Typical traction lift design-(c) 2011 Harrihealey02 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia

Misunderstanding Requisite Organization

E. Forrest Christian Theory 4 Comments

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).

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 4

  1. This ramble is appropriately titled “Misunderstanding RO”. Rest assured Alison Brause does not misunderstand Jaques’ research and the approach of using debate transcripts to determine CIP is entirely acceptable. In evaluating the logic flow and connections transcribed from the debate the cognitive logic can be observed (typically beginning with abstract symbolic orders of complexity S V and above with presidential candidates.) I believe there are other organizations, including Peoplefit, who utilize a similar approach to observe CIP.

    The assertion that suggests that Elliott Jaques was not a great believer in hierarchical managerial structure and stratified systems matched with CIP as denoted in timespan is absolutely preposterous. This is the first reference I have seen advocating that what Jaques really observed were “self-organizing principles in groups”. Granted if one could create an “experiment” which fabricated a set of conditions for this to occur within it might occur, however this is not the thrust of what is attempting to be accomplished. With full recognition of SST and CIP one can begin constructing a functional organizational structure, matching the right people in the right roles (as determined by CIP, skilled knowledge, and the individual valuing the work) and then applying requisite managerial practices that allow each individual employed by the organization to reach his or her full potential capability.

    Your proposal appears to place greater emphasis on style than other considerations. I’m afraid I wouldn’t agree. The logic needs to include all of strategy, shared values, structure, systems, staff, skills and style in order to construct a functional organization. And, while you are advocating that CIP is not the place to begin, one requires a full understanding of CIP, and time span, in order to requisitely organize the corporation. There is no particular benefit in “allowing companies to self-organize”. This is nonsense. Why would we want to waste the company’s time and resources while it attempted to organize itself, when there is a scientific foundation for doing this and getting it right?

    Jaques was not measuring education. We’ve discussed this before. There are plenty of educated people who do not have high CIP. Some are very adept at reciting written text and cannot create a simple cognitive structure to solve a problem on their own. Others who possess high CIP can solve complex problems without the benefit of formal education, and some who have both high CIP and the benefit of formal education have far more points of reference to consider when solving the problems they encounter.

    Assertions which suggest that Jaques was “difficult personally”, had a “prickly personality” and was not very proficient at articulating his “underlying values” are all poppycock. Granted he may have invoked some reactions with people who did not understand the theory, and he was by all accounts pragmatic and direct. Consider that much of what he has documented runs counter to convention, albeit alchemical, wisdom and places the very foundation of what is currently in the mainstream associated with organizational development at risk. The response is not unlike that of mainstream society when Darwin proposed his theory of evolution or when Aristotle observed the world was round. In the latter case conventional wisdom lingered for another millenium or so refusing to acknowledge even as late as Columbus that the world was anything but flat.

    I would nevertheless agree that there is no particular benefit in starting with an approach that is widely interpretted as attempting to pidgeon hole eceryone who works for a living. The best approach is simply to apply the theory in creating the structure and systems and then to get into action with requisite managerial practices.

  2. Post

    I really should clear up that I’m not doubting the accuracy of Ms Brause’s research, only that I have some methodological problems with drawing conclusions from some of the last debates. As we’ve moved to ridiculous constraints, I just wonder if there is enough spontaneity in the responses to provide adequate information. That’s my only problem with it. That said, the data especially from the 1960 debates should be sufficient. I’m wondering about the 1992-2000 debate quality of information to evaluate. They’ve become barely debates. I’m complaining more about the quality of the data avaialble (i.e., the quality of the information that candidates provide in the debates themselves) and not the analysis.

    However, I can’t imagine that she could have done her research any other way. It’s not like anyone is going to get spontaneous comments from nominees. The data that’s available is all you have. It’s a very bright piece of work. I just wonder if there is enough data in the debates to get conclusive results. I’d hate to use the last presidential debates. Both candidates repeated sound bites again and again and rarely seemed to construct an answer. I thought that Vice President Cheney did that in his debate with Senator Edwards, rather than simply repeat sound bites.

    Of course, a friend of mine has reminded me that not all debates are of nominees. There are several debates of candidates during the primaries which would provide real information. I’d imagine that town hall formats would provide similar opportunities.

    I have actually passed along the link to Ms Brause’s summary article at ROII to people who I wanted to understand CIP in order to better understand how to grow programmers into developers into designers into architects. We all know that the higher abstraction jobs can’t be done by just anyone and it’s not just experience. CIP does the best job at explaining what we’re intuitively grasping.

