There is a very short list of contributions made in the 1950s that remain relevant, which stands to reason. The pace of change in the last six years (let alone the last 60) has relegated most of what was considered cutting edge during the Eisenhower administration obsolete in the “here and now.”
Not so for the levels model developed by Harvard professor Robert Katz in 1955. Beyond graphic enhancements that have transported us from chalk boards in classrooms to screens on mobile devices, Katz’s depiction of organizational landscape, in combination with the skills needed to succeed, has proven to be ageless.
The Levels Model
- Nonsupervisory – This is the base or the foundation of the organization. The comparatively large number of nonsupervisory employees who do the work the organization exists to do
- Management – These are the people in the middle. This includes first levels of supervision and sometimes several tiers of “middle managers” responsible for the productivity, engagement and retention of the people doing the work
- Executives – These are the comparatively few that occupy the top tier in the organization accountable for developing, orchestrating and implementing viable competitive strategy
- Technical skills – The ability to leverage knowledge, methods, techniques equipment, etc. and deliver targeted results at a sustained and acceptable level. If you want to succeed in a nonsupervisory capacity, you need to excel at the technical aspect of your craft
- Human skills – Intuition, judgement and demonstrated courage in working with and through others to achieve performance objectives. Mangers are distinguished based on their ability to consistently execute these skills
- Conceptual skills – The ability to accurately interpret complex organizational and market dynamics, then make decisions that secure desirable competitive standing. Executives are measured on their ability to “read these tea leaves” and respond accordingly
Focus for a moment on points 1 and 2 on the model above.
There is irrefutable research that suggests roughly 70 percent of the reason nonsupervisory employees are promoted to their first job in management rests with their comparative mastery of technical skill. This trend passes the commonsense test and is unlikely to change any time soon (e.g., what are organizations supposed to do, promote people that have proven they don’t know what they are doing?). But …
- Have you ever seen a truly gifted athlete that went on to become a mediocre coach?
- How about a record-breaking sales person that was an absolute nightmare as a sales manager?
- A top-notch surgeon that wound up running a hospital into the ground?
Of course you have! It’s a recurring irony. The talent you display in one role positions you for a promotion to another, and then can wind up at the core of your struggles once you get there.
Much is the same with the senior-level manager who can readily point to a career of documented success and aspires to occupy a seat at “the big table” with an office just down the hall in the c-suite. Again, ironically, and in words brilliantly captured by Marshall Goldsmith years ago, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There!”
In that context and beyond the snapshot intuition of the Katz framework (“here’s how organizations work”) lies the strategic fulcrum of its continued utility. It is a timeless blueprint for both individual and organizational development.
- Use the levels model by Katz to identify where you are in your career and where you would like to go.
- What skills do you currently exhibit that are readily transferable?
- What skills do you need to develop?
- Who has the ability to help you turn your aspirations into your future reality?