We all know there is a hierarchy in any organization. We hope this hierarchy is related to competency. One dimension of management competency that really matters has to do with the ability to scale one’s thinking.
At the lowest level, an individual is required to focus on a task. His challenge is simply to avoid distractions (work, friends, social media or otherwise) and complete his work on time with satisfactory quality.
The next level up the chain puts these tasks in the context of a project – a series of inter-related activities that result in a larger outcome. The longer the timeline and the more tasks involved, the more sophisticated the individual needs to be in their ability to manage.
The next rung up the management ladder is concerned about the plan that initiates all these projects. The plan coordinates multiple projects in order to achieve a higher-order objective that may have wider impact outside his functional area. It’s no longer just about what needs to get done but why it needs to be done.
At the top of the stack is the person who is responsible for the strategy that spawned all the plans. She is the person who leads the translation of external factors into internal initiatives. She is steeped in “why” rather than “how”.
Obviously this is a simplified view of organizational reality but the model is useful in a number of ways. First, it helps you calibrate your expectations from different levels in the organization and prepares you to provide the right type of coaching so each person can succeed. It also helps you identify those individuals who have mastered the competencies at their current level and are ready to step up to the next. Finally, by understanding the competency hierarchy in the organization, you can more easily isolate the points of failure that are interfering with achieving corporate goals.
As a final note, keep watch for those rare people who can move easily between multiple competency levels (ie. who can think strategically, pull together a plan, manage a project and focus on getting individual tasks done). These are your “go-to” people when you’re faced with major opportunities or threats.
By the way, just because there are multiple levels in the organization doesn’t mean one is better than another. Employees contributing at all levels are required for the organization to succeed (though in smaller organizations multiple levels can be compressed into those “go-to” people I just mentioned).
Here’s a little career planning game: place yourself in this hierarchy. What skills do you need to develop to take the next step?