Levels in Organisations and Role Clarity

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Organization Chart > Best Practices > Levels in Organisations and Role Clarity

Levels in Organisations and Role Clarity
Conroy Fourie, Coach, South Africa, Member
Broadly-based on the concept of the Requisite Organisation and Stratified Systems Theory (Elliott Jaques), we can distinguish the following Levels in Organisations:
Level 1: SPECIALIST, time horizon short, e.g. day-to-day, perhaps sometimes week-to-week; competent "hands-on skills" to complete a task or activity.
Level 2: SUPERVISORY, time horizon weekly or perhaps a few months; competent in supporting and co-ordinating workers to achieve set standards.
Level 3: MANAGEMENT, time horizon a year or perhaps 2 years; competent in constructing, connecting and fine-tuning systems to optimal utilisation of resources.
Level 4: STRATEGIC, time horizon 2 – 5+ years; being competent in a unified work system by understanding the organisation's purpose and integrating new futures, new services and products including positioning the organisation within the market context.

When organizations achieve an appropriate hierarchical organization, when people at each level are cognitively matched to the capabilities required at that level and focus on their roles at each level, clearly aware of the boundaries between levels, organizations and their people both achieve their full potential.
An important role for the CEO is to ensure that each of his/her leadership team members are clear about where in the levels he/she is and has the appropriate level of competence for that level and that he/she is interested in performing at that level.
 

 
Proposed Modern Organizational Structure
Bayissa Milkessa, Business Consultant, Ethiopia, Member
There are organic, mechanistic and team-based organizational structures. It is said that the organic structure works well in very dynamic and flexible environment. Whereas a mechanistic structure works well in a very stable and certain environment.
But both of them are not perfect. For the mere fact that even a highly dynamic environment does demand some sort of stability. There is always stability needed within dynamism. And finding stable and certain environments is rare nowadays.
Therefore we need to propose a new way i.e. organizational structures based on cross-functional teams, which works within the framework of dynamism and stability. Such teams must have persons coming from different academic and skill background.
On top this, the top management must use modern (communication) technology to 'manage' these teams.
 

 
Levels in Organization
Oluwaseyi Solomon, Partner, Singapore, Member
What happens in an organization when one or more organization leadership team members tend to possess more than one competence mentioned above?
 

 
Some People are Equipped for Several Levels in Organization
Conroy Fourie, Coach, South Africa, Member
@Oluwaseyi Solomon: My experience is indeed that to a greater or lesser extent team members interface with more than one of the levels that I referred to.
The original article presented the levels quite clinically and separately, but practically it usually does not work like that. And as Bayissa Milkessa noted, organic and mechanistic are further lenses that can be applied to the organization structure challenge; these dimensions will also impact how these levels show up in any particular case.
To further clarify my thesis, it is that with regard to the practicalities and the individual team member personalities, skills, and other assets, AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE an attempt must be made to ensure fit and role clarity and then to ensure continuous clear dialogue around these roles and interaction and how performance of individuals and teams are shaping.
 

 
Stratified Systems Theory is a Model of Reality
James Partin, Management Consultant, United States, Member
@Conroy Fourie: Agree, I knew Elliot Jaques and discussed "time span of discretion" with him. He would be the first to tell you that this is an ideal, never fully experienced in actual practice.
However, it is a model that can be used in selecting people for jobs that suit their abilities and match the demands of the position within the system.
 

 
Summary Stratified Systems Theory
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Thanks Conroy for your excellent contribution. Allow me to add a short overview of Jaques' Stratified Systems Theory (SST) to help clarify things a little. Elliot Jaques said:
- Most organizational problems in organizations are caused by poor organizational structures and systems (not by deficient employees).
- Fixing the organization frees employees to work at their full potential.
- Organizational layering (Jaques calls this layering process: 'stratifying') should take place using successive categories of task complexity and of cognitive complexity within each stratum of organisation (E. Jaques and S.D. Clement, Executive Leadership, 1991).
- There is an optimum pattern of organisational layering, i.e. there is one organisational layer where information planning and control subsystems bring the structure to life. Layering makes it possible to provide an organisational structure in which each stratum contains roles within the same category of task complexity.
- It is possible to structure the very largest of organisations with a maximum of seven strata (~layers):

Stratified Systems Theory, Jaques

- The highest level of task complexity in each role will need to be within reach of the cognitive ability of the individual who is assigned the work. The level of work within each role in the organisation can be measured by it's so-called time-span of discretion. The longer the time-span of a role, therefore, the greater its felt level, scope or responsibility.
- When organisations’ hierarchies correspond to above strata, and when people have a clear picture of what is expected of them, companies can achieve a “requisite organisation”, allowing people to reach their full potential.
Source: Organisational Structure and Elliot Jaques’ Stratified Systems Theory, by Schalk W. Grobler
 

 
Placing Highly Talented Individuals
Steven Cooke
@Oluwaseyi Solomon: That's where the "interest" of the individual comes into play. Individual employees will be MOST effective in the area of their greatest interest. If they have "equal interests" AND capabilities, maybe they are ready to move on to the next organizational level.
 

