A Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work

I first came across this framework by Gary Hamel in his book What Matters Nowand fell in love with it instantly.  

For me, it immediately captured the breadth of human potential at work.  A kind of management roadmap for creating high performance, engagement and wellbeing.

Hamel describes it as his version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs –  except rather than human needs – it’s the human capabilities required for building a winning organisation.  

So What Are These levels?

Levels 1 – 3 

  • Obedience – employees who show up daily and follow the operational rules and regulations of the organisation.  This is essential for creating safe, efficient, scaleable operations.
  • Diligence – employees who work hard, take personal responsibility for delivering great results and stay until the job is done.  Again, another critical component for high performance.
  • Expertise – highly skilled employees who are masters of their craft and hungry to learn more.  

Hamel makes the case that while – obedience, diligence and expertise – are all critical capabilities to have, they alone are not enough to win in this age that we’ve come to call the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0.  And while we as managers may fundamentally know this, the question then is what to do about it?   

That’s the beauty of this framework.  The answers are here.  To create greater value, we as managers need to move up the capabilities pyramid to:

Levels 4 – 6

  • Initiative – employees who proactively take action, solve problems and pursue opportunities without waiting to be told what to do or feel bound by the limits of their job description.
  • Creativity – employees who continuously look for new and better ways of doing things, who question the status-quo and are constantly scanning their environment for new ideas.
  • Passion – employees who are inspired, driven and fully engaged with the organisation’s mission and to making a positive difference in the world.

To thrive in Industry 4.0, Hamel argues that it’s these higher human capabilities of – initiative, creativity and passion – that we as managers need to cultivate and draw out of our people.  It makes sense, we’re dealing with a pace of unprecedented change and complex problems that requires everyone’s collective engagement and brain-power.

The Catch

These higher capabilities of – initiative, creativity and passion – cannot be commanded.  They are what Hamel calls “gifts” – that people freely choose whether or not to bring to their work and to what intensity.  They require a management style that is fit for purpose.  

They require that we change from a command and control to a coach and cultivate management style.  And while great strides have been made by many organisations in their commitment to creating a coaching culture, many managers still today identify coaching as a skillset that they struggle with – citing that it doesn’t feel natural to them, or that it takes too long, or that it feels too risky or it feels like an abdication of their responsibilities. And so in lies the catch.  As managers we need to ask ourselves what is more important to us – our comfort or our results?   

To get as sense as to whether or not your management style is fit for purpose for leading in today’s disruptive world ask yourself:  On a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being excellent – How good am I at:

  • Initiative – Creating a team environment that encourages, rewards and empowers people to take initiatives they believe in for the benefit of the organisation?  (Or – Do I need to control every new initiative?)
  • Creativity – Listening to, encouraging and investing in new ideas that challenge the status-quo and stretch my thinking?    (Or – Do I feel threatened or distracted by other people’s ideas?) 
  • Passion – Inspiring, communicating and reminding people of the importance of their work and of the invaluable contribution they are making to the organisational goals?    (Or – Do I assume that people know I value them? )

If your self-assessed scoring is less than 5 for any of the above, then I would strongly encourage you to invest in your skills development.  Your future success as a leader and your ability to deliver results through others will be highly dependent on these people skills.

The Gifts

All these “gifts” of –  more initiative, more creativity, more passion are all there waiting for us. As managers, it’s a wonderful position to be in.  But these human capabilities that matter the most will require a fundamental shift in how we manage.  It’s for these reasons that we created our Leading High Performance Teams and Manager as Coach programmes.  If you like to learn more about these programmes you can do so here.

Wishing you well,


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