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Herb Koplowitz

Herb Koplowitz

Some people resist the notion that cognitive capacity is constitutional – that its maturation cannot be affected by any intervention.  They may have what they consider to be evidence to the contrary, that with proper managerial assistance, an employee’s cognitive capacity can be raised.

I wish to explain here how I understand RO would explain such occurrences.  Consider an employee with Str-II judgment capacity in a Str-II role for which they lack skills and knowledge.  Let’s say the role has to do with building staff capability within a business unit.  The question is how the manager can support the employee.  We’ll start with looking at results of having no support and then the consequences of increasing support.

No Support

You interview the employee about building staff capacity or you ask their manager about their performance, and everything shows the employee to have Stratum-I capability for this work.  You ask them what must be done to improve staff capability and they say, “Hire better people”.  Anything else?  “I guess we could train people better.”  Anything else?  “Hmmm.  It might be useful to do a survey the capacity we currently have.  I hadn’t thought about it.”  The answers are declarative.  They have no experience in this subject matter.  It has never occurred to them how hiring the right people and doing the right training are both necessary and must be combined to get the best capacity.  But if you assess their judgment capacity by asking them about retail, where they come from, they will tell you about the importance of the right mix of price, style and quality and can tell you in situations new to them how to get that combination.  They can tell you how to combine service and quality to maximize revenue.  They would show cumulative processing and prove themselves capable at Str. II.  But what they accomplish in their current role is not as much as one expects from a Str.-II-capable employee.

First Level of Support

Now they get the first level of support.  In the most passive form, it is exposure to facts and methods; the employee observes peers approaching work in a particular way and copies it.  But a more effective and efficient approach is to send them on training programs and for their manager to give them coaching so they start thinking about how to combine hiring with training and even how to combine a number of elements to maximize the effectiveness of training.  Through either approach – the more passive observation and copying or the more directed training and coaching - they acquire templates and methods that enable them to apply their cumulative-processing ability to their current work.

Their performance has gone up a stratum, not because they have just acquired Str-II judgment capacity – they already had that – but because the experiences they have give them the skills and knowledge that enable them to apply their Str.-II judgment capacity to their current work.  And this would also show in an interview of them regarding building staff capacity as well as on their performance.  When an observer says, “We have raised their ability by a stratum” we need to be careful.  You have raised their performance and their applied capability by a stratum but you have not raised their judgment capacity.  That was and remains Str. II.  They could and can exercise judgment using cumulative processing.

As an aside, consider their over-promoted colleague in another department, one who is actually only Stratum-I capable.  Exposed to the same training, the second employee will learn that recruiting is important and training is important.  But they can only think of these as separate interventions.  They are in danger of a) recruiting people who are in roles that do give employees the time to take training or b) designing training that is not appropriate to the people being recruited.  Our  Stratum-II-capable employee, on the contrary, will implement recruiting + training as a combined intervention.

Second Level of Support

Enter the next level of support.  Through training, coaching, software or some other support, the employee learns a serial method:

  1. Survey the capabilities you currently have and will shortly need
  2. Determine the gap between what you have and what you will need
  3. Hire people who can be trained to fill the gap
  4. Train them

This method produces better results than before.  It may even produce better results than you would get from someone capable at Str-III who hasn’t learned this method, particularly if the serial method is learned richly.  With the manager’s Str-III guidance, our Stratum-II capable employee may acquire variations of the methods refined to solve particular types of problems, and if the variance in the environment is small enough, this density of skill and knowledge may practically substitute for judgment.  An interview with them might rate their performance at Str III working on issues related to development of staff capability. Someone assessing their judgment capacity by listening for structure could hear serial processing in “How do we build staff capacity? Well, first we survey the capabilities we currently have and will shortly need and then we try to determine the gaps between them.  That tells us how to hire people who can be trained to fill the gap completely, people with the needed judgment capacity who might just lack some skills but who are interested in learning those skills.  So we can then train the new hires to be fully capable of doing what we need.”

