Rugby Union players from Charters Towers (1904). Via Queensland State Library, collection.

Your Company’s Manifest, Assumed, Extant and Requisite Organizations

Forrest ChristianOrganizations, Theory Leave a Comment

I was looking up something else (the use of books of hours in medieval church practice, to be honest) and somehow came across Bennis’s description of the “requisite” organization from the mid-1980s. I wondered if the term, which seemed to match Dr. Jaques’s use, was his own or something borrowed.

Turns out it’s borrowed (see the quotation below). But I think that I like the description that Bennis gives to organizations.

According to Bennis, there are four concepts of organizations:

  1. Manifest, or the published organizational chart version;
  2. Assumed, or the reality of the organization that people believe exists;
  3. Extant, of the form of the organization as it actually is, upon investigation; and
  4. Requisite, or the form that the organization would be in if it matched up with the reality of things it was in.

I like these: they’re clear and make a great deal of sense. The idea that when your four concepts differ greatly, you create more pathology within the persons in the organization — and indeed in the organization itself — makes sense. Even W.C. Fields believed it, saying that as a child hearing that a townsman was “a drunk so-and-so, but at least he’s always a drunk so-and-so”, he decided that he would at least be always consistent in who he was.

It seems to me that integration and honesty underlie much of organizational theory.

Of course, can you have a healthy organization (not paranoigenic) if it is openly hostile within itself? American HR folks tend to think that the world must be run by the rules that 1950s homemakers set for their children: it must be nice. But surely a consistent organization could be quite a hostile environment.

One would imagine that we confuse the two because many hostile environments lack integrity: the requisite organization differs from the other three because of prejudice. Workers are stymied in their promotion because of race, for example.

But that would not rule out a very aggressive workplace having integrated “selves”.

Every organization incorporates four concepts of organization; these are often at odds with one another, or they exist in some strained coherence. There is the manifest organization, the one that is seen on the “organizational chart” and is either formally displayed or hidden. It masks as much reality as it is alleged to portray. Then there is the assumed organization, the one that individuals perceive actually to be existing. On occasion, we have asked employees to draw their view of the way things work in order to capture their perceptions. The discrepancy between their view and the official view — the manifest organization — is always dramatic. Thirdly, there is the extant organization, or the situation as revealed through systematic investigation — say, by an organizational consultant who attempts to achieve an “objective look”. Finally, there is the requisite organization, or the organization as it would look if it were in accord with the reality of the situation within which it exists. [Bennis’s footnote: “These ideas were originally expressed by Elliott Jaques, M.D.”]

The ideal but never realized situation is that in which the manifest, the assumed, the extant, and the requisite are aligned as closely as possible with each other. Wherever these four organizational concepts are in contradiction, the organizational culture is such that its identity is confused and integrity difficult achieve.

[Bennis, Warren and Burt Nanus. 1985, 1997, 2003. Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Pp. 47-48]

Rugby Union players from Charters Towers (1904). Queensland State Library, collection.

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