Mike Jay asked this question in regard to last month’s blog (What if a manager does not want to follow RO guidelines? - Science and Engineering). In the spirit of last month’s blog, I would say that this is a question that is not asked frequently enough. It is very easy to accept an engineering template without asking for the scientific reasons behind it. Without understanding the science behind the rule, we cannot explain to our clients why they should pay attention to the rule and we run the danger of falling into dogmatism.
So let’s explore this question in the context of a Stratum-I-capable employee and see the difference it makes whether their manager is capable at Straight I or II. (I’ll address in a later blog what happens when the manager is capable at Stratum III.)
Because they have current potential capacity at Stratum I, the employee is capable only of declarative processing at the normal adult level. That is:
- they can declare one factor to justify a conclusion: “I believe he’s guilty because he has used this mode of operation before.”
- they can use one method to solve a problem: making a sale by building rapport with a prospect, or by helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, or by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems.
- they can serve one purpose at a time. They can provide efficient service or friendly service but not efficient and friendly service.
If the manager’s current potential is also at Stratum I, they too can only process adult-level information declaratively.
- They may have skills and knowledge that the employee is lacking, e.g. in how to build rapport better, and they will be able to observe how well the employee follows a given procedure. But they will not have a higher perspective on the employee’s abilities and ways of solving problems. And they may not be able to convince the employee that their method is really better than the one the employee is using.
- They may have learned a method, for example, to provide fast and friendly service which they can coach the subordinate on, but they would not be capable of devising such a method themselves.
- They could formulate a general, reasonable expectation for how much an employee can produce given their level of ability but could not form a reasonable expectation for how much an employee can produce given their level of ability and the conditions they are working in.
But if the manager’s current potential capacity is at Stratum II, they would also be capable of cumulative processing at the normal adult level. That is:
- they can accumulate a number of factors to justify a conclusion: “I believe he’s guilty because he has used this mode of operation before and he had a motive for doing it and he had the opportunity.”
- they can combine a number of methods to solve a problem: making a sale by building rapport with a prospect and helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, and by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems.
- they can serve more than one purpose at a time. They can provide efficient and friendly service.
Their Stratum-II capacity also enhances how they can manage.
- They will have a higher perspective on the employee’s abilities and ways of solving problems. They can see how the employee’s approach does not work within the current context and can explain to the employee why their current method is not succeeding. They may have skills and knowledge that the employee is lacking, but the major value they add as a manager stems from the higher perspective they have of the employee and their context.
- They may have learned a method, for example, to provide fast and friendly service which they can coach the subordinate on, but if they don’t, they can formulate one themselves.
- Their expectation of reasonable output is informed by the subordinate’s ability and by the context in which the subordinate works.
The advantage brought by their cumulative-processing ability extends to other managerial leadership practices. As just one example, a Stratum-II-capable manager can set better context than can a Stratum-I-capable manager. Cumulative-processing ability allows a manager to explain to their subordinates:
- how the work of Sandy and Lee and Leslie adds up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
- how the change in quality of raw materials and the change in consumer demands require a change in production methods.
There are several advantages of having a manager one stratum above the subordinate rather than a manager at the same level as the subordinate:
- Strategy is more likely to be implemented. The manager can better assess whether the employee’s work is actually on target in the current context, producing the results required by strategy.
- Work will be done more efficiently because the manager is better able to coach subordinate performance and can make more realistic expectations of output.
- Trust is enhanced because the subordinates more easily accept taking orders from someone they experience as adding value to their work.
It is understandable that executives wish to reduce the number of managerial levels in their areas. But if that reduction results in compression, in employees’ having managers who cannot process information at a higher level than the subordinate, the cost is the loss of managerial added value, and that threatens efficient and trustworthy execution of strategy.