexity of any decision, the complexity of any problem?”

“I suppose,” I started, “it would have to do with the number of variables in the decision, difficult enough for those variables we know about, even more so for those variables we do not know about.”

“And, how would you define a variable, start with one we know about,” Pablo prompted.

“A variable would be something we anticipate, and we don’t know for sure which way it’s going to go,” I replied.

“Like the weather,” Pablo stated. “We anticipate it is going to be cloudy, but we don’t know for sure if it is going to rain.”

“Yes,” I said, not sure where Pablo was taking me.

“And, how do you know it’s cloudy?” he asked.

“I looked outside, no sunshine. Observable, visual evidence, I can see it.”

“But, you don’t know if it is going to rain? Do you take an umbrella?”

“I suppose I might. A minor annoyance if it doesn’t rain, and a handy thing to have if it does,” I assumed it was a smart response.

“So, in the face of uncertainty, you make a decision based on something that is observable right now. Would you make the same decision a half-hour from now?” Pablo baited.

“It looks pretty cloudy, I believe a half-hour from now, I would still take an umbrella,” I hedged my bet.

“So, in a short timespan, you believe you have enough evidence, in spite of the uncertainty, to make a decision to take an umbrella?”

I nodded, “yes.”

“How about a week from now?” Pablo’s eyes shifted and he grinned.

“Well, who knows, a week from now if it will even be cloudy, much less rain?” I asked.

“So, one week from now is less certain than a half hour from now?”

Again, I nodded, “yes.”

“Is it possible to measure the uncertainty of any decision using timespan?” Pablo stopped and rested.

Just a Few More Simultaneous Projects

“Sounds like you are not so sure of yourself?” I asked.

“I know it’s just another project,” Andrew replied. “And, my experience is deep in project management. My company always gave me the tough projects, the ones with the longest critical path, where Murphy has plenty of time to play.”

“Then, why your doubt on this project?” I pressed.

“When I was successful at managing one project, my company gave me a second project. I did the second project the same way I did the first project and everything was fine.”

“And?”

“And, so my company gave me a third project,” Andrew said.

“How did you do the third project?”

“Same way I did project one and project two. Everything was fine, on-time, on-spec, on-budget.” Andrew paused. “So, they gave me 20 projects, all at the same time, and, six junior project managers to go along.”

“And now, what’s the problem?”

“Managing 20 projects is different than managing three projects. It’s a different level of work. It is a different level of problem solving and a different level of decision making.”

Am I Capable?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have been an avid reader of Jaques’ books for quite some time, and I have a question: most of what you say is to help managers and HR workers to find and hire the correct people.

But what about someone who is creating a company (my case)? How can I accurately measure my own capability, and, therefore, structure my company correctly so that its complexity doesn’t surpass my own level of thinking, while also hiring subordinates exactly one stratum below, in the case of the first hire(s)?

I would be very much interested since I’m having a hard time to be objective trying to evaluate myself.

Response:
How does the song go? “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”

First, your interest in assessing your own cognitive capacity will almost always lead you astray. Don’t attempt to assess yourself, assess the work.

Second, a start-up organization has a different focus than other, more mature organizations. There are so many missing pieces and fewer resources to work with. The start-up has a quick timeline to death.

So, my first question is always, what’s the work? As you describe the work, what is the decision making and problem solving necessary? More specifically, what is the level of decision making and level of problem solving required to make a go as a start-up?

Here are some other necessary questions for your start-up.

  • What is the (market) problem you are trying to solve?
  • Does your product or service solve that market problem?
  • Can you price your product or service high enough to allow for a profit?
  • Is your market big enough to provide enough volume for your product or service? Is your market big enough for a business or just big enough for a hobby?

The first focus for every start-up is sales. Can you get your product or service into the market place and please find a customer to buy it?

In the beginning, the level of problem solving is very tactical. Can you make it and will someone buy it? That’s about it. That is why there are so many budding entrepreneurs out there. That is also why so many fail. They cannot get their company to the next level of problem solving.

Once you have a sustained momentum of sales, the next level is all about process. You see, if you can create a sustained momentum of revenue, you will also create competitors. The next level is about process. Can you produce your product or service faster, better, cheaper than your competitor? This is a different level of decision making, a different level of problem solving. It is precisely this level that washes out most start-ups.

So, focus on the work. Do you have the (cognitive) capability to effectively make the decisions and solve the problems that are necessary at the level of work in your organization? Stay out of your own head and focus on the work.

BTW, we have only described the first two levels, there are more.

Structure and Creativity – Part II

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

This continues my response to the following question –

Question:
In your model, whose job is it to balance structure and innovation? (or structure that permits innovation?) How is this implemented? Is it a time span issue vs. a creativity/mindset issue? I worry about calcification and lean against structure which prevents innovation.

