66 – Is your job designed for high performance? How can you tell?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              500 words


I have posted previously on high performance local government organisations (see here and here). Have you ever wondered whether or not your job has been designed? Did someone sit down and decide on the role your position must play for the organisation to be successful? Were the resources you have been given, the goals you have been set, the decisions you have the right to make, or the relationships you have with others in your organisation been carefully selected? The chances are they weren’t.

In his article, Designing High-Performance Jobs, Robert Simons discusses how to determine whether your job has been properly designed in terms of four defining characteristics that he calls ‘spans’:

  1. Span of Control – the range of resources for which you have been given decision rights.
  2. Span of Accountability – the range of trade-offs affecting measures used to evaluate your performance.
  3. Span of Influence – the width of the net you must cast to collect data, gain information and influence others.
  4. Span of support – the amount of help you can expect from people in other parts of your organisation.

Simons likens the four spans to the ‘sliders’ on sound mixers. In this case, each span has a range from ‘narrow’ to ‘wide’ and they can be adjusted to control the width of each characteristic of a job.

To understand whether or not a job has been designed for high performance the balance between the ‘supply’ of organisational resources to the position (i.e. the control and support spans) is equal to the ‘demand’ for those resources (i.e. the accountability and influence spans). The way to work this out is to draw the four spans and draw a line joining the two supply spans and then a line joining the two demand spans. The lines should intersect to make a cross as shown below.

Simons spans

If the lines do not intersect, the spans are misaligned. When this happens, the resources are either insufficient and performance will suffer, or resources are excessive, in which case underutilisation of assets and poor economic performance can be expected. Simple really.

How does your job shape up? Draw your own set of sliders and plot each characteristic of your job. Do you have the control and support you need to achieve your objectives? Are you being held accountable for specific or broad objectives? Are you supposed to ‘stick to your knitting’ or work across functional areas?

I was talking to a manager responsible for delivering the council’s capital works program. Parts of the program are delivered by his small team. Other parts are delivered by several different managers in other parts of the organisation. When projects are not delivered on time or on budget, or the whole program falls behind on these measures, they are responsible and have to front up to the Executive to explain.

Has their job been designed for high performance?

In the next two posts I will discuss more of the theory and then attempt to design three local government management roles for high performance.

Simons, Robert 2005. Designing High Performance Jobs, Harvard Business Review, July/August.