Elliott Jaques Ph.D.
Below is an Excerpt from It’s All About Work.
Authored by Dr. Stephen D. Clement and Christopher R. Clement
“Who the Hell Is Elliott Jaques?” Is actually the title of chapter 8 in Dr. Jerry Harvey’s book (author of The Abilene Paradox) How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints Are on the Knife? Dr. Harvey introduces the reader to Elliott Jaques with a story of his checking out one of Elliott’s books at his “beloved institution’s” library to find that he was only the second person to ever check out the book, A General Theory of Bureaucracy (1976):
Despite its absence from the New York Times best-seller list, I read it and found it to be one of the most creative, stimulating, exciting, rigorous, confrontational, intellectually demanding, and morally provocative pieces of work I had ever read in the field of management and organizational behavior. No, that’s not accurate. I found it to be the most creative, stimulating, exciting, rigorous, confrontational, intellectually demanding, and morally provocative piece of work I had ever read in the field of management and organizational behavior. In light of my reaction, I began to wonder how I, who pride myself as being a semi-bright, relatively well-read professional inthe field of organizational behavior, had not heard of Jaques’ work.
The first person to check out the book was the one who had referred him to Jaques’s work in the first place, and that was three years prior. Harvey then proceeds to network throughout the world of organizational behavior specialists, management thinkers, consultants, academics, executives, and students in an informal poll to find who would have reason to know Elliott Jaques and understand his work. Harvey writes that the majority of the responses he received were essentially, “Who the hell is Elliott Jaques?”
Elliott Jaques did not set out to be a management thinker; in fact, by education and profession, he began his career far away from organizations, specifically with a career in medicine. He received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins followed by a Ph.D. in social relations from Harvard. Dr. Jaques moved to London and studied and worked alongside Melanie Klein in her work in psychoanalyzing children, some as young as two years old.
During World War II, Dr. Jaques was tasked by the British Army to assist in identifying which young soldiers might one day be officers and generals. It was while working in the British Army that he first began to ponder the role and impact of the organization on the individual.
Consistent with this concern, Dr. Jaques became one of the first serious management theorists to address the social role of the corporation way back in the 1960s. His whole study of organizations was centered on pondering some of the most fundamental questions of human society: What is a good social institution? Can individuals be free in an organization? Can there be fairness, justice, and liberty in a hierarchy of authorities? At the heart of these issues, according to Jaques, is the importance of managerial institutions and managerial leadership to the achievement of trust in a society. Jaques argued that managerial organizations have become the most important social institutions in a modern free-enterprise democratic society.
According to Dr. Jaques, everyone’s ideas about human nature at work are clouded by ubiquitous, invasive, and serious misconceptions. These misconceptions have continuously fueled the development of poorly designed managerial leadership systems. Dr. Jaques argued that liberty and freedom are basic conditions of individuals living and working together in social systems. If these social systems are to flourish, they must be organized requisitely to provide for the trust and justice required for effective interpersonal dealings. Dr. Jaques goes on to state that bureaucracy is the only structure that truly fits human nature. Free enterprise democracy is essential for healthy working institutions, for it places these institutions firmly in the position of having to understand social needs to be able to compete and satisfy them in order to survive. Bottom line, the question of how to organize today’s institutions requisitely should be of major concern to today’s senior executives.
It’s All About Work
Starting in 1951, Dr. Jaques authored over twenty books, many of which were seldom read or referenced in organizations throughout the world. In 1964, he first proposed the idea of time span, essentially surmising that the higher up an individual is in an organization, the longer their outlook or time horizon should be. He proposed that by measuring an individual’s time span of work, researchers could ascertain at what level of work (i.e., complexity) the individual was performing. Dr. Jaques began exploring, testing, and researching this theory in the years to follow while working at Glacier Metals in the United Kingdom. It was there that he first began to study the number of levels of management in an organization; which he called “strata.” He explored the nature of those levels and their impact on the organization, its people, and its attendant work station. Much of this early work was published in A General Theory of Bureaucracy in 1976.
