Moving Folks from “Obedience’ to “Passion” – Gary Hamel’s Six Levels of Human Capabilities at Work

Hamel_Gary_speaker_w-bk_WhatMatters_470x352Every business wants employees who have world-class skills, who are well trained and eager to learn more.  Trouble is, obedience, diligence, and competence are becoming global commodities.  You can buy these human capabilities just about anywhere in the world, and in places like India and China, they can be bought for next to nothing…
If obedience, diligence, and knowledge are the only things you’re getting from your employees, your company will ultimately lose.
So we have to move up the capability pyramid.
Gary Hamel — What Matters Now:  How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation


I have recently revisited What Matters Now by Gary Hamel.  I am struck, again, at how simple, wise, and clear his “Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work” is.  (He first introduced it in The Future of Management).  It is meant to be read from bottom to top, and his major “separation” is between levels 3 & 4.

A Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work

Level 6:  Passion
Level 5:  Creativity
Level 4:  Initiative
Level 3:  Expertise
Level 2:  Diligence
Level 1:  Obedience

I think this:  The higher the hierarchy, the less control/oversight/managing is needed.  At the bottom, you need plenty of careful supervision.  At the top, you need to set people free.

So, here is my latest “elaboration” on Hamel’s hierarchy.  Again, read from the bottom:



Supervision Needed


Level 6 Passion Get completely out of the way, and watch with admiration.  Include this person in leadership and strategy sessions.  Tell others about this wonderful person and his/her work.  They will be writing articles about your leadership skills, that you are able to develop folks to their full potential; that you set people free to follow their passion. This person isn’t “working at a job” – this person is fulfilling a calling, with great, practically contagious, passion.
Level 5 Creativity Basically, “get out of the way” of this worker.  Give lots of freedom.  Now, this employee is almost a full colleague, equal to any “supervisor.” This employee is making changes that save the company time and money.  Others learn from this employee.
Level 4 Initiative Not much The employee does all of his/her work so very well, and looks for and finds additional ways to help the company thrive whenever he sees a problem or opportunity to tackle.
Now things get different!
Level 3 Expertise Occasional supervision needed – the supervisor can “relax” Work is done very well, at a fast pace, with almost no errors
Level 2 Diligence Attentive supervision – but not as great a need to “check work” The work is done more efficiently; with fewer errors/mistakes, and completed more rapidly
Level 1 Obedience Careful supervision – must “check” work Assigned work is accomplished

Now, as you think about these levels, you realize that there are still some jobs that can be filled with folks from the lower levels of the hierarchy.  That is ok.  A good, responsible, “show-up-on-time-and-get-it-done” worker is always valuable.

But if you don’t have people moving up the hierarchy, you either hire poorly and/or you train so very inadequately.  And if you have a steady stream of folks moving up, especially to the level 5 and 6 arena, then you are a pace setting company, worthy of emulation.

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  1. Pingback: Obedience to Passion | Management Briefs

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