Lightbulbs hanging from ceiling

I’ll level with you: “Levels of Work” tips and traps

By Sam Robinson

A useful model that supports people to work well together in an organisation is the concept of “Levels of Work”. Familiar to many, it’s also one of the toughest things to grasp for people new to organisational theory (for an explanation, see the Systems Leadership: Creating Positive Organisations book).

Essentially, Levels of Work proposes that work differs in complexity in organisations and the predominance of a certain level of complexity determines the Level of Work. (When work tasks are grouped together, this is called a “role”.) By complexity, I’m talking about the range and degree of ambiguity in variables having an impact on decision-making.

If you’ve ever worked at different levels in a large organisation, there are plenty of examples you’ll be familiar with. The first entry-level job you had when you came into an organisation is likely to have had fewer variables and a shorter impact horizon for your decisions than your later, more senior roles. For example, someone working in a team on a construction site laying the foundations for a new building is performing different work to someone leading a construction crew and being concerned with things like materials being ordered on time, the well-being and productivity of individuals, and the whole project moving forward as it should.

Levels of Work, once understood for the first time, is a real light bulb moment. Helping to shine a light on the actual value that an individual role should add to an organisation often entails reflection that opens a whole new world of understanding about work. For me, it helped me to understand my frustration with managers I’ve had in the past who dipped down and tried to work at “my” level.

But be careful.

A silhouetted group gather around an outcrop, the sun low in a yellow sky.

From Narrow to Innovative Leadership and Diverse Organisations

By Chally Kacelnik

At LKS Quaero’s Meeting the Challenge of Amalgamation forum in Sydney in February this year, speaker Jeff Tate shared insights from his extensive experience as a local government expert and former CEO of two South Australian Councils. Listening to Jeff, I was interested in how he tackled gender imbalance in leadership roles when he was a CEO.

I caught up with Jeff after his talk and asked how he found a solution for something so pervasive and that affects people’s whole career paths.

The answer was really simple: you choose candidates based on their skills and capabilities, not a narrow range of previous job titles. You pick the person who’s best for the job, who is not always the person who has had the most normative career path.

This means that you get the right people in the right roles, with a range of life experience and ideas, and you get a more robust, more interesting organisation. In fact, you can apply this sort of thinking to many things in organisational life. If you critically examine your assumptions rather than retreating to the safety of what’s always been done before, you end up with the best possible organisation. This can’t be done by only looking at what’s already been done, but by considering all the possibilities.

So why do we make assumptions about people’s value that limit both people and organisations?

Image of Chris Stratten

Council Transition Support Expert Interview: Chris Stratten, human resources/organisational development expert

LKS Quaero is offering a complete package of Council Transition Support for amalgamating NSW Councils. This is the last in a series of interviews in which our transition expert team members pass on some key nuggets of advice.

Chris Stratten is an experienced HR and Organisational Development Manager of many years’ standing, with specialist knowledge of industrial relations matters. He is an experienced manager of change in both public and private sector organisations in areas including HR/OD diagnosis and strategy development, industrial/workplace relations, leadership development and coaching, and service delivery analysis. Here is his advice for HR/OD managers of amalgamating Councils.

What are the key human resources/organisational development challenges for amalgamating Councils in NSW?

One of the things that many organisations stumble upon is the engagement process. Most of the time, managers get around the room and decide on a plan of action, but fail to establish a robust engagement process. This should involve both engagement within management and engagement between management and staff. I call it engagement, not communication, because it has to go both ways. The organisation has to get feedback from unions, staff, management, and the community. There has to be good planning for how the organisation engages with these stakeholders and how to get their concerns noted and readily addressed. From an HR viewpoint, HR traditionally has to pick up a lot of mess because this is not done well up front. All messages need to reach employees and other stakeholders in a readily understandable way, not just reach the leaders.

The amalgamation process needs to be managed by a team, and the HR manager needs to be part of that team throughout that process, on both the engagement and leadership sides. They need to have carriage of establishing and monitoring the engagement processes. HR managers should also be there in order to ensure that industrial instruments are adhered to – in an advisory capacity to the leadership team, not as the leader. This is vital for ensuring that decisions are made with understanding and ownership of the line management.

Close up of a monthly planner open on a desk, with blurry writing.

How Important is Planning to Success, Really?

By Graeme Cotton

We have all heard the adage that failing to plan is planning to fail. Is this true? Do we spend too much time on planning? Scrum co-creator Ken Schwaber has said that the reason for him creating the Scrum concept was the number of times project teams used a Gantt chart in an effort to ensure the project ran on time and to budget, only for 100% of them to fail to achieve the majority of these targets.

With businesses making decisions every day based upon their plans and investors investing in companies based upon those companies’ plans, surely there is no doubt that planning is a crucial element to their success? Strategic planning is a requirement for the world of business, never more so than now with a rapidly changing global landscape and a political world full of indecision. The real question is: how well do we really do it?

A sporting team in English colours huddles together.

How do you create the right culture to succeed?

By David Gourlay

Systems               Symbols               Behaviour           Leadership

Four simple words, but all of them simply have to be “nailed on” to achieve that winning culture!

Sport is always a trusty analogy when it comes to writing about business culture, so let’s consider the fate of two of Rugby’s powerhouses at the Rugby World Cup. As the fallout from England’s World Cup started, Head Coach Stuart Lancaster made no secret of his attempt to emulate New Zealand and his focus on building the right “culture,” on the premise that if you get things right off the pitch the rest will take care of itself… apparently not!

Most of us have worked in businesses that claim to have a great culture, but somehow something isn’t quite right, whether it’s a frustrating process, an outdated finance system, some annoying bureaucracy, or just a general feeling of disquiet around the office. Or maybe the processes and systems have just had a multi-million pound makeover but the frustration is arising from poor leadership or some dominant behaviours within the organisation that are both unproductive and disruptive.

Either way, you have a problem! How often is there a major investment in creating improved and more efficient systems and processes, without an improved culture magically appearing? And how often can you have great leadership and behaviours that are undermined by poor systems and processes?

JKF writing at his desk.

Lessons from Camelot

By Aidan Rave

Ted Sorensen’s seminal biography of JFK, written by the president’s closest and most trusted advisor only a few years after the grim events in Dallas in November 1963, offers a rare and unique insight into the workings of the presidency that came to be known as ‘Camelot’.

Of particular interest is a chapter devoted to the period of transition between Kennedy’s election victory in November 1960 and his inauguration and formal assumption of office in January 1961. During these three frenetic months, Sorenson describes how over a thousand government posts were filled, ranging from key cabinet positions through to junior advisors.

Each post needed to be balanced against the oft-competing demands of politics and the effective administration of the executive branch, requiring the recruitment team to know when to compromise and when to expend political capital and remain steadfast in the face of opposition. Despite the many challenges – US politics was no less partisan back in the 1960s than it is now – there is a clear sense throughout that Sorenson and his team were recruiting against a mission underpinned by a successful election campaign, subsequently set out so eloquently in Kennedy’s inaugural address.

Each appointment, be it political or administrative, was governed by an unambiguous credo. Even appointments that were intensely political in nature were still ultimately made to contribute to this overall purpose. There was also a palpable sense that the assembling of a new administration was in preparation for the work to come and not an end in itself, given that nothing was “real” until the formal handover in late January.

Contrast this with the nature of Organisational Development frequently observed in so many modern-day organisations. Too often, the ubiquitous “organisational restructure” is undertaken in a ritualistic manner based on the arrival of a new chief executive or in response to a crisis or opportunity rather than in response to a clear mission and ‘to do’ list.