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Blog (31)

The Global Organization Design Society’s response to a blog post by Forrest Christian:

Perhaps Requisite Organization is going viral under the radar!

With similar concerns as you, Forrest, just after Elliott Jaques’ memorial service in 2003, a group of senior practitioners formed the Global Organization Design Society in an effort to prevent Requisite Organization (RO), a powerful, total system model for organizational effectiveness, from dying with its creator.

Since that time, our efforts have been steadfast. The Society has:

  • Hosted bi-annual world conferences with presenters granting permission for Society use of all materials for educational purposes.
  • Built a collaborative, cooperative culture with many joint ventures, and generous sharing of intellectual property by consultants and companies world-wide.
  • Created a rich web-site with an extensive collection of videos of CEO interviews and presentations, books and articles.
  • Developed a professional development program including E-learning and workshops.
  • Awarded scholarships to our professional development program and conferences for academics, doctoral students, and senior managers in the not-for-profit sector.
  • Published a multi-author book documenting RO use around the world: Organization Design – Levels of Work Complexity and Human Capability. (Free download after registering)
  • Assembled the Fifth Edition of Ken Craddock’s Requisite Organization Annotated Bibliography – 1800 pages – which has stimulated a resurgence of related research

How many practitioners have we developed? — a guestimate!

  • GO Society affiliated consultants have mentored younger associates in their small firms and trained thousands of managers in their client systems.
  • Requisite Organization International Institute affiliated consultants have done the same.
  • The Levinson Institute, the educational component ofLevinson&Co., has trained thousands of executives, managers, and consultants in its five-day workshops since 1968.
  • Bioss, a global consulting firm using levels of work complexity, has a network of 300 plus practitioners training both its new consultants and managers in its client systems.
  • The Tata Group since 2000 has used work levels in its talent pool management across its over 100 operating companies comprising over 450,000 employees in over 80 countries. Tata Strategic Management Group (consultants) uses work levels in its consulting for Tata companies and for its non-Tata clients throughout the world.
  • Requisite Organization is taught in 26 university courses in Buenos Aires.
  • Please record your own efforts to train new Requisite Organization practitioners and your ideas for what the society should do.

How many organizations benefit from Requisite Organization?

We see only the tip of the iceberg of RO use and when we gather the evidence in one place, we are surprised that that “tip” is far larger than most of us would have believed.

The society’s list now includes 122 organizations that have gone public about their use of these methods. Please add others you know about. We invite the Requisite Organization International Institute, Bioss, and Tata Consultancy Services to publish the names of client organizations who have gone public about their RO use.

In the unseen base of the iceberg, we know that many organizations consider their use of Requisite Organization proprietary and others may not be aware of the methods used by their consultants.

Also unseen, RO concepts live unrecognized in the common acceptance of the five-level business unit and in broad-banded compensation systems throughout the Fortune 100 and many other organizations in many countries.

We believe Requisite Organization is alive and well. Will RO die? Not if we can help it!


Ken Shepard Ph.D.
Global Organization Design Society
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Thanks to Forrest Christian of Manasclerk Company for permitting the society to republish this blog that I had written for Forrest's blog.

Regarding the long-suffering demand that HR be granted a seat at the table, I’d like to address this issue using my work levels goggles. Is it really about HR needing to acquire this competency or that competency, or is it about organizational structure?

I’m Talking About a Strategy Table
If we assume that “the table” is a place where strategy, not current operations, is discussed, then seats at the table must be filled with people capable of thinking strategically. Unfortunately, most competency models don’t have a valid or reliable definition of “strategic thinking capability”. I’d like to offer one.

Strategic Thinking Capability Defined
Using work levels terminology, this means people capable at level 4, i.e., those capable of mentally managing,planning, integrating, balancing and coordinatingmultiple serial pathways to deliver goals with delivery times falling betweentwo and five years.

