Work, Work Everywhere, But Not a Drop of Understanding

By Michelle Malay Carter on December 6, 2007 

Water DropNot all work is the same.? Would you agree?? Aren’t some roles more complex than others???Having a definition of work levels and a common language to discuss them would advance the field of management by leaps and bounds.

I went to a business simulation yesterday and the crowd was loaded with human resource and organizational development professionals.? The group was arbitrarily divided into three groups:? the tops, the middles, and the bottoms.? Each group was charged with making money for “the company” and each person with advancing his/her career.? The odds were against the bottoms.? Their opportunities to earn were less, and because there were double as many of them, their earnings were divided by more heads.?

Fair Does Not Mean Equal?
This well intentioned?group quickly began to dismantle the companies “systems” in order to create an egalitarian workplace.? The tops were nobly looking for ways to get the earnings divided equally amongst all levels.??

When you are in a room face to face with other humans, the fact that we all? inherently have equal worth can cloud the fact that some are accountable for more complex work, and as such, should be paid more.? When it comes to compensation, fair pay does not mean equal pay.

Hierarchy Hysteria
When futurist books and articles predict the end of hierarchies, I think they aren’t looking at the work but rather the faces of the employees.? Hierarchies will always exist because work exists in a hierarchy!? Granted, hierarchies as we currently misuse and misunderstand them, need to be eliminated, but hierarchies are the foundation of the universe.? They are not going away.? Let’s seek to understand them and use them to our benefit, not eliminate them.

Clarification through Stratification!!
We often vilify what we don’t understand.? If we understood work levels, when we talked about innovation, we could specify which level of innovation we were referring to instead of confusing one another by implying it looks the same at all levels.? When we talked about competencies, such as leadership, project management, or sales skills, we could specify by level.? Competencies look different at different levels and call for different capability.

Just as H2O can be present in the forms of steam, water, and ice, work exists in different states.? These can be measured and observed.? Any role in any organization in any country can be stratified into one of eight levels.??Correspondingly, as our hierarchical universe would have it, human capability to solve problems can be stratified?into levels as well.? Once this is understood, it paves the way for sane-making organizational design, talent management, and managerial leadership.?

Recommending Reading?
Elliott Jaques discovered these truths decades ago, and you can read more about them in his books, Executive Leadership and Requisite Organization.? If you are interested in integrating your people systems – selection, performance management, leadership development, succession planning, managerial practices, organization design, strategic execution (through people), embedding values into operations – after my blog, these books are the place to go for information gathering.

I’m OK.? You’re OK.?? Let’s fix the system.

Your thoughts?

Filed Under Executive Leadership, Managerial Leadership, Organization Design, Requisite Organization


2 Responses to “Work, Work Everywhere, But Not a Drop of Understanding”

  1. Timothy Johnson on December 6th, 2007 11:11 pm

    Hi Michelle… isn’t it amazing how some of the management pioneers of decades ago are still extremely relevant today? (I’ll go to Deming before I touch a Six Sigma book.) As far as your take on jobs, yes – we live to categorize and group… it’s called division of labor (hmmm… seems I read about some early 20th century theorists who supported that). Excellent application.

    Bob McIlree pointed me to your blog, and I’m glad he did. Great material! I’ll definitely be back.

  2. Michelle Malay Carter on December 7th, 2007 7:31 am


    Thanks for commenting. It’s nice to put a name with my Google Analytics statistics.

    Yes, I believe Jaques was ahead of his time. His work is becoming more attractive as people realize the problems we’ve created in organizations cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them. (To paraphrase Einstein)

    Jaques and Deming were contemporaries. In a 1990 letter to Jaques, Deming offered his highest compliment to Jaques and his Requisite Organization model. He said, Requisite Organization is a system.