Managers need to connect the boxes!

Or as I stated this imperative at another time a few years ago:

      Talent management is dead without managerial leadership.

This provocative insight is usually met with the managerial response “we don’t have enough time”.  The challenge is thus: where do we get more time from?  We can’t create time, so we have to find ways of wasting less of it.

The last 20-odd years have shown me three key “time-wastage avoidance” methods:

  1. Match capable individuals to the task
  2. Be clear about expected results
  3. Foster commitment to the desired outcomes

I have since found two bodies-of-work that usefully address all three opportunities spelt out above.  Not surprisingly, these two schools at first appear to contradict one another.  After all, the concepts of “hard” and “soft” are opposites…I will explore Elliott Jaques’ “Requisite Organisation” (RO) theory and then Richard Barrett’s work on deliberate culture transformation.

Jaques: the ignored visionary

The late Jaques’ very long career, that effectively created management science, is still remarkable.  His background includes advanced studies in science, medicine, sociology and psychoanalysis.  He was perhaps more importantly a researcher of the human condition under real conditions…if you accept that adults spend most of their waking hours at work, you will be pleased to hear that he spent years answering difficult questions like:

  • What is work, really?
  • How do jobs get “sized” (with no manipulation!)?

Elliott’s startling insight was directly inspired by interactions with the union reps.  “Bigger” work is fundamentally different because of the longer time-horizons required.

Jaques’ addressed the key issue of matching appropriately capable individuals against a hierarchy of different roles (categorised as the different levels-of-work).  Some roles only require careful attention to the here-and-now; while others require wrestling with what lies out-of-sight and far into the future…

His 1990 Harvard Business Review article is called “In Praise of Hierarchy”.  He clearly lifted out its key insights:

“Managerial hierarchy is the most natural and effective organization form that a big company can employ. As organizational tasks range from simple to complex, there are jumps in the level of responsibility. As the time span of the longest task assigned to each managerial role increases, so does the level of experience, knowledge, and mental stamina required.“

Jaques basic prescriptions for “requisite organisation” (yes, he did prescribe a better way) are straightforward, but it still takes courage and persistence to implement:

  1. Get the right structure (determining the right number of levels is a crucial first step)
  2. Get the right people for the right roles (ensure incumbents have the required capability for their role)
  3. Teach the right managerial practices

His approach requires major adjustment in thinking about organisations.  For instance, employees do not report to managers; instead managers are accountable for their subordinates.  This shift in power relations means that it is in the manager’s best interest to invest in their subordinates’ success.

He has been called “authoritarian” by Tom Peters.  This misrepresentation of Jaques is a tragedy.  He is in fact the opposite of the unfeeling “structuralist” he is painted as.  He wrote:

“An institution or pattern of organization may thus be defined as requisite to the extent that it reinforces the expression of behaviours supportive of confidence and trust in human interactions, and reduces suspicion and mistrust.

For those who want an additional, non-abusive approach to “managing” values let’s turn to Barrett.

Barrett: the accessible visionary

Barrett’s “value-work” was launched when he wrote “Liberating the Corporate Soul”.  His culture-transformation tools are now being used globally.

What makes the tools powerful, and attractive to CEOs, is that they are a measurement methodology for managing culture change.

The Barrett model shows leaders that not all values are of the same type.  It is useful to think of them as occurring at different levels of needs and motivations.

Using Maslow-like triangles, Barrett presents us with Seven Levels of Consciousness.  The obvious similarity between this and Jaques’ levels-of-work is that lower levels are concerned with the short-term, while higher levels are long(er)-term in focus.Image

Where they differ, is on how to access the higher levels.  Jaques’ model needs the highest levels to be for individuals with the required cognitive capability.  Barrett has the highest levels requiring not mental aptitude, but spiritual attunement.

By gathering an organisation’s perceptions of what its current and desired sets of values are and then plotting this, deep insights are made.  After doing this, it becomes clear what an organisation’s culture is and should be.

The amazing result of doing such a values investigation is that desired future state and the implied journey to get there, is generated by the employees in an organization.

But organisational change is preceded by personal change.  For leaders ready to embrace the challenge Barrett’s tools are very useful.  It will take courage and honesty, but as Gandhi said:

“We must become the change we want to see in the world.”

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