Response:
It is easy to fear organizational calcification. Much of management literature rails against terminology about command and control, even the subtle reporting relationship reeks iron fists and thumbs of oppression. This is why our understanding of functional organizational structure is so important. And important to you because of your interest, mandate that an organization be creative.

I define work narrowly looking at two things, decision making and problem solving. This discussion is to firmly attach creativity to decision making and problem solving, within the confines of a structure that eschews rigidity.

First, an exercise, in creativity. I ask a group of student within a 60-second period to name (write down) things that are round, as many as possible in 60-seconds. That’s the goal. You would assume those that name 30 are more creative than those that name six. I immediately get a question, “do you mean round and flat like a coin or round like a sphere?” I say, “there are no rules, no restrictions, it’s up to your own definition.” There is no structure to the exercise save the limit of time.

Inevitably, the clock winds down and most participants have a list of six to eight and most have a look of frustration on their face that they performed so dismally. I ask for sample responses –

  • ball
  • coin
  • planet
  • wheel
  • manhole cover
  • marble
  • watchface

Stop, time’s up!

Remember, the goal is to be as creative as possible and name as many as possible. I say, “ball. What about a tennis ball? A baseball? A basketball?”

“Wait, that’s cheating,” the group responds. I smile.

Here is the point. Instead of instructions where there is no structure, let me create a structure that guides you to be more creative.

Name as many coins that are round –

  • penny
  • nickel
  • dime
  • quarter
  • 50-cent piece
  • silver dollar
  • gold dubloon

Name as many planets that are round –

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Mars
  • Neptune
  • Uranus
  • Jupiter
  • Earth
  • Saturn

Name as many balls that are round –

  • tennis ball
  • baseball
  • basketball
  • bowling ball
  • golf ball
  • volleyball
  • cricket ball
  • soccer ball

The more structure in the assignment, the more creative, the more possibilities. This is a concept called idea fluency.

I need you to shift your understanding (not change, just shift) about organizational structure where we create working relationships between people where they engage in work using the fullest extent of their capability to make decisions and solve problems.

Elliott’s model helps us understand that there are different levels of decision making and different levels of problem solving. It is incumbent on every manager to understand those levels and engage the fullest capability of their team members in the work at hand.

Placing accountability for team output at the feet of the manager dramatically shifts managerial behavior to create more productive and creative working environments.

How to Diagnose Role Fit

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How does management ability tie into different levels of work. I’m thinking about people who are good at building (S-III) systems (flowcharts, time studies, etc.) but who are miserable at managing the people side of the equation.

Response:
In the workshop you attended, you will recall Elliott’s Four Absolutes. Your question describes one dimension of success, likely two dimensions of underperformance (failure).

Four Absolutes

  • Capability (measured in timespan)
  • Skill (technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

A person may have the capability to be effective in the work of the role, but lack other characteristics (of equal importance).

Specifically, a person may have the capability to be effective at S-III system work, yet in a managerial role, may lack the management skills for other key areas (people related). A skill is anything that can be learned, anything that can be taught. For a manager, there is a specific set of skills related to communication, listening, delegation, decision making, team problem solving, planning, coaching, meetings.

For a manager to learn those teachable skills, they must also possess the interest and passion for that work. We have interest in and passion for that work on which we place a high value. A person who values self performance over team performance will suffer mightily as they realize there is no such thing as individual achievement.

There is no priority in the Four Absolutes, they are of equal importance.

Accountability and Authority

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
——
My last post on Hidden Hierarchy, took a close look at Buurtzorg, where nurses in self-managed groups of 10-12 make decisions related to intake, scheduling, planning, holiday and vacation coverage. These are all decisions well within the timespan capability of each team. This slice of the organization has clear accountability for those issues and with that accountability must come the authority to make those decisions.

Laloux describes the authority exists because there is no managerial hierarchy with oversight that might question or reverse a decision made collectively by the team. Elliott Jaques, in the schema of levels of work would describe the authority as “timespan of discretion.” Each team has full discretion to make decisions and solve problems related to tasks identified at that level of work. The authority doesn’t exist in the absence of management, the authority is expressly assigned to the team.

With authority must come accountability. Laloux describes the nursing teams as accountable for their own output, without managerial oversight. This appears to work well, until it doesn’t.

When, it doesn’t, there are “coaches.”

Elliott would always be looking for “who is the manager?” He would not be looking for the mandated manager, but the observable manager. Who is bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team? At Buurtzorg, there are coaches who provide facilitation along defined problem solving models (I am reminded of Eli Goldratt’s Conflict Resolution Cloud).

It is incumbent on the coach to set context (in the form of questions), seek clarity in the issue or problem and bring the team to its own resolution. I think we just found the manager.

In short, the founder of Buurtzorg, Jos de Blok, found a way to grow the organization by driving decisions down to the appropriate level of work, organizing small teams to do that work. The design is perfectly scale-able to the current tune of approximately 10,000 nurses.

There is a hierarchy, not a hierarchy of power, but a hierarchy of accountability.