Types of organisational work

Organisational work can be broadly classed into four categories:

  • Process – work that needs to be completed in a defined manner to ensure consistency and repeatability, eg call centers, surveying, project management reporting.
  • Practice – work that requires people to use their judgement to determine the appropriate method of completing a particular task.
  • Discovery – innovative work that extends the range of available solutions within a field through invention or research.
  • Management – oversight and ongoing improvements of organisational work undertaken

Each type of work requires a different approach to staff retention:

  • Process work minimises dependencies on individual people by embedding knowledge into written procedures and other guides. Only situational knowledge is required to put the procedural steps into practice.
  • Practice work requires skilled people with a conceptual understanding of a field of work. The importance of retaining staff who perform practice work dependends largely on whether skills in the field are common or scarce.
  • Discovery work requires people with deep expertise in a field of work who often command a premium salary. Without access to people who can perform discovery work, innovation is virtually impossible. However, in many cases, organisations do not require permanent staff with these skills, with people recruited on a contractor or consultant basis as necessary. It is important that knowledge transfer takes place so staff incorporate any new practices or processes into their work.
  • Management work is driven by a person’s knowledge of the resources they are managing, and current organisational composition. Retaining managers with high-quality understanding of the organisation should be a priority since this takes some time to acquire. However, refreshing management perspectives through staff turnover or exposure to other work environments is important to prevent premature optimisation.

Finding the appropriate mix of organisational work is really important.

A high % of process work indicates an efficient organisation that is unlikely to be able to handle anything outside the ordinary (bureaucracy). A high % of practice work implies flexibility at the cost of efficiency (craftshop). A high % of discovery work implies innovation, but also potentially a lack of applications or unwillingness to reuse lessons learned from others (ivory tower/cowboys). And a high % of management work might imply a continual effort in trying to "process-ize" everything with a corresponding increase in organisational brittleness ("six stigma" as Dave Snowden might say).

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