Prom rejection (2009) by Mjt16. Public domain.

Why Requisite Organization Fails: People Don’t Like the Implications

E. Forrest Christian requisite organization 7 Comments

Let’s face facts: Requisite Organization (RO) means that a lot of people (1) aren’t as “smart” as they think they are, and (2) the system in which they have succeeded is built on sand. And that’s a big reason why RO doesn’t succeed. When people read about work levels and Requisite Organization — especially Bioss’s Career Path Appreciation (CPA) and MCPA and Elliott Jaques’s & Kathryn Cason’sHuman Capability — the implications for their own lives is too severe to even contemplate.

Need an example?

How about Brian Dive, who lets the cat out of the bag in hisThe Healthy Organization: A Revolutionary Approach to People & Management:

The subjective interviewing approach of Jaques and Cason was not readily transferable to hundreds of executives charged with assessing their subordinates’ potential. It smacked a little of ‘playing god’ [sic]. Furthermore the Jaques, Cason and [Gillian] Stamp approach was rooted into the limited assessment of strata according only to time span of discretion.

As a final check, a number of my staff and I were subjected to this interviewing methodology. We found it unconvincing. [170]

Translation: “We didn’t like the results because it meant I was never going to be CEO of the company and I wasn’t a level above most of my direct reports.”


This is not “I have these arguments about the validity of the timespan approach” (which Rowbottom, Kinston, the US Army and others have argued to some extent), nor “The interviews clearly do not line up the managerial judgment approach which Jaques advocated in his initial works, and still does in HC”. Or even, “The interview approach is simply unrealistic for No, this is just “Great horny toads! I’m smarter than that!”

blackbeards battle from Wikimedia commons
He is right that the interview approach should not replace managerial judgment, for which Jaques always advocated. Nor is the interview approach necessarily good for “talent gearing”. In fact, PeopleFit, one of the leading proponents and teachers of the Jaques and Cason interview method, use managerial judgment for their large-scale talent gearing. The interviews are great for helping individuals (CPA) and for validating the work level finding, but it can only inform managerial judgment. It’s a data point, not the whole enchilada.

Requisite Organization doesn’t even mention interviews. But it does mention “modes” (the set growth trajectory that individuals are on, at least from their twenties) and the progression charts.

[To be fair, Dive does get that Jaques is entirely about timespan of discretion (as Cason clearly pointed out during the Legacy Day at the last GO Society conference).]

But this is the struggle. We even see consultants inflating the level (stratum) of their clients and client organizations, seemingly just to feed the client manager’s ego. People just don’t like to face up to the fact that they aren’t the Brilliant Great One that they imagined themselves to be.

Which is sad, because much of the greater “Levels of Work” work has been a great help to individuals in their self-assessments. But when your life is built upon something shown to be an illusion, you’re probably going to try and keep the illusion.

Or, as Jerry Harvey noted in his essay, you will do anything to avoid that anaclitic depression.

Prom rejection (2009) by Mjt16. Public domain.

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 7

  1. Without knowing who he is Dive really does not understand the concepts based on the quotation referenced. Reference is made to the assessment of the subordinate. In fact the CPC assessment is judged by the MoR. If he understood the concept he would have indicated SoR versus subordinate. Assessments by Jaques and Cason have been statistically replicated by MoRs with surprising accuracy.

    Your assertions leave the impression that most in executive ranks have visions of grandeur and significantly higher opinions of themselves in respect of their capability than their true potential. I don’t think this is necessarily accurate. In fact one is far more apt to experience anaclitic depression when over promoted. There are nevertheless significant numbers of individuals who are underemployed and as a consequence depressed with their work. I think that promoting that there are a lot of people who are not as smart as they think they are is entirely misguided. From a practical application it has always been my experience that individuals understand quite well their own capability. Where they reside in organizations that define individuals who are not looking for advancement as slackers and dead beats they feel anxious about their desire not to seek the next promotion. When their MoR accurateky judges that they are working in a role at their full potential capability they experience a sigh of relief.

    Finally, Jaques was all about discretionary time span in its relationship with CPC and mode because that’s all it is about and that’s all it can be about. Absent time span one will never acquire sufficient skills and knowledge nor value the work sufficiently to succeed if he or she does not possess the complexity of mental processing.

    I don’t think the majority of people are normally aspiring to some illusion that is entirely beyond the realm of possibility. Frankly, though you are generally well within the playing field with respect to the RO concepts, I really think you missed the mark on this one, perhaps tainted by Dive’s skepticsm.

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    Dive is actually pretty well known, but perhaps only in Europe. He worked at Unilever and has since made a good name for himself as a consultant. His book is an interesting take on RO (and probably is pure heresy, but I’m not very doctrinaire) and one worth reading, partly because it is so accessiblet. Which I think makes his comments all the more telling. He understands and uses levels of work concepts but the interviewing process (including CPAs) gets only one sentence of evaluation.

    As to the illusions: we’ll have to disagree. There are certainly many people throughout the ranks who have no illusions about what they are capable of. But there is also — at least within the several companies I have worked within, both in the US and abroad — a great deal of people who have a vested interest in keeping things exactly as they are. They have risen through the system of being a Str3 in a Str4 role and hiring a Str4 to be their “deputy”, offloading all their real work on them while at the same time berating and humiliating the person. They have no interest in being judged for what they really are or in hearing what they are actually capable of doing. I can give a slew of examples, from CEOs hired because they were part of the right family to jam ups so severe that anyone who can succeed in the system would have to become warped. When people succeed because they have been ruthless with others, and that has been rewarded as virtuous by upper management, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t view the principles of natural organization as a threat.

    Not that Dive is that type: he clearly added a great deal of value to Unilever and Tesco. But it’s interesting that even someone who has done the research, embraces the program, still can’t accept the implications of judgments about himself. Or at least that’s the way it reads. Maybe he simply had a bad process.

    What’s even odder is that he is clearly correct that the J & C interview process is a poor choice for talent gearing a large organization, which should be done through a great deal of managerial judgment. CPAs and HC interviewing are great tools, but certainly HC was written up as a proof rather than a method. My impression was that Jaques always supported managerial judgment.

    On timespan:

    From what I’ve been told and read, there are disagreements among some of the “core” folks about timespan. David Billis is clear that he and Ralph Rowbottom could not replicate Jaques’s findings at the executive level, and developed a different set of timespans. Warren Kinston (who was a part of the BIOSS group at Brunel) briefly mentioned Rowbottom’s disagreements with Jaques over this during one of our discussions.

    The military, according to the GO Society book, invented “time compression” to deal with the idea of timespan within war. Others have argued that timespans would be different within industries that are not capital intensive (such as software). The relationships between strata would still exist but it would be different timespans. This still would have nothing to say about the validity of J&C’s findings in HC: the results of coding interviews matched up remarkably well with managerial judgment about level of the subordinate and subordinate-once-removed (SoR).

    Kathryn Cason, however, was clear as a bell during Legacy Day: “if they weren’t doing timespan, they weren’t doing Jaques!”

  3. Jaques was a clear advocate of managerial judgment. His assertion was that managerial judgment is the preferred method. If an organization is recruiting and it is looking to strengthen its talent pool it may wish to incorporate a coded interview as part of the process. In this case there is no MoR relationship in place to judge CPC.

    How could time span and the capital loading on a project possibly have a legitimate relationship? Time span, as defined by Jaques, is the length of the longest task that the role holder is working on. Obviously, this is not to say that the role holder is not occupied with tasks ranging from SI to the level that that task occupies. With respect to the military during war we would need to udnerstand whether generals make all of their decisions in light of the battle or whether they are also concerned with peacekeeping efforts that follow for 10 or 15 years afterward or the effects of the war on subsequent political systems and governance that have multi-generational impacts.

    Although Winston Churchill was no doubt occupied with winning the war he was no doubt also concerned about liberating Europe from tyranical forces for the next 100 years and setting a stage for democratic governance throught the European community. It would be interesting to understand whether Churchill contemplated a European economic union. Clearly the context he operated within was communism was an axis of evil and a threat to the free world. It would be hard, if not impossible, to imagine that all of Churchill’s decisions during the second world war were SIV decisions, which would adequately cover the duration of that war.

  4. The fundamental issue is really straight forward. There are discrete levels of work, and there are discrete levels of human capability. These levels are quantum in nature — that is, there are step changes between the nature of the work and the capability in people. Everything else is about making these ideas operational. So if you’re fighting the underlying model of stratification — then find another model, this one won’t fit you. If you buy the level of work and level of capability model, then use all the tools available, but in their appropriate context.

    In determining levels of work we see three data points that should intersect. If they don’t then there is a good chance we don’t really understand the work and need to keep digging to clarify that understanding. The three are: time span, description of the work, and managerial “gut” judgment.

    We have a client who recently compared Hay points to level of work and had a reasonable correlation. This is not generally the case for high level individual contributor roles. So, even the dreaded point system can have some application in increasing understanding of the work.

    Concerning the CIP (complexity of information processing) interview technique, there are more and less desirable applications. As Al said, within the organization, the MoR should be accountable for making the judgment of CPC (current potential capability). So that is first choice.

    What about external recruiting? Use CIP to augment the judgments made by recruiting managers. While CIP does have a cost, it is insignificant compared to a bad hiring decision.

    What about those reporting to the CEO — they have no MoR. Use CIP as an added data point. Managerial judgment is influenced by the capability of the manager making the judgment and the level of the person being judged. The added input from a CIP interview can help confirm, or raise appropriate questions.

    As with any testing or assessment methodology there is a margin of error. For that reason it is incumbent on the leadership levels calling for these evaluations to provide for multiple data points. CIP is a good one.

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  7. I recall someone promoting at some point in the past that the board of directors, or an appropriate committee of the board, served an MoR role for the subordinates of the CEO. Seems appropriate recognizing the CEO reports to the board.

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