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Monday, 15 November 2010 14:04

Focusing more on values as a way of defining negative temperament in human capability

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The requisite organization (RO) model of human capability has four components:

  • cognitive capacity – the ability to exercise judgment to handle complexity
  • skills and knowledge – methods and facts one can use, without bringing them to consciousness, to solve problems.
  • values – attraction to doing the work in the role
  • absence of -T

Originally (as I recall), -T was defined as negative temperament.  And capability in role depended on the absence of –T.  The concept behind –T is that there is no particular temperament required for any role but there are temperamental issues that are counterproductive.  At core, an individual cannot just will –T away.  It is most often raised in relation to issues like alcoholism, uncontrollable rage or other dysfunctions that result in abusive or anti-social behaviour; but it also applies to other dysfunctions such as anxiety that is so strong that an employee becomes too nervous to deal with others.  Dealing with -T typically requires some kind of therapy.  

Most technical terms within RO are used in the same way by most practitioners.  But –T is used in several different ways, so I’d like now to explore three interpretations of the concept of –T.  As always, I am presenting my own point of view on this issue and am making no claim that this is the correct point of view.

1.  –T as antisocial behaviour
When someone with some familiarity with RO tells a story about an employee who treats others abusively, they will often describe the behaviour as a “minus T” problem.  I find this to be an unfortunate use of the term for two reasons.  

First, -T is an aspect of a capability model whose purpose is to explain what underlies behaviour. The behaviour itself is not –T.

Second, and more important, capability may not be at the cause of the behaviour.  The employee may consider their behaviour to be acceptable.  It is only after the employee has been directed, coached and held accountable by their own manager to treat subordinates with respect that we should seriously consider whether continued abusive behaviour is a capability issue, an indication of -T.  

I have been called in by managers to coach a subordinate who treats others abusively; typically, I find that the manager brings me in so as not to have to deal with the unpleasantries of holding someone to account.  My intervention, then, is not with the employee but with the manager, reminding the manager that it is their own accountability to explain to the subordinate how they are to treat others, tell them what they must start doing and stop doing, and hold them accountable for behaving in that manner.  Almost always, this intervention solves the problem.  I doubt that I am the only consultant with such experiences.

For me, abusive behaviour is, itself, not –T nor is it proof that an employee is plagued with –T.

2.  –T is inability to behave in the required manner
Elliott Jaques changed his definition of –T several times.  The last definition I am aware of is that –T is the inability to behave in the required manner.  I have heard that he changed from previous definitions so as not to encourage managers to engage in amateur psychoanalysis.  But I have problems with this definition, too.

There are several reasons why one might not be able to behave as required.

  • One may not have the skills or knowledge needed for the required behaviour.  As a simple example, in English-speaking countries, one is required to speak proper business English.  This requirement may be beyond the skills and knowledge of some immigrants or even of native English speakers raised in neighbourhoods or social classes where the spoken English is not acceptable in business situations.  Native English speakers working in a language that has levels of honorifics (e.g. “tu” vs. ”usted” in Spanish, ”tu” vs. ”vous” in French) might not be adept at proper use of those levels.
  • Someone with cognitive capacity below Stratum I might not be able to exercise the judgment required in certain social situations e.g. to determine whether a group is setting the agenda or is discussing an item within the agenda.

The ability to behave in the required manner depends, in part, on cognitive capacity and on skills and knowledge.  These are already elements in the model.  The elements of a good model do not overlap with each other.  This leads me to expect that there is a way to further clarify what underlies the ability to behave as required.

3.  –T as an overpowering value
I think of a value as an attraction to or repulsion from a gerund (the form of a verb ending in “ing”).  To say that one values art is to say that one is attracted to owning art or looking at art or making art.  It strikes me that this is what is at play in –T.  In the early 1990s, I said to Dr. Jaques that I thought of –T as the inability to will oneself to do what one really wants to do.  I was thinking of issues like alcoholism where one cannot will oneself not to drink or extreme anxiety where one cannot will oneself to interact with others.  He said that sounded right to him.

For me, this puts –T in the realm of values.  One is so strongly attracted to drinking alcohol or so strongly repelled by interacting socially that one cannot simply choose not to drink or choose to socialize.  The value is so strong that it overpowers the will.  

This third formulation of –T reduces the capability model to three parts:

  • cognitive capacity
  • skills and knowledge
  • values

But it puts a somewhat different perspective on the third component, values.  I always understood the RO perspective on values simply as the need for an employee to value to work in the role sufficiently to commit oneself fully to it.  Part of this notion, as I understood it, is that if there are parts of a role you do not like (e.g. certain detail work or social obligations), you can do those disagreeable aspects unless you are bound by –T.  In other words, if you value the analytic work in a role sufficiently, you will be able to engage socially in teams, make presentations, attend social functions etc. unless you are so socially inhibited that your condition would be categorized within –T.

I now have a different point of view on this for two reasons.

First, I believe that while values may be so strong as to be compelling or so mild as to be resisted they may also be in a middle range.  This middle range consists of values that one can choose to resist, but not on an ongoing basis.

  • Your disvalue of socializing may be weak enough that you can will yourself to participate in a social situations, but strong enough that if you are required to spend too much time in such social situations after a while, you will eventually tire of being with people and lose focus.
  • Your value of attracting attention to yourself may be weak enough that you can refrain from appropriate attention-getting behaviour, but under any stress you may be liable to do something inappropriate to get the attention you crave. 
The phrase I have heard in this regard is “if it is not natural it is not sustainable”.  This certainly squares with my experience.  Every few years I will buy a highly-recommended book on marketing or sales and religiously do everything prescribed in the book.  For three weeks.  After that, I just cannot maintain the focus on that sort of work.  This is not the classical –T.  I can will myself to write a brochure or make a sales call.  But I cannot sustain it.

My second issue in regard to what one will do in order to have the work one wants relates to a basic motivation I learned about from Mike Jay, utility.  Some people seem wired to do what is required to obtain what they want.  If they value B highly and do not value A, they will still do A in order to get B.  Others are wired with low utility.  I will pretty well do A in order to have the experience of doing A and am unlikely to do A (if I disvalue it) in order to get B.

I find the issue of values under-developed with RO.  It is as important an aspect of capability as cognitive capacity but has not received the same level of exploration.  Perhaps it is an important next step in the development of the field.

Read 50764 times Last modified on Monday, 15 November 2010 14:36

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