Level Four Work Example
An example of level four work I offered in a previous post was:

Expand our sales footprint beyond the US by establishing a sales force in Mexico which should be responsible for 15% of total sales at the end of four years. (i.e. Integrate multiple serial pathways: recruiting, staffing, facilities, technology, Mexican human resource law and customs, customer identification, sales process, product offerings, marketing, advertising, operations, delivery, warehousing. etc. to deliver a four year objective)

Catch 22
You’ve also heard the complaint that no one will hire you without experience, but how can you get any experience if no one will hire you? HR is entrapped within this classic, catch-22 dilemma.

If your only experience with HR has been in an organization where HR was relegated tocutting paychecks, planning picnics, and offering soap to smelly people, then you might not be able to appreciate the value a strategic HR role could add to your organization. Picnic planners need not be in your strategy sessions.

We’re back to work levels, not all HR roles are created equal.

You Get What You Design and Pay For
Assuming your organization is of sufficient size and complexity to merit a strategic HR role, in order to attract strategic HR talent, you must create a strategic, level 4 HR role, embed it with level 4 work and then pay accordingly. No organization is going to pay $120K for picnic planning, and conversely, no strategic-capable HR professional is going to take a $40K, picnic-planning role.

If You Build It, They Will Come
To grab a line from the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. If you built a role that was tasked with creating an integrated recruiting, screening, selection, compensation, development, performance management, managerial leadership system to build a talent pipeline capable of staffing our organization to meet our strategy 3 to 5 years down the road, you wouldn’t dream of excluding that person from the table. And your applicants fora rolethat was scoped at thislevel of complexity and specificitywould well deserve a six figure salary.

To Seat or Not To Seat
If your organization is of sufficient size and complexity to merit a structure containing a truly strategic HR role,then it would beimperative to have them at the table. If HR in your organization isn’t structured to add strategic value, save the seat for someone else.

I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system.

Is HR in your organization strategic? Should it be?

Originally published on Mission Minded Management and reposted here by permission of PeopleFit

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.

Thursday, 24 February 2011 09:19

Who we are: our differences and what we hold in common

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(This statement is part of a Participation Agreement that all of the Society's core affiliates sign.I hope that you will read it carefully.Your comments are welcome. Please post comments you feel will contribute to  a quality public dialogue below. You may send any questions or private comments to me personally at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

While GO Society’s associates and fellows agree to support the Society’s purpose, we come to our organizational work from different disciplines, different sectors, different functions, different roles and levels of organizations, and different interests in improving organizational effectiveness.

What we hold in common is appreciation, knowledge, and experience in a systems approach to designing and managing organizations that is based on foundational concepts about understanding and organizing complexity in work settings developed by Lord Wilfred Brown and Elliott Jaques. This approach, over the years variously called “The Glacier Project”, “Stratified Systems Theory”, and “Requisite Organization” includes well-defined, researched, and tested concepts of levels of work complexity, levels of human capability, accountability, and effective managerial leadership practices.

We recognize the discovery that organizational systems have a direct and substantial impact both on the personal achievement of people at work and on the capacity of organizations to create wealth for society, and that as a consequence of this the design and implementation of such systems carry strong moral and ethical implications.

While we all appreciate this systems approach and these concepts, we again differ as to which and how many of the concepts we emphasize in our individual practices and how we may integrate them with other theories and skills that we use in our organizational work.A few examples:

