There are many different criteria for assessing the various types of managers in an organization. An interesting challenge is how you consistently compare different types of managers in the same organization. In other words, is there one criteria that can be used to assess everyone? The question is important because the answer affects how we view organization structure.
For example, what makes a vice president different from a director, or what makes a director different from a manager? Is it because one level is more skilled than another? Skill assessment can be subjective, thus making it difficult to create consistency. Moreover, different levels require incomparable skills. For example, customer responsiveness skills are required for a call center representative; personnel management skills are needed for the call center manager.
Could we assess management types by determining whether one level is more politically savvy than the other? Does the vice president need to be a better diplomat than the sales manager? Yes, but does the sales manager need to have better selling skills than the VP? Neither of these skills provide a consistent way of assessing talent across all layers of management.
The problem lies in the idea that management has layers. Layers imply a two dimensional view of organizations: breadth and depth. That hardly represents the real world of human interactions. Any hierarchical view is static and successful organizations never stand still. Layers don't get work done because they don't capture the inexorable forward movement needed to sustain the life of the organization.
Looking forward to the future creates a common dimension. Every management role requires a time perspective. Each type of manager is differentiated by how far forward they need to think to get their job done. Time is the only dimension of management shared by everyone.
Think about a software company that produces tax reporting tools. A programmer in that organization is trying to complete a module by Monday. The project leader is trying to complete phase one of the project by month-end. The product manager is trying to get the annual release to customers before tax season starts at the end of the quarter. The director is planning the upgrades for next year's version of the product, and the vice president is planning a new business to spin off when the government revamps taxation legislation in three years.
Each job in this example is very different. Specific skills are quite different in each role, but each member in the organization is consistently differentiated by their time perspective. The layers may exist, but they are irrelevant to the dimension of time.
Time transcends layers. To understand and compare various managers in an organization, think about management differences based on their time-frame accountability. Each management role looks at the same company from differing time lines. Ultimately, managers' ability can only be consistently assessed by the time horizon in which they plan and execute their work.