is levels of work an outdated concept?

Recently I engaged in an email exchange with Jurgen Appelo (author of Management 3.0 regarding levels of work. It was sparked by an email or tweet about some research Jurgen was doing on how to structure salaries and I asked if he had come across Jaques’ work on felt-fair-pay.

Jurgen had not seen this research but thought little of Jaques’ work in general – complete nonsense, old-school thinking etc were some of the comments. Being a fan of Jaques I of course had to probe to find out more. Like many of the detractors Jurgen had not read much of Jaques’ work and found the little he had read poorly written and not worthy of additional investment in time.

Fair enough regarding the writing piece, some of the material is hard to get through but there are plenty of resources that are better that could be used to understand the core concepts.

The exchange inspired Jurgen to write a blog post to which I of course had to post a reply.

Whilst I completely disagree with Jurgen about levels of work it did make me think about the changing nature of work and my recent readings on sociocracy. Our younger generations grow up in a world of collaboration and information sharing across borders and timezones. What impacts might this have on organisational structures and leadership moving forward? The sociocratic principle of decision making through consent for policy decisions is very appealing and I wonder if this is something we might see more of in the future. The function of management is essential in any purposeful system, but how that function is designed is the question. With Jaques it sits in specific roles, in sociocracy it works like this (from

“The sociocratic organizational structure distributes decision-making power to semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams called “circles.” Circles include all members of a work unit or department. Circle members function as equals in determining the policies that will guide their work.  These policies must be in harmony with those of the larger organization, and they guide the circle leader in making day to day operations decisions.

Circles are linked in a “circular” hierarchy that includes the whole organization. A circular hierarchy is one in which power flows from the top to the bottom and also flows the bottom to the top. This structure ensures the clear communications and control required for encouraging independent thinking, strong leadership, and unified focus on a mission.”

I don’t see a conflict with sociocracy and levels of work as the various circles can have different foci, some are operational and deliver value in the present, others focus on innovation and the top one on values which amongst other things means policy setting that sets the boundaries for policy in all other circles. The top circle can be compared with system 5 in VSM language in the highest level of recursion. The big difference is the process by which policy decisions are made.

I should also mention that I am generally a fan of Jurgen’s work and that we agree on many other topics. Jurgen is working hard to make organisations better which is an honourable quest indeed.

1 thought on “is levels of work an outdated concept?

  1. Pingback: Bye bye Elliot Jaques, it’s been fun but it’s time to part ways! | stefan norrvall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.