A Requisite Organization is a Network Hierarchy

E. Forrest Christian Theory 2 Comments

Network hierarchy diagram.

Network hierarchy diagram

I am going out on a limb here and make a totally unsupported guess: Elliott Jaques’s Requisite Organization Hierarchies can be interpreted as Networks.

I think that the reason everyone has been talking about Markets, Hierarchies and Networks as separate classes has to do with how the first two have been implemented and written about in the last 100-200 years. Although hierarchies have existed for eons (ancient Chinese history, anyone?), the Management Accountability Hierarchy is relatively new, barely more than 150 years old, depending on where you draw the line. Most of the writers seem to view hierachies as Command And Control systems, a place where the top tell everyone what to do and they do it with no deviation. This is simply the Tayloristic view.

Taylorism, of course, is the general theory of management espoused most famously by Taylor but also many others. It has that the workers are lazy and incapable of doing a good job. Work must be laid out in clear procedures that reduce the amount of time a job takes. Each worker is indistinguishable from the next and absolutely and thoroughly replaceable. This form of MAH is reductionist, as are almost all of the modernizing organizational forms. In Seeing Like a State, Scott argues (although probably not originally) that the nascent State had to make things easy to understand, to see. They made landownership rules consistent across all its domains so that taxing would be easier. Hyper-modernist took this ease-of-ruling idea and made it god; thus we got Le Courbusier. The difficulties inherent in humanity were architected out. Taylorism took the messiness of hierarchical arrangements, fairly inconsistent and varied across cultures (apparently) and rationalized it: that is, they made the hierarchy look the same in Kent as in Newark. This made producing standards of management easy.

Of course, the workers weren’t always too upset that the jobs had been “dehumanized” and rationalised. My grandfather was pretty happy that he could go to work in the mines full time after the ninth grade, because his father had died and as the oldest he had to provide for the other brothers and sisters. And his mother. These “any moron could to this” jobs were the backbone of the Northwestern Indiana economy, too, where illiterate in any language immigrants could get well-paying (albeit quite dangerous) jobs.

This rationalization of hierarchy led to a misunderstanding of what hierarchy was, just as our rationalization of agriculture has led to its failures. It was necessary for us to be able to manipulate ever larger organisations. It allowed for standard railroads and highways, interchangeable parts, and even the “standards revolution”. But it did not give us a true understanding of hierarchy.

Jaques argued that people have a natural knowledge of who should be their boss, who should be their peer, and even how much they should make compared to others in the company. This is an argument for a natural, evolved sense of hierarchy, not the rationalized one produced by the Taylorists. Jaques’s Requisiste Organization is the natural one, one that would emerge on its own if not overpowered by the various rationalised systems of management that interfere with it. This natural organizational structure is based on time-spans of the role and the worker, the worker’s innate capability growth rate.

Thus, it’s important for you to understand that I’m not talking about the Taylorist command-and-control hierarchy when I say that hierarchies are networks. I’m talking specifically about the natural hierarchy that Jaques identified as the Requisite Organization. The hierarchy everyone bemoans is top-to-bottom in information dissemination. In an RO, the information flows both ways. The manager flows “context for your work” information down to the subordinates, who have complete control over how they complete their tasks within limits prescribed by the context (not just some manager’s whims). The workers, in turn, flow information up to their manager about problems and issues that they see within their timespan for completing the task or even accomplishing the contextual goal. The manager flows information in a similar fashion up and down to his or her boss (the Manager Once Removed from the subordinates above).

Management is setting context, not telling someone what to do. This is not a subtle difference. It means that there is a reason for the Gallup organization’s findings about what great managers really do (in First Break All the Rules). These actions — like treating each employ as befits that person, rather than everyone all the same — are simply outputs of RO managers, people who are in the natural position for them, with subordinates who are in their own natural position also, for this time of their lives. This context setting lets the worker have control over his or her own work, within the limits set by the mangager’s context.

