My last blog engendered interesting and useful responses, both as posts and as personal emails to me. In future, I should like to engage more with these responses. For the moment, client work, moving, and preparing to spend July in Nepal with my son are all occupying my attention. In August, I expect to be more responsive to those who respond. In the meantime, please do continue to respond. The dialogue that will ensue is, for me, what is important about the blog.
I would also like to be very clear that the views I express in this blog represent my point of view, unless otherwise indicated. While Elliott Jaques was alive, I always understood “Requisite Organization” to be whatever he said it was. Given that his own point of view developed with his experience and maturation, there is no reason to expect that his point of view today would be identical to how it was over seven years ago when he was still with us. With his passing, there is no authority to definitively state what is RO and what is not. So, in this blog, any time I refer to RO it should be understood as how I make sense of RO.
The issue I’d like to address this month starts with the puzzle clients often have as to why they should use a particular template from RO, e.g. from a CEO at Stratum V:
“You have shown me that I have a manager at Stratum IV with a subordinate at Stratum II, but I don’t have a problem with that. Why should I pay over $150,000 per year for a new employee at Stratum III to place between those two?”
There are at least two ways in which one can approach such a question.
The approach taken in most of management literature is craft, methods and templates to solve real problems, grounded in precedent. There is tremendous value in the practicality of craft, but craft has limited explanatory power. If all we could say is, “Don’t have gaps between managers and their subordinates because Jack Welch didn’t allow gaps at G.E.”, we wouldn’t be able to tell our client the consequences of having a gap.
RO methods and templates, in contrast, are engineering, which Jaques referred to as an art grounded in a science, a science being a system of facts and of laws of cause and effect. If you need a bridge to carry a certain load of traffic across a river of a certain width, the science of physics does not dictate the bridge design, but the civil engineer who creates the design will use the laws of physics to guide and justify the design: “I use 10cm cables because they have the tensile strength that will be required.” Similarly, the laws of psychology do not dictate how to structure, staff and manage an organization, but they are what we in RO use to justify our templates and methods.
How do we use this approach with our client? We use the science to predict the consequences of following the “one-managerial-level-per-stratum” template and to predict the consequences of not following it:
“If you leave that gap, likely, the manager will get impatient explaining things because the explanation that comes natural for the Stratum-IV-capable manager will not be understood by the Stratum-II-capable subordinate. That means that the manager is unlikely to give a good explanation when assigning tasks and may even make task assignment so painful that the manager finds it easier to do some work personally instead of delegating it. It also means that the manager is unlikely to do good coaching because a manager at IV will not want to pay attention to Stratum-II work to see how it can be improved and will not want to have the conversations required about that level of work. The subordinate is liable to feel lost, not understanding their manager and perhaps being intimidated to ask questions. And finally, the Stratum-IV-capable manager will have to do any Stratum-III work because the subordinate is not capable of doing it. This pulls the manager down into unsatisfying work. Were there a manager at Stratum III between the two of them, these problems are not likely to occur. There would be an easier, more productive, working relationship.
Notice that these consequences of violating the “one-managerial-level-per-stratum” template all come from science. In particular, they come from the laws of cause and effect that shape our understanding of the relation between a) cognitive capacity and b) work and relationships, laws such as the following:
Because our methods and templates are grounded in science, we can use the predictive power of science to explain the benefits of using those methods and templates.
But it also opens the door for a possible rebuttal by the client:
“I hear all of that and it all makes sense to me and it would concern me except that it’s not how things are. This manager is a skilled communicator and has no trouble explaining whatever is needed to the subordinate – who happens to be very curious and is eager to understand assigned tasks and their contexts. There’s not a lot of work to be done at III. And for me it’s not worth the cost of hiring a manager between the two. The cost of having a gap is not as great to me as the cost of brining in a new manager.”
I believe that such situations do occur – situations in which the standard templates and methods are not the best solution. Realize that RO offers two criteria for designing structure:
These two criteria are not always completely congruent with each other. It is the consultant’s job to offer alternative solutions and to point out the consequences and benefits of each. It is the client’s right to judge which of the solutions best fits their needs. It is then our job to reiterate the costs of the client’s decision and to state how the CEO should handle them:
“I can understand your not wanting to bring in a new position at Stratum III with all of the resulting costs. But do keep the following points in mind:
Our methods and templates are not science but, rather, engineering, grounded in science. They are not ends in themselves but rather very useful means to the organization’s ends. Use the science we have to help clients understand the consequences of using or of not using the methods and templates. The result is better relations with your client and the best possible application of strategy: efficiently, with trust and sustainability.