  • Some associates and fellows work in organization design – some doing partial design perhaps stopping after redesigning levels, roles and staffing; others specializing in redesigning only specific functions such as marketing or human resources; while others may take a more comprehensive approach using the concepts to help in redesigning organization strategy, the level of the organization, levels of work, functional alignment, role design, staffing, accountabilities and authorities, lateral relationships, assessment, talent pool management, and compensation.
  • Some associates specialize in talent pool work, some specializing primarily in expert based individual assessment using a variety of approaches, some approaches being open source and some proprietary, others working with the managerial group educating and coaching them in making assessments as part of their manager-once-removed, and manager accountabilities aligning these assessments in two-level managerial group calibration meetings. Some who specialize in assessment may or may not also do individual role design or other aspects of organization design.
  • Some may specialize in providing consulting services in support of the CEO in selecting and aligning the senior management team and may continue to support the CEO and his/her team to design a new strategy and implementing it.
  • Some implement requisite concepts in a different order and with different style – some beginning with values and systems design, others beginning with developing effective managerial practices while supporting managers in doing their on-going work, and some may start with organizational diagnosis including time-span interviews.
  • Some may work as general managers or their staff support and use understanding of these principles and concepts in their daily work.
  • Some may combine this requisite systems approach with other approaches to organizational improvement – after careful analysis of how to adapt their methods drawn from other sources so that they do not violate core Requisite Organization principles and concepts; e.g. some may use both requisite and Lean Six Sigma methods after carefully determining that the requisite work should be done first and that the Lean Six Sigma work should be organized and accountabilities assigned according to requisite principles.

In summary, we all have and celebrate our own educational foundations, skilled knowledge, and experience in improving organizations, and in this document we all agree to our common science based principles and concepts described above in general terms.

We also agree to participate in a continuing dialogue on the continuous evolution of these ideas both in a private area of the web and in face-to-face meetings, helping GO Society associates and fellows to come to broad agreement on what specifically is included and is not included in this commonly held requisite approach, and what we should encourage all Society affiliates to endeavor to master.

Wednesday, 02 February 2011 21:45

Who Should Design Cross-Functional Relationships?

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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.

La Global Organization Design Society ha inaugurado una sección sobre minería y manufactura pesada en su sitio en Internet. Entre las numerosas aplicaciones mundiales de la Organización Requerida, el trabajo realizado en ACINDAR, en Argentina, es una de las referencias más significativas. Los visitantes de habla hispana tienen a su disposición presentaciones y entrevistas en video a varios de los protagonistas principales de este proceso, comenzando por el CEO Arturo Acevedo. Quedan cordialmente invitados.

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.

 Wilfred Brown and Elliott Jaques spoke and wrote about their original concept breakthroughs as “The Glacier Project”.  

Then Jaques writing alone called his approach Stratified Systems Theory.  

Jaques’s colleagues at BIOSS (Brunel Institute of Organizational and Social Studies) adapted these concepts and called their approaches The Work Levels Approach and The Matrix of Working Relationships. At a later stage in his theoretical work, Jaques renamed his now more complete management system Requisite Organization.  

Subsequently, various colleagues Jaques mentored created their own copyrighted names for their own derivative approaches, Accountability Leadership, Accountability Based Organization Design, Accountability Based Management, Organization Design, etc. Some practitioners credit Jaques and some do not.
Third-generation practitioners with some adaptation call their work DMA, Decision Making Accountability, The Integrated Model, amongst others.  

What’s in anonymity?

A large number of practitioners use the methods without naming them at all.  

We have evidence that these methods were introduced to GE in the early 1970s and again in the 1980s and that they became part of GE’s five-level business units and their talent pool management and broad banding systems, yet key people in the company are unaware of the original source of these ideas: the DNA lives without recognition.

A number of companies describe these same levels of work and accountability concepts as their own management system when communicating with employees and stakeholders: The Roche Management System, The Novus Management System, The Tembec Management System, et. al. Some credit Jaques, some do not.

How hard must our audiences work to connect the dots? -- to see that these variously named efforts are essentially the same?

So some observers say that levels-and-accountability-based organization design (Brown’s and Jaques’s work) is dying. They read the business press and no longer see articles about Elliott Jaques or organizations using these concepts. They may read the best selling book on talent management, The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company by Ram Charan et al, but can’t connect the dots to see that the described system represents the living spirit of Brown’s and Jaques’s Glacier Project in GE, one of the world’s most admired corporations.  The same DNA lives largely unrecognized in Unilever, Shell, and Tesco.

