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We've been collecting requisite organization-related materials on our web site for seven years.
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This is a response to a LinkedIn question. Forrest Christian suggested in a comment to another post that I post my responses here as well. Those of you are LinkedIn members can read the whole question and all other answers here .
My answer was:
No matter how a company is organized formally, for stuff to get done people need to communicate and work across boundaries. Researchers have done social network analysis in organizations and have seen that some bosses cannot handle this; they force everything to go through them, so of course they end up being bottlenecks.
My belief is that matrix organizations were “invented” to address the non-cooperation between unit managers. But we still have a lot of turf wars and alpha-male behavior. We also see organizations apparently in endless committee meetings.
My opinion is that matrix organizations were a “quick fix” to a larger and more deep-running problem. If we “solve” those problems we will not need matrix organizations. Managers needs to be selected ,trained and rewarded for abilities to:
The matrix is an organizational mystery to me. So popular, so reviled, so dysfunctional, so often suggested by the major consultancies.
My first encounter with the matrix was in the eighties when one of the major consultancies had suggested a matrix to the big international chemicals company where I was working. Fantastic product company, but they needed to know about marketing and markets, to which the matrix was the answer. The new region to which I belonged got a forceful manager who quickly made his mark, pushed the right sort of issues and quickly got the product division to hate and undermine him. A “war” in which we in our market had to do our best to survive, while keeping customers happy and churning out plans and reports in all directions to keep the matrix happy. Good job that chemicals were so profitable then that they could afford using 20-25% of our resources for planning and reporting.
Not so long ago I did a specific organizational audit in an exceptionally profitable company. They had been wrestling with the issue of emulating their one-product/one-market success to more products and more markets. The big consultancy had solved this by implementing a matrix. Now everything seemed to be decided in committee, where all participants appeared to have the right to veto decisions for their particular market/product. Accountabilities were vague and unclear and role descriptions inflated. Good job they have all those profits so they can afford all those people sitting in meetings.
In one organization where I worked the combination of the matrix and Parkinsons law led to the proliferation of jobs. On the product side of the matrix they started adding people to deal with market areas and on the market side people to deal with product areas. The least one could say is that we did double our efforts.
My most absurd encounter with the matrix was in a major government agency, interviewing a manager with a vertical responsibility. Being a seasoned bureaucrat used to sitting in headquarters issuing edicts he was concerned with his mandate. “Look here”, he said pointing to the intersection between his vertical and a specific horisontal responsibility. “Look at that box”, he said, “could one not draw a diagonal in that particular box, so that I am in charge of that resulting triangle, and the horizontal manager in charge of the remaining triangle”.
I believe that the matrix was an honest attempt to address the fact that people need to cooperate to get stuff done and that drawing the matrix was the quickest way of fixing that. However, the nature of people does not seem to have changed. We still had the same issues with power, office politics and accountabilities. The managers on the top team more concerned with making their mark and jockeying for pole position.
More about what I think matrixes are attempting to solve and alternative solutions will follow in coming ports.
If writing a book seems too big a commitment at the moment, what about just doing a case study? A case study stands on its own, but could also end up being part of any book you might eventually write. The nice thing about the case study is that it’s nicely bounded—you just have to tell what happened starting at the beginning and telling the story through to the end.
Case studies also have the merit of being real. A good case study doesn’t need to rely on profound theoretical insights or novel frameworks; we all love and can learn from a good story. Furthermore it’s a good chance to practice articulating your ideas and can be re-purposed into an article or speech.
If you had any sense of unease at the thought of writing a case study it is probably because you have read bad case studies in the past. There are many ways to be bad, but they all boil down to the story not being credible. I’ve seen cases where cases about minor consulting interventions were credited with the 1990s turnaround of IBM. I’ve seen cases where the simple linearity of the story doesn’t ring true. Worst of all is reading cases where you know something about the organization and think “It wasn’t like that at all!”
So the most critical thing in a case study is that it has to be thoroughly truthful. Aim for that, rather than aiming for something that flatters your work, and people will be interested in the story.
Why it’s difficult to tell the truth
As artists have long known, in human affairs there is never just one truth. Furthermore, in real life there is seldom a clear beginning and rarely a definitive end. Reality is a tangle of causes, outcomes and perspectives and even for stories where we were a leading character we may only know a small part of the whole tale.
This should not be cause for discouragement, but it should serve warning that telling the story of your case study will require some research into other perspectives, some artistic decisions on how to tell the tale and a good deal of humility.
Managers can handle complexity in a story, they understand that things get messy and go off course, don’t feel you to dumb down the case to drive home your own conclusion.
You will have to simplify reality to tell any kind of coherent story, but let the reader know you are aware of what you are doing. Give enough context so that the reader has a perspective on how your story fits in with the other things going on in the organization at the time.
