For almost two decades, we have been helping clients define, develop and implement powerful organizational designs that help them to deliver their goals. In a recent conversation with a group of senior executives, I was reminded of the most critical element for making a robust design work: how managers operate in the new design. We call it Three-Tier Management.
It is not just the design of work, but how you work the design.
The basic unit of management is a three-tier system. Every manager two levels above a group of employees (the Manager-once-Removed, or MoR) designs the work system two levels down. The MoR is also the accountable mentor to assist in developing employees two levels down for different or more complex work, and to ensure they receive fair and equitable treatment from their managers. Every manager is the accountable coach to help direct reports perform effectively in their current role over time.
Yes, the foundation is the shiny new structure based on proven principles of how human organizational systems really work. But the real secret sauce for getting that design to deliver results, as intended, is a set of management practices and formal management accountabilities that strengthen how the structure is supposed to operate.
This drives the engagement, retention and strong culture to deliver and sustain superior performance. It develops a connection that is stronger than one-layer sharing of information and feedback. Three-Tier Management is a foundation for better communication up and down the whole organization. The message is not easily lost, filtered, watered down or just plain changed. This results in clearer performance expectations, better talent selection and placement decisions, and deeper trust among colleagues.
Think of it this way…If you moved from driving a pick-up truck to a sports car, would you drive differently? The two systems have the same levers for action and performance: gas pedal, gearshift, brakes, clutch, and steering wheel. But it takes different driving styles to get the most out of them. Even on the same road. And driving style that is fit for purpose of the design, which is in turn fit for purpose of the racecourse, will often determine who is first and best to win the prize.
With a better design, you will also need some different formal managerial leadership practices and use of Three-Tier Management to achieve the desired results.