As Leaders, We Each Have a Time Horizon We are Comfortable with…

As Leaders, We Each Have a Time Horizon We are Comfortable with…

In the 1960s, while consulting for a British factory, Elliott Jaques had a controversial insight: Employees at different levels of the company had different time horizons

Line workers focused on tasks that could be completed in a single shift; managers devoted their energies to tasks requiring six months or more to complete; Senior leaders and the CEO were pursuing goals over the span of several years.

Jacques’ Time Span of Discretion

Jaques said that just as humans differ in intelligence, we differ in our ability to handle timespans.

Each of us has a time horizon we are comfortable with, what Jaques called our “Time span of discretion”.  This term defines the timespan of the longest task this individual can successfully undertake.

Organisations recognise this: workers are paid hourly, managers annually, and senior executives compensated with stock options.

The following chart shows the type of work found at each Time Horizon:

Complexity Description of Capability Organisational Role
Most Complex
8
Construct and pursue world wide strategic plans in the largest of the world’s corporations.
Super Corporation CEO
7
Construct and pursue world wide strategic plans. Place businesses in the world.
Corporate CEO
6
Lead the accumulated impact of multiple business units.
Corporate EVP
5
Optimize the function of a single business unit or corporate support staff.
Business Unit President
4
Manage multiple, interdependent serial projects. Balance resources among a number of departments.
General Manager
3
Plan and carry out sequential projects while considering contingencies and alternatives.
Regional Manager or
Manager of Managers
2
Accumulate bits of information to diagnose and anticipate problems. Proactivity appears. Trends are noticed.
First Line Manager Supervisor
Least complex
1
Follow predefined procedures. When an obstacle is encountered, seek help. No anticipation of problems is expected.
Shop Floor Operator
Clerk/Cashier
Teller

The Challenge: 100 Year Problems in a 4 Year System

Our current leadership promotional systems require you first to be successful at annual or 4 year timespans before you can move into the positions that allow you to set 50 or 100 year strategy.  Politicians have 4 years to deliver an impact (and 12 months to run a campaign).  Divisional managers have 1-3 years to deliver an impact if they are to be considered for 20-50 year strategic decision roles.

Climate change and Peace between warring nations are so difficult to resolve because we have a political system that elects 4 year thinkers when we really need 20 to 50 year thinkers in office.

PS What’s your time horizon?  Let me know in the comments below 😉

What do you think? Let me know you were here ;-)

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