Talk to as many people as possible who were involved in the case to broaden your own perspective. If there are disagreements about what happened or why, then include that as part of the commentary. You don’t need to be the omniscient narrator, you can just tell the story from the viewpoint of a well-informed participant.
Co-writing the story with one or more of the key managers involved will add breadth and credibility to the case.
Pay attention to the missteps in the journey. After the fact we like to tell straightforward stories about how we analysed the situation, identified gaps and implemented processes to address those gaps leading to a remarkable ROI. In reality, we wander about trying to make sense of the situation, make foolish mistakes, run into unforeseen barriers, fail at some things, and succeed on others. Try to include some of these meanderings in the story; the missteps are usually the most enlightening part.
How to get started
Pick a case you know very well and then approach the organization involved and see if they will participate. Let them know that this is not meant to be a puff piece but a serious contribution to the management literature (but that of course you’ll let them OK the draft before anything is published).
It’s not essential to get formal agreement from the client, you can always write a case about an anonymous organization, but it clearly better to do so.
Next it’s a good idea to review your emails to remind yourself of the chronology of what happened. After that you have the relatively easy step of interviewing participants to get their memories of what happened and why.
Then the writing begins and this is relatively easy because you simply start at the beginning and work through to the end. Don’t worry too much if your first pass is a bit messy, once you’ve got it out on paper a second pass will be much more coherent. Consider getting assistance from a professional writer if the writing step is a barrier to getting the case study completed.
Our underlying beliefs and values drive our behaviors. Jack Welch believed, “If you’ve got 16 employees, at least two are turkeys.” From this belief flowed the talent management systems at GE. One of the most controversial (and unfortunately emulated) practices was that of cutting the bottom performing 10% of employees annually.
Judy at the Employee Factor, who also questions the practice, posted some statistics showing that these beliefs and practices are still common.
Systems telegraph values and drive behavior.
In addition to, “two in 16 employees are turkeys,” what does the practice of cutting the bottom 10% of employees annually telegraph and drive? (Hint: It’s not trust nor engagement.)
Cutting the bottom 10% annually is a defensive, compensatory system for lack of understanding of work levels, human capability and managerial leadership.
If you believe that: I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system, you would design your organization accordingly. We need to equip, train and support (through systems design) line managers to successfully discharge their managerial leadership duties.
We wouldn’t let our untrained neighbor perform surgery on us in our backyard with a hacksaw, a hardback copy of “What Good Surgeons Do”, and a pep talk. Yet we put employees in managerial positions, offer them some platitudes, the latest best-selling book on leadership, and send them off to lead “our most valuable asset” in polluted environments with inadequate tools.
Jack Welch is brilliant, and I admire many things about him, this is not one of them. I have a more positive belief set regarding human nature and our desire to do meaningful work. All we need to do is create work-enabling systems that eliminate conflicts of interest for employees, and send them off to work.
I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system. In my next post I will discuss how I would take an offensive rather than a defensive approach to low performance.
Have you ever been the victim of a bottom 10% cut? Have you ever been forced to cut an employee who didn’t deserve to be cut?.
A small group of passionate practitioners who want to change the world!
For seven years we’ve worked hard and had some fun while building strong foundations for the society’s future work.
We’ve established our legal structure, governance, banking, payment systems, insurance, auditors, by-laws, and policies in Toronto. We also established a legal office, bank account, a payment processor and an Amazon.com store, all in the USA to better serve that market and the world in US currency with world-class fulfillment services. And we have Ken Craddock’s extraordinary comprehensive bibliography of our field and an enviable collection of donated books, articles, dissertations, videos of practitioner interviews and presentation -- all available 24-7 to the world through our web site.
Our accomplishments have earned broad credibility and built trust among our affiliates and corporate and university co-sponsors. These good works include three world conferences, two in Toronto in English, and one in Buenos Aires innovating with simultaneous translation and using SKYPE video to offer virtual speakers. Other accomplishments include a variety of special events, executive briefings, public professional development workshops, teaching clinics and video interviews with senior practitioners on four continents. We've published a major book and built a second-generation web site that can now support our substantial library resources, events, journals, on-line professional development programs, database management, emailing, surveying and on-line store sales.
What will stage two look like?
What's desirable and possible given the environment and our vision, energy, capability and resources?
At this point, we need to refine and align our vision and goals, build a more robust and sustainable business model, and develop activities that engage, develop and support our affiliates at a higher level.
The board is scheduling a number of strategic discussions with consultation and input from our ABC (academic, business user, and consultant) affiliates leading up to our Organization Design Summit, October 22-25th .
Through our ABC synergies, we have amassed a mountain of resource materials. However, some say that our resource library is overwhelming and that they don’t know where to start.
