How to spot what’s in charge at work


Seth told us today how to tell who is important in an organization by using coloured badges.

In an important project his company had worked out the “critical path”, the things that had to be done before anything else could be done.

For example, when making a cup of tea you should get the water in the kettle before you put the teabag into the teapot, because everything depends on how fast the water boils, so get the water boiling ASAP. Once that water is in the kettle you have a gap to put the teabag in the teapot. There’s the critical path.

Here’s Seth to explain more!

I went out and got some buttons–green and red. The deal was simple: If you were on the critical path, you wore a green button. Everyone else wore red. When a red button meets a green button, the simple question is asked, “how can I help?”.
The president will get coffee for the illustrator if it saves the illustrator three minutes.
In other words, the red button people never (ever) get to pull rank or interrupt a green button person.

This is a nice way of spotting who is doing the work that matters to the customer, or rather WHERE the work that matters is being done. Work not residing in an individual.
It neatly divided up the work into two types.
One is the core work, what everything is FOR. Making burgers, Jaguar cars or helping children learn to read. If you put burgers together, make parts of Jaguar cars or help children to read, you’re on the core work.
The other is support work, whatever is needed by people doing the core work to help them to do it at all or do it better. If you clean up in the burger shop, buy the bits that go into a Jaguar car or are the Head teacher of a school that teaches children to read, you’re probably support.
Core, and support.


But hang on Seth, what do you mean ‘pull rank’? The colour badges are the rank. Who is doing the work that creates value for a customer and solves their problems, that’s how you can tell who needs help and from who. That’s the ‘rank‘ right there. They’re in charge, in charge of doing the value work.

This is two worldviews colliding, the colour badges that show the value of the work, and the job rank of people which…doesn’t.

This is a handy heuristic.

A handy heuristic

If everything points towards the core work of the organization, and people who do it, then purpose is in charge.
If it doesn’t, then it isn’t.

This entry was posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, purpose, systems thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to How to spot what’s in charge at work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s