    Which is what I think is most important about explaining RO to folks. Elliott Jaques did not discover some new way to oppress the masses, to coerce people to do what I want them to. He discovered something is we all know, based on his results about real bosses and felt-fair pay. We all intuitively know this stuff. It doesn’t seem to be cultural but biological: as humans, we are hardwired to appreciate this.

    That’s why he keeps on returning to the validity and importance of management judgment. In a requisitely organized company, you don’t need elaborate performance evaluation systems. You can rely on the managers to evaluate their subordinate’s fairly and justly. Jaques emphasized the truth and great power of common managers’ common judgment. He goes to great length on this in a variety of places in General Theory, making sure that we all understand that giving a manager his or her judgment is vital to performing the manager role.

    I for one find Jaques work to not support the status quo, the oppressive powers in organizations, the hierarchy that has for so long done so much psychic damage to individuals within them. Rather, he retores back our power as humans. We don’t have to learn RO: we already know it. We don’t need to evaluate everyone’s C

    And my point is not that Jaques disbelieved in any form of hierarchical structure. But it’s obvious from people’s talking about Jaques that they hear “hierarchy” and believe that he supported the status quo in corporations, the non-requisite hierarchies that were causing all this psychic pain. His hierarchy comes out of the natural order of things (hence “requisite”) so it actually threatens the status quo. It’s this threat that is not underscored, perhaps to keep clients happy.

    Most of Jaques’s detractors don’t seem to get his values, stated so clearly in his introduction to General Theory. He believes in reducing this pain. He believes in fair pay. He believes that all this other voodoo management theory has done massive harm to persons and societies. I’d be cranky if I had an answer to people’s woes that they scoffed at. I’d be really cranky if everyone dismissed me in my later years as so much old stuff. Have you heard what Gareth Morgan says about Jaques? Ed Schein’s comments are some of the nicest I’ve heard.

    I’m arguing that by emphasizing what matters to individuals, and not the parts that people hear out of context and think “He’s supporting oppression of the masses!” like CIP. CIP is interesting and useful but it’s a concept to come to after felt-fair pay and “real boss”. It drives people away when it doesn’t need to.

    Man, if we could get this stuff out, think about how freeing it would be! Talk about liberty! You don’t have to do jobs that are too big for you! You aren’t insane: you’re just too big for that job and manager! Managers don’t need these complex HR systems that try to rationalize evaluations: managers’ requisite (required by the nature of the thing) judgment is far superior. And you can’t rationalize it! That’s what’s so great about what Jaques wrote — up with the people!

    Brause’s work is so important because it says that the American people, Vic and Vicky Valpo, the janitor at the high school, the foreign born cab driver, the share cropper — that these people are capable of making the best judgment. They don’t need some expert telling them how to do it. They don’t need some high-mode person who has all the theory. Nope: the common man can pick the leader of the greatest nation on all of history.

    Now, we can all gripe about the selection of nominees but that’s a different process. Any data on that? Sure Kerry won the democratic nomination and those of us who read Brause’s summary made that call early on, but does it hold in all elections? Someone get some grad students on this! And let’s evaluate them across lifespans to validate the results from the election year. Let’s see if the process holds even under the stress and duress of the American campaign process.

    Take that, you blasted Modernists! Take that, you post-modern do-nothings! The common man can take care of choosing the leader for the mightiest nation on Earth!

    Yeah, I know that Jaques talks about the difference between the elected and MAH leaders (union vs. company). Still, think about the ramifications!

    Look, if ROII had approached the dissemination to the press of their results from this angle (“we don’t need no stinkin’ pundits!”), I’m betting the press would have eaten it up. CIP causes too many people to stumble to be put out in front. It’s the explanation of why the common folk can elect their own leader that people will find so interesting and palatable. “Go to your windows! Open your windows and cry, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this stupid punditry any more!'” Well, maybe that’s too many late nights with the film scholars.

    Taking this further, her results probably indicate that Americans can serve on juries, too. Data show that juries are notoriously accurate in not convicting people unjustly. Yes, it happens, especially in Illinois in death penalty cases, but that seems more to do with prosecution malfeasance.

    This is what is so important in Jaques’s theories. Because he was such a scientist (and mean that in the true sense of the word) and didn’t really care much about implementation issues, his work didn’t get the popular press that it should have. And this, I believe, is why it should.

    I’m a has-been writer for users. I’m a later-born revolutionary. Like most people who are unemployed for most of their work life, I don’t give a damn about what is good for the organization because they’ve never done me any good. I do care passionately about what is good for individuals. And I believe that Jaques discovered how humans can be happy in large organisations. I could not care less about whether or not the company makes money because I’m solid broke and it won’t ever help me. I do care about society, about democracy, about liberty (thanks for the reminder, J!) and about fairness. These are the reasons that I got excited about reading Jaques’s work, because he shared some of my core values. He believed that life could be better than it is for people who work, that you don’t have to climb the corporate ladder, that feeling successful is important, that work organizations can foment democracy and democractic beliefs.

    As a scientist, Jaques was ill-equipped to popularize his message. Although I actually enjoy his writing and find it amazingly clear and cogent (except I did find Executive Leadership a bit thick and ill-organized: I’d have made it into a much better book had I been the editor on it but it may also have lost some of the details, which may have been worse), a lot of people complain about how hard he is to read. And I keep on hearing stories about how he got cranky. I personally think he was brilliant because he turned away in so many ways from what he had professionally invested in so that he could accept the truth in the data. That’s a real scientist.

    I admit to having been raised to be a scientist, although I dropped into social sciences instead. But I have the scientis’s skepticism. I want more than one report. I want multiple studies confirming something. I want to see control studies and real null hypotheses. I’m pretty sure that I can run this wild ass experiment and get a weird although valid extant requisite hierarchy. I want to disprove it so that I can be sure that it’s true. On Brause’s study, I would want to see a multitude of follow-on studies. I think that the results are compelling enough to warrant them.

    Of course, I have very little sway on academics except some Lutherans, a smattering of Romanians and people who study personnel transition amongst IT workers. In order to get some of these computer science folks to think about issues of capability in retraining/repurposing staff, I need RO to be accepted. In order for RO to be accepted, we need to be a hell of a lot smarter about how we talk about this stuff. CIP is definitely not the place to start, as Solaas even observes in his article (if I recall correctly). Timespan works, but I find better success with Vic and Vicky Valpo with “real boss” and felt-fair pay.

    I want nothing less than to change the world and I think that I can use RO to do that. But I need to transform its reputation for being fascist (and that’s not too strong a word, folks; the vitriol is quite amazing even to someone who is has survived the Holy Wars of UNIX v Microsoft) and into something known for supporting the common man. I think it does that. I want to get the reputation back. In order to do that, RO people need to stop starting with CIP.

    end of rant

  3. Agreed, the real benefit is in creating satisfied and fulfilled individuals and in its effect on society and although I am not adverse to the effectiveness of work organizations the passion is in creating a set of social conditions that are effective and functional.

    As I reviewed the first article Forrest I was thinking this guy just doesn’t get it and as I read the response to clarify; the interpretation was this guy really gets it. I can certainly empathize with where Michelle has been and agree that in due course Jaques will be appreciated in his own right. This forum and the conversations assist in keeping his work living.

  4. When I heard that Dr. Jaques had died, I sat down and wrote my testimony about how my life changed after being exposed to his theories. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

    After being underutilized and/or under managed for most of my career, I left the corporate world after nine years (3 companies, 10 titles, and 8 managers) to become an independent consultant because it just hurt too much to be at work. I always felt like a misfit and a problem child at work, starting with my first job out of college from which I was fired after 11 months.

    After starting my own business, I returned to school to pursue my Masters. I chose a Liberal Studies degree program so that I could create my own curriculum and take courses from any college in the university. I was seeking answers to a variety of questions that had been percolating in me as a training and human resource professional. For example: Why are some people successful at some jobs and not others? Why can two employees working for the same manager have diametrically opposed views of him? Why does training work sometimes and not others? Is there a way to match people to jobs effectively?

    One day in 1997, Dr. Glenn Mehltretter of PeopleFit was a guest speaker in a leadership course I was taking. As he began to draw circles, boxes, stratum charts, and progression charts on the board, my entire career flashed before my eyes. Suddenly, it all made sense. Why I was frustrated with this boss or that job or both. Why I was ALWAYS unhappy at work despite my true commitment and effort.

    I could finally say to that voice inside me that kept saying, “You’re an inconsolable freak who can’t be happy at any job”, that it was wrong! I wasn’t a freak, a misfit, yes, but not a freak. I was a SYSTEMIC misfit – never in my career simultaneously holding a job that matched my capability and provided me with a manager one stratum above me.

    From that day forward, the focus of my consulting work turned toward learning and teaching Dr. Jaques work. I had the honor of meeting him in 2001.

    I joined Glenn at PeopleFit in 1998, and we are committed to seeing Dr. Jaques’ legacy assume its rightful position as the only humane way to structure and lead an organization to sustained profitability.

    I believe Dr. Jaques will eventually be known as the father of modern management science, but his greatest contributions should be classified as humanitarian, because for too many of us, work within nonrequisite organizations just hurts too much.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: