A Brief History of Requisite Organization (RO) in Canada
Our story of Requisite Organization in Canada appears to have begun in 1972 when Elliott Jaques was asked to speak to a joint management group from Inco Limited and Shell Oil Canada. He was invited by Bill Jeffery, who headed an organization development group for Inco, and Norm Halpern, who had a similar role with Shell Oil. Norm and Bill were then focussed on applying socio-technical concepts introduced by the Tavistock Institute, of which Elliott was a founder member. The two of them had read about Elliott’s work following his Tavistock days, found it interesting, and brought him to Canada.
Bill relates that Elliott talked about time and work, but not very clearly, and did not use the term “time-span.” After the session, the participants apparently agreed that, while Dr. Jaques was an interesting speaker, they could see no practical application for his work. Bill further reports that some years later, when reminded about the event, Elliott laughingly acknowledged to not being very clear at that time because he was still struggling to put it all together. The irony, some twenty-five years later, is Inco’s fairly extensive use of RO principles.
Elliott was born and raised in Toronto and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1937. He earned an M.D. at Johns Hopkins medical school in Baltimore and served with the Canadian Army in London during WWII. He stayed on after the war, initially working with the Tavistock Institute. Over the next several decades he did his breakthrough research at the Glacier Metal Company over there, developing the organization theory that became Requisite Organization.
The current state of knowledge and application of Elliott Jaques’ Requisite Organization concepts in Canada owes its origin to the late George Harding. George was a transplanted Texan, who had come to Canada in the early 1970’s to be the Provost at the University of Guelph. He joined Imperial Oil Limited (IOL) in the late 1970’s to lead a large group of organization development consultants. He was located at the company’s head office in Toronto and appears to have been introduced to the work of Dr. Jaques by a fellow IOL employee, an Englishman by the name of Eric Lucking (now deceased). Eric was one of Elliott’s subjects related to his longitudinal research on growth curves and the relationship of individual capability to level of work and felt fair pay for work. George was intrigued enough with Elliott’s ideas to bring him to Canada in the late ‘70’s to learn more about the theory and to apply it at IOL. (The theory was originally known to many of us here as Stratified Systems Theory.) George also joined SALS (Social Analytic Learning Society), an international group which met every eighteen months to review advances and applications of the theory.
It wasn’t until later in the 1980’s, after George had moved to New York City, that Elliott’s work returned to Canada in a noticeable way. George, along with some American colleagues, had created Context VII, a consulting firm. (The name, in part, reflected the seven levels of work complexity.) The firm’s primary mission was the application of Elliott’s principles in organizations, with a focus on commercial enterprises. Through George’s industry and consulting colleague relationships in Canada, Context VII began to market its services here and to recruit others who were interested in the theory and capable of assisting clients with its application.
George called on an old friend, Barry Brooks, who at that time headed up the executive search and placement firm of Drake, Beam, Morrin to assist with marketing activities. He also called on various independent consulting colleagues (Tamara Weir-Bryan, John Bryan, Donna Nelham, Bill Jeffrey, Paul Tremlett, and Don Brookes) to consider working with Context VII in various capacities. Elliott visited with this group on several occasions. Most of these colleagues also began attending the SALS meetings. Some were introduced to Gillian Stamp and her Career Path Appreciation (both in terms of being assessed through CPA and trained in it).
Context VII acquired its first Canadian client, Canadian Tire Acceptance Limited (CTAL), as a result of one of George’s presentations at Drake. CTAL’s new President, Jos Wintermans, had attended and found the concepts highly appealing. As was quickly determined, Wintermans was a Stratum V capable role holder. George conducted this work initially himself, along with one of his American partners and Paul Tremlett. Don Brookes later took up the follow-on work.
As a result of this engagement, Jos Wintermans became a strong believer and applier of Jaques’ principles. As President and CEO at Rogers Cable in the late 1990’s he commissioned another round of consulting work. This time he sought support from Donna Nelham, Paul Tremlett, and Rich Morgan (his VP of Human Resources at CTAL who had recently moved into independent consulting practice). Wintermans also participated in some of the training events held by the Association for Creative Change and Organization Development (ACCORD), contributing to others’ understanding and appreciation of the principles and their application.
Shortly after the CTAL work, Context VII dissolved. However, George carried on as Harding Consulting, recruiting Don Brookes as his lead in Canada. Don did much to steep himself in the principles and undertook efforts to market them in the Toronto and Canadian business environment. He also spoke several times to professional colleagues through groups like OD Network, helping to make that community more aware of Elliott’s work.
A next major piece of work for Harding Consulting, again involving some of the Canadian group George had assembled, was support for Imperial Oil’s merger of its upstream organization in Calgary Alberta with Texaco’s Canadian exploration and producing unit. Closely on the heels of this work came a project with Sunoco’s downstream marketing organization in Toronto. Again, a team of George and his Canadian associates undertook this fairly large contract. Sunoco President Doug MacKenzie was so interested in the principles, even after leaving Sunoco, that he played a part in forming a group to advance the work that included some senior Canadian consulting professionals, such as Steve Ferris and Mark Van Clieaf. This group held at least one conference and also performed some work at Stelco, one of Canada’s largest steel making companies.
