My last blog engendered interesting and useful responses, both as posts and as personal emails to me. In future, I should like to engage more with these responses. For the moment, client work, moving, and preparing to spend July in Nepal with my son are all occupying my attention. In August, I expect to be more responsive to those who respond. In the meantime, please do continue to respond. The dialogue that will ensue is, for me, what is important about the blog.
I would also like to be very clear that the views I express in this blog represent my point of view, unless otherwise indicated. While Elliott Jaques was alive, I always understood “Requisite Organization” to be whatever he said it was. Given that his own point of view developed with his experience and maturation, there is no reason to expect that his point of view today would be identical to how it was over seven years ago when he was still with us. With his passing, there is no authority to definitively state what is RO and what is not. So, in this blog, any time I refer to RO it should be understood as how I make sense of RO.
The issue I’d like to address this month starts with the puzzle clients often have as to why they should use a particular template from RO, e.g. from a CEO at Stratum V:
“You have shown me that I have a manager at Stratum IV with a subordinate at Stratum II, but I don’t have a problem with that. Why should I pay over $150,000 per year for a new employee at Stratum III to place between those two?”
There are at least two ways in which one can approach such a question.
The approach taken in most of management literature is craft, methods and templates to solve real problems, grounded in precedent. There is tremendous value in the practicality of craft, but craft has limited explanatory power. If all we could say is, “Don’t have gaps between managers and their subordinates because Jack Welch didn’t allow gaps at G.E.”, we wouldn’t be able to tell our client the consequences of having a gap.
RO methods and templates, in contrast, are engineering, which Jaques referred to as an art grounded in a science, a science being a system of facts and of laws of cause and effect. If you need a bridge to carry a certain load of traffic across a river of a certain width, the science of physics does not dictate the bridge design, but the civil engineer who creates the design will use the laws of physics to guide and justify the design: “I use 10cm cables because they have the tensile strength that will be required.” Similarly, the laws of psychology do not dictate how to structure, staff and manage an organization, but they are what we in RO use to justify our templates and methods.
How do we use this approach with our client? We use the science to predict the consequences of following the “one-managerial-level-per-stratum” template and to predict the consequences of not following it:
“If you leave that gap, likely, the manager will get impatient explaining things because the explanation that comes natural for the Stratum-IV-capable manager will not be understood by the Stratum-II-capable subordinate. That means that the manager is unlikely to give a good explanation when assigning tasks and may even make task assignment so painful that the manager finds it easier to do some work personally instead of delegating it. It also means that the manager is unlikely to do good coaching because a manager at IV will not want to pay attention to Stratum-II work to see how it can be improved and will not want to have the conversations required about that level of work. The subordinate is liable to feel lost, not understanding their manager and perhaps being intimidated to ask questions. And finally, the Stratum-IV-capable manager will have to do any Stratum-III work because the subordinate is not capable of doing it. This pulls the manager down into unsatisfying work. Were there a manager at Stratum III between the two of them, these problems are not likely to occur. There would be an easier, more productive, working relationship.
Notice that these consequences of violating the “one-managerial-level-per-stratum” template all come from science. In particular, they come from the laws of cause and effect that shape our understanding of the relation between a) cognitive capacity and b) work and relationships, laws such as the following:
Because our methods and templates are grounded in science, we can use the predictive power of science to explain the benefits of using those methods and templates.
But it also opens the door for a possible rebuttal by the client:
“I hear all of that and it all makes sense to me and it would concern me except that it’s not how things are. This manager is a skilled communicator and has no trouble explaining whatever is needed to the subordinate – who happens to be very curious and is eager to understand assigned tasks and their contexts. There’s not a lot of work to be done at III. And for me it’s not worth the cost of hiring a manager between the two. The cost of having a gap is not as great to me as the cost of brining in a new manager.”
I believe that such situations do occur – situations in which the standard templates and methods are not the best solution. Realize that RO offers two criteria for designing structure:
These two criteria are not always completely congruent with each other. It is the consultant’s job to offer alternative solutions and to point out the consequences and benefits of each. It is the client’s right to judge which of the solutions best fits their needs. It is then our job to reiterate the costs of the client’s decision and to state how the CEO should handle them:
“I can understand your not wanting to bring in a new position at Stratum III with all of the resulting costs. But do keep the following points in mind:
Our methods and templates are not science but, rather, engineering, grounded in science. They are not ends in themselves but rather very useful means to the organization’s ends. Use the science we have to help clients understand the consequences of using or of not using the methods and templates. The result is better relations with your client and the best possible application of strategy: efficiently, with trust and sustainability.
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We've been collecting requisite organization-related materials on our web site for seven years.
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This is a response to a LinkedIn question. Forrest Christian suggested in a comment to another post that I post my responses here as well. Those of you are LinkedIn members can read the whole question and all other answers here .
My answer was:
No matter how a company is organized formally, for stuff to get done people need to communicate and work across boundaries. Researchers have done social network analysis in organizations and have seen that some bosses cannot handle this; they force everything to go through them, so of course they end up being bottlenecks.
My belief is that matrix organizations were “invented” to address the non-cooperation between unit managers. But we still have a lot of turf wars and alpha-male behavior. We also see organizations apparently in endless committee meetings.
My opinion is that matrix organizations were a “quick fix” to a larger and more deep-running problem. If we “solve” those problems we will not need matrix organizations. Managers needs to be selected ,trained and rewarded for abilities to:
The matrix is an organizational mystery to me. So popular, so reviled, so dysfunctional, so often suggested by the major consultancies.
My first encounter with the matrix was in the eighties when one of the major consultancies had suggested a matrix to the big international chemicals company where I was working. Fantastic product company, but they needed to know about marketing and markets, to which the matrix was the answer. The new region to which I belonged got a forceful manager who quickly made his mark, pushed the right sort of issues and quickly got the product division to hate and undermine him. A “war” in which we in our market had to do our best to survive, while keeping customers happy and churning out plans and reports in all directions to keep the matrix happy. Good job that chemicals were so profitable then that they could afford using 20-25% of our resources for planning and reporting.
Not so long ago I did a specific organizational audit in an exceptionally profitable company. They had been wrestling with the issue of emulating their one-product/one-market success to more products and more markets. The big consultancy had solved this by implementing a matrix. Now everything seemed to be decided in committee, where all participants appeared to have the right to veto decisions for their particular market/product. Accountabilities were vague and unclear and role descriptions inflated. Good job they have all those profits so they can afford all those people sitting in meetings.
In one organization where I worked the combination of the matrix and Parkinsons law led to the proliferation of jobs. On the product side of the matrix they started adding people to deal with market areas and on the market side people to deal with product areas. The least one could say is that we did double our efforts.
My most absurd encounter with the matrix was in a major government agency, interviewing a manager with a vertical responsibility. Being a seasoned bureaucrat used to sitting in headquarters issuing edicts he was concerned with his mandate. “Look here”, he said pointing to the intersection between his vertical and a specific horisontal responsibility. “Look at that box”, he said, “could one not draw a diagonal in that particular box, so that I am in charge of that resulting triangle, and the horizontal manager in charge of the remaining triangle”.
I believe that the matrix was an honest attempt to address the fact that people need to cooperate to get stuff done and that drawing the matrix was the quickest way of fixing that. However, the nature of people does not seem to have changed. We still had the same issues with power, office politics and accountabilities. The managers on the top team more concerned with making their mark and jockeying for pole position.
More about what I think matrixes are attempting to solve and alternative solutions will follow in coming ports.
If writing a book seems too big a commitment at the moment, what about just doing a case study? A case study stands on its own, but could also end up being part of any book you might eventually write. The nice thing about the case study is that it’s nicely bounded—you just have to tell what happened starting at the beginning and telling the story through to the end.
Case studies also have the merit of being real. A good case study doesn’t need to rely on profound theoretical insights or novel frameworks; we all love and can learn from a good story. Furthermore it’s a good chance to practice articulating your ideas and can be re-purposed into an article or speech.
If you had any sense of unease at the thought of writing a case study it is probably because you have read bad case studies in the past. There are many ways to be bad, but they all boil down to the story not being credible. I’ve seen cases where cases about minor consulting interventions were credited with the 1990s turnaround of IBM. I’ve seen cases where the simple linearity of the story doesn’t ring true. Worst of all is reading cases where you know something about the organization and think “It wasn’t like that at all!”
So the most critical thing in a case study is that it has to be thoroughly truthful. Aim for that, rather than aiming for something that flatters your work, and people will be interested in the story.
Why it’s difficult to tell the truth
As artists have long known, in human affairs there is never just one truth. Furthermore, in real life there is seldom a clear beginning and rarely a definitive end. Reality is a tangle of causes, outcomes and perspectives and even for stories where we were a leading character we may only know a small part of the whole tale.
This should not be cause for discouragement, but it should serve warning that telling the story of your case study will require some research into other perspectives, some artistic decisions on how to tell the tale and a good deal of humility.
Managers can handle complexity in a story, they understand that things get messy and go off course, don’t feel you to dumb down the case to drive home your own conclusion.
You will have to simplify reality to tell any kind of coherent story, but let the reader know you are aware of what you are doing. Give enough context so that the reader has a perspective on how your story fits in with the other things going on in the organization at the time.
Talk to as many people as possible who were involved in the case to broaden your own perspective. If there are disagreements about what happened or why, then include that as part of the commentary. You don’t need to be the omniscient narrator, you can just tell the story from the viewpoint of a well-informed participant.
Co-writing the story with one or more of the key managers involved will add breadth and credibility to the case.
Pay attention to the missteps in the journey. After the fact we like to tell straightforward stories about how we analysed the situation, identified gaps and implemented processes to address those gaps leading to a remarkable ROI. In reality, we wander about trying to make sense of the situation, make foolish mistakes, run into unforeseen barriers, fail at some things, and succeed on others. Try to include some of these meanderings in the story; the missteps are usually the most enlightening part.
How to get started
Pick a case you know very well and then approach the organization involved and see if they will participate. Let them know that this is not meant to be a puff piece but a serious contribution to the management literature (but that of course you’ll let them OK the draft before anything is published).
It’s not essential to get formal agreement from the client, you can always write a case about an anonymous organization, but it clearly better to do so.
Next it’s a good idea to review your emails to remind yourself of the chronology of what happened. After that you have the relatively easy step of interviewing participants to get their memories of what happened and why.
Then the writing begins and this is relatively easy because you simply start at the beginning and work through to the end. Don’t worry too much if your first pass is a bit messy, once you’ve got it out on paper a second pass will be much more coherent. Consider getting assistance from a professional writer if the writing step is a barrier to getting the case study completed.
Our underlying beliefs and values drive our behaviors. Jack Welch believed, “If you’ve got 16 employees, at least two are turkeys.” From this belief flowed the talent management systems at GE. One of the most controversial (and unfortunately emulated) practices was that of cutting the bottom performing 10% of employees annually.
Judy at the Employee Factor, who also questions the practice, posted some statistics showing that these beliefs and practices are still common.
Systems telegraph values and drive behavior.
In addition to, “two in 16 employees are turkeys,” what does the practice of cutting the bottom 10% of employees annually telegraph and drive? (Hint: It’s not trust nor engagement.)
Cutting the bottom 10% annually is a defensive, compensatory system for lack of understanding of work levels, human capability and managerial leadership.
If you believe that: I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system, you would design your organization accordingly. We need to equip, train and support (through systems design) line managers to successfully discharge their managerial leadership duties.
We wouldn’t let our untrained neighbor perform surgery on us in our backyard with a hacksaw, a hardback copy of “What Good Surgeons Do”, and a pep talk. Yet we put employees in managerial positions, offer them some platitudes, the latest best-selling book on leadership, and send them off to lead “our most valuable asset” in polluted environments with inadequate tools.
Jack Welch is brilliant, and I admire many things about him, this is not one of them. I have a more positive belief set regarding human nature and our desire to do meaningful work. All we need to do is create work-enabling systems that eliminate conflicts of interest for employees, and send them off to work.
I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system. In my next post I will discuss how I would take an offensive rather than a defensive approach to low performance.
Have you ever been the victim of a bottom 10% cut? Have you ever been forced to cut an employee who didn’t deserve to be cut?.
A small group of passionate practitioners who want to change the world!
For seven years we’ve worked hard and had some fun while building strong foundations for the society’s future work.
We’ve established our legal structure, governance, banking, payment systems, insurance, auditors, by-laws, and policies in Toronto. We also established a legal office, bank account, a payment processor and an Amazon.com store, all in the USA to better serve that market and the world in US currency with world-class fulfillment services. And we have Ken Craddock’s extraordinary comprehensive bibliography of our field and an enviable collection of donated books, articles, dissertations, videos of practitioner interviews and presentation -- all available 24-7 to the world through our web site.
Our accomplishments have earned broad credibility and built trust among our affiliates and corporate and university co-sponsors. These good works include three world conferences, two in Toronto in English, and one in Buenos Aires innovating with simultaneous translation and using SKYPE video to offer virtual speakers. Other accomplishments include a variety of special events, executive briefings, public professional development workshops, teaching clinics and video interviews with senior practitioners on four continents. We've published a major book and built a second-generation web site that can now support our substantial library resources, events, journals, on-line professional development programs, database management, emailing, surveying and on-line store sales.
What will stage two look like?
What's desirable and possible given the environment and our vision, energy, capability and resources?
At this point, we need to refine and align our vision and goals, build a more robust and sustainable business model, and develop activities that engage, develop and support our affiliates at a higher level.
The board is scheduling a number of strategic discussions with consultation and input from our ABC (academic, business user, and consultant) affiliates leading up to our Organization Design Summit, October 22-25th .
Through our ABC synergies, we have amassed a mountain of resource materials. However, some say that our resource library is overwhelming and that they don’t know where to start.
So for the time being we are beginning to organize our web site in three different ways:
Over the next five or so months we will be organizing new special interest web pages, and inviting you to participate in on-line discussions, surveys, and teleconferences as the board continues its strategic discussions.
Soon, we will invite you to log into the society web site and to edit your registration / profile to indicate your interest in the above special interest groups.
My current exploration into bibliographic sources has focused on what happened in the period 1968-1990 in Great Britain. Elliott and Bioss began two huge projects - one to reform the National Health Services (NHS) and the other to reform the social services departments (DSS).
The NHS reorganization was a fiasco. The internal fight was between the managers and the health professionals (led by the MDs). Costs were rising and they had to be contained. In 1974, at the last minute, the managers took over the reorganization to get power. Within two years the rebellion by the doctors to this power-grab was disowned in public by the PM who called for an inquiry into the increase in 'bureaucracy'. Elliott and Bioss took the fall and it was several years before they recovered. Maurice Kogan, formerly of Bioss and still at Brunel, was called in to sort out the mess. By then Thatcher was in as PM with a different market-based agenda. The NHS has undergone several 'reformations' since - with several more likely in the offing. After the destuction by the medical staff of the 1974 reforms it appears the managers have since prevailed under the banner of cost-reductions. (But Baumol's cost disease still lives, so I suspect we have not heard the last from the doctors yet.)
The DSS reorganization by contrast went fairly smoothly. The social workers wished themselves to be 'autonomous professionals', but they were already part of a bureaucracy. Two PhD theses were done on DSS and showed that accountability had been established within the hierarchy. David Billis and colleagues played a big role in stabilizing this situation in the 1980s. Slowly, the blame-throwing became limited even during crises, which still came about randomly. Social workers were accountable for their judgment and less for outcomes beyond their control. Actually, they seem to have begun to defend themselves.
Meanwhile, the UK in the 1980s was convulsed with public finger-pointing in the form of auditors and audit-committees. This was partly driven by cost concerns, but mostly it was Puritanism run amuk. The common assumption was Taylorism in its pure form: 'There is nothing wrong with the machine. If everyone does their part the outcome will be as predicted.' Of course, managers have to be there to redesign a changing system, but they were busy using their authority to enforce accountability. (An obscene act and a dereliction of managerial duty, but accepted by the public.)
Documenting what went wrong and what went right has been informative. I'd like to know more about Kogan's role and his relationships. Also, the simultaneous movement in the US toward HMOs as a method of medical cost control was very interesting. Neither public seems to be aware that the doctor-patient relationship is altered when a manager enters the equation and the doctor becomes an employee. Maybe it is not as important to them as is cost.
The recent US changes in the medical services law need to be addressed from this perspective. The US has the most expensive medical care in the world - but probably not the best.
Since 2004, the Global Organization Design Society has undertaken the mission to document the world experience the design and conduct of organizations based on the concepts of Elliott Jaques and Wilfred Brown. Part of this effort is to generate resources for the Spanish-speaking world, such as articles, books and video recordings. A major milestone in this action was the realization of our World Congress, held in Buenos Aires in October 2009. On this occasion, I invite interested persons to have clearer ideas about the body of theory and practice of the Requested Organization make use of a selection of resources in Castilian. In the next edition of this blog we will focus on guidance to approach the issue of human capacity as Elliott Jaques.
Materials available on the website of Global Organization Design Society:
Herb Koplowitz and Ken Craddock, two active partners of our partnership, identify the most common questions that often make those who approach the theory of Requisite Organization, and develop clear and compelling answers.
Academic Jerry Harvey, with his usual style that combines the depth of analysis with the use of humor, marks the uniqueness of Requisite Organization theory and runs on the broad scope of its actual and potential applications.
Brief article written in 2007, which summarizes my best attempt to present the essential aspects of the theory of Requisite Organization, which are not easy to identify in the first approximation. I use it as a pre-reading training in this theory.
Published books currently available:
Dr.. Nancy Lee, consultant extensive experience in implementing large projects Requisite Organization, Elliott Jaques direct collaborator for many years and a member of our board, has written this book summarizes the field of Requisite Organization in a manner highly teaching and intelligible. It also presents the chronicle of two application cases in enterprises.
This book was published by Jossey-Bass, Buenos Aires. The second edition was published in 2004, The Spanish version was reviewed and approved by a group of Argentine consultants who worked closely with Elliott Jaques. This work, aimed specifically at senior executives, represents the most comprehensive and application oriented that has occurred on Requisite Organization presentation.
These questions are among the most frequently asked about RO.
Jerry Harvey has argued persuasively that RO is anaclitically threatening to many who write and publish about management. It pulls out from under those writers' and publishers' ideas they lean on to make sense of the workplace, ideas like the need for democratic decision making in the workplace or that we are all equally gifted. (I would add that the notion of holding someone to account or of deselecting a subordinate is anaclitically threatening to managers who lean on being well liked.)
Harald Solaas has also noted that RO is consistently misunderstood. Those who learn about RO assimilate what they read and hear to their current conceptual frameworks, and this distorts the intended message.
In a recent letter to the Board of the GO Society, Decio Fabio added an additional point to Jerry’s and Harald’s insights:
“My observation is that when we try to prove others are wrong, narrow minded, old fashioned, etc. they immediately fight against us even before they understand what we are saying. We need to acknowledge the fact that Jaques’s ideas aren’t so easy to grasp at first glimpse, they look (at surface) old fashioned military hierarchy and they need practice to comprehend.”
I draw two points from Fabio’s letter.
I would add one more point, one that not all of my colleagues may agree with me about: I believe we have learned too much from our successes and not enough from our failures. In “Why RO theory is so difficult to understand”, Harald Solaas made the following observation:
I am sure we have all lived the situation in which “critics” contend that these predictions [made by RO] are mistaken because their own experience contradicts them, blind to the fact that their data come from observation done under non-requisite conditions. (His italics.)
I believe we make a similar error, that too much of our own learning about human nature in the workplace comes from our experience in workplaces where capability, culture, personalities and other factors make it possible to successfully apply standard approaches to RO and its implementation. As far as I am aware, we lack understandings and approaches that are general enough to be relevant to a broader array of organizations. Until we broaden our horizons and our methodologies, we will continue to appeal to a small market, sales and implementation will continue to be difficult, and RO is unlikely to move into the main stream of management.
 Harvey, Jerry “Musing About the Elephant in the Parlor or “Who the Hell is Elliott Jaques?”, pp. 173 – 202 in Harvey, Jerry How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed In the Back My Fingerprints Are On the Knife? Jossey-Bass, 1999
 Harald Solaas: “Why is RO theory so difficult to understand?” http://globalro.org/en/go-library/articles-excerpts-a-chapters/134-why-ro-theory-is-so-difficult-to-understand.html, 2003
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An institute for advanced human resources professional development
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The Argentine Human Resources Association
Federation of Human Resource Associations in Latin America
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An professional association for public service employees in Canada
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