Task Relevant Maturity
A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing Swapnil Saykar, Head of Products, Amazon on my podcast. One of the questions that I posed to him was how does he draw the dividing line between him and his subordinate product managers on various tasks and responsibilities. That is when he mentioned about following the task-relevant maturity model from Andy Grove’s book, High Output Management.
It must have been the 20th time someone was talking about Andy Grove’s book on my podcast. All these years, I avoided reading the book because I did not think a managerial book written in 1983 would be of relevance in this day and age of flatter organizations. But when I couldn’t stop hearing about book any more, I gave in. I ordered myself a copy of the book and pored into it to find out what the fuss was all about.
The first thing reading the book made me realise that the basics of management remain largely unaffected.
But since this post is about task-relevant maturity, let’s remain focussed to just that.
What exactly is Task-Relevant Maturity? Andy defines Task-Relevant Maturity as:
“A combination of the degree of their achievement orientation and readiness to take responsibility, as well as their education, training, and experience. Moreover, all this is very specific to the task at hand, and it is entirely possible for a person or a group of people to have a TRM that is high in one job but low in another.”
Any given managerial approach is not equally effective under all conditions. Some researchers in this field argue that there is a fundamental variable that tells you what the best management style is in a particular situation. That variable is the task-relevant maturity of the subordinates, which is a combination of the degree of their achievement orientation and readiness to take responsibility, as well as their education, training, and experience. Moreover, all this is very specific to the task at hand, and it is entirely possible for a person or a group of people to have a TRM that is high in one job but low in another.
Sometimes, the personal maturity of an individual does not change, but his task-relevant maturity may change in a new job, new environment, content and tasks. The analogy that the book provides is that of a person with many years’ experience driving on small country roads being suddenly asked to drive on a crowded metropolitan freeway. His TRM driving his own car will drop drastically.
The conclusion is that varying management styles are needed as task-relevant maturity varies.
When TRM is Low
Specifically, when the TRM is low, the most effective approach is one that offers very precise and detailed instructions, wherein the supervisor tells the subordinate what needs to be done, when, and how: in other words, a highly structured approach.
This is the main mode for which modern management theory advocates — that of being a coach, rather than a hands-on manager. A coach provides encouragement and emotional support as a subordinate or teammate completes a task. The goal for the manager is to be an enabler and assist the subordinate to complete the task on their own by providing advice, support, and counsel. The manager should be clear regarding what is expected, but shouldn’t specify the how — she should leave the how up to the individual who will be completing the task.
Many managers automatically assume that they should play the role of coach in all situations. The key insight from Andy Grove is that the manager should only be the coach when the subordinate or teammate is at medium TRM. If they are not yet at medium TRM, the manager should provide a highly structured approach
When TRM is High
“As the TRM becomes even greater, the effective management style changes again. Here the manager’s involvement should be kept to a minimum, and should primarily consist of making sure that the objectives toward which the subordinate is working are mutually agreed upon.”
As the TRM of the subordinate grows, the most effective style moves from the structured to one more given to communication, emotional support, and encouragement, in which the manager pays more attention to the subordinate as an individual than to the task at hand.
In this situation, the manager should spend most of the time up front developing mutual agreement with the subordinate or teammate on the goals. Once the goals have been agreed upon, the manager should play a relatively hands-off role while the subordinate completes the task.
As the TRM becomes even greater, the effective management style changes again. Here the manager’s involvement should be kept to a minimum, and should primarily consist of making sure that the objectives toward which the subordinate is working are mutually agreed upon.
But regardless of what the TRM may be, the manager should always monitor a subordinate’s work closely enough to avoid surprises. The presence or absence of monitoring, is the difference between a supervisor’s delegating a task and abdicating it.
The above framework can be summarised in this table:
Management Style and Managerial Leverage
The book talks about why supervisors should try to raise the task-relevant maturity of their subordinates as rapidly as possible for obvious pragmatic reasons.
The appropriate management style for an employee with high TRM takes less time than detailed, structured, supervision requires.
Moreover, once operational values are learned and TRM is high enough, the supervisor can delegate tasks to the subordinate, thus increasing his managerial leverage.
Finally, at the highest levels of TRM, the subordinate’s training is presumably complete, and motivation is likely to come from within, from self-actualization, which is the most powerful source of energy and effort a manager can harness.