So for the time being we are beginning to organize our web site in three different ways:
Over the next five or so months we will be organizing new special interest web pages, and inviting you to participate in on-line discussions, surveys, and teleconferences as the board continues its strategic discussions.
Soon, we will invite you to log into the society web site and to edit your registration / profile to indicate your interest in the above special interest groups.
My current exploration into bibliographic sources has focused on what happened in the period 1968-1990 in Great Britain. Elliott and Bioss began two huge projects - one to reform the National Health Services (NHS) and the other to reform the social services departments (DSS).
The NHS reorganization was a fiasco. The internal fight was between the managers and the health professionals (led by the MDs). Costs were rising and they had to be contained. In 1974, at the last minute, the managers took over the reorganization to get power. Within two years the rebellion by the doctors to this power-grab was disowned in public by the PM who called for an inquiry into the increase in 'bureaucracy'. Elliott and Bioss took the fall and it was several years before they recovered. Maurice Kogan, formerly of Bioss and still at Brunel, was called in to sort out the mess. By then Thatcher was in as PM with a different market-based agenda. The NHS has undergone several 'reformations' since - with several more likely in the offing. After the destuction by the medical staff of the 1974 reforms it appears the managers have since prevailed under the banner of cost-reductions. (But Baumol's cost disease still lives, so I suspect we have not heard the last from the doctors yet.)
The DSS reorganization by contrast went fairly smoothly. The social workers wished themselves to be 'autonomous professionals', but they were already part of a bureaucracy. Two PhD theses were done on DSS and showed that accountability had been established within the hierarchy. David Billis and colleagues played a big role in stabilizing this situation in the 1980s. Slowly, the blame-throwing became limited even during crises, which still came about randomly. Social workers were accountable for their judgment and less for outcomes beyond their control. Actually, they seem to have begun to defend themselves.
Meanwhile, the UK in the 1980s was convulsed with public finger-pointing in the form of auditors and audit-committees. This was partly driven by cost concerns, but mostly it was Puritanism run amuk. The common assumption was Taylorism in its pure form: 'There is nothing wrong with the machine. If everyone does their part the outcome will be as predicted.' Of course, managers have to be there to redesign a changing system, but they were busy using their authority to enforce accountability. (An obscene act and a dereliction of managerial duty, but accepted by the public.)
Documenting what went wrong and what went right has been informative. I'd like to know more about Kogan's role and his relationships. Also, the simultaneous movement in the US toward HMOs as a method of medical cost control was very interesting. Neither public seems to be aware that the doctor-patient relationship is altered when a manager enters the equation and the doctor becomes an employee. Maybe it is not as important to them as is cost.
The recent US changes in the medical services law need to be addressed from this perspective. The US has the most expensive medical care in the world - but probably not the best.
A partir de 2004, la Global Organization Design Society ha emprendido la misión de documentar la experiencia mundial del diseño y la conducción de organizaciones basada sobre los conceptos de Elliott Jaques y de Wilfred Brown. Parte de este empeño es la generación de recursos para el mundo de habla hispana, tales como artículos, libros y grabaciones en video. Un hito mayor en esta acción fue la realización de nuestro congreso mundial, celebrado en Buenos Aires en octubre de 2009.
En esta oportunidad, deseo invitar a las personas interesadas en tener ideas más claras sobre el cuerpo teórico y de práctica de la Organización Requerida a hacer uso de una selección de recursos en castellano. En la próxima edición de este blog nos centraremos en una orientación para aproximarse al tema de la capacidad humana según Elliott Jaques.
Materiales disponibles en el sitio de Global Organization Design Society:
Herb Koplowitz y Ken Craddock, dos activos colaboradores de nuestra asociación, identifican las preguntas más frecuentes que suelen hacer quienes se acercan a la teoría de la Organización Requerida, y desarrollan respuestas claras y contundentes.
El académico Jerry Harvey, con su habitual estilo que combina la profundidad del análisis con el uso del humor, marca la singularidad de la teoría de la Organización Requerida y discurre sobre los amplios alcances de sus aplicaciones reales y potenciales.
Breve artículo escrito en 2007, que resume mi mejor intento por presentar los aspectos esenciales de la teoría de la Organización Requerida, que no son fáciles de identificar en la primera aproximación. Lo utilizo como lectura previa a actividades de formación en esta teoría.
Libros publicados actualmente disponibles:
La Dra. Nancy Lee, consultora de extensa experiencia en grandes proyectos de aplicación de la Organización Requerida, colaboradora directa de Elliott Jaques durante largos años y miembro de nuestro directorio, ha escrito este libro que resume el campo de la Organización Requerida de un modo sumamente didáctico e inteligible. También presenta la crónica de dos grandes casos de aplicación en empresas.
