From the Ask Tom mailbag –
You talked about the Peter Principle, how at some point everyone in a hierarchy gets promoted to their level of incompetence. I see this as a problem with hierarchy. Get rid of the hierarchy and let people settle in roles where they feel comfortable.
One reason you think the problem is hierarchy, you think it exists to create a reporting protocol. Here’s the bad news. You think you are a manager so people can report to you. Not true.
You are a manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of your team, collectively and individually. If there were no managers, there would be no one with the accountability to bring that value.
I hear people rail against hierarchy with tomes about self directed work groups and holocracy. Hierarchy exists for a very specific reason. When the level of work creeps up, hierarchy provides the structure to create that value stream, where managers bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team.
From the Ask Tom mailbag-
When I read this article, I think about Timespan and you. I hope this quote is not accurate.
“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”
Sadly, this is true. We tend to promote people to a level of incompetence, and then hope and pray. This understanding was popularized in a book by Lawrence J. Peter published in 1969, called the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is alive and well.
The solution to this dilemma is easy. From now on, no one in your organization gets a promotion. They earn promotions (or even lateral moves) by demonstrating competence in the task assignments contained in the new role. You test people with project work. And, in that project, you must embed decision making and problem at that next higher level. The same goes for a lateral move where there is a new skill set.
Think about any decision. You have to think about, not only the consequences of that decision immediately, but also the consequences in a month, three months or a year. An immediate positive consequence may create the circumstance for a negative consequence in three months time.
Same thing goes for a problem to be solved. You have to think about, not only the consequences of that solution in the near term, but the consequences in a month, three months or a year. An immediate solution may create the circumstances for a larger problem in three months time.
Take a high mileage vehicle and extend its preventive maintenance cycle by 30 days. You will save the cost of a maintenance cycle. In three months time, you will not likely notice any difference, but over two years time, you may experience catastrophic vehicle failure. And, it may not just be the cost of the repair, but the delay in the critical path of a project (just to save an oil change).
Time frame sets the context. Near term target completion time requires the elements of the project to be concrete, tangible and known. The project due tomorrow afternoon has a team and we can call each member by name. The materials are quantified, we know how much. We know the vendor, we know the price point. We know the delivery time, we know the schedule. Every element is concrete, tangible and known. Why?
Because the project is due tomorrow afternoon.
A long term target completion is more conceptual. If the project will not be complete for five years, we know we will have a project team, but over the term of the project, some may quit, retire, get picked off by a competitor. We have an idea about materials, but over the term of the project, a new material might become available (better, faster, stronger) and we might have to adapt. Our supplier may not be in business in five years’ time or may no longer be serving our needs. We might need an alternate vendor.
We need both tactical thinking and strategic thinking. Our five year conceptual plan, in four years, must transform into a one year tactical plan.
Some people think short term. Some think long term. Some think both.
Timespan is a frame to understand.
Timespan is the language of context to understand what is happening now in relationship to the past and future. Anecdotal references to the “big picture” or “50,000 foot level” can specifically be measured in timespan.
We can look at business processes, over time, and examine the cause-effect relationships of process elements. We can also look inward, look at ourselves, over time, and examine the cause-effect relationships of our own internal decisions. What happened in the past shapes the present. What is happening now gives us insight into the future, but only if we can see the context.
Who are you now? Who will you be in one year? Who will you be in five years?
We have numerous metaphors that allude to higher level thinking. Seeing the big picture. Not a sprint, but a marathon. In it for the long haul. Humans have the unique ability to observe things directly and also to observe themselves, observing things directly. Higher level thinking.
This is context. Humans can not only see the “event,” but the context of the “event.” It’s only an event. An event is anything that gets our attention. Context provides meaning for the event.
Ray Dalio, Principles, alludes to this higher level thinking. “Higher level thinking gives you the ability to study and influence the cause-effect relationships at play in your life and use them to get the outcomes you want.”
Elliott Jaques codified higher level thinking with his discovery of timespan. Timespan is the context, the timeframe in which an event exists. Higher level thinking is simply a longer timespan context. Jaques created a numeric reference for these timeframes which helps as a shorthand to describe each context.
- Level I – 1 day – 3 months.
- Level II – 3 months – 1 year.
- Level III – 1 year – 2 years.
- Level IV – 2 years – 5 years.
- Level V – 5 years – 10 years.
An event has meaning in the context of a season. A season has meaning in the context of a year. A year has meaning in the context of a decade. Timespan perspective helps us understand single events in the midst of multiple events. Context answers the question, “Compared to what?”