 
Team Members Shoulder Responsibility, not the CEO
Riphagen, Financial Consultant, Netherlands, Member
@Conroy Fourie: You write in your last paragraph about an important role that the CEO has within the Levels in Organisations.
I completely disagree.
The team members have the responsibility to make sure their roles are clear, that they have the appropriate level of competence and that they are intrinsically motivated in performing.
If you have a CEO meddling with their (team members) responsibility, you have an organisation that is going back in time and that is not ready for the future.
The CEO should be looking at the horizon, making sure the organisation is ready for the changes outside.
Editor: Note that Mr. Fourie only said the CEO is to look after his/her LEADERSHIP TEAM members; not all levels in the organization. This would obviously be a task of lower echelons.
 

 
Other 4 Levels in Organisations
Denis Hitchens, Business Consultant, Australia, Member
It seems to me that the article omits one of the largest levels, that of unskilled workers
At an Occam's Razor level there are only four levels, namely:
1. Unskilled workers
2. Skilled workers
3. Supervisors
4. Managers
Splitting of managers into a variety of categories is superfluous.
And the contention that unskilled workers do not need to have strategic knowledge seems to me to be establishing one of the primary constraints alluded to in the Theory of Constraints.
Just as 'Marketing is everyone's business' has become axiomatic, so too does strategy become everyone's business.
Literature is full of examples of unskilled workers providing great strategic insight, especially when the process is facilitated by open space technology.
Equally the importance of the unskilled workers reflecting the values of the enterprise is undoubted, or else you already have a house divided.
But most of all, this discussion fails to consider business as a Complex Adaptive System, where every element interacts, internally and externally.
 

 
Levels in Organisations and Role Clarity
Anton Verwey, CEO, South Africa, Member
Hi Conroy. We live very close to each other, and I would love to meet up with you to discuss this topic. Perhaps you can also access the submission I made to 12manage on Requisite Organisation.
In principle though, my view is that one should be careful to not confuse our typical views of organisation structure (the design of reporting lines) with the notion of complexity of work.
For example, your use of the word "Specialist" to refer to work at the lowest level of complexity may lead to confusion, as there are "Specialists" who perform very strategic work.
Having said this, I agree fully with you that issues of role clarity (and role boundaries) is a huge challenge for most organisations. Specifically in economically challenging times, issues surface here when the operating margin is not sufficient anymore to "hide" the inefficiencies resulting from role confusion, duplication of work, etc.
Let us connect and chat about these issues!
 

 
Matching Organizational Roles to Employee Interests
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
The levels in an organization chart and clarity about each role become a reality during implementation when the interest of the individual in the role are matched with the role given to him. Any mismatch is a reason for non performance despite the best of clarity in the role.
This means that recruitment and placement of people should only happen after careful considerations for their talents and interest with respect to the role demands. Also it shows the importance of career management, developing employees through planned and systematic training programs and assignments challenging their inherent capabilities.
 

 
How to Assess the Level of Individuals?
Oluwaseyi Solomon, Partner, Singapore, Member
@James Partin: Great topic! When selecting people for certain jobs or levels, how (according to Jaques) can one identify these levels in every individual present for vacant job positions?
Can these levels be traced in them as at the time of job test or interviews? Please shed more lights.
Editor: see our summary of Drotter's Leadership Pipeline, which has some clues on what characterizes managers and leaders in certain stages of their development. Perhaps someone else can share Jaques' view on this question...
 

 
Requisite Organisation most Popular in Canada
Paul Steele, Consultant, Australia, Member
This discussion is following the works of Elliott Jaques and his concept of the Requisite Organisation; not a theory that has had much academic take-up in Australia and seems to be most popular in his native Canada although he did a lot of work at the Tavistock Institute in England prior to working on his own.
 

 
Levels in Organisation is a Complex Issue
Conroy Fourie, Coach, South Africa, Member
@Denis Hitchens: Thank you for your great contribution to the dialogue. My original thought-starter article was of necessity of space limitation in many ways an oversimplification and open to dialogue.
In addition to the valid contributions in your response (e.g. the question of unskilled workers and the imperative to spread strategic skills and contribution throughout the organisation), other lenses that can be applied that add to the complexity and how "organisational levels" show up in practice are:
- The maturity of the organisation (lifecycle), and
- The maturity of the various teams in the organisation (see for example Tuckman's Team Development model). For example, should a team be highly mature, Paul Riphagen's comment re the team taking responsibility for role clarity might have merit. However when a team is less mature, a more directive approach might be needed.
 

