Time Span of Discretion

The Benefits of Understanding this Concept:

  • You will have a generic, apple-to-apples measure of job complexity.
  • You will be able to compare the relative weights of unrelated jobs – between an organization’s departments, between competing firms, merging companies, or between jobs within completely different industries or countries.
  • You will have an objective basis for structuring your compensation system.

Just as temperature provides us a universal scale for measuring any substance’s degree of warmth, time span provides a scale for measuring the complexity level of any given job. Most people have an intuitive sense of this, knowing a cashier position is less complex than a bank president’s role; however, an objective measurement system is not commonplace within organizations.

Until now, organizations have relied on complex, time-consuming observation techniques performed by organizational psychologists and consultants to gauge the complexity level of jobs. Unfortunately, these assessments still suffer from a degree of subjectivity and must be performed on each individual role which proves to be an overwhelming and costly proposition for most companies.

Using time span measurements, PeopleFit can train you to determine the complexity level of roles easily and consistently. This knowledge is invaluable to those charged with selection, organizational design, compensation, employee development or succession planning.

Time span measurements are not only objective, but relatively simple and straightforward. It’s so uncomplicated that many doubt its validity. However, the concept is backed by decades of research including extensive validation studies conducted by the US Army Behavioral Research Center. A bibliography and time line of Dr. Jaques work is available in Adobe Acrobat format from the Requisite Organization International Institute.

Simply put, time span of discretion of the work in a role can be determined by identifying the longest task for which one is held accountable. If a role’s longest task is one-month task, the role has a one-month time span of discretion. All roles with a one-month time span of discretion are equally complex regardless of whether they are in the same department, organization or business sector. Roles with shorter time spans are less complex, and roles with longer time spans are more complex.

Time span of discretion = Length of the longest task = Complexity of work within a role

Consider this. When a manager is given tasks by his manager, he, in turn, doles out tasks to his subordinates. The tasks a manager delegates cannot span a longer time period than those for which he, himself, is responsible. If a manager’s longest task takes one year, he will not be assigning 18-month tasks to his subordinates.

One usually does not question that any given manager’s job is more complex than the job(s) of any of his subordinates. Given this example, it stands to reason that the longest task for which one is accountable gives a measure of the complexity of his job.

The following chart gives some job titles along with examples of the longest task that might be associated with that role.

Job Title Typical Longest Task for this Type of Role
Time Span
Organizational Stratum Level
Bank Teller Carry out transactions accuratrely so as to balance your drawer at the end of the day
1 day
Production Manager Recruit, hire, and train an inexperienced employee up to a minimum acceptable standard
4 months
Regional Training Manager Design and institute an On-the-Job Training program at multiple plants.
18 months
Director of Sales Change the culture of an organization from one of order-taking to suggestive selling. 3 years
Business Unit President Shift the focus of the company from current products to those which embrace an emerging technology.
7 years

Types of Work

Although time exists along a continuum, research has uncovered specific breakpoints along that continuum which separate varying kinds of work into layers or strata. To use another temperature analogy, take, for example, water or H2O, its components are always the same, but it
changes state from ice to water to steam consistently at 32 degrees and 212 degrees.

Work has also been found to exist in distinguishable states which stratify consistently at time spans of 3 months, one year and so on. Different types of increasingly complex work are called for by the jobs that fall into each stratum. Explanations for the various types of work follow in the chart below. Click here for more information on Role Complexity and Level of Work.

Common Job Titles at This Level Type of Work Required
Time Span Range
Organizational Stratum Level
Shop or Office Floor Follow predefined procedures. When an obstacle is encountered, seek help. No anticipation of problems is expected.
1 day – 3 months
First Line Manager District Manager Customer Service Mgr. Accumulate bits of information to diagnose and anticipate problems. Proactivity appears. Trends are noticed.
3 months – 1 year
Manager of Managers Regional Manager Create
a sequential plan of work with alternate paths to completion. First do
A, which will lead to B, which puts you into a position to do C.
Creation of new work begins here.
1 – 2 years
Director General Manager Integrate and oversee the work of departments within a function. Must balance resources between multiple serial projects.
2 – 5 years
Business Unit President, Large Corporate Staff VP Integrate
and oversee the work of functions within a business unit Able to
conceptualize and manage the bottom line of an entire business.
Optimizes a total business system.
7 years

Human Capability

Finally, not just anyone can work at any stratum level. Again, we all know intuitively that some people can handle more complex work than others, but we usually lack a vocabulary and measurement system to describe just how work varies and just who is capable of which kind of work.

Some people can reliably carry out procedures but do not yet have the ability to anticipate problems. Using the chart above, we could
describe this person as having potential capability at a stratum 1 level.

Someone who could write a sequential plan for creating and implementing a new software package company-wide would have potential capability at least at the stratum 3 level.

Matching People to Jobs

PeopleFit® can train you to determine the capability level of your employees and potential employees so that you can match them to jobs for which they are best suited!

Talent Management

As it turns out, one’s ability to handle complexity is not static. It matures with age in a predictable manner. A way to accelerate the maturation has not yet been found. Meaning, if one does not currently have the ability to handle complexity at the level required of a certain position, no amount of training, coaching, or personal will can change it. The person will simply be unable to do the work required by the job until he matures to that level over time. (See Role Complexity and Level of Work) For reasons not yet understood, some people mature to a higher level of capability by the end of their careers. This is why some people desire to move up the corporate ladder (high potential mode), and others are content to stay within one job throughout their career (expert mode). (See Progression Chart)

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