A couple of people have asked me to amplify my inquiry about the
implementation of Elliott Jaques' model of "requisite organisation". I
have prepared the following summary of *my* understanding of the key
points of Jaques' ideas.
The references which I have seen are:
Jaques, E., 1989. Requisite Organisation - the CEO's Guide to Creative
Structure and Leadership, Cason Hall and Co. (ISBN 0-9621070-0-X)
Jaques, E., 1990. In Praise of Hierarchy. Harvard Business Review,
January-February 1990: 127-133.
Jaques, E., and Clement, S.D., 1991 (reprinted 1995). Executive
Leadership. Blackwell and Cason Hall & Co. (ISBN 0-631-19313-8,
Jaques,. E., and Cason, K., 1994. Human Capability. Cason Hall & Co.
In his writings, Jaques goes into significant detail in elaborating his
ideas and in describing their practical application. I reiterate that
what follows is my understanding of Jaques' ideas. [Personal comments are
enclosed in square brackets]:
An organisation structure is a defined set of role relationships which,
implicitly or explicitly, set limits of behaviour and action and, hence,
imply freedom of behaviour within those limits. [Remaining within those
limits ensures tranquil role interactions; conflict comes from pushing
beyond the limits. But innovation and progress often also come from
pushing beyond these limits (paradigms?). "Reasonable men adapt
themselves to the world. Unreasonable men adapt the world to themselves.
That's why all progress depends on unreasonable men" - George Bernard
A MANAGERIAL HIERARCHY is an employment system where people are organised
into an accountability hierarchy of managerial and subordinate roles. [We
have found the word "subordinate" to be negatively value-laden for many
people so we use the word "staff" instead]. Jaques' holds that
managerial hierarchies are the most natural and efficient form for large
organisations of people employed to work and, properly structured, can
release energy and creativity and improve morale.
In a managerial hierarchy, a manager has three critical accountabilities.
The manager is accountable for:
1. the output of staff [or of a process] and adding value to their work;
2. sustaining a team of staff [or a process] capable of producing those
3. exercising effective managerial leadership, ie., setting direction for
staff and getting them to willingly work along with him/her to move in
Everyone, of course, is also accountable for his or her own personal
effectiveness within a role.
In order for managers to be able to discharge these accountabilities, they
must also have four minimum authorities:
1. veto of appointment of an unacceptable staff member;
2. decide assignment of tasks;
3. decide (not simply recommend) personal effectiveness appraisals and
merit rewards; and
4. decide, after due process, to initiate removal of a staff member from
the team (note, not necessarily the authority to dismiss the person from
Jaques defines WORK as the exercise of judgement and discretion in order
to carry out a TASK - defined as an assignment to produce an output of
specified quantity and quality within a given time and with allocated
resources, for a given purpose (context) and within prescribed limits of
action and behaviour (policies, procedures etc.). Work is carried out in
the context of a person's ROLE in the organisation, that is the position
As one goes higher in a work system, the complexity of problem solving [or
problem creation - in a postive sense] increases; there are more and more
complex problems of longer and shorter project completion time. The LEVEL
OF WORK or "weight of responsibility" in a role is reflected by the degree
of complexity of that role. The greater the complexity, the greater the
level of work. Many people agree that the greater the complexity (level
of work) in a role, the greater should be the remuneration attached to
Clearly, the tasks in a role will not all be of the same level of
complexity. A person in a particular role will have variety of tasks -
some simple some complex - but the higher the level of complexity of the
most complex tasks in role, the higher in the organisation those tasks
A simple measure of the complexity of a role or the level of work is
provided by the TIME SPAN OF DISCRETION - the longest of the maximum
target completion times of the tasks or task sequences in a role. The
longer the time span of discretion, the higher the level of work. Studies
have also indicated a high correlation between the time span of discretion
of a role and felt fair pay.
The time span measurement is not a good gauge of the degree of complexity
of a task. The task completion time provides only a measure of minimum
complexity - for example a relatively simple task might become complex if
it is compressed into a much shorter time frame. Nor can one look at the
complexity of a problem or task in terms of the result which is to be
achieved. One must consider what has to be done to achieve the result -
the process or the pathway which must be followed on the way to the goal.
Jaques theorises that that role complexity does not increase in a
continuous way but in a discontinuous or step-wise manner. Using the time
span measure of role complexity, he proposes that these discontinuities
appear at time spans of 1 day, 3 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10
years, 20 years and 50 years. These breaks in role complexity form the
natural boundaries between managerial levels or "strata" in a managerial
hierarchy, regardless of political, social, economic and cultural
differences. A person within one stratum will consider others in the same
stratum as peers. Staff will only recognise as their "real manager" a
person who is in the stratum above them (assuming that person is capable
within that stratum).
To explain the cause of the development of these stratum discontinuities
in managerial hierarchies, Jaques links them with categories of peoples'
mental processing capability.
Jaques has proposed that the complexity of mental processes develops in a
hierarchy of stages (there are noted parallels with Piaget's theories of
cognitive development and Kohlberg's theories of the development of moral
values and judgement). Furthermore, there is a correspondence between a
person's current category of complexity of mental processing (which can be
objectively determined) and the highest level work role (stratum) which
that person has the potential capability to carry.
To be capable of operating successfully in a particular role (at a
particular stratum), a person must have:
* the right level of complexity of mental processes;
* a commitment to the type of work (must value the work);
* the necessary skilled knowledge; and
* an absence of any negative temperamental traits.
Problems in an organisation can arise when a person is in role at a level
higher than his or her current capability (stress and an inability to
cope) or at a level below his or her current capability (frustration);
when there are too many layers (people bypass their notional managers and
go directly to their "real" manager in the next natural stratum above) or
when there are too few layers (difficulties in delegating appropriately).
A REQUISITE ORGANISATION is one which is structured so that the number of
managerial layers are consistent with these natural boundaries; which has
the appropriate role relationships in terms of accountabilities and
authorities; and in which roles are occupied by people who are fully
capable of working in those roles.
***** end of summary *****
I personally find these ideas intuitively appealing and consistent with my
own experience. The trouble we are having in implementing them in our
organisation seems to be related mainly to some senior and middle managers
who feel that their own postions or relative status are under threat (not
unusual). Some of these have simply relabeled their exisiting layers as
"strata" or made only cosmetic changes. Where staff, knowing that
problems exist with the current situation, see that "stratification" in
their immediate area comprises a structure and role relationships which
are exactly the same as before, or where obvious anomalies continue
unrectified, their already deep mistrust of any management initiated
change is further reinforced (the BOHICA Syndrome). Paradoxically,
Jaques' ideas which, if implemented, actually give a considerable degree
of freedom to staff at lower levels, are also causing stress in some staff
at the lowest levels who do not want the accountabilities which come with
Another source of friction is the concept of merit pay increases in a
strongly entrenched culture of collective increases. Although staff
surveys have shown dissatisfaction with the inability of the current
system to differentially recognise and remunerate good performers there is
a significant degree of mistrust of managers' ability to assess
performance in an equitable manner. This is a subject which warrants a
thread of its own.
These difficulties are amplified by a somewhat tense industrial relations
climate at a whole of public sector level and within our organisation.
So I am looking for other organisations which have successfully overcome
some of the practical difficulties of implementing these concepts to see
if there are any tips we could use or traps we should avoid.
David Howard <email@example.com>
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <firstname.lastname@example.org> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>