Rotary management: the next big thing

I confess: I am not actually a management consultant.

However, I have invented a new theory of management, which I call the rotary system. My prediction is that rotary management will take the world by storm. The French will adore it, the Chinese will export it, the British will borrow it, the Israelis will adopt it as standard military procedure, the EU will define it as an environmental safety regulation, and the IRS will insert it by reference as Form 1337.

The rotary system separates all employees into two types, which it calls the stators and the rotors. Stators are normal employees as you would find at any other company. What makes the rotary system superior is its use of rotors, who practice customer-driven positional rotation.

Needless to say, I am currently seeking vital intellectual-property protection on the rotary system. Just this week we’ve filed in Malawi and Antigua—I’ll bet they still think just one person writes this blog… ha—QM And CDPR is the principal claim. So you’ll understand if I am a little vague about some of the more technical aspects of the design.

But I can talk about the basic features of the system. Again, people, this is my property. Please don’t try to use the rotary system yourself. You will probably do it wrong, and someone will get hurt. At least contact me first. My fees are not excessive.

The premise of the rotary system is that, at any large company, you have a class of generalist managers who can occupy any important position. Top management is fungible. As John Sculley proved, selling soft drinks is an excellent preparation for running the world’s leading computer company.

Therefore, rather than a rigid hierarchical process for promoting managers, we can nurture these generalists by rotating them in office. Rotation keeps managers from overspecializing, and more important, it breaks up the little cliques and empires that form in every office.

And even more important, rotation gives us a way to involve the customers in the process of management. Customer-driven rotation is a critical competitive advantage for the new sustainable enterprises that will compete and win in the 21st-century global market. Whatever your business is, you’ll find that giving customers a voice in management makes it more efficient and responsive. In the 20th century they used to say “the customer is king,” but as we’ll see, in the rotary system the customer almost literally is king.

One of the basic insights of rotary management theory is that there are two types of people: specialists and generalists. These are basic personality types—S and G. Like Myers-Briggs, but with only one letter.

In the old days, people tended to move back and forth between specialist and generalist roles, or advance from specialist to generalist positions. We see a lot less of this now, and for very good reasons. The rotary system makes this division scientific by separating the personality types into career tracks. When an employee starts with the company, he or she is coded either S or G, and this code is permanent. Personality tests, of course, are ideal, but another easy way to assign S or G codes is by race, religion, or national origin—for example, all Germans might be G, all Shiites might be S, and so on. A little touch of whimsy goes a long way here.

However you do it, every S is a stator and every G is a rotor. The rotor and stator tracks must be separate. No one who has ever worked as a stator can become a rotor, or vice versa. It’s sort of like the difference between a doctor and a veterinarian.

To use the rotary system, start by hiring a good-sized pool of rotors, always people who have strong liberal educations (never advanced technical or scientific degrees), and have worked in other fields, at nonprofits, in law or medicine, or in any other role either unskilled, unmanaged, or both. A rotor must never have held any statorlike position. The generalist mind is delicate. Any hint of specialization ruins it.

The rotary system manages stators in more or less the same way as 20th-century corporate employees. They are salaried, they have formal grades or ranks, and HR must initiate or at least approve all promotions. All stators hold their positions indefinitely, and change jobs only at their discretion or that of their supervisor.

Rotors are salaried as well (there are no “options” under the rotary system, nor is anyone paid by the hour or piece), but they have no formal ranks. Pay is by position. However, rank can usually be inferred from a rotor’s salary and/or responsibility. A rotor’s importance is defined by the importance of his or her position. A rotor with no position is returned to the rotor pool, in which he or she receives no salary at all, but is allowed to engage in external freelance consulting. Obviously, attrition in the pool is high, which keeps rotors focused on success.

Responsibilities are defined as follows: the rotors are always on top. Except in the special case of inspection (see below), no stator ever gets to tell a rotor what to do. No position fluctuates between stator or rotor: each job is always one or the other. And the rotor thickness is one. There is never any direct administrative relationship between any two rotors. No rotor can be the supervisor of another rotor, at least not officially, although informal relationships will of course form.

The company assigns rotors to their jobs in a very special way. Rotors rotate in office. This is the secret of the rotary system. (Of course, it’s not a secret now. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t proprietary technology. If you think you can just copy my invention—think again, buddy.)

Every rotary position has a formal period at which the rotor who occupies the position is, or at least can be, replaced. Periods are typically a small number of years, such as two or four. Depending on how the rotary system is installed (ideally, it should be integrated with your ERP system), it may or may not limit the number of consecutive periods for which any one rotor may be reappointed, but the simplest approach is to just disallow reappointment.

For each rotary position, at each period expiration, your HR department will produce a list of candidates, all of whom are rotors and present employees of the company. The individual rotors who hold these positions will then be chosen by a process of customer selection.

Customer selection is exactly what it sounds like. The goal of the rotary system is to produce a truly customer-driven enterprise. It proposes a simple solution to this problem, which for some reason has been overlooked: allow the customers to select the management.

Because HR chooses only qualified candidates, there is no danger whatsoever that anyone who is not qualified will be selected for the position. Quite the contrary! Rotors will compete on the basis of their ability to satisfy the customer’s needs. Obviously, an uncompetitive candidate, if one somehow slips past HR, will be unlikely to fool the eagle-eyed customer.

Successful rotors will have to demonstrate a commitment to customer service—to the customers themselves. They will be chosen by those who feel the results of their work. If Starbucks, for example, starts selling burned, watery espresso—oh, wait! They do sell burned, watery espresso. That’s probably because they don’t use the rotary system.

A customer is anyone who benefits from the company’s work. It’s important to use the widest possible definition of this term. Employees are customers too, for example. Stockholders are certainly customers. Any employee of any supplier or distributor is a customer. Any direct family member of a customer is a customer. And so on. Basically, a customer is what corporate governance experts call a stakeholder—anyone to whom the company’s activities matter.

Each customer gets one loyalty point. In the rotary system, customer selection is a human process. As the inventor of rotary management, I absolutely reject the idea of varying loyalty points by stakeholder importance—whatever that might even mean. When any position’s rotary period expires, the company conducts a selection, and the candidate rotor who receives the most loyalty points has the job for the next period.

Under the rotary system, all company employees are assigned to one of three arms, whose roles are defined as execution, standardization, and inspection. Basically, the execution arm performs the actual functions of the company, the standardization arm sets the procedures by which it operates, and the inspection arm makes sure the standards are followed.

Most stators work for the execution arm, which is headed by a single rotor, the Primary Rotor. The P-Rotor is the rotary system’s equivalent of a CEO, or at least the closest equivalent. Unlike a CEO, the P-Rotor has no control over standardization or inspection.

There are two classes of stators in the execution arm: staff stators and line stators. Staff stators are selected by the P-Rotor personally, at his or her own discretion. Line stators (most stators are line stators) are selected by HR. You can think of a staff stator as almost a sort of sub-rotor, although again, no one who has ever been any kind of stator can become a rotor. However, it’s unusual for a stator to move between staff and line roles.

Again, the P-Rotor and all stators in the execution arm are subject to full standardization and inspection. This is one of the main advantages of the rotary system: all work is standardized and inspected, ensuring a completely customer-driven enterprise.

Standardization is controlled by a large body of rotors called the Committee. The Committee, which should have at least fifty rotors, and may scale up to hundreds, drafts and enacts standards for all company procedures. All employees in the execution arm must comply with all Committee standards. Needless to say, unstandardized execution is undesirable.

Committee rotors (C-rotors) all have the same job title and status. They are selected by different segments of the customer base. For example, if you produce computers, you might have one C-rotor for the education market and another for the adult entertainment industry. Obviously, these are very different points of view. The purpose of the Committee is to make sure all these views are heard, and all are taken into account when standardizing procedures.

Each C-rotor has a small group of staff stators, and HR also assigns some line stators to serve the Committee. However, since obviously the Committee is not directly involved in execution, keeping it lean and mean minimizes overhead.

The Committee can standardize anything. All execution procedures are under its supervision. If it wants to require all stators in the execution arm, or even the P-Rotor himself, to keep all pens on the left side of their desks, it may do so. Since the Committee is selected by the customers, any such procedure is almost certainly necessary for customer satisfaction.

Ensuring compliance with Committee standards is the task of the Inspectors. The Inspectors have a very unique role in the rotary system: they are stators supervised by no rotor. Even the highest Inspectors, the Inspector-Councilors, are stators.

There are only a small number of Inspectors, and they are not subject to the ordinary stator personnel system. Instead, Inspectors are selected personally by the P-Rotor (and staff), and the selection must be approved by the Committee. Their positions are permanent.

The role of the Inspectors is to decide whether or not the execution arm is following the procedures set by the standardization arm. Inspectors may order any employee of any arm, rotor or stator, to comply with any command. Noncompliance is grounds for termination.

Decisions of lower-ranking Inspectors can be appealed to a higher-ranking Inspector. At the top level, appeals are heard by the Inspection Council, a small panel of exceptionally distinguished Inspectors.

The decision of the Council is final. The size of the Council is fixed, and it is odd, so that there are no ties. It should be less than ten, but no less than eight. When an Inspector-Councilor dies or resigns, the P-Rotor and Committee must select a replacement as soon as possible, so that the inspection arm functions normally, but when vacancies result in a tie, the decision of the lower Inspectors stands.

The inspection arm is small, but it employs a few staff and line stators in the usual way. Staff stators in the inspection arm are, unlike stators elsewhere, eligible for Inspector positions. All administrative matters in the inspection arm are handled by the Chief Inspector, who is one of the Inspector-Councilors (although his opinions carry no special weight).

Ideally, if the rotary system is applied fully, these personnel categories will be reinforced by a comprehensive sumptuary code, with distinctive and easily recognizable uniforms for all classes of stator and rotor. These will prevent confusion.

For example, line stators in the execution arm might wear gray, darkening with rank. Staff stators of the P-Rotor would look good in red, and the P-Rotor himself could wear scarlet trimmed with ermine. Aquamarine dishdashas or “man-dresses” seem fitting for C-rotors, with their staff stators in close-fitting blue jumpsuits. Inspectors, I think, should wear only robes of the severest black, with no distinction in rank except for the Chief Inspector—on whose robe a little gold braid would be very fetching.