I was poking around to see if Alison Brause had done anything on this election and found an interesting opinion piece on her Requisite Organization based study over at the Boston Globe’s site. I’m not particularly a fan of the Brause report — something smells a bit bad about basing the evaluations on debate transcripts — but the author [UPDATE: of the Boston article, not Brause! She obviously has Requisite Organization down cold! Sorry for the misunderstandings, guys! and thanks to d0g0wa5 for the headsup] clearly misunderstands Jaques’s research, at least in my opinion. I have the good fortune of only knowing his work and never having met Jaques, which kept me from getting ticked off at his reputedly prickly personality. Let’s clear up some of the misconception.
Jaques, who trained as a psychoanalyst and got a doctorate in social relations from Harvard (and, incidentally, coined the term “mid-life crisis”), was a great believer in strict managerial hierarchy and used CIP to measure the capability of workers and managers to assume increasingly complex tasks as they moved up the chain of command.
Well, not quite. Jaques doesn’t actually seem to be a great believer in strict hierarchies, depending on what that phrase actually means.
What Jaques discovered was self-organizing principles of human beings in groups. This principle can be plainly stated as a Real Boss Principle. If you give everyone in a company (except the very top spot) someone that they consider a “real boss” or “true leader” of them, you will have an interesting stratification of roles. There will never be more than eight layers from the very top to the very bottom, even in the largest of organizations. This is an emergent quality of human task-oriented groups, groups that are bound together to accomplish some purpose.
A reasonable test for this would be to get a large group of people together (preferrably larger than 45) and have them accomplish some goal, taking up whatever role they want. Over time, the group should informally organize into a hierarchy described by Jaques. You would want to run the CIP testing prior to putting people together, not giving them the results. It would be even more interesting to see how this works with uneducated but high-mode individuals, to see if education was what Jaques was really measuring.
Unfortunately, this experiment can probably never be run. However, one company in the United States, W.L. Gore & Associates, probably provides a place where they did it. Gore oganized his company very flatly. You would go in, interview for 16-40 hours, and if approved get offerred employment. Then Gore would welcome you and tell you to walk around and find something that you would like to do.
Since you only get paid for what you contribute to the company, you needed to find work quickly. In order for this self-organizing to work, Gore had to keep his plants smallish (less than 200 or so) so that people at one site could all still know each other, or at least of each other.
I’m betting that the extantt organization is requisite, but constantly under change, shifting and adapting always. Why would I want to work for someone who is frustrating when I can work for this other guy who isn’t? Anyone want to go do some research?
It’s obvious from articles like this and various ones in the press that Jaques was both “difficult” personally (perhaps as a result of the rejection he felt within his own field) and not very good at communicating his underlying values, although they are very plainly stated in every book of his that I’ve read. Most people who hate Elliott Jaques and Requisite Organization theory — and hate, while a strong word, probably fits pretty well — say that he supports this strict hierarchy that has been thoroughly debunked all over the modern world. Except that he of course doesn’t.
Jaques plainly says that his goal is to reduce the amount of suffering that goes on in organizations, suffering caused by people working in the wrong place and not because they are somehow deficient or lazy or incompetent. He talks about how we need to value all people, how all people deserve employment that they can succeed at, that they like performing. You would think that his ideas would be quite appealing to liberals but he’s branded as a right-wing fascist. It’s not true, of course, at least his work isn’t fascist.
And he doesn’t support what most of us learned about Command and Control hierarchies. The way that Elliott Jaques describes a Requisite Organization, a balance exists between power flowing up and power flowing down. Individuals are valued. Workers are allowed to determine how to do their jobs within a broader context and limitations provided by their boss, who in turn looks to his or her boss for context and limits. Within these limits, workers should determine how to best accomplish their jobs. Jaques advocated a very “hands-off” management style.
Jaques-ians, however, have been probably a bit too dogmatic in their approach. Starting with CIP is not the best way to begin. Most Americans have a very strong reaction against the idea that people can be put into tracks. Whether or not it works in practice doesn’t matter. Starting there is not the way to go.
For most workers, as opposed to capitalists, the place to start is their relationship with their bosses, rather than with subordinates. This relationship can be pulled apart and looked at because there’s no risk, at least in North America: the underlying tension of being a subordinate gives you room to show a theory. Talking about a theory of “real boss” works better than talking about Capability and Timespans. Almost all of us working in hierarchies can cite a real boss problem, unless like me you worked in a non-hierarchy where no one above you fit the role.
So let’s start talking about the liberating aspects of organizing requisitely. Let’s start talking about working in groups that work, about being able to recognize someone who can give you context and how that can help companies self-organize. Let’s start talking about the dignity of the worker, the evil of organizations that drive people down. Let’s take up Jaques’s concern that the work environment foster democratic principles in people, that a requisitely organized company can help increase democratic (small “d”, American Republicans!) values. Let’s start a new conversation about this that doesn’t begin at the top and talk about reorganizing but from the bottom and middle, talking about Real Bosses, guiding your career and the worth of every worker. Even Full Employment, something Jaques harps on regularly.
Lots of folks, I know, are doing this. But we could do a lot more to improve workers’ lives by talking more about the values that Jaques believed in.
Image Credit: Typical traction lift design, © 2011 Harrihealey02 (CC BY-SA 2.0).