Requisite Organization

I am reading a book now called the Strategy Paradox by Raynor, which has some fascinating summary of other people’s research, as well as his own ideas.  One person he refers to is Elliot Jaques (pronounced Jacks), who did lots of good research into management, and really is not recognized for his contribution.   I remember trying to read one of his books some time ago and becoming quite confused.  I do not think he expressed his ideas well.  Jaques did a lot of research on organization structures.

One of the interesting bit of research he did on organizational hierarchies revealed that people at every level have two bosses, one their boss and the other their "real boss".  The first is the person they were nominally responsible for their actions, the latter was the person they could get a decision that matter in their work.  He found this level skipping went both ways.  The people higher up found themselves going around their immediate reports to get relevant and timely information.  This activity makes the organization dysfunctional but he found that this activity was very common.

During his study, Jaques worked on how to distinguish between different jobs in the hierarchy.  He discovered that jobs could be defined by their time horizon.  One person could be concerned about this months results, another the quarter, another the year and others multi-years. 

He found that people who had a time horizon of less than three months, considered the person with a time horizon of three months, their "real boss".  In his work he identified seven levels of hierarchy based on time horizons no matter the complexity of the organization.  He called the seven levels, Requisite Organization.  Often companies have extra layers of organization.  Jaques calls them integrating layers that have the same time horizon as the the layer that reports to them. 

In order to verify his theory Jaques took information for studies done "felt-fair" pay studies.  He found that the criterion of time horizon for decision making was the criterion that had the highest correlation with feeling fairly paid.  Other criteria for feeling fairly paid, like know-how, job impact and seniority, were dramatically less correlated.

This all very interesting and we can all recognize weakness in organizations where we have work.  However all it does is describe the organization and predicts difficulties.  What the theory does not do is tell us what to do about the problem.  I think this fact and the way Jaques expresses his ideas kept his idea becoming mainstream.  Even the name is a bit pompous. 

However the idea of using time horizons to analyze organization decision making and the setting of strategy can be very helpful.  The pace of change in technology is changing the time horizons of all levels of management. 

Multi-year projects to introduce new processes and technology have huge built-in uncertainty.  The people who have to make these decision live in a world of uncertainty.  The author of the Strategy Paradox coins a term "Requisite Uncertainty" to adapt Jaques idea to peoples planning horizons.  The longer the time horizon, the greater your range of choices, but less certainty of what precisely to do. 

The shorter your time horizon is the more important it is to have a strong commitment to your course of action because your options are considerably less.

Thus Jaques theory help us think about the roles of various levels in the hierarchy in the strategy of an organization.   I also find it helps me model organization structures that might be a bit confusing.

I expect the tension between an IT organization and their users can be traced back to time horizons.  That is why we feel that a focus on Rapid Results in the context of a broader strategy and this focus helps bridge the gap of time horizons. 

  1. Roland Moreno Reply

    What is the difference between a Goal and an Accountability?
    What is the definition of an Accountability in relation to a Requisite Organization.

  2. Michelle Malay Carter Reply

    Yes, you’ve made a nice summary. Your assertion about IT and the rest of the organization would need to be a little more specific before I could comment. The most common causes of stress within organizations are:
    1. Person to role mismatch
    2. Person to manager mismatch
    3. Role to role mismatch
    4. Unclear or mismatched accountabilities and authorities

  3. Jim Reply

    Michelle, you seeme to be a Requisite Organization expert. I was wondering what you thought of my summary and the idea of the levels issue being a source of conflict between the IT people and the rest of the organization.

  4. Michelle Malay Carter Reply

    Although I don’t always lead with his name or the model name, I’ve been blogging about Jaques’ ideas and their practical application at:

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