I think that the reason everyone has been talking about Markets, Hierarchies and Networks as separate classes has to do with how the first two have been implemented and written about in the last 100-200 years. Although hierarchies have existed for eons (ancient Chinese history, anyone?), the Management Accountability Hierarchy is relatively new, barely more than 150 years old, depending on where you draw the line. Most of the writers seem to view hierachies as Command And Control systems, a place where the top tell everyone what to do and they do it with no deviation. This is simply the Tayloristic view.
Taylorism, of course, is the general theory of management espoused most famously by Taylor but also many others. It has that the workers are lazy and incapable of doing a good job. Work must be laid out in clear procedures that reduce the amount of time a job takes. Each worker is indistinguishable from the next and absolutely and thoroughly replaceable. This form of MAH is reductionist, as are almost all of the modernizing organizational forms. In Seeing Like a State, Scott argues (although probably not originally) that the nascent State had to make things easy to understand, to see. They made landownership rules consistent across all its domains so that taxing would be easier. Hyper-modernist took this ease-of-ruling idea and made it god; thus we got Le Courbusier. The difficulties inherent in humanity were architected out. Taylorism took the messiness of hierarchical arrangements, fairly inconsistent and varied across cultures (apparently) and rationalized it: that is, they made the hierarchy look the same in Kent as in Newark. This made producing standards of management easy.
Of course, the workers weren’t always too upset that the jobs had been “dehumanized” and rationalised. My grandfather was pretty happy that he could go to work in the mines full time after the ninth grade, because his father had died and as the oldest he had to provide for the other brothers and sisters. And his mother. These “any moron could to this” jobs were the backbone of the Northwestern Indiana economy, too, where illiterate in any language immigrants could get well-paying (albeit quite dangerous) jobs.
This rationalization of hierarchy led to a misunderstanding of what hierarchy was, just as our rationalization of agriculture has led to its failures. It was necessary for us to be able to manipulate ever larger organisations. It allowed for standard railroads and highways, interchangeable parts, and even the “standards revolution”. But it did not give us a true understanding of hierarchy.
Jaques argued that people have a natural knowledge of who should be their boss, who should be their peer, and even how much they should make compared to others in the company. This is an argument for a natural, evolved sense of hierarchy, not the rationalized one produced by the Taylorists. Jaques’s Requisiste Organization is the natural one, one that would emerge on its own if not overpowered by the various rationalised systems of management that interfere with it. This natural organizational structure is based on time-spans of the role and the worker, the worker’s innate capability growth rate.
Thus, it’s important for you to understand that I’m not talking about the Taylorist command-and-control hierarchy when I say that hierarchies are networks. I’m talking specifically about the natural hierarchy that Jaques identified as the Requisite Organization. The hierarchy everyone bemoans is top-to-bottom in information dissemination. In an RO, the information flows both ways. The manager flows “context for your work” information down to the subordinates, who have complete control over how they complete their tasks within limits prescribed by the context (not just some manager’s whims). The workers, in turn, flow information up to their manager about problems and issues that they see within their timespan for completing the task or even accomplishing the contextual goal. The manager flows information in a similar fashion up and down to his or her boss (the Manager Once Removed from the subordinates above).
Management is setting context, not telling someone what to do. This is not a subtle difference. It means that there is a reason for the Gallup organization’s findings about what great managers really do (in First Break All the Rules). These actions — like treating each employ as befits that person, rather than everyone all the same — are simply outputs of RO managers, people who are in the natural position for them, with subordinates who are in their own natural position also, for this time of their lives. This context setting lets the worker have control over his or her own work, within the limits set by the mangager’s context.
I believe that RO is a form of emergent network that greatly differs from the unnatural system that dominates the work world today. This explains why I can look at Karen Stephenson’s diagrams (see Art Kleiner’s stragegy+business article on Karen Stephenson) which she uses to diagnose organisational problems based on social, work, career advice and other networks, and see the same problems using an RO lens.
If I’m right, the following should be true:
- Within a social network at work, the participants should be within the same mode.
- Within the career advice network, advisors will be two strata above advice recipients.
- Within work networks, information flows according to the RO extant structure.
- Within the knowledge network, knowledge will flow freely between individuals who are at the same Stratum. I’m not sure how knowledge brokers (hubs) will fit into this.
This is true for the individuals capability and not for the role, since the individual will most likely not fit the extant role level.
By analysing the organization from an RO perspective, you can see into the other naturally occurring networks, since the problems of Time-Span contribute to all of them.
That’s my hypothesis in a very confusing first go round. Now I need to create tests for the null hypothesis to try and prove them wrong.