The Twelve Organizational Capabilities: Valuing People at Work

Management consultant Bob Garratt told us that he wrote his latest book as ‘a counterblast to myopic thinking’ among senior managers in the quest for company efficiency.

Garratt shifts the focus away from the current vogue for downsizing and cost cutting, towards a value-system that preserves and encourages employees at all levels. Get employees doing what they are really capable of and you increase the firm’s capabilities, is his message.

Why is it worth reading?
This book, published in 2000, is potentially groundbreaking. In a quirky, readable – if a little over-cooked – style, Garratt has invented what he calls a ‘common language for organizing people’s capabilities’. He dismisses terminology such as ‘downsizing’ and ‘cost-cutting’, in favor of words such as ‘social lubrication’, ’emotional processes’ and ‘organizational effectiveness’.

In addition, Garratt argues that managers should check the performance of employees against twelve brand new criteria of value – his ‘organizational capabilities’.

Garratt’s new language articulates how well managers are exploiting the talents of every person on the payroll. Not only should business managers be nice to their staff in order to get the most out of them, their encouragement should be highly structured, formal, and recorded in a visible, tabular form. This approach has never been suggested before in this form, according to Garratt.

The Twelve Organizational Capabilities contains a fair degree of good-humored, offbeat, attention-grabbing stuff. One example is the curious image of Garratt’s journalist father being smeared with tar by his work colleagues, covered in feathers, and then rolled in a barrel along Fleet Street. The author uses this to illustrate how initiation rituals – however bizarre – are intended to make the newcomer feel part of the team.

Talking points
Any polemical book almost inevitably uses rhetoric that presents things in oversimplified black-and-white terms. And the world of management as Garratt sees it is mostly black – hence the need for his book to set things right.

If the reader can forgive Garratt for his bleak view of today’s corporate world, presented in the language of lament – ‘sadly, much of this…’ and ‘sadly, much of that…’ – then they will find that he has a lot of sensible things to say.

The best managers, he argues, balance a ‘hard’, impersonal style of management with a more ‘soft’ social and emotional approach. By harnessing Garratt’s twelve separate criteria of employee value – twelve ‘organizational capabilities’ – managers can monitor the effectiveness of their interpersonal style and keep tabs on the efficiency of their staff.

The twelve capabilities Garratt has come up with are all ‘measurable, quantitative and qualitative terms’ – that is, they provide a focused and dispassionate view of how valuable people in any firm actually are. ‘I have tried to show [how] to create the paradoxically emotionally freer, and yet more self-disciplined, twenty-first century organizations,’ Garratt reflects.

The organizational capabilities include:


    • ‘Clarity of Personal Responsibility’ – ensuring that top levels of management know what their staff’s jobs entail


    • ‘Personal Rewards’ – the degree of positive recognition bosses give their staff


    • ‘Group Performance Indicators’ – measuring group task success not only in ‘hard’ terms of end-results but also in terms of how the group has benefited the firm as a whole


    • ‘Learning Climate’ – where directors and the emotional climate of a firm encourage the systemized, organizational learning of all the issues important to the firm


If Garratt is right, managers are able to make their staff feel more valued by paradoxically breaking their contributions down to twelve organizational criteria, and sticking them ‘on the balance sheet’.

He wants to see managers record their ‘soft’ interpersonal relationships with staff in a formal, statistical, impersonal format – the tables, diagrams and quadrants that litter the pages of his book. But Garratt does not address the question that the increased levels of bureaucracy he is advocating could make people feel worse.

Garratt claims that because companies the world over have neglected to uncover the true value of their staff, efficiency has been under-maximized. In The Twelve Organizational Capabilities he sets out to give firms a methodology to find and record for the first time tangible criteria of employee – and by implication – employer capabilities.

‘Why is the statement that “our people are our greatest asset” one of the most common lies of working life? If people were truly valued as assets, they would appear on the balance sheet. They do not.’

Bob Garratt is an international management consultant and visiting professor in corporate governance at Imperial College, London. He is the author of several books on management strategies, including The Learning Organization.

The Twelve Organizational Capabilities: Valuing People at Work by Bob Garratt is published by HarperCollinsBusiness, ISBN 0 00 255870 X.


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