5 min read

The Craftsmanship Manifesto: Part III

The value of hierarchy. Change makers

In Otto 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 Elliot 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. Natural hierarchy - a hierarchy one accepts and respects without coercion - rests on planning or decision horizons.

These break at 20, 10, 5, 2 years then 1 year and 3 months.

These fit with Chief Executives, the C-Suite, mid-level managers and supervisors, respectively.

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.

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.

Change Makers

The second useful theme is that of change makers.

The Ashoka Foundation defines a change maker as someone who sees something that needs to be done and gets on and does it. Not asking permission but having the smarts to know that without the support of certain people in the community, it will not occur.

The key thing is that there are lessons and techniques that can be used in the corporate world. I don't mean people who work in corporates can go and do good in the world. I mean that people who work in corporates can do good at work. Why not bring the good you can do outside, inside?

There are many stories and examples of organisations that send their people off to do-good, outside. To take their business expertise (that is providing them with no fulfilment) and go to help people in less fortunate circumstances than their own.

This is the practice that Giridharadas finds so repulsive. He says this doing more good somehow seems to mitigate our inability to do less harm in our business practices.

I put it to you that the greatest amount of work to be done, with the greatest social impact is right in front of you, in your own organisation.

And I put it to you that a mid-level manager is ideally positioned to begin the shift.

The mental model / framework / paradigm I'd like to use is this. The role of the mid-level manager is to create an environment in which craftsmanship can flourish.

That's it.
Nothing more, nothing less.
But what could this mean for you?

Changemakers are a social enterprise and organisations are social constructions - despite the inorganic models we use to manage them.

Change Makers craft employee-centric change programmes. You choose to minimise the unintended consequences of change. You choose to understand, deeply, the organisation you seek to change.

Sometimes, you might mess up.

But it is not for want of trying. Better to mess up trying than indulge in faultless lying.

You Are a Creator

As a creator, you are driven to serve. As creator, you go where no-one has gone before. As a creator, you challenge diplomatically and cajole pragmatically. As a creator, you compromise the tactics but not the objectives.

Change makers and creators have a lot in common. They share the same human need for meaning and helping others excel. It’s what we do in our lives. It is often not what we do at work.

Change makers and creators focus on people. And they use good process. It’s about building trust. And delivering results. Sometimes, establishing trust is a good enough result.

If you trust someone, you’ll go to the ends of the earth for them and with them. That’s one way, and a pretty good way, of identifying leaders.

Change makers and creators are leaders but not overtly. They work primarily with ideas. Because ideas are powerful, ideas are strong. And ideas are what bring about change.

Change without an idea behind it is fake change. You can quite reasonably say to a Change Faker, “You have no idea”. You can even say it with an exclamation mark!

Fake change surrounds us. It is more prevalent than fake news. For those who grew up in Australia in the 70s and 80s, you might call it “Clayton’s Change”. But that’s not what you do. You make change. You’re not a faker.

You have an idea. But if you are a Change Taker, the idea has you.

That’s worse than faking, it’s playing the victim. And if you do not confront the idea, treat it as an equal, wrestle with it to try to understand it, you are under its spell. You become a peddler of second-hand ideas.

If you peddle second-hand ideas often enough, it can tip you over the edge into becoming a Change Braker. An advocate for “no change”, a lover of the status quo.

You cannot change what you don’t understand.

Hard as it may be to accept this, whenever we try to change something we don’t understand, we fail.

Doesn’t matter if it is an organisation or a person, a city or a truck. If we make changes to something without knowing the impact of those changes, it will fail.

Are you a change maker?

A change maker is…
A middle manager

It strikes me that middle managers are ideally positioned to become change makers inside their organisations. Are you one of them?

  • Changemakership
  • Change makers inside organisations.

Change Taker or Change Maker?

  • Change is hard
  • People resist change
  • 70% of change fails
  • Change is a constant

These are the words of change takers. Change takers do not feel in control of the changes going on around them so all they have left is to find reasons that change is bad.

  • Change is good
  • Change is interesting
  • Change is refreshing
  • Change is exciting
  • Change means improving

These are the words of Change Makers. Change Makers are people who take creative action to solve a social problem.

Organisations are primarily social systems even as they are digitally disrupted, the disruption happens to people.

Change Makers inside your organisation are in much the same position. They have the ideas but often lack the support needed to bring those ideas about.

Are you a Change Maker?
Perhaps you are a Change Maker supporter.