218 – Requisite leadership, stratified systems theory and local government management.

By Colin Weatherby                                                                                              680 words

Jacques levels of work authority

Lancing Farrell posted an interesting piece using Elliott Jaques’ requisite organisation theory to explain the best use of Executive time. It prompted some related thinking on my part. Jaques has provided a significant body of knowledge that can be very useful for managers in bureaucracies and hierarchical organisations.

The idea that people naturally organise themselves into hierarchical, or stratified, managerial systems in organisations reflects the reality of local government.  This is reinforced by legislation that focuses accountability on top management.  They are held responsible for the work outputs of people in the organisation and this responsibility cascades downwards through the management hierarchy.

Opponents of hierarchical ‘command and control’ organisations, particularly John Seddon, have reasons for their position, which are frequently validated by the behaviour of public organisations.  It doesn’t change the fact that senior management needs a way to ensure work outputs meet the expectations of the various sources of accountability.

Each of us has different capabilities and limitations. Jaques says these individual differences need to be taken into account in organising work – everyone needs to work at a level that corresponds to their capacity.  They also need to have their role and status clearly defined in a way that is acceptable to them.  Therefore, workplace boundaries and authority need to respond to these human and social needs in order to maximise the effectiveness of the organisation.  This resulted in the division of work in stratified systems theory.

I doubt any of this is news to you.  The challenge is how leaders act on this understanding to create an effective, harmonious and productive workplace.

This is where Jaques (writing in collaboration with Stephen Clement) challenges the current thinking about leadership.  They argue that charismatic leadership is not the key to organisational success and that leadership needs to be ‘requisite’ for a particular time and place (i.e. requisite leadership).  They say managerial leaders require the following qualities to be effective in managerial work:

  1. The level of cognitive processing power necessary to carry out the level of work complexity of their role.
  2. A strong sense of value for their work and the leadership of others.
  3. The appropriate skills and knowledge in their work, plus experienced practice.
  4. The necessary wisdom about people and things.
  5. The absence of abnormal emotional characteristics that disrupt their ability to work with others.

I find this list interesting as a checklist for myself and other leaders. Points 2 to 4 are typical of what anyone would expect from a senior manager and leader.  It is points 1 and 5 that raise interesting questions.

  • How do you determine the cognitive complexity of work and the cognitive capability of a person to carry it out?
  • What are abnormal emotional characteristics?

On the first question, Jaques believes that highest level of task complexity in each stratum (level) needs to be within the cognitive capabilities of the individual given the work.  The cognitive complexity of work is determined by the number, ambiguity, rate of change, and interweaving of variables involved.  Cognitive capability relates to the ability of an individual to organise information to make it available for doing work.  The reality is that some individuals are able to deal with more variables and process more information in any given period of time.

In relation to emotional characteristics, Jaques and Clement believe that a manager’s emotional make-up has little effect on their ‘in-role leadership’ performance, unless they exhibit an emotional extreme.  They say there are an infinite range of possible and acceptable behaviours and go on to  describe emotional extremes using examples, such as reflection becoming inability to decide, or tenacity becoming stubbornness, or critical evaluation becoming paranoid suspicion.

This is necessarily a brief overview of some of Jaques’ work.  It provides a way of thinking about managerial leadership (I quite like that term) in our organisations that reflects the legislated responsibilities of local government, the way people are at work, and how it is possible for us to be more accountable and effective.

Jaques, E. and Clement. S., D. (1991) Executive Leadership – A practical guide to managing complexity. Blackwell Business, Cambridge.

Jaques, E (1976) A General Theory of Bureaucracy. Heinemann, London.

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190 – Micro managing and macro directing. A local government phenomenon?

Posted by Whistler                                                          600 words

macro manager

I was reading about ‘macro managers’ and the five signs that you could be one when it occurred to me that the divide between the Executive and managers in local government can be partly explained by this idea.

We are all aware of ‘micro managers’ and the problems associated with managers who constantly get right into all the details. Wikipedia describes it as ‘a manager who closely observes or controls the work of subordinates’ and comments that it generally has negative connotations. I agree. But how often do you see it in local government?

Some of the ‘symptoms’ of micro management are low levels of delegation, requests for unnecessary reports, taking credit for others’ results (particularly the more narcissistic micro managers), blaming others, and denying their behaviour by describing themselves as ‘structured’. I would add the disempowering effect it has on people.

In contrast, at the next level up in the organisational hierarchy macro management tends to occur. Continue reading

187 – A high functioning Executive. What would it take?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         1100 words

awesome

This is a question I was asked recently by a reader. Having read several posts critical of the behaviour of the Executive (What can a culture survey, an organisational self assessment, and your Executive’s risk appetite tell you?, The Executive. What exactly is their role? , Does your Executive suffer from altitude sickness?, and The Executive: filters, traffic controllers or drivers? ) she wanted to know whether I had a solution. Knowing that it is easier to be critical than creative, I cast my mind to thinking about the nature of the problem and some potential solutions.

I think the starting point is to understand the problem. In a nutshell, I think the following issues illustrate the problem:

  1. The Executive is overloaded with the small stuff handed to them by councillors (not the council). Much of it has to do with the personal idiosyncrasies of councillors and behaviours arising from their inability to work together as a group. It is dysfunctional, urgent and produces little value for the community. There are better ways for potholes to be reported.
  2. The Executive has to deal with high level relations with external organisations and strategic external pressures. These are often CEO to CEO relationships and cannot be readily delegated.
  3. The Executive is not putting enough time and effort into leading the organisation. Their focus on councillors and the external environment takes most of their time and energy. At the same time, they worry about problems 1 and 2 being made worse so they try to control organisational communication and decision making. When this is done ‘efficiently’ by time poor leaders it drives dysfunctional management behaviours.
  4. The Executive operates independently of managers and participates in the Senior Management Team (SMT) episodically. There is frequently no genuine and continuous engagement with the SMT in strategy and decision making. Managers are included in decision making when it suits the Executive – which is usually when they have the time and energy to do it. Managers are effectively isolated from information and the strategy decisions being made continuously by the Executive.

Obviously there are different solutions possible. Continue reading

174 – The Executive: filters and traffic controllers or drivers?

Posted by Whistler                                                          760 words

filter

There have been a number of posts about the Executive over the past 6 months (see What can a culture survey, an organisational self assessment, and your Executive’s risk appetite tell you?; Risk farming or good governance? How some executives avoid accountability; The Executive. What exactly is their role?;Does your Executive suffer from altitude sickness?; and The deep web and local government recruitment. ). Each has explored a different dimension of the Executive in local government – their comfort with risk, their role, how they support service delivery and make decisions, and how they are appointed.

This may be the last post on the topic (it now seems to have been a bit of a collective whinge) and it looks at what they really do or can do given the way councils operate.

One way of looking at the Executive from an organisational viewpoint is as a filter. Continue reading

108 – Melbourne City Council: Organisational Capability Review, May 2015.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1300 words

Melbourne capability review model

The public release of this critical report has been something of a surprise. Commissioned in March 2015 and released in May, the report prepared by Jude Munro, Dr Bronte Adams and Steve Parker has looked at three key capabilities; leadership, strategy and delivery. Each has been rated on a four point scale for several elements. Out of the ten attributes rated, six were seen as a ’development area’ and one as a ‘serious concern’. The remaining three were seen as ‘well placed’ and none were seen as ‘strong’ (p.14). So what does this mean?

melbourne assessment criteria ratingsThe report states that this is the first time that this review model has been applied to local government in Australia. Its intention is to provide a forward looking, whole of organisation review that assesses an organisation’s ability to meet future objectives and challenges.

 

“This review provides the opportunity and impetus to take a very good organisation and make it even better.” Ben Rimmer, CEO

Continue reading

98 – Is your organisation an echosystem? How would you know, … know, … know?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          530 words

The scream

Does everything seem to echo around? Messages are usually heard when they reverberate off distant walls? Management decisions are revisited regularly – ‘Hasn’t a decision been made on that already?’ Worse still are the matters that keep coming up, decisions aren’t made and they keep going up and down the organisational hierarchy. Perhaps your echosystem is afflicted by re-managing.

I suppose you are thinking what is ‘re-managing’. I didn’t invent the term. I have borrowed it from Managing the White Space by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache. They use it to describe the behaviour of senior managers when they re-manage the work already carried out by the managers below them. In local government the senior managers are typically Directors or Group Managers. You may ask why they find the need to do this. After all, haven’t they got more ‘strategic’ work to do? Continue reading

72 – Revolutionising local government. How long is it since you were last revolutionised?

Posted by Whistler                                                                          600 words

merry go round

I was talking to an experienced consultant who works with numerous councils recently and she commented about some of the councils currently undergoing ‘revolutionisation’. New CEO’s, in two cases new to the sector, were busily implementing their kitbag of management ideas. They seem to hit the ground running with a program of change. What are some of the features of revolutionisation and how effective is it?

I will start with effectiveness first. It depends on the measure. I can think of a few. Is it delivering on a promise to the councillors who appointed them to shake things up and create change? Is it is improving the performance of the organisation in meeting community needs sustainably in the longer term?

If it is the former, I would think they are mostly successful. Continue reading