I believe that RO is a form of emergent network that greatly differs from the unnatural system that dominates the work world today. This explains why I can look at Karen Stephenson’s diagrams (see Art Kleiner’s stragegy+business article on Karen Stephenson) which she uses to diagnose organisational problems based on social, work, career advice and other networks, and see the same problems using an RO lens.

If I’m right, the following should be true:

  1. Within a social network at work, the participants should be within the same mode.
  2. Within the career advice network, advisors will be two strata above advice recipients.
  3. Within work networks, information flows according to the RO extant structure.
  4. Within the knowledge network, knowledge will flow freely between individuals who are at the same Stratum. I’m not sure how knowledge brokers (hubs) will fit into this.

This is true for the individuals capability and not for the role, since the individual will most likely not fit the extant role level.

By analysing the organization from an RO perspective, you can see into the other naturally occurring networks, since the problems of Time-Span contribute to all of them.

That’s my hypothesis in a very confusing first go round. Now I need to create tests for the null hypothesis to try and prove them wrong.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 2

  1. Introducing the concept of networks into hierarchical structure only serves to confuse the objective. We are inclined to avoid the use of words, that have come to be interpreted with a negative connotation. The interpretation often has little to do with the intended definition of the word. For exmple within a hierarchical structure references to subordinate may conjure up the image for some that suggests command and control or a sense of superiority felt by the manager. Or, the notion of hierarchy itself brings forth images for some that suggest a British class system of rule. Soldiers have no difficulty referring to their superior officers and appreciate that within the context of war that it is essential to understand exactly who is accountable for what and what the chains of command are, as lives are at stake.

    Wordsmiths then set forth to imagine and introduce new and profound words that often dilute the meaning and purpose associated with the original reference. What might the distinction be between a manager and a leader in its reference to work organizations? It is suggested on the one hand that managers are autocratic, rely upon their position authority, are boring and mundane while leaders are charismatic, inspiring, engaging and make people feel good. This of course is nonsense. In so far as we are intent upon drawing these distinctions we need to accept that we will further confuse the understanding of those working within organizations. Do I work for a manager or a leader? Is the organization a hierarchy or a network? It is clearly a hierarchical structure and granted if we were to call it something else it may appear to be more palatable yet we begin to assume there are two distinct possibilities as opposed to a single possibility with two names.

    A network implies a connection or an interconnected group or system. It does not distinguish any hierarchy within the group or system. One might suggest that requisite managerial practices taken in their relationship with one another and to the extent that they are all essential for the functional capability of an organization form a “network” of managerial practices that ensure a functional and systematic management system within an organization.

    These practices can be applied, less effectively nevertheless, within a matrix organization thus the application of managerial practices is independent from organizational structure. Consider however the effectiveness, or lack thereof, when personal effectiveness feedback is provided by a peer as opposed to an immediate manager. I am not advocating in any terms the introduction of matrix organizations at work. These need to be hierarchical in nature.

    Your query is an obvious natural curiosity and needs to be encouraged appreciating of course that the strength of what exists should be capable of standing up to objective scrutiny and criticism. I suspect that as your inquiry evolves that you will arrive at the conclusion that the present references will suffice.

  2. “This rationalization of hierarchy led to a misunderstanding of what hierarchy was, just as our rationalization of agriculture has led to its failures.”

    Of course it is entirely possible I’m a stratum I and I just don’t get it, but I honestly don’t get where you come up with some of this stuff. I’m not harping on RO, I’m addressing your bit on agriculture. From a strictly utilitarian approach, your comment on the failure of agriculture is farsical. How do you measure that? Yield per acre? Gallons per milk cow? Pounds per beef cow? Bushels of fruit per tree? An aggregate of nutrition delivered to your table? The numbers on all those categories and every other measurement you can think of are hugely higher today than they were just 20 years ago. Output per milk cow is almost twice what it was when I worked on my grandfathers dairy farm. The stuff is more available, Wal Mart keeps inflation down, and kids eat better, if their parents care to take the time to feed them.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: