Attendees at the 1952 Republican National Convention, Chicago, Illinois. 1952 by Thomas J. O'Halloran, U.S. News & World Report Magazine. Donated into the public domain. Via Library of Congress.

Elliott Jaques on How the Workplace Influences Democracy’s Development

E. Forrest Christian Theory Leave a Comment

One of the things that impressed me about Elliott Jaques when I first read him was his stated desire to build democratic feeling within workers. It may have been the influence of Wilfred Brown at Glacier, as Brown was always interested in democracy and how to build it, leading to his great interest in workplace democracy which predated his work with Dr. Jaques. And Jaques certainly seems to have dropped many of the elements that Brown felt were necessary for participation, leaving it up to the managers to “do participation”, as it were. You’d think that anyone who would argue that structure can be paranoiagenic would also understand that you have to have structural elements that provide for participation, not just the goodwill of a manager to listen to his or her subordinates.

Still Jaques wrote about democratic society a little in several of his works. It’s what attracted me initially, so it’s worth revisiting at this point as I look into American democracy and the church.

Here’s what he says in the introduction to Requisite Organization: A Total System for Effective Managerial Organization and Managerial Leadership for the 21st Century : Amended:

[I]f you want to achieve effective and creative leadership and behavior in managerial systems, you do so by changing the managerial systems and not by trying to change the people or by applying spurious single-step solutions. What needs to be done is to set the multiple organizational conditions that enable people to work together effectively, with mutual trust, and thereby to provide the opportunity for the full expression of accountable and authoritative managerial leadership and creative effort. [from unnumbered “The Aims of Requisite Organization”]

Jaques claims that his work in Requisite Organization (2nd Ed.) can be seen as

solely … about management. That is a perfectly proper view….

But there is also a wider view. This wider view may not interest every reader; but it should. It has to do with the vital importance of requisite organizations, and of requisite managerial leadership within them, to the achievement of trust in our society. The simple fact that managerial organizations have become the most important of the social institutions of the modern free enterprise democratic society….

As Freud put it, work and sex are the two most important human activities. The time is long overdue for attending to the former in as great depth as we have attended to the latter. [PP 3a]

That’s a big statement but there is little doubt that Dr. Jaques was right.

Structural issues matter in creating social capital. It wouldn’t be hard to move this into the larger sphere, and say that “if you want to achieve effective and creative leadership and behavior in political governance systems, you do so by changing the political structures and not by trying to change the people”.

But even the managerial system is not so simple as Jaques makes it out to be. Lessons learned by Indian firms managing a very diverse AsiaPac workforce show how cultural structures within society also come into play. Still, it’s a wondrously insightful statement, and Jaques championed it more than almost anyone even if he seems to backpedal from his earlier stronger statements (as per Bruce Hearn Mackinnon’s criticisms).

In his closing arguments, Jaques states why trust is the foundation of any natural (“requisite”) organization.

Our study relates to the most fundamental questions of human societies: What is a “good” social institution? Can individuals be free in an organization? Can there be justice, fairness, and liberty in a hierarchy? Are not authority and hierarchy at opposite poles from freedom and justice? Is not authority the same as authoritarianism and autocacry?

These questions arise from the widespread but misguided belief that liberty and freedom are a result of individual freedom from social constraints.

Here are some bald propositions…

Major Proposition: liberty and freedom are conditions of individuals living and working together in social systems that are so organized to provide for the trust and justice required for effective interpersonal dealings.

The achievement of liberty, freedom, trust and justice, therefore depends on the design of our social institutions — upon how “requisite” they are.

[Jaques, Requisite Organization, 2nd Ed., PP 134]

That page pair is probably the most interesting in the whole book, for my money. I’m not sure if he did any further writing on this subject or not.

I recall things being spelt out in greater detail in Jaques’s A General Theory of Bureaucracy but I don’t have time to look them up.

Let’s rest with saying that Jaques believed that the ideals of RO would foster democratic society. Because it is geared to foster trust (although not as much as the Glacier model would), it would indeed foster democratic society, which rests on trust greatly.

Tomorrow I’m going to look at Brown’s model. I somehow got the impression that Brown wrote a lot about how requisite work environments would build better democrats but when searching through Organization, Exploration in Management and The Earnings Conflict I failed to find anything solid. They are really solidly for the practicing manager. Mant’s works on Brown are more detailed in this regard. Perhaps I am reading into Brown’s work what I see in it, rather than what is there.

Image Credit: Attendees at the 1952 Republican National Convention, Chicago, Illinois. 1952 by Thomas J. O’Halloran, U.S. News & World Report Magazine. Donated into the public domain. Via Library of Congress.

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 0

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    Author

    If you have my old personal blog address, I will be blogging notes from my readings this week there. Raw stuff before I try and get it into the sprawling mess that will be this week.

  2. Engaging one’s subordinates in many respects is not a natural thing for a manager to do. The managerial systems need to be designed so that engagement is structured. Specifically, one needs to be able to satisfy the questions who, why, where, when and how are subordinates engaged. Engagement and team work should not be confused with merely getting along with others. This is not the fundamental objective. Structured engagement, and strengthening the team is accomplished by centering the engagement around work, work context, task assignment, personal effectiveness reviews and coaching. This is where trust is established, where people are afforded the opportunity to apply their full potential capability, and where engagement is structured to occur.

    I am not a fan of the democratic approach that Brown advocated where workers are capable of voting their managers out. Management is not a popularity contest and any attempt to have workers decide who their manager should be is clearly not requisite. An effective manager will over time be recognized by his or her subordinates for the strength of his or her requisite managerial practices however a majority “democratic” vote by workers sanctioning their confidence in their manager is neither requsiite nor systematic. It places the issue back in the realm of people and not systems so inasmuch as Brown and Jaques may have differed on this point Jaques was correct. To promote that the Glacier model would foster more trust is naive.

    Insofar as democracies are concerned it is important to acknowledge that freedom only resides within well formulated societal structure. No individual can be free unless he or she understands the boundaries of society. Trust, like freedom, cannot be established in a lawless society and it is the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual that denote a strong society and not the will of the majority.

    The fundamental purposes for democracy and requisite organizations are idealistically the same. In each case the manager, or the legislator, should be focused on the creation of conditions which allow for the contituent to reach his or her full potential capability. Rarely do either focus so succinctly on that purpose.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: