Elliott Jaques

Forrest ChristianAdmin, Theory 15 Comments

Why the hell hasn’t anyone ever told me about Elliott Jaques?! This stuff is gold, like seeing the world from the air for the first time.

Comments 15

  1. I felt the same way the first time I was exposed to his theories. It made more sense than anything I had seen at school or in the business world for over 10 years. Since being exposed to his ideas, I, an OD consultant, had to completely re-work the way I consulted. I could no longer offer “teamwork training” in good faith because I knew the faulty system was to blame. My mantra now is, I’m OK, You’re OK, Let’s Fix the System.
    I have been applying and writing about Jaques’ theories for about 5 years now and am convinced they are valid. I had the honor of meeting Jaques in Nov. 2001 and spoke with him by phone just weeks before he passed away. The world does not understand what it has lost!
    I’ve scanned all your postings with references to Jaques and must say I am impressed (and somewhat intimidated) by your ability to grasp his concepts and apply them simply by reading his books. They are no Who Moved My Cheese!
    Please visit our website: http://www.peoplefit.com I’d love to chat. RO is one of my favorite subjects!

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    Check out Michelle’s corp site for a very good description, in non-threatening terms, of Requisite Organization consulting. And saying “I’m OK, You’re OK, Let’s Fix the System” represents what I got out of Jaques better than anything else I’ve heard.

  3. I would like to draw our attention to the reference “theory” as it applies to RO. We commonly refer to stratified systems “theory”. It is important to distinguish that the theory in this instance is not a hypothesis. Jaques summarized what he observed as occuring as a pratical application in organizations into a conclusive summary which he labelled “theory”. In many other instances the hypothesis is advanced and then one sets forth to support it with scientific evidence. In this case the supporting scientific evidence was interpretted and then summarized as theory. We might consider nonetheless that in virtually every hypothetical case that the hypothesis is inspired by some observation or deduction in logic derived from, or constructed from, something else that is already observed to be in existence.

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    I always liked that the basis of his entire organizational fame (he also coins the term “mid-life crisis” some time in the 1960s) came from some guys from the shop floor who suggested that the reason that some people got paid more than others had to do with how long they had to wait to get paid. Not quite accurate, but amazingly insightful. Let’s hear it for the shop floor!

  5. I would like to draw our attention to the reference “theory” as it applies to RO. We commonly refer to stratified systems “theory”. It is important to distinguish that the theory in this instance is not a hypothesis. Jaques summarized what he observed as occuring as a pratical application in organizations into a conclusive summary which he labelled “theory”. – APFG

    There are pretty clear guidelines for scientific postulations to make the trek from hypothesis to law. To my knowledge, no postulation in the behavioral sciences has even come close to moving beyond a theory. Am I incorrect in this?

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    It’s as close as real world biology is. There are no “laws” of biological systems: the complexity gets in the way. Take, for example, the action of a toxin on a living system. The killing dose can never be known accurately because the number of variables is staggering, which explains why low doses of certain medications sometimes kill people unexpectedly. And in physics, can one call probabilities of quantum states really a law?

    However, there are several highly correlated circumstances in psycho-sociology. Felt-fair pay is certainly one of them, correlating strongly with time-span of discretion of the role. Learned helplessness is another: if you repeatedly teach people that whatever they do won’t change things, they will become “helpless”. Of course, some people don’t have common ideas of felt-fair pay and some people are immune from learning helplessness. Some people are sociopaths and some can’t interpret faces. Like anomalies in physics, we try to explain the exceptions that try the rule by exploring their causes, and hopefully finding a deeper system, which the complexo-chaos people have been trying to do recently.

    Anway, the actual progression is hypothesis, test by trying to prove the null hypothesis and then theory. There are no “laws” of science: just schemas through which the world makes sense.

  7. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I seem to recall three laws of thermodynamics. Something about gravity and some guy named Newton? Don’t engineers have books filled with facts and figures derived from these and don’t they use them?

    Schemas that make the world make sense clearly applies to behavioral theories, like RO and other highly complex systems. I was merely pointing out that to attempt to classify any behavioral “schema” as more than a theory is clearly inaccurate. Some may have more correlating data than others, but there’s just too much complexity for any to fit universally.

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    I think that the comparison with natural sciences works pretty well. There aren’t any “law” of biological systems, mainly because nothing seems to live outside a larger system and because the natural systems keep surprising us. Let’s face it: a critter that lives off of sulphuric acid and not oxygen breaks most of previous conceptions about life. Think of the maxim that adapting to the environment is good for a species. Well, true, but only to a point. The dodo, that great ugly bird, died out not because it hadn’t adapted but because the species had adapted too well. It was so perfectly adapted to its environment that when it changed, it passed into legend.

    In the physical sciences, physicists are able to search for elegance and simplicity, which is why they are such terrible engineers. Engineers live with materials that are composites of others, stresses than aren’t fully understood and rules that seem contradictory. Jaques may have discovered a series of rules about how people naturally structure themselves but putting these into practice is quite difficult. And he doesn’t have all of the picture, any more than any single engineering sub-discipline does.

    But as a theory of management, it explains more than the others and therefore, from a science point of view, is a better theory. It can’t be used solely since there are a host of other factors that play into fit. Still, one won’t be able to work at a different level just perhaps not at this career path (manager vs. technical expert).

    Jaques’s work has several elements: Felt-Fair Pay, Work Strata/Theory of Bureaucracy and Human Capability. Although most of us seem to throw them all together, they reall stand alone. Felt-Fair Pay seems to be pretty easy to achieve using his time-span of discretion idea, so much so that using any other theory to set pay is silly. The theory of bureaucracy is more problematic, since there are a multitude of intervening factors in any company. The concepts of human capability, that you will develop in complexity of information processing still lacks enough testing to say whether or not it will survive. However, his initial results and the results of the thousans who have gone through RO structuring is compelling.

    Society is complex and any social theory lacks the beauty and simplicity of physical “laws”. The system is too complex. You simply never have a closed system, so you try for probabilities, just like in biological systems.

  9. There can always be some variation in the behaviour of known and standard properties in association with science. We accept that a physical thing has particular properties in association with it. For example a steel beam will support a particular dynamic and/ or static load in its association with a structure. An engineer designs the structure referencing the capability of the steel beam to support the loads being considered and under the “normal” loading applied the beam behaves as conceived. Generally, the engineer specifies a factor of safety. Let’s consider Newton’s Law of Gravity. Any engineer would conclude that a person free-falling from 2,000 feet would, because of gravitational laws and forces meet a certain death when he or she met the ground, yet there are clearly documented examples to the contrary. We conclude that the law of gravity was defied. Applied to the social sciences one would predict that given a particular managerial system, common values and a functional supporting structure that it is predictable that an organization will behave in a particular manner. Are there inconsitencies? Certainly there are, however are they any more or less irregular than the “rules and laws” applied to technical science. I say not!

  10. When the “laws” of Requisite Organization are broken. We can predict that there will be dysfunction. Productivity and deficiency will be decreased.

    Predicting exactly how people will behave in the face of this is not something we can do.

    When someone drives the wrong way down the highway if he does it long enough, there will be negative consequences, exactly where or exactly how many people will be involved, we cannot predict.

    Now back to human behavior in the face of non requisite organizations:
    Let’s take the following example: If someone is OVERQUALIFIED for his role, he likely has some extra time. How will he spend his time? Will he be vocal about it or will he withdrawal and quietly look for another job? Will he become frustrated and sabotage someone or something. Will he exploit loopholes and embezzle? Or will he take a benevolent route and do extra work?

    You might assess that if the benevolent route is taken, then there is no dysfunction, reduced efficiency, or productivity. I say, this will work for a while, but long term, it will have consequences.

    For example, likely, this employee will realize his pay doesn’t match his output.

    It’s that felt fair pay. If my job is at 2, but I am performing and delivering 3 work, eventually I will want to be financially rewarded consistent with stratum 3 pay. Because people aren’t aware of felt fair pay, they don’t specifically get this in their head, but the feel it in their gut.

    Another issue about delivering “over your job”, is that is will likely threaten your manager if you are performing at his level. When you deliver above and beyond a few times, they’ll love it. After that, they will realize you are, by comparison, making them look bad. Now, how the manager will deal with this, I can’t predict, but it will distract the players from their real work.

    I know of another instance where an overperforming employee had a manager actually below her in capability. When it came time for performance review, the manager could not appreciate the extra work. She hadn’t assigned it, so it wasn’t highly considered at review time. It didn’t detract from the employee’s performance by any means, but it didn’t help. After the review, the employee had had enough.

    She had been dealing with an ineffective manager* for years hoping her own stellar performance would get her noticed and promoted, but the dysfunctional system thwarted the visibility and judgment of the employee’s true capacity.

    The employee left the organization to start her own business. Another commited employee bites the dust. Another organization loses.

    *This manager was ineffective in this instance due to the situation. This manager had proved to be an effective manager for an employees one stratum below her.

  11. “When someone drives the wrong way down the highway if he does it long enough, there will be negative consequences, exactly where or exactly how many people will be involved, we cannot predict.” – Michelle

    Actually, that’s not true. Using some “outside the box” non-linear mathematical mapping, you can predict when, where, and how bad the “accident” will be. You’d be amazed at the results. The military uses a particular model to find sunken ships or crashed aircraft in large uncharted areas with great success and have even used it to identify reasons for failure of the ship or aircraft.

  12. Analogies aside, Michelle is spot on. Consider that the benevolent route will not be chartered for too long. Agreed that this is an option however we need to appreciate that the employee will quickly become frustrated and disenfranchised. His or her benevolence will not necessarily be appreciated recognizing that the employee working below his or her capability will be drawn to interests and extra work that is outside of the normal scope of his or her role.

    I can attest to this from personal experience. The immediate manager will start questioning why his or her subodinate is not focusing on the “things that really matter”, particularly where the subordinate’s CIP is higher than the manager. Similarly, the subordinate will ultimately be incapable of sustaining productive social behaviour with the immediate manager as well as his or her peers if the subordinate’s time span is further reaching than the immediate manager, and ultimately conflict is apt to ensue. As Michelle points out the employee becomes a risk to the organization either because he or she is distinguished as being frustrated and difficult to interact with or because the individual leaves and the organization has lost a vital part of its talent pool. The latter will not easily be distinguished and the organization is apt to conclude that it is better off with the person gone. Unfortunate nevertheless.

    The opportunity within a requisite organization is the manager once removed will be focused on developing the talent pool, assisting with career development, and ensuring that these under-utilized employees are offered opportunties by way of either promotion or project assignments to take advantage of what they have to offer.

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