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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.

Published in Blog

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.

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