High-Moders and Hierachies

Forrest ChristianCareers, Coaching, Organizations, Theory 2 Comments

Although I’ve been called away these past few weeks with a family emergency, I’ve been thinking about the points that Christine Baker of Requisite Development raises in her recent comments on “Writing a Level-3 CV” on the careers of high-moders. She points out that options today are greater for them than in the past:

There is another point to make here. In today’s markets, with increased outsourcing of business functions there are more choices available to those individuals whose Work Values match them to working as, say, independent contributors – I’m thinking of obvious career choices such as interim management and external consultant/coach roles as well as those people who want to set up their own businesses at whatever Stratum they see fit. Those can be very liberating career choices, provided that the individuals are prepared to risk leaving the financial security net of working for someone else.

It’s definitely true: people who are severely underemployed are leaving the work hierarchies in massive numbers. And it would seem like this is a great choice. And I’ve even supported this as a solution.

Unfortunately, it does not solve the problem. By pulling people out of the (from Jaques and Brown’s points of view) democratizing work hierarchies, we have people who have to go solo in order to have any work happiness. This isn’t the best solution.

Perhaps I should explain myself.

Back at the start of this work, I went to a conference and met a folks who actually work in Organizational Design. (I’m a writer who works in grid computing.) What struck me as odd was that the ones that I considered the best and the brightest were so dissatisfied about their jobs. Some that I met had, like me, read Peter Block’s The Answer to How is Yes. Unfortunately for Block’s goal, they got the idea that they needed to do exactly what Baker recommends: leave their work environment and go do something “meaningful”. In almost every case, this meant going out on their own.

That’s just a crying shame.

There’s nothing wrong with going out on your own and working more or less as Assisted Direct Output or Direct Output (on the RO model), having either a single person company or a company that assists a single person to do their work. Block’s own company is like that, with all his employees just assisting him in selling or creating his services and materials. It’s a fine model and many people find great happiness.

There’s something wrong with saying that the “best and brightest” must do this in order to find happiness or fulfillment at work, because it pulls them out of work hierarchies and leaves them without the democratizing fulfillment that these can create.

Certainly one would expect that today, with hierarchies that are larger than anything ever seen upon the earth. Wal-Mart, Toyota, Hyundai, Tada Sons, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Exxon-Mobil: these are massive corporations whose budgets are larger than most nations’ GDP, with workforces that equal the sizes of almost any peacetime army in history. They are massive companies with extremely high-stratum work spread across hundres, even thousands of jobs, depending upon where we cut off “high-stratum”. Let’s say Str5, at Jaques’s cutoff for the “corporate collegium”.

And they are desperate for people to be in the “leadership pipeline” for upper executive positions. The baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves. They have a huge problem that they recognize. OD leaders, including RO consultants, talk almost ad nauseum about how over the next 5-10 years retiring baby boomers in Western nations will leave a huge hole and no one is being set up to take their place.

So you’d think that, since previously high-mode hierarchical jobs made up a smaller percentage of the work market (since there were fewer mega-companies), we would see a larger demand for high-mode individuals within work hierarchies.

Even RO consultants don’t want high-mode individuals for their clients.

Sure, these folks can go off on their own and create Direct Output work. It’s a great thing to do: I’ve been doing it more or less since I started consulting in 1989. There are many of us for whom this type of work is well-suited.

But there’s something creepy about it, too.

It shows that we are losing our ability to work together and that’s a strong danger for our future in the West. Sure, we have enough power and riches to make this a “not in my lifetime” problem. But looking out 75-100 years you can see the high probability of the consequences of not being able to work together, the worst being the collapse of our civilisation. It only takes a couple hundred years for massive amounts of knowledge to be lost.

I’m not as sanguine as others in the information industries about flat organizations and attraction-based decision making. I’ve not seen it work out very well. I’ve seen the organizations that can work together in more requisite ways &emdash; Microsoft being one of them &emdash; out-perform and out-last others in the same industry.

I suppose in this meandering, almost senseless diatribe, I’m trying to say that being in groups is the way that we were meant to be. It’s not really about having anyone else responsible for your paycheck: most people in my industry in the States have been made redundant / laid off / fired more than once. High moders, because they’re a pain in the butt, get laid off more frequently, experiencing higher levels of permanent anticlitic depression and its associated life consequences.

I know that their is intelligence in mobs. The wisdom of crowds can exceed the best intentions of Smart People. I know that Meade is wrong when she said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That’s just plain wrong and the writing of a person who thought that she knew better than the backward idiots that she studied, the arrogance of an over-educated person who wants to push her agenda upon others. As Block says, “It’s not that they don’t understand you. They just disagree.

At the same time, high-moders have a great deal to offer in the way of helping organize others to do the things that they want to accomplish. Rather than this fascist idea of the Smart setting the ways for the Idiots, it’s about them serving the larger groups, helping the associations accomplish goals by organizing work in meaningful ways.

Telling high-moders that they should all just leave the work hierarchies to become single agents is the same as telling people in non-requisite work hierarchies that they need to learn coping skills. It’s better to fix the problem: whether at the organizational level for the latter, or at the societal level for the former.

I’m just not sure yet how to do it.

Comments 2

  1. I agree with Forrest Christian in his critical statement “that’s just a crying shame.” Everyone loses when talented people leave. Leaving work organizations is what people do when they see no positive internal solution. High-moders I have met would often have loved to stay in their companies – acting as mentors to lower-level employees, contributing to high-level strategic projects to mop up their excess capability – but the harsh reality is that their employers didn’t have the vision to optimise their contribution. Bosses felt threatened by a subordinate of higher mode, peers would see them as overly-opiniated trouble-makers, etc, etc. If jobs (permanent or project-based) are not created at higher Strata by CEOs who want to hang on their top talent, then where are these people to go if not out? I see this as one of the issues to tackle when educating CEOs about how to manage their talent pool.

  2. Forrest,

    I appreciate your article and Christine’s comments. I see part of the problem as being the hierarchial nature of organizations – those on top seeing those below them as being of less value and importance and therefore, with less to contribute. Until a CEO sees the value in high mode individuals, they won’t buy into RO and its implications.

    I also see part of the problem steming from the fact that organizations, for the most part, don’t promote people on ‘pure merit’ (I.e. stratum), but on a host of other factors.

    I see the solution as being a mixed one – education of leadership, but also adoption of new business models that emphasize a shared peer version of leadership in lieu of the hierarchical model. The best example of this is Alcoholics Anonymous – peer decision making where groups vote on strategic direction of their local group…’our leaders are trusted servants, they do not govern’.

    Keep up the good work.


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