Este libro ha sido publicado por Ediciones Granica, Buenos Aires. La segunda edición es de 2004. La versión castellana fue revisada y aprobada por un grupo de consultores argentinos que trabajaron en estrecha colaboración con Elliott Jaques. Esta obra, dirigida expresamente a ejecutivos principales, representa la presentación más comprensiva y orientada a la aplicación que se ha producido sobre la Organización Requerida.
These questions are among the most frequently asked about RO.
Jerry Harvey has argued persuasively that RO is anaclitically threatening to many who write and publish about management. It pulls out from under those writers' and publishers' ideas they lean on to make sense of the workplace, ideas like the need for democratic decision making in the workplace or that we are all equally gifted. (I would add that the notion of holding someone to account or of deselecting a subordinate is anaclitically threatening to managers who lean on being well liked.)
Harald Solaas has also noted that RO is consistently misunderstood. Those who learn about RO assimilate what they read and hear to their current conceptual frameworks, and this distorts the intended message.
In a recent letter to the Board of the GO Society, Decio Fabio added an additional point to Jerry’s and Harald’s insights:
“My observation is that when we try to prove others are wrong, narrow minded, old fashioned, etc. they immediately fight against us even before they understand what we are saying. We need to acknowledge the fact that Jaques’s ideas aren’t so easy to grasp at first glimpse, they look (at surface) old fashioned military hierarchy and they need practice to comprehend.”
I draw two points from Fabio’s letter.
I would add one more point, one that not all of my colleagues may agree with me about: I believe we have learned too much from our successes and not enough from our failures. In “Why RO theory is so difficult to understand”, Harald Solaas made the following observation:
I am sure we have all lived the situation in which “critics” contend that these predictions [made by RO] are mistaken because their own experience contradicts them, blind to the fact that their data come from observation done under non-requisite conditions. (His italics.)
I believe we make a similar error, that too much of our own learning about human nature in the workplace comes from our experience in workplaces where capability, culture, personalities and other factors make it possible to successfully apply standard approaches to RO and its implementation. As far as I am aware, we lack understandings and approaches that are general enough to be relevant to a broader array of organizations. Until we broaden our horizons and our methodologies, we will continue to appeal to a small market, sales and implementation will continue to be difficult, and RO is unlikely to move into the main stream of management.
 Harvey, Jerry “Musing About the Elephant in the Parlor or “Who the Hell is Elliott Jaques?”, pp. 173 – 202 in Harvey, Jerry How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed In the Back My Fingerprints Are On the Knife? Jossey-Bass, 1999
 Harald Solaas: “Why is RO theory so difficult to understand?” http://globalro.org/en/go-library/articles-excerpts-a-chapters/134-why-ro-theory-is-so-difficult-to-understand.html, 2003
If you have time then writing a big substantial book can be a great way to capture and communicate your ideas. But the problem for most putative authors is that time is exactly what they lack. So an important decision for authors is whether they need to write a big book or if a little one will do.
It is pretty much the case that a 600 page book is twice as much work as a 300 page book, and a 300 page book three times as much effort as a 100 page one. If time is an issue and a shorter book is suitable for your purpose then it makes sense to keep the book as short as reasonable.
What is “reasonable” in book length seems driven more by ill-considered conventions rather than any rational analysis. A lot of people seem to think a business book needs to be 200-300 pages; that’s why you read so many books that could have been written in 50 pages but have been pumped full of fluff. But given how important the length of the book is to whether or not you’ll actually get it done, it is worth challenging the conventions.
How Short Can a Book Be?
The first question is how the book will be received at a first-impressions level. If a book is only 30 pages long then people may not accept that it’s a book at all, they’ll say it’s a white paper. There is perhaps a lower boundary at around 50 pages for it to be considered a book with all the credibility that that implies. Now it may be that a brilliant concise 30 word paper will be more read, more discussed and more influential than a 400 page book—so we shouldn’t throw out the notion that maybe a white paper will serve our purposes as well as a book—but for now let’s assume we want something people will see as a ‘real book’.
If we accept that a book could be as short as 50 pages then the question becomes why would you write anything longer? It comes down to content. In a good 400 page book you wouldn’t want anything left out, you may even be wishing for more. I don’t think anyone ever wished Jaques Requisite Organization was only half as long. So of course, you write the book to be as long as it needs to be. But it’s a very different mindset to feel that the book will be as long as necessary, than to think you need to fill 300 pages with stuff.
Deciding that the book will be as short as possible can also lead to improved quality. With effort we often find the 1000 word essay can be made clearer and more forceful in 500 words. With the goal of writing a short book in mind we think “What are the really important ideas?” and “How can I express them crisply?”
So for most authors I suggest aiming to write a short book and if the demands of the content make it a longer one then that is fine. Just remember that a short high quality book will be easier for you write and better for you audience than a long one.