The Value of Hierarchy


In Sharmer’s book, “Theory U”, he has a table in the Introduction. He talks of four levels: micro, meso, macro, mundo.
Mundo is too big. But it is important to understand that it is there, that it sets the context for everything else. But we’re not going to change it.
Micro is you, the individual. I’m not going to spout platitudes that it all begins with you and that you have to be the change you want to see in the world.

Between the micro and the mundo, we have groups (meso) and organisations (macro). We’ll be concentrating on those spaces for no other reason than you are a mid-level manager and your position would not exist if there were no organisation.
This brings us to hierarchy.
There is probably not a lot you can do about the way your hierarchical structure is set up (it will be based on span of control, number of direct reports, etc) but a useful way of assessing its validity in given by Jacques in his paper “In Praise of Hierarchy”.
In essence, he posits that there are natural breaks in the hierarchy and these are not based on length of service or age or any other such measure. They are based on cognitive ability and what he calls a responsibility horizon.
These break at 20, 10, 5, 2 years then 1 year and 3 months.
His research has shown him that if someone has a manager with a responsibility horizon too close to her own, she will feel micro-managed. If I am working comfortably with a horizon of, say, 2 years, and my manager is working to 3-4 years, I will feel micro-managed. My natural manager will be working to 5 years.
The other reframing of the mid-level manager is not to run down the path of looking for a way out. Rather, to recognise that the horizons of 2 and 5 years are those of an entrepreneur and if you are working at that range naturally, you can take all the entrepreneurial literature and adapt it to your current situation. It is largely written with that timeframe in mind so if you are working to that anyway, the only decision you need to make is whether or not you want to stay where you are.

More recently, ‚Ķ ‘s research has shown that natural hierarchy – that is, a hierarchy one accepts and respects without coercion – rests on planning or decision horizon. He shows that Chief Executives have a planning horizon of 20 years, the C-Suite, 10; the various layers of middle management, 5 and 2 years; supervisors and team leaders, a year and about 3 months. Crucially, he shows that if someone is working to a 4 year planning horizon and their manager is working to one of 5 years, the person in question will feel micro-managed.
Whereas in the Guilds, the hierarchy was based on manual dexterity, in our modern service (non-manufacturing) organisations, hierarchy is based on cognitive ability. Unpalatable as this may sound, it is something we need to put into the open. For people who work with their hands: goldsmiths, tailors, surgeons and others, it is clear whether or not they are competent and steps can be taken through the remnants of the Guild-structure to improve their skills and competence. However, we seem to be reluctant to apply the same process to people who work primarily with their minds. This needs to change and mid-level managers are ideally placed to do this.

A curious thing happens
Ideas that belong at the meta level
Are transported into the mundo
And entrenched

Once there, they gain strength
And so can be reinforced back at the meta
It is called TINA
There Is No Alternative.

It is debilitating
To the individual
Because TIAAA
There Is Always An Alternative…

Change Makers