 
Foreced Localizing makes Assuming Levels even more Complex
Amos S. Calda, Mechanical Engineer, Philippines, Member
What happens when people are "forced" to assume key middle management roles beyond their capabilities mainly because of "some kind of a national thrust to "localize" middle & higher management positions.
The result will be catastrophic for the organization if HR fails to cope with the challenges of transforming these "localized" managers into their new levels.
Understanding the levels in organization is a complex issue made even more complicated with the thrust to "localized managers" for the sake of localization.
How can we expect a newly appointed Director to understand corporate strategic and operational management concepts when he was just plucked-out from the "local" Sr. engineers in the plant without the necessary preparations?
 

 
Line and Staff Functions and Organizational Levels
Romy Sson, Management Consultant, Philippines, Member
When we're talking about organizational levels, make sure to differentiate between line and staff functions. Staff do not give instructions to line directly. An order to do something is niot the same as a mere suggested action that is based on shared information.
 

 
Whatever the Number of Levels, the Cascading is What's Important
Zoniaina, Coach, Madagascar, Member
The problem of the CEO role is to mastermind the cascading of his vision and strategy down the hierarchy unto the littlest job in the company. We can implement 4, 5 or 7 levels of organizational structure, but what matters is if it helps the CEO to organize the way to meet his objectives...
For me the most important is that the organization structure will align us and inspire everybody to do his best and let everybody (employees, customers, partners, etc.) give you their purpose even it was strategical or operational.
To return to the matter, I think it is more useful to implement:
1. Technical executives
2. Administrative executives
3. Informal and potential leaders
4. Team leaders
5. Operational leaders
6. Strategical leaders
7. Owners.
 

 
Job Matching Process as Described by Jim Collins
Nelson E. Edjan, Student (MBA), Philippines, Member
In every facet of organization there must be a job matching process that fits the job or role to the capabilities and competencies of workers, strictly focusing from top to bottom.
As Jim Collins said in Good to Great:
"We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they FIRST got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats -- and THEN they figured out where to drive it. The old adage "People are your most important asset" turns out to be wrong. People are NOT your most important asset. The RIGHT people are".
When we're putting the right employees in the right units or structure they are always motivated and have a high esteem for the achievement of the organization's vision and mission. In every facet of organization there must be a job matching process that fits the job or role to the capabilities and competencies of workers, strictly focusing from top to bottom.
 

 
Levels in Organizations and Role Clarity
Rajesh Sharma, Manager, India, Member
@Nelson E. Edjan: Thanks for the very thought provoking quote to which I totally agree.
However, some more discussion may be needed I am not sure how? But by and large you are absolutely right.
 

 
Organisational Need Takes Precedence over Employee's Interest
Uduakobong Sunday, Management Consultant, Nigeria, Member
Where an employee possesses more than one skill, the organisational need might override employee's interest in terms of placement. The employee should be placed where his/her skill and/or ability is most required. This would enhance productivity.
 

 
Organizational Needs versus Employee Interest
Conroy Fourie, Coach, South Africa, Member
@Uduakobong Sunday: As long as the employee's heart is in the (re)assignment and the essence of the psychological contract remains intact productivity might be enhanced.
 

 
Influence of Generations on Stratified Systems Theory
CHIA YH, Business Consultant, Malaysia, Member
When you own a company, you normally look further into the horizon... Today's employment scene is dominated by the Y-generation. They are only looking at a three years horizon. So when the next job offer is available with better pay and better prospects, off they go.
 

 
Requisite Organizational Theory - Applied
Charles P. Keith, Management Consultant, United States, Member
@Jaap de Jonge: Elliot Jacques was one of my mentors in the Organizational Design Forum (US Org Design Group) and we frequently discussed, sometimes argued, the issues of personnel placement.
In the end, I learned that while organizations may have 7 layers as Jacques defined them, it is not a requirement. The number of layers is, of course, based on the purpose and complexity of the organization.
Regardless, the issues we discovered in actual application include, in order of prevalence:
1. The occupant of a position does not fit (either higher or lower than) the position requirements regarding time-span horizon thinking and capabilities, and
2. Lack of a specific layer at a specific function in the organization (e.g. missing specific middle management capabilities).
Requisite Organizational Theory was used in a city law enforcement organization and significant improvements in performance metrics, as well as in officer and employee morale, occurred.
 

     
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