But all they have acquired is a method, and perhaps a way of describing the method, something they could have learned when they were Str-I capable.  They can follow the method step by step.  But they cannot design the type of survey of current capabilities that will facilitate the type of description of the gap that will facilitate the hiring of just those people who can, from the type of training you will provide, be trained to fill the gap.  (Again, sufficient density of skills and knowledge may in some circumstances practically substitute for that judgment.) The method will likely improve the results of the cumulative processing the employee does, but it would be an error to call it “serial processing”.  RO’s focus on judgment capacity sometimes puts skills, knowledge and even performance in the shadows.  We sometimes do not probe sufficiently to determine whether the observed series is created by or repeated by the employee being assessed.

The method, richly as it might be learned, is still followed mechanically.  When the employee matures into Str-III capacity, they have insights about it.  “That’s what my manager was trying to get me to understand!”  At that point, they can fully use the serial method with serial processing and apply it effectively in new situations.

There is another possibility here for how the employee and manager might work together.  The employee submits their plan to their manager who then tweaks it and enhances it, describing how to:

  • design the survey so the results can be compared with what is needed.
  • design the survey so the results will be useful in determining how to hire people who will most closely fill the gaps.
  • design the survey so the results will be useful in determining who should be hired who would be most trainable to close the gaps.
  • describe the gaps so they will be most useful in determining who, when hired, would best fill the gaps.
  • describe the gaps so they will be most useful in determining who, when hired, could best be trained to fill the gaps.
  • hire people who, when trained, would best fill the gaps.

If this is what is going on, it is important to describe this situation accurately.  The work is the manager’s work.  The performance is the manager’s.  The 18-month task of getting the staff capability we are looking for is the manager’s task.

Third Level of Support

There is another level referred as”manipulation” (Michael Commons in posts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).Manipulation changes measured stage of performance by 3 stages. This level of support involves one being moved through each step to perform it. This is literally walking individuals through the task by moving them through each step of solving a problem.”

So the MoR (manager once removed, manager’s manager) says to the employee, “It’s great that you are building our staff’s capability.  But you know at the same time we are going through a series of moves in our marketing organization and another in our sales department to increase the number of customers.  I need your staff capacity building to be integrated with these other two processes. As you are a high-potential employee, I want to work closely with you on this and have you coordinate all of these processes.  I will walk you through it all step by step.”

You can call this “support”, but be clear that you are supporting outcomes or supporting the organization but you are not supporting the employee.  Depending on how detailed the “step-by-step” walking through is, the employee might be able to get away with Str-I declarative judgment, Str-II cumulative judgment or Str.-III serial judgment.  There is no sense in which one could say that the employee’s performance has risen.  The employee’s performance is at whatever level it was before.  The parallel processing is all done by the MoR.  This may be a useful for the organization.  Certainly organizational performance will be enhanced; it is better for the organization if the employee’s work in building staff capacity is coordinated with marketing activity and increases in sales.  If you can first bring in new clients who can be served by existing staff capability, then new clients who can be served by unskilled new employees, and then new clients who will most benefit from newly-trained staff members, profits will be maximized.  But we would be deceiving ourselves to label the support as supporting the employee.

If the MoR is “walking individuals through the task by moving them through each step of solving a problem”, then this task is the MoR’s, not the employee’s.

Here’s where things net out:

  • The employee’s own work – the result of the judgment they exercise and the output resulting from it – are enhanced when the employee is enabled to develop relevant skills and knowledge either by copying them or by being taught them.  This is not an enhancement of the employee’s capacity to exercise judgment; they had the potential for cumulative processing before the help, and cumulative processing is still all they can do.  But the result of that judgment will now be more effective.
  • The employee’s own work may also be enhanced by codification of work at a higher stratum.  If there is a type of service to provide, for example, and someone at III recognizes six patterns in which that service can be provided, those six patterns can be taught to the employee at Stratum II.  The employee at Stratum II will miss subtleties and will not optimize the patterns but their own work will be optimized by the patterns.

In this case, we must recognize what the work is that the employee is doing.  If the task is to create a process through which to serve customers in sector X, and if by “process” we mean a series of steps, each leading not only to the next but also to the steps after the next, then we must recognize that the employee is not working on that task.  They cannot work on that task.  It doesn’t fit in their head.  If the task is to provide service, and if that service can be provided by filling in the blanks in a general process already developed by their manager, then their manager has developed a method that allows the Str.-II capable employee to produce output previously requiring Str.-III capability.  (As an example of this general concept, there is software that allows the Str.-I-capable employee to do insurance sales work that previously required Str.-II capability.)

  • If the work cannot be successfully codified, then the subtle distinctions in applying the general process to different customers in sector X can be observed by a manager at III who adjusts the employee’s output, but we must then recognize that it is the manager, not the employee, who is carrying the task of developing the process.
  • The value to the organization of the employee’s work is enhanced when the employee’s manager makes good use of the employee’s abilities and the MoR makes good use of the manager’s abilities.
    • The MoR uses parallel processing to integrate the multiple series developed by several subordinate managers.
    • The manager uses serial processing to guide the employee’s work in developing a survey, a recruitment program and a training program.
    • The employee takes that guidance to make optimal use of their cumulative processing ability to design a survey, a recruitment program and a training program each meeting the specifications set by the manager.

I suggested understanding support as coaching, training or use of an employee to conduct sub-tasks that makes better use for the organization of the employee’s abilities.  The point of this blog is that it is useful to understand who does what work within different categories of support:

  • enabling the employee to do better work through building their skills and knowledge
  • enabling the employee to produce more output through codification of higher approaches
  • enhancing the employee’s output, after the employee has produced it, by the manager’s taking on the task themselves by editing the employee’s output
  • optimizing the employee’s output by optimizing the specification of tasks assigned to the employee.

While output may be increased by any of those methods, none of them increases the employee’s ability to exercise judgment, only to make better use for the organization of that ability to exercise judgment.

Wednesday, 02 February 2011 21:45

Who Should Design Cross-Functional Relationships?

Many organizations have struggled with the problem of silos, how to coordinate the work done by different functions. Common solutions such as “dotted-line” relationships or matrix organization often leave employees confused about who their real manager is or what to do when confronted with conflicting orders. 

RO provides a very useful strategy-driven solution to the problem, TIRRs (Task Initiating Role Relationships) that makes an employee accountable to serve the interests of a department they do not work in while still having the employee accountable only to their own manager.


A TIRR can give Employee D authority to have Employee E do something (consider advice, provide a service, coordinate their work with others, or take an action immediately) or to ask or tell Employee E not do something (not step outside of policy or not interfere with a strategy).  What is critical about this arrangement is that it is Employee C, the manager of Employee E, who holds E accountable to work within this arrangement.  

A question came up recently in a project I was working on regarding who needs to determine what the relationship should be between Employees D and E.  My colleague and I agreed that that the conversation could start at any level:

  • D and E could realize that a particular working relationship would make sense for them.
  • B and C could also come up with an arrangement as a means of getting D needed support.
  • A could set up the relationship between D and E in designing how the department should function.

We also agreed that ideally, B, C, D and E should all have their opinions solicited and considered. The question was, if B and C came to agreement, need they get A’s approval?  I put the question to a number of colleagues, and the most articulate answer came from Michael Anderson:

I think that A has to see the results of whatever B and C come up with, to ensure that the overall pattern of cross-functional relationships is consistent with how he/she wants to integrate work between B’s and C’s functions . If sufficient context was provided in the first place, this would probably be [1] a formality and [2] an opportunity to reinforce some key messages and have a deeper conversation. If B and C got it wrong, then clearly the A has to intervene and override.

So, at the end of the day, A has the last say. I guess that makes him/her the decision maker, but at the end of what ought to be a rich and inclusive process.

One way of framing the debate is: Is the design of TIRRs the work of B and C, or is it A’s work? In principle, I’d say that it’s intrinsically A’s work, because that’s the point of integration. If that’s the case, the debate is more about how much authority A chooses to give to B & C and how much he/she chooses to hold back. And that’s more a judgment of what works in a given situation, rather than a pure point of principle.

And that is what makes sense to me.  The conversation can start anywhere and it is important to obtain and consider the advice of all of the parties involved, but the working relationship between D and E must be decided upon by A.

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.

In my previous blog, I used a scientific/engineering approach to address the question of why an employee’s manager should have greater cognitive capacity than the employee.  (I fully recommend Harald Solaas’s further posted comments on the topic.)  In this blog, I’d like to complete the analysis and show why the manager should not be too much more capable than the subordinate.  Specifically, why is it optimal for the manager’s capacity to be just one stratum higher?  I will then use this as a case study to address Nicolay Worren’s posted concern about “the specific scientific studies that support the various hypotheses of RO theory”.

As before, I will use a scientific/engineering approach, using Jaques’s characterization of engineering as “an art grounded in a science”.  “Place the manager one stratum above the subordinate” is an engineering template.  The scientific grounding comprises the laws of cause and effect that justify it.

So let’s explore this question in the context of a Stratum-I-capable employee and see the difference it makes whether their manager is capable at Stratum II or III.

Why should we not allow gaps?

As I noted in my previous blog, because they have current potential capacity at Stratum I, the employee is capable only of declarative processing at the normal adult level. That is:

  • they can declare one factor to justify a conclusion:  “I believe he’s guilty because he has used this mode of operation before.”
  • they can use one method to solve a problem: making a sale by building rapport with a prospect, or by helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, or by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems.
  • they can serve one purpose at a time.  They can provide efficient service or friendly service but not efficient and friendly service.

As previously noted, if the manager’s current potential capacity is at Stratum II, they would also be capable of cumulative processing at the normal adult level.  That is:

  • they can accumulate a number of factors to justify a conclusion:  “I believe he’s guilty because he has used this mode of operation before and he had a motive for doing it and he had the opportunity.”
  • they can combine a number of methods to solve a problem: making a sale by building rapport with a prospect and helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, and by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems.
  • they can serve more than one purpose at a time.  They can provide efficient and friendly service.

The manager’s greater capacity gives them a higher perspective on the employee’s abilities and ways of solving problems thus enabling better coaching.

But if the manager is capable at Stratum III, they are also capable of serial processing, of getting to Step C by taking Step A that leads to B that leads to C.

  • They can diagnose a problem by determining its antecedent's antecedents.  “Let’s see why the consultant didn’t close the sale they were attempting.  The consultant took all of the right steps:  built rapport, established a need for service and described their ability to help.  But when they built rapport, they strove too hard to make themselves non-threatening and they over-emphasized their similarities to the prospect.  As a result, when the consultant explored the need for service, the prospect didn’t notice the value that the consultant added to the exploration; the consultant came off as just one more participant in the discussion.  So the consultant lacked credibility when building the case for their own expertise.”  The Stratum-III-capable manager can identify relevant factors further back in the causal chain..
  • They can create conditions for success for later steps.  At Stratum II, one can make a sale by building rapport with a prospect and helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, and by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems; cumulative processing allows the Stratum-II-capable employee to take all of the steps so they are compatible with each other.  But at Stratum III, one can go further by making a sale by building rapport with a prospect in a way that helps the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have in a way that helps demonstrate the salesperson’s ability to solve such problems.

This excess capacity serves the manager well in their own role, but it tends to hinder their managerial work in three ways:

  1. The Stratum-III-capable manager will naturally give explanations through serial processing.  A Stratum-I-capable employee takes one action at a time.  They will do A.  Then they will do B.  Then they will do C.  They can follow a Stratum-II-capable manager’s direction to “Do A and B and C”.  They may not be able to figure by themselves how to make those steps compatible, but they can understand why the manager’s recommendation works.  However, advice given through serial processing will be lost on them.  “Do A that leads to B that leads to C” is too much to handle when “Do A and B and C” is already a stretch.  The Stratum-III-capable manager must work at an unnaturally low level to coach or give instructions to a Stratum-I-capable subordinate.  In fact, managers in such situations often find it easier to take on a task themselves than it is to explain to the subordinate how they want it done.
  2. Most Stratum-III-capable managers will not naturally focus on work at Stratum I.  The manager would, in their own career, have focused on each step in a process years earlier.  They are not likely to be interested in coaching a Stratum-I-capable subordinate on Stratum-I work.
  3. The Stratum-III-capable manager will need to do any work at Stratum II required because this cannot be delegated to the Stratum-I-capable subordinate.  This is not a good use of the manager’s capability and is also not likely to be of interest to the manager.

In short, such a gap between manager and subordinate has a tendency to lead to:

  • inefficiency, as poor explanations result in work that must be redone and managers use their capability on tasks that do not require it and,
  • mistrust as the manager becomes frustrated by the subordinate’s relatively low capacity.

What is the quality of the evidence?

Nicolay Worren’s post raises two issues.

The first is that “it is quite common today to find organizations where the manager has a cognitive capacity below his/her subordinates. I agree it is not ideal, and probably is even dysfunctional in some cases, yet some of these organisations are highly successful despite this dysfunction. How would you explain that?”  Most of the engineering templates in RO specify what is optimal, not what is necessary.  So working outside of those templates does not predict total organizational failure but rather a suboptimal combination of effectiveness (reaching strategic targets), efficiency and trust.  I expect this is true of engineering templates in many fields.  The typical result of a car’s not being tuned up to specifications is that the car runs inefficiently or does not reach top acceleration, not that it won’t run at all. 

In some cases, a Stratum-III-capable manager may be skilled and personally motivated to explain things in a way that work for a Stratum-I-capable subordinate.  But even a dysfunctional III-I relationship need not be fatal to the company.  A company in the right business at the right time can do very well even if it is poorly structured, staffed and managed.  (As a client in the financial sector said to me about the good times, just as they ended in fall 2008, “In a hurricane, even a turkey can fly.”)  And a company with a good strategy will beat its competitors if they are no better managed and have weaker strategies.

Worren’s second issue was in regard to scientific evidence.  He said that he feels “the reader should be informed about the specific scientific studies that support the various hypotheses of RO theory. If one tried to search for the ‘science behind the rule’, as you said, I think one would find that some of the RO hypotheses are strongly supported, others partially supported and that yet others lack any empirical support at all.”

In the case of the template discussed here, the scientific research might be conducted in an experiment in which work is given to pairs of people:

  • in some pairs, one person is capable at Str III and one at Str I
  • and in other pairs, one person is capable at Str II and one at Str I.

The tasks might be set up to simulate manager-subordinate relationships and the object would be to see how the dynamics differ.

I am not aware of any such research so I asked Ken Craddock.  He replied that he expects that such “experiments have been done within firms - but the results are proprietary”.  He suggested that the US Army has conducted such research, but I have not personally tracked it down.

In my case personally, while I have been recommending this template to clients for over 15 years, it is not because of any scientific evidence I have been aware of.  To me, this illustrates the point that scientific grounding is an aspiration for RO, not a fully-accomplished mission.  The difference between RO and most other approaches is not that we have, in fact, given a scientific grounding for all of our templates but that we value such grounding.  It is not enough for us to say that companies are more successful when they place managers one stratum above their subordinates; we seek to find the underlying science.  I find it understandable that we have not yet been able to do the scientific research to substantiate our hypotheses regarding why our templates are effective.  Perhaps we can do a better job of a) explicitly linking templates, when we recommend them, to research that has been done and b) clearly stating when we are not aware of any such research but are basing our recommendation on our own experience.

Mike Jay asked this question in regard to last month’s blog (What if a manager does not want to follow RO guidelines? - Science and Engineering).  In the spirit of last month’s blog, I would say that this is a question that is not asked frequently enough.  It is very easy to accept an engineering template without asking for the scientific reasons behind it.  Without understanding the science behind the rule, we cannot explain to our clients why they should pay attention to the rule and we run the danger of falling into dogmatism.

So let’s explore this question in the context of a Stratum-I-capable employee and see the difference it makes whether their manager is capable at Straight I or II.  (I’ll address in a later blog what happens when the manager is capable at Stratum III.)

Because they have current potential capacity at Stratum I, the employee is capable only of declarative processing at the normal adult level.  That is:

  • they can declare one factor to justify a conclusion:  “I believe he’s guilty because he has used this mode of operation before.”
  • they can use one method to solve a problem: making a sale by building rapport with a prospect, or by helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, or by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems.
  • they can serve one purpose at a time.  They can provide efficient service or friendly service but not efficient and friendly service.

If the manager’s current potential is also at Stratum I, they too can only process adult-level information declaratively.

  • They may have skills and knowledge that the employee is lacking, e.g. in how to build rapport better, and they will be able to observe how well the employee follows a given procedure.  But they will not have a higher perspective on the employee’s abilities and ways of solving problems.  And they may not be able to convince the employee that their method is really better than the one the employee is using.
  • They may have learned a method, for example, to provide fast and friendly service which they can coach the subordinate on, but they would not be capable of devising such a method themselves.
  • They could formulate a general, reasonable expectation for how much an employee can produce given their level of ability but could not form a reasonable expectation for how much an employee can produce given their level of ability and the conditions they are working in.

But if the manager’s current potential capacity is at Stratum II, they would also be capable of cumulative processing at the normal adult level.  That is:

  • they can accumulate a number of factors to justify a conclusion:  “I believe he’s guilty because he has used this mode of operation before and he had a motive for doing it and he had the opportunity.”
  • they can combine a number of methods to solve a problem: making a sale by building rapport with a prospect and helping the prospect understand the importance of a problem or opportunity they have, and by demonstrating their ability to solve such problems.
  • they can serve more than one purpose at a time.  They can provide efficient and friendly service.

Their Stratum-II capacity also enhances how they can manage.  

  • They will have a higher perspective on the employee’s abilities and ways of solving problems.  They can see how the employee’s approach does not work within the current context and can explain to the employee why their current method is not succeeding.  They may have skills and knowledge that the employee is lacking, but the major value they add as a manager stems from the higher perspective they have of the employee and their context.
  • They may have learned a method, for example, to provide fast and friendly service which they can coach the subordinate on, but if they don’t, they can formulate one themselves.
  • Their expectation of reasonable output is informed by the subordinate’s ability and by the context in which the subordinate works.

The advantage brought by their cumulative-processing ability extends to other managerial leadership practices.  As just one example, a Stratum-II-capable manager can set better context than can a Stratum-I-capable manager.  Cumulative-processing ability allows a manager to explain to their subordinates:

  • how the work of Sandy and Lee and Leslie adds up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
  • how the change in quality of raw materials and the change in consumer demands require a change in production methods.

There are several advantages of having a manager one stratum above the subordinate rather than a manager at the same level as the subordinate:

  • Strategy is more likely to be implemented.  The manager can better assess whether the employee’s work is actually on target in the current context, producing the results required by strategy.
  • Work will be done more efficiently because the manager is better able to coach subordinate performance and can make more realistic expectations of output.
  • Trust is enhanced because the subordinates more easily accept taking orders from someone they experience as adding value to their work.

It is understandable that executives wish to reduce the number of managerial levels in their areas.  But if that reduction results in compression, in employees’ having managers who cannot process information at a higher level than the subordinate, the cost is the loss of managerial added value, and that threatens efficient and trustworthy execution of strategy.

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:

  • All other factors being equal, a person will tend to prefer work at their own level of capacity to exercise judgment.
  • A person can do work at their own level of capacity and can understand explanations given at the next level up.
  • Work at Stratum x can only be done by someone capable at Stratum x or higher.
  • This approach steers the conversation away from a trap that is all to easy to fall into, the trap of orthodoxy for its own sake, considering employment of RO templates and methods to be a goal for an organization rather than a means to implementing and improving strategy efficiently and in a trust-building, sustainable way.  The problem with a gap is not that it is not Requisite but that it:
  • endangers implementation of strategy because the Stratum-IV manager may not get the support they need and is pulled away from their strategic-Stratum-IV work to do the Stratum-III work required.
  • creates inefficiency by requiring the Stratum-IV manager to do work that does not require their level of capability and by creating the possibility that the subordinate will not understand what is required and may have to redo their work once completed.
  • creates mistrust as the manager gets frustrated with the subordinate’s slowness and the subordinate feels punished for not grasping the manager’s explanations.
  • is not sustainable because the tension and mistrust between manager and subordinate will be a drag on the system.

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:

  • Fit your structure to your strategy, e.g. by ensuring there are roles for all of the work that must be done for strategy to be applied in the real world and that there are no redundant roles.
  • Fit your structure to the requirements of good management and efficient work e.g. by placing the manager’s role one stratum above the subordinate’s.

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:

  • If the manager or subordinate is less productive than you would expect, consider whether it is the structure, not their dedication or ability, that is at fault.
  • See if any of the Stratum-III work that now falls on the manager could be accomplished through a TIRR.
  • See whether there is anyone at Stratum III in the organization who might be available to give the subordinate advice when needed.”

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.

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.

  1. RO consultants can be arrogant in our sureness about the model.  (I know I have been and I hear it in others as well.)  We deny our clients’ realities.  We insist that they see the world of work as we have come to see it without making the effort to see it as they do.  We deny the possibility that they may have a point.  Treating those who challenge our advice as though they are resistant, cowardly or just not that bright does not win friends or influence prospective clients.

  2. We have not learned to adapt our models to the realities of our clients.  The standard implementation procedures require a CEO who is a) a stratum more capable than their role demands and b) willing and able to overcome whatever cultural resistances the organization has to notions of accountability and stratified, constitutional capability.  We need to learn to fit our solutions and our implementation approaches to our clients' situations.  When the market regularly rejects the product you are selling, you can only blame the market for so long.

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.



[1] 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

[1] Harald Solaas: “Why is RO theory so difficult to understand?”, 2003

Nagib Choueiri asks:

How can time span differentiate between the time required to complete the job as a result of the job complexity or the individual's proficiency?  For example, a more experienced programmer would finish a job faster than a less experienced one, so how can the manager determine the time span of the job irrespective of the individual performing it?

To answer your question, let's get down to fundamentals.  

First, time span is about intended time (referred to by Jaques as "kairos") not about the time it has taken to complete something ("chronos").  Time span is the longest the manager intends a subordinate to take to complete any task within their role.

Of course, the manager's intention will typically be based on their experience of how long this type of task takes.  And as Nagib correctly points out, the manager will expect a particular task to be done quicker by a more capable employee than it would by a less capable one.  Here is where we must move our focus from the task to the role.

Let's consider Employee A in Role A and the more capable Employee B in Role B.  And let's use the formula for task assignment: QQT/R (Quantity, Quality, Time, Resources).  For the same QQ/R, the manager will give a bigger T to A than they would to B.  B is more capable and so can complete quantity of output at the same quality standard with the same resources in less time than B can.  But our 50+ years of experience using time span teaches us to predict that role B will contain within it a task longer than (with a bigger T) any task in Role A.  The manager will understand that B can handle more complex work than A can, and some of that work will take longer than any task A can handle.  

It is conceivable that a role could contain only compressed tasks, that is, tasks that:
  • normally are given to someone at a given level of capability and which take a given amount of time but which
  • have been given to someone at a higher level of capability who is given less time for them.

I asked Dr. Jaques about this some years ago and he said those roles are rare because they burn out the incumbent; we have a need, he believed, to extend our work out into the future as far as we are capable.  It has taught me to be sure when I am time spanning a role that it is not a burnout role.

Let's look at the second part of your question, "How can the manager determine the time span of the job irrespective of the individual performing it?"  On the one hand, literally, the manager must simply find the longest they intend the subordinate to take to complete any task within their role.  But many roles do get adapted to the incumbent.  The manager may have hired Employee B expecting them to perform as Employee A did.  In finding B's higher capability, the manager will likely make two changes in task assignment to B:
  • they will give B less time to complete a given task than they would to A
  • they will give B more complex tasks than they would give to A, and some of those tasks will be given a longer T than in any task in Role A
Try this out while you time span roles, Nagib, and let me know what you find.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008 05:00

A request for questions

I have never written a blog before and don't spend much time reading others' blogs, so this will be an experiment.  My intention is to focus on questions from the field - questions that practitioners, academics, consultants and students might send in that would be of general interest to the RO community.  I'll respond directly to those questions I have an opinion on, will search for a colleague to respond to questions out of my range of knowledge and experience and will welcome responses directly from the community.  From time to time I expect I'll post an entry simply coming from my experience as a consultant and theoretician. 

 Let the questions begin.

 Please send your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Professional associations & universities that support and / or co-market society conferences

Remove this one and put conference board logo here


IBM International


The Argentine Human Resources Association

The European Organization Design Forum


Canadian Association of Management Consultants

Human Resource Professionals of Ontario

Human Resource Planning Society

An institute for advanced human resources professional development





An association of academics, business users and consultants headquartered at Aarhus University in Denmark

A USA based association (I put a higher quality logo in the folder)

A Toronto-based association of advanced HR practitioners 


An Argentine Society for Quality Improvement


The Argentine Society for Training and Development

The Argentine Human Resources Association

Federation of Human Resource Associations in Latin America 

The Buenos Aires Technological Institute

An professional association for public service employees in Canada

Consulting firms that provide financial support


A management consulting firm in Toronto, Canada



Forrest and Company, Toronto, Canada


A global network of associate consultants headquartered in Toronto Canada



Toronto, Canada

















Toronto, Canada

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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