What's Your Future?

One-half-by-two-by-three rule is key.

by Greg Hutchins

What's your future in quality? Where are you going in your company? What should you start doing right now if you don't know the answer to these questions? What follows will help you decipher the tea leaves or crystal ball of your career.

First a little background. The best companies seem to have a culture that thrives on change--technology, customer, system, competitor, and marketplace changes. The faster the rate of change, the more these organizations thrive. Change is used by these companies to maintain their competitive edge and enhance profitability.

85figure1_sm.jpg (9586 bytes)So what are companies doing? Companies want to focus on what they do best--their core competencies or core processes. They will outsource or assign as a supplemental project much of the work that doesn't fit or add value to their core competencies or critical processes. To operationalize this, more organizations are adopting elements of Charles Handy's work model (see Figure 1).

Handy is a well-known author, teacher, and broadcaster who focuses on changes in work, organizations, and the future of capitalism. I consider him to be the smartest of all the workplace gurus.

Handy coined the phrase "one-half-by-two-by-three rule of corporate fitness" more than 10 years ago.1 A workplace following this rule is characterized by half as many core employees on the payroll paid twice as much producing three times as much.

Think of a company organized around three concentric rings, as follows:

1. Inner ring. The inner ring, the organizational core, is composed of corporate insiders, managers, and professionals. They are the glue that holds the organization together and makes it grow.

These insiders may be highly trained entrepreneurs, executives, quality professionals, marketing strategists, engineers, and accountants who maintain the core organizational processes and sustain the institutional memory. These full-time employees define the organization's vision, mission, principles, culture, and ethics. This inner ring also determines the organization's core process competencies that distinguish it from the competition.

2. Middle ring. Project workers inhabit the middle ring, according to Handy. These people are contractors or temporary workers, either full or part time. I call them project people because they're mainly involved in discrete projects with a definite beginning and end.

These people offer marketable, transferable skills, knowledge, and abilities that add organizational value. These skills are portable and can be sold to the highest bidder. A person may become an itinerant professional selling his or her skills from employer to employer.

3. Outer ring. The outer ring is composed largely of interchangeable and disposable workers. These workers are often less-skilled service workers. Many handle the repetitive needs of the organization such as food service, administrative chores, or travel services.

So, what does this mean for you? Maybe nothing or maybe everything. Questions to ask yourself and even better, your boss, include:

  • Do you agree with Handy's one-half-by-two-by-three corporate fitness model?
  • Is quality a core process in your organization right now?
  • If not, where do you think quality in your organization is going in the next six months, year, and five years?
  • If you agree with the model, are you in the inner, middle, or outer ring?
  • If you're now, or going to be, a project or temporary worker, is that okay with you?
  • Where do you want to be in the organization?

The 1990s have seen an unprecedented number of mergers, acquisitions, and downsizings. And quality has become the job of every individual in an organization--not just one person or department.

Therefore, your future in quality almost surely depends on how you answer the questions above and how you prepare yourself for the workplace of the future. We've discussed how to do this in past columns and will continue to do so in future ones.


1. Charles Handy, Beyond Certainty: The Changing Worlds of Organizations (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1996).

GREG HUTCHINS is a principal of Quality Plus Engineering, a Portland, OR, process and project management company, and the author of Working It: The Rules Have Changed, available through ASQ Quality Press (item P740). He is a senior member of ASQ. Readers wishing to discuss quality profession and career challenges with Hutchins and other ASQ members should visit ASQ's members-only Web site at www.asq.org, then click on forums and follow the instructions to the career forum.

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