One of George’s gifts to the Canadian scene was encouraging his “associate” group to venture forth into their own projects in both the private and public (Federal and Ontario Provincial) sectors. This group, initially known as The CORE Partners, ultimately became COREinternational inc. Like the Harding Group, it made organization design its focal offering with Requisite Organization principles a major underpinning of its approach. This firm went on to work in large Canadian firms such as Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Inco Limited. With the support of a Quebec-based colleague and practitioner, Michel Desjardins, former VP for Quality and Customer Service at Xerox Canada, it extended its work with Inco internationally.
George also introduced another Canadian colleague, Ron Capelle, to Elliott’s work in the late 1980’s. Ron read A General Theory of Bureaucracy and began applying the ideas. Ron approached Elliott about meeting with him, and Elliott set up a “boot camp” for Ron and Gerry Kraines (now head of the Levinson Institute in the Boston area). Ron began a lifelong relationship with Elliott who became a mentor, friend and colleague. When George Harding discovered that he was terminally ill and could not complete the project that he had started with the Suncor corporate office, he selected Ron to complete it for him.
Ron had by then specialized in organization design with Elliott’s principles as the core of his work. He developed Capelle Associates which is an organization design consultancy. The firm also conducts extensive research which has shown the relationship of better organization design to better financial performance, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. The firm has worked with clients in the private, public and non-profit sectors in Canada, the United States, Europe and South America. They have clients who have used these organization design practices since 1995 (BMO Bank of Montreal) and 1996 (VISA Canada) respectively.
Coincidental with all of the above mentioned initiatives, Whirlpool Canada (then Inglis Limited), with Maurice Dutrisac as its Vice President Human Resources, was applying RO principles. This was in part driven by a Whirlpool corporate initiative focussed on talent pool development. Elliott’s colleague and co-author of Executive Leadership, Steven Clement, participated in this work in Canada as well as the USA.
With the publication in the late 1980’s of Elliot’s eighteenth book, Requisite Organization, A Total System for Effective Managerial Organization and Managerial Leadership for the 21st Century, the ground swell began. Some of the success stories began to catch the attention of the larger community of organization effectiveness practitioners. Of special note in this Canadian RO history is how ACCORD, under the leadership of people like Ken Shepard and Ken Frey, undertook a series of seven-day and three-day training sessions, coupled with several one-day conferences (some in collaboration with other professional associations). In 1991 Mark Van Clieaf and the Planning Forum sponsored a conference entitled “From Strategy to Structure” which featured Elliott on the concept of the vertical structure and Geary Rummler on the horizontal. Others, such as John Bryan, made public presentations to groups such as OISE and the Developmental Psychologists Association. Elliott himself presented at the OD Network annual conference held in Toronto around this time.
This exposure brought both Elliott and his work considerable notoriety in the Southern Ontario region. His presence in Ontario, along with his life and work partner Kathryn Cason (who was conducting the RO training and conferences ), began to garner consulting work in a number of Canadian organizations. Of note was their involvement with Ontario Hydro, through the initial efforts of Jim Crist, a member of the utility’s human resources team, and at Hoffmann LaRoche, where Charlotte Bygrave, then Vice President of Human Resources, worked with them to make a significant intervention in that company. Elliott and Kathryn trained a core of individuals at Hydro who became steeped in the principles and their application. These folks include the likes of Morley Katz, Jim Crist, Terry Seigel, and others. Morley is now in the process of writing a book incorporating RO principles, aligning them with other conceptual thought.
The ACCORD training programs and conferences also spawned a growing cadre of consulting professionals who began to incorporate Jaques’ principles into their individual practices and firms. Some made RO the mainstay of their work. This included senior consultants.
- Steve Ferris has gone on to help several Canadian companies through the application of the principles.
- Brian Brittain, Brian Beiles, and Herb Koplowitz of The Cadence Group aggressively moved the principles into their client work. Herb had introduced Requisite Organization to the group, having earlier been exposed to it by George Harding. The ACCORD training gave the group the foundation it needed to venture into RO work. (Herb, through a strong professional and personal closeness with Elliott until his death, has maintained a stature in the Canadian RO community as a principal “keeper of the flame” of conceptual integrity that Elliott strived for in this work.)
- Michael Anderson, then a partner of the consulting firm Johnson Smith (Michael was previously familiar with the theory having been a colleague of George Harding’s back at Imperial Oil Limited), also incorporated RO principles into his client work.
- Ken Frey worked extensively with Kathryn at Hydro.
- Ken Shepard through his firm, The Canadian Centre for Leadership and Strategy, has taken the principles to many public organizations. Recently, in collaboration with Don Fowke and The New Management Network that Don leads, Ken has brought them to yet another large Canadian forest products company. Ken has also taken a strong leadership role in mustering the energies, resources, and knowledge of several of the Canadian practitioners and firms in building Requisite Organization in Canada. A major event will be an international conference at the BMO Financial Group's Institute for Learning in Toronto in early August 2005.
This history can’t possibly name all those individuals who have (and are) making a contribution to the advancement of RO in Canada. (It can salute you. You know who you are and your contributions.)
This has been some of the past. In the present, various firms and individuals are continuing the work in many private and public Canadian organizations. As mentioned, some of our community are writing and publishing on the theory. Some of the work is now, as it should be, carried on by managers in organizations and not simply by the consulting practitioners and firms. A number of the community are, since Elliott’s passing, rallying to maintain the integrity of his work, to keep awareness and application alive, to build an appreciative demand for understanding and use of the principles in the marketplace, and to pass the torch to a new generation - many of whom as yet know nothing of RO and some who know about RO but nothing of this history.