Some of us in the Society hypothesize that major applications of the work are unseen like the base of an iceberg. While Six-Sigma has a copyrighted training system to produce its famous black belts, with regard to the levels-and-accountability work, a chain of events and market forces have led to various copyrighted names to describe essentially similar work. As a result we find ourselves in a market place with no single flag or brand to help managers recognize the work we do, connect the dots and appreciate the work’s extent and importance.

Should we be concerned?

Raising our own consciousness first, then others'

At incorporation, our Society considered taking the name, Global Requisite Organization.   However, as requisite organization was the title of a copyrighted book, we registered ourselves as the Global Organization Design Society.
The scope of Ken Craddock’s Requisite Organization Annotated Bibliography surprised Elliott Jaques and all of us all with the extent of research, writing and application over the years.  
The Society’s seven years of video interviews, conferences, and publications documenting the work have provided further foundation, confidence and connectedness among us.
We must now look to explore what we can do to strengthen our individual and collective messaging to tell the world about this important work.

Your comments on the options you see before us are most welcome!

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.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010 02:42

Writing for Managers

Written by

Here is my theory, managers don't skim books because they are busy, they skim because most of the content is not useful to them. In my own case I usually skim books mercilessly but if I’m reading a genuinely deep book (e.g. The Secular Age by Charles Taylor) then I read each sentence very carefully; even re-reading pages that were particularly important.

How do we write for managers so they get value from every word?

A History of Bad Examples
I think part of the problem is our own experience with books. Many of the books we read are written for novices. A popular history book like Guns, Germs & Steel assumes you don’t have any real background in the subject. But if we are writing about management for managers then they are deeply immersed in that world and a style suitable for novices won’t work for them.

Another bad example is books written by one technical expert to other technical experts. In this case it’s natural to exult in the jargon, shared mental models and obscure references of the field. Imagine one computer geeks writing to impress his peers, there is no way he would stoop to writing in plain English that could be understood by the masses. Managers are expert in the practice of management but not RO. The book you write on RO for managers is not the one you would write for RO consultants.

So as authors we may be tempted to write for novices or for technical insiders because that is what we have seen before. We need to push those bad examples aside if we are to write a book managers want to read.

The Manager in Mind
The easy solution to writing for a say stratum IV manager is to have someone at that level in mind as you write. Think of the process not as writing but as explaining it to them. Think of it almost as a conversation where you explain something, imagine the question they’d ask, and then go from there.

You sometimes hear that someone writes in a ‘conversational style’; I’ve never seen that presented as being a bad thing.

Diversity of Readers
The challenge of course is that there is a diversity of readers and not all managers, even at the same stratum, will have the same background knowledge and interests.

Here are a few tips with dealing with a diversity of readers:

  • Use sidebars.  If you think most of your readers will know what time-span of discretion is then you don't want to waste readers’ time by explaining the idea in the body of the text. However, if you think there may be a significant number of readers who don't know, then put that information in a sidebar which expert readers can skip.
  • Give a micro-explanation. Rather than chose between a complete explanation and no explanation you can use a micro-explanation. If you say "....time-span of discretion (essentially, the longest period within which a manager needs to juggle required tasks and often represented by the longest task in the role)...” then people who have no idea what time-span of discretion is are not thrown completely off track, they can carry on reading your argument.

It's worth remembering that the normal style of books evolved in a pre-Wikipedia era. Anyone who feels they need to know more about time-span of discretion can find it online—but it's nice if they have the micro-explanation so they don't have to drop your book right at that moment.

  • Use lots of headings and sub-headings. Headings allow the reader to easily skip ahead.  Don’t think this excuses the inclusion of tedious material in your book, but a section that is of great interest to one reader may be old hat to another and generous use of headings and sub-headings helps each reader get what they need.
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Professional associations & universities that support and / or co-market society conferences

 New York City, USA

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

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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