As cited earlier, the genesis of our principles is the research and findings of
Dr. Elliott Jaques. Over a fifty-year period of research and publishing, Dr. Jaques developed what is known as Requisite Organization Theory — an all-encompassing systems theory focused on designing, staffing, and managing work in organizations. Dr. Jaques’ empirical-based theory is normative in the sense that it prescribes organizational structure parameters (dimensions); human cognitive capabilities; compensation and rewards; accountabilities and authorities; and managerial attributes required to bring the most satisfaction to people in organizations and, at the same time, maximize the value produced by those organizations. His years of research lead him to identify basic requirements for organizational design in large organizations, that is, what is “requisite” to meet the aspirations and goals of individuals in organizations and of the organizations themselves. “Requisite” to Dr. Jaques was “required by nature”—in this case, required for an organized workplace; hence, the name Requisite Organization Theory.
Over the past decade, we have tailored many of the concepts of Requisite Organization to reflect findings from our own research and studies. It was this tailoring process, supplemented by two decades of real-life application experiences, that led to the development of the organizational design principles described in the book (It’s All About Work).
Why Requisite Organization Theory
Why principles based on Requisite Organization Theory rather than one of the many other empirically based theories and models. First, Jacques’s work focused on both large and small, complex organizations. Large organizations are pejoratively referred to as bureaucracies; we prefer the words hierarchal organizations. Large organizations are characterized by thousands of employees, complex working relationships, global operations, seven to nine organization levels, and multiple functions, products, and services. These were the types of organizations that Dr. Jaques studied. Some were corporate (e.g., Glacier Metals, CRA-Rio Tinto, and Whirlpool); some were governmental (e.g., U.S. Army, British National Health Care System, and the Church of England). Other organizations were smaller in size but still complex (e.g., Novus International, Ontario Hydro, and Gilbert Associates). Dr. Jaques concluded that nearly all organizations suffered from basic organizational pathologies that prevented them from being efficient or effective. According to Dr. Jaques, when organizations are properly structured, they are capable of releasing the full potential of employees and of achieving world class performance standards.
Second, Requisite Organization Theory is a total systems theory. Like all systems theory applications, if designed properly, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To achieve the synergies associated with total systems theory, the organizational conditions underlying effective workplace systems must be studied and analyzed as well as the psychological conditions that affect each individual within the workplace.
Requisite Organization Theory integrates multiple dimensions of people and processes with organizational design. The human dimension couples psychological, social, cognitive, and motivational variables (i.e., the soft variables) with compensation, rewards, teams, accountabilities, and authorities (i.e., the hard variables).
It’s All About Work
This means addressing structural issues early on, followed by ensuring that all existing systems and processes support desired behaviors. For example, the compensation system should actually pay people for producing desired outcomes, the planning system should be sufficient to encompass the proper time horizon necessary to deal with long-term issues (e.g., strategic uncertainty), and the human resource (HR) system should properly focus on reinforcing desired behaviors (e.g., ensuring that operating values are congruent with stated values) so that leadership challenges are met with tangible as well as practical solution sets and not limited to the latest leadership fad (e.g., Follower leadership). Like all systems theories, Requisite Organization features a complex set of variables, each of which is interdependent with all the others. Many corporate executives and agency heads shy away from trying to address the whole system because of the system’s complexity. Instead, they look for a quick fix. In our opinion, no such fix exists. The real challenge facing senior executives in organizations is, how quickly they can address the full range of challenges that lay before them. Our principles do not employ all of Dr. Jacques’s findings, but many of them are grounded in some part of Requisite Organization Theory.
Finally, and most importantly, our own experience has demonstrated that Requisite Organization Theory tenets work in practice. Additionally, we have found others who have employed Requisite Organization Theory with equal success. Our personal success has been in tailoring the theory and principles to better meet contemporary organizational need