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The rule of the thirds; how to assess roles in a department

How can one imagine a better organisation for the future with fewer roles? I developed the 'rule of thirds' after proving it across several technology organisations in very different industries. It can be used to reduce costs through role reductions and apply to evolving an organisation's capability.

Roles generally align to:

  • Technically critical: Roles that are technically critical will support key technologies; however, avoid ring-fencing multiple roles. The reality is that a lot of technology is now being automated, which presents opportunities to rationalise multiple roles in the same area.

  • Leadership critical: This is not about senior leaders, it is about key leadership roles within the organisation. Some roles may not manage people but could offer thought leadership or capability (e.g., Commercial Manager, Business Analyst, and Risk and Control Manager).

  • Additional roles: These are the roles that are involved in the work but are not critical to it. They ‘swim with’ initiatives rather than being ‘key’ to them and potentially increase the drag on initiatives through additional conversations that offer limited value. They may be involved due to their legacy technology knowledge rather than current knowledge, and their involvement is habitual rather than critical.

As you embark on this activity, go deeper than you think may be necessary. When analysing the possible roles that are no longer relevant, consider this as an opportunity to improve the capability of the organisation. Removing a third of roles at one time is challenging; however, removing 10–20% of roles and replacing the remaining 5–10% with the right positions is like lightening the load and adding a turbo.


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