Kinston & Rowbottom's "A New Model of Managing Based On Levels of Work"

Forrest Christian Managing, Theory, Warren Kinston Leave a Comment

Here’s the second in the set, from 1990. Warren probably hasn’t really looked at these for some time, and I know that he has taken things farther in documents coming out of his SIGMA Centre.

Warren Kinston and Ralph Rowbottom. 1990. “A New Model of Managing Based On Levels of Work”. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 17: 89-113. [PDF, 9.3MB]

The introduction from this paper:

Thinking in terms of levels of work is a great help in designing organisations and overcoming dysfunction and discontent within them [18,42]. In a recent companion paper of ours in this Journal [28]. a brief summary of pre-existing theory concerning work-levels was provided and a range of new applications reported. It was shown how each of the seven levels of work, defined basically in terms of the needs or expectations to be met and the responses to be provided. could also be formulated to throw vivid light on issues like the use of resources and budgets, the handling of information, the production of plans. priorities and evaluations. and the balancing of quality of care against throughput.

Our intensive and extensive studies within the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) over the past two decades have led not only to more elaborate formulations of the properties of the various levels of work (in the paper just cited), but also to successful organisational change programmes [19.24.2627.38]. Our collaborative methods of action research are described elsewhere in detail [21,43]. The approach is consistent with a new paradigm of social research which values and empowers those involved [41]. It seeks to provide critically refined and practically validated knowledge to aid the design of action by those responsible.

This research and the associated development projects have thrown up phenomena which are puzzling in levels-of-work terms. and raise fundamental questions and issues which the pre-existing theory does not resolve. Theoretical elaboration has therefore become necessary. The need for new theory is not surprising: the NHS is not only far larger. but ferociously more complex organisationally than the industrial concerns (Jaques) and social services (Rowbottom and Billis) where levels-of work theory originated. We wish to emphasise that our reworking of the theory was not primarily speculative. It was driven by collaborative research with managers and professionals within the NHS aiming to resolve their urgent problems.

In this paper. we go on to examine all groupings of adjacent levels and indicate the benefit that such an analysis offers for appreciating a much wider range of related psychological matters. What results is no less than a new model of managing. (Earlier publications form a useful background to the new analyses to be offered here, but the present paper expects no more of readers than general familiarity with management processes in large organisations.)

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  1. I can’t really distinguish anything substantially different in Kinston’s publication when compared to Jaques’ original theory. There appears to be nothing new presented of any real substance yet the author promotes that Jaques’ model was inadequate or incomplete or both. It appears he has had some success in applying SST to the public sector in the UK and that in order to do this he has been compelled to understand and focus on process in his intervention within the “broader” context of the managerial hierarchy. This is not surprising. How else would one successfully effect organizational change?

    Some of what the author has published obscures the crispness and clarity of Jaques’ work and the duplication of names for the same references is only confusing. To promote that Jaques was only focused on the commercial and that there are distinctions between the economic focal points and the broader societal ones; those for the common public good, is naive. The fundamental precursor to successful social welfare systems in any society is a functional economic base and this is derived from free market enterprise.

    The complexity of the social systems nevertheless is not always governed by elected representatives that possess the complexity of mental processing to get it right. How does an SIV orV capable Minister of Health contribute effectively to an S VII health care system? The short duration of elected office is problematic in meeting the social needs for the next generation where resource allocations and social grants are concerned.

  2. This is not simple or very straightforward stuff. In the UK there has been a rich intellectual community around this. First at Tavistock with Trist and Jaques in the lead for developing Social Analysis, which was the tool with which the Glacier project was approached.

    Then at Glacier where Wilfred Brown and Ralph Rowbottom also wrote. Later at Brunel University where Gillian Stamp, Ian MacDonald, Warren Kinston and many others did deep research and wrote.

    Those of us who are close to the UK see this as a community with many contributors, probably because we over the years have met many of them and had good discussions.

    In particular we need to approach the issue of human capability with respect and humility as we cannot know what actually goes on in the brain. What we can see are shadows, as in Platos cave metaphor. One set of shadows is time horizon, another is levels of information processing and yet another is Levels of Work. The more of each “shadow” and metaphor we know and understand the better we probably can assess what is going on in minds of people.

    Believing that one method is crisper than another could be an oversimplification that can fool us.

    I have met and had long discussions with Elliott, Warren and Gillian and have the deepest respect for them all and feel humble in having had deep encounters with them all and appreciate the learning in that.

    Warren has helped me to understand that there is no requirement for politicians to have any particular capability. An elected body such as congress, parliament, a council or a government is the result of a democratic process and they have particular political work to do. In Stronger Political Management he describes the roles of the elected officials and the roles of the senior professionals.

  3. “Warren has helped me to understand that there is no requirement for politicians to have any particular capability. An elected body such as congress, parliament, a council or a government is the result of a democratic process and they have particular political work to do. In Stronger Political Management he describes the roles of the elected officials and the roles of the senior professionals.”

    I funadamentally disagree. (I’m confident Kathryn Cason would as well.) We could evaluate plenty of examples from history to distinguish the significance of the capability of political leadership. The current president in the US has destined his country to the Iraq war and in doing so has driven the US economy to recession and provided the catalyst for the current “energy crisis”. He has no energy policy. etc. etc. Bush, when compared to Clinton, or Kennedy is clearly less capable and the effects of this are visible. The lack of political will and leadership have clear effects notwithstanding the capability of the civil servants that work beneath political governance. The simple fact is the political willpower is paramount to the direction any country moves in.

    How significant was the capability of Churchill and FDR in the context of the second world war? Absent their leadership what direction would the free democratic world have been destined to? Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela can both be classified as political leaders. Their contributions to the values visible within democracies is immeasurable.

    Political governance is not unlike corporate governance. The Enrons of the corporate world are led by incapable leaders and are governed by inept boards. Alison Brause’s research has shown that the capability of presidential candidates and their ability to rationalize complexity is a major determinant in who gets elected. One would need to ask if the capability of the candidate is of no particular consequence why does the most capable get elected?

    I agree that stratified systems theory is not simple. The complexity of the theory probably requires abstract conditional or bi conditional processing to understand the relationships among major social and economic systems and the significance of Ian MacDonald’s values continuum and how it interrelates to social acceptance of systems theory is relevant. There is, at least to my mind, a distinction between expanding the essential concepts and obscuring the whole lot. An essential component in managing complexity is elevating the complex to a level of simplicity so that it offers meaning to those the system is being offered to.

  4. My “summary” of Stronger Political Management, can of course not do such a dense and well-thought out work justice. I am not surprised that you disagree with my oversimplification.

    I believe that the roots of the thinking of the group around Elliott, who worked with political work, built on his lucid descriptions about associations, their elected boards/councils and the employment hierarch that they set in place. Elliotts writings about associations in A General Theory of Bureaucracy is as relevant for businesses, universities, churches and politics.

    When Elliott wrote A General Theory he was probably mostly aware of the Canadian and British political systems. The US is so different. Many of us Europeans find it surprising that you elect officials to jobs where we would have high level employees accountable to a council or board. I do not want to imply criticism, all of us are used to what we have. We are used to systems where parties decide on policies and election platforms. That (fairly) coherent platform is then the basis for the government, local council etc. High-level professionals are then held accountable as to how they follow the policies, as described in A General Theory. For us the American system of personal election and accountability diminishes the role of party policies and general political direction.

    When you have directly elected officials doing what amounts to real jobs, then of course it is great if they have requisite capability. It then really conflicts with the democratic principle that anybody should be electable.

    When there is a strong professional body in place with highly capable employed managers, in e.g a national department or in a local council, then their work is to translate the political intentions into reality and inform the politicians of the dilemmas of implementation so that politics can be adapted to realities. This clarification of roles takes up much of Warrens book.

    What we can see in Europe is an americanisation of politics, by which I mean that politicians are to a higher degree taking decisions rather than expressing political direction. This reduces the requisite variety for the professional hierarchy to handle and exposes the fact that to few politicians have the requisite capability to take the decisions that they take.

    High profile organisations such as the National Health Service has always suffered from too intense political meddling and decision making.

  5. Post

    (Al’s a Canadian, OBTW. I’m the American!)

    Paul, I’m hearing that you’re making a distinction between an Executive function of an elected official and the Representative function. For example, the US President is elected but is really more of an Executive leader. He probably has some form of elected representative function but not much, I’d think. A Congressman is a Representative except with his or her own staff.

    It’s interesting if you think of the American penchant for making officials “accountable” through elections. We elect judges, sheriffs, etc., etc. One of the interesting things that I’ve discussed with Michael Bates, the political columnist in Tulsa, is how we have elected Mayors and then City Managers who are hired by the elected city board as if to correct for this problem.

    I think that Wilfred Brown would have certainly agreed with what Paul is saying. Policy is not an executive function except as Representatives of the shareholders and customers.

    Paul, didn’t you do seminars on government and levels of work in Sweden?

  6. Yes Forrest, I am making a distinction between the executive and the representative functions. Wish I had realized that I could have used those words to clarify.

    Since I went into consultancy about 20 years ago just over half my work has been in public service organizations. Initially state agencies and companies. In Sweden we have a unique separation on Executive and Representative at the national level. It all started in 1632 with the sinking of the ship Wasa. The king had ordered an extra deck to make the ship more magnificent, which destabilized it and it sank shortly after being put to sea. This lead to the creation of a defence procurement agency, which was to be held accountable for its actions. At a national level we have a fairly god separation of representative and executive. The representative lies in parliament, government and the departments. In international comparison departments are small as the executive all lies in agencies, with an accountable chief executive.

    At the local level we vote for parties, based on their election manifestos and they get seats on the local councils proportionally to their votes. In Warrens book he describes that their work is to work across factions and parties to create majorities for legislative or policy decisions. The council will select members to work in boards to lead the executive in special areas such as planning and building, schools, social services etc.

    This is where we also run into problems. Each board hires a chief executive, who hires employees. Executives are non-political. However, major decisions are always taken by the boards. The law governing this has its roots when municipalities were small, there were no hired executives. The board members did the work as trustees. As municipalities has merger into large units, professional staff has increased, executives employed, but the law has not changed much. So at the local level we have the problem of politicians not having the requisite capacity taking decisions that their executives would be better doing.

    My colleague Rolf and I did work with about 30 politicians in a county council/assembly, using Stronger Political Management as a base. It was the first time there had been any cross-party development program. They were very reluctant to even discuss the different roles of the representatives and the executives. Sweden is now in a period where counties are merging into regions. This ups the requirement to have high level executives in place, but that is made difficult by local politicians who enjoy the power of decision-making.

    I think that the system of direct elections of office-holders and actually holding them accountable only works in small communities, where ability and capability can be seen in direct observation.

    Many of us who have worked with Levels of Work/RO a long time in Sweden have spent considerable time working with the public sector, particularly state agencies, both as consultants and as employees.

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