Dr. Jaques’s book eventually caught the attention of Sir Roderick Carnegie, who as the chief executive officer (CEO) of CRA (a large Australian mining firm) was looking for someone in the management field to help improve the company’s competitive effectiveness. Sir Roderick had spent twelve years with McKinsey Consulting observing how the best companies in the world achieved productivity and efficiency. Sir Roderick found that having sound objectives, well-executed personnel practices, and well-implemented management practices motivated highly talented people. (In his work with McKinsey, Sir Roderick developed the strategic business unit structure that was first implemented in GE, and remains so today.)
According to Sir Roderick, Elliott Jaques brought five fundamental beliefs to organizational improvement:
A belief that management practices are seriously flawed and that they are based on erroneous assumptions about human behavior and dependent on faulty measurement indices, such as medicine in the fifteenth century. Thus, they offer a vast opportunity for improvement
A belief that development of the time-span instrument was a significant discovery that now permits the objective assessment of the size of a job. To Jaques, this was the management equivalent of medicine’s thermometer, which, when it was invented, dramatically changed the course of medical diagnosis. Discovery of time-span measurement was considered the first step in introducing scientific methods to the running of large-scale organizations.
A strong feeling that over the course of a number of years a set of universal principles would be discovered that would transform the field of management.
A belief that any long-term improvement requires the dedicated efforts and hard work of line managers at all organizational levels.
An intense feeling that any attempt at getting work done better had to be based upon the application of sound management principles. Jaques loathed so-called short-term quick fixes. To him, the only real solution was the systematic application of field-tested sound principles, and this was likely to require hard work over a longer period of time.
Dr. Jaques continued his work at CRA from 1978 to 1985. According to Sir Roderick, then chairman of CRA, Elliott had not yet fully developed his theory; what he had was a set of deeply held hypotheses. During this same period, Jaques was also involved in serious research with the U.S. Army. Jaques’s research led him to what he called Stratified Systems Theory, a theory that organizations throughout the world could and should have no more than seven distinct layers of management between the worker and the CEO. Jaques had previously discovered two organizations that in their natural state had a similar number of management layers for thousands of years. These two organizations were the Catholic Church and the combat military. Thus, Jaques was interested in studying the U.S. Army, which had seven levels of command, or management. This concept of seven levels has existed in successful armies since the days of the Roman legion.
At this same time, one of the authors of this book, Dr. Stephen Clement, was developing the current policy and doctrine for the U.S. Army’s leadership programs. Dr. Clement was assigned by the army to oversee the Jaques research project. The question Drs. Jaques and Clement began to explore was, why did the U.S. Army maintain seven levels of command in light of the fact that technology dramatically changed the combat power available to a commander at any given level? Drs. Jaques and Clement set out to test Stratified Systems Theory in the very unique test bed of the U.S. Army.
In 1989, Jaques published Requisite Organization, which was the culmination of all of his past books and his more recent research at the U.S. Army and CRA. Dr. Clement, as Dr. Jaques’s partner in the U.S. Army and CRA projects, coauthored Executive Leadership published in 1991. The combined efforts of Jaques, Carnegie, and Clement were subsequently integrated into a set of working hypotheses, which ultimately were refined by Dr Clement into a comprehensive set of management principles.
In the twenty-plus years that have followed the publishing of Requisite Organization and Executive Leadership, countless books have been published in the field of organizational behavior and management thinking. However, we have failed to find a book or theory that has effectively reflected an all-encompassing organizational system theory that has withstood the test of time in the same vein that Jaques’s theories (Stratified Systems Theory and Requisite Organization) have. In our opinion, the seminal value of Elliott Jaques’s contribution is that he has presented us with the beginnings of a General Theory of Organizational Science.
The big contribution of theory is that it brings order out of chaos: it provides meaning where it had previously not existed. Orderliness, however, cannot be provided unless the previously unrelated mass of facts has first been funneled through the mind of some thinking scientist. —Joseph R. Royce
Elliott Jaques was that “thinking” scientist. He was the first to provide us with the concept of organizations having a significant social role. His articulation that organizations (bureaucracies), if designed correctly, permit individuals to operate to their full individual capability and realize their full potential is a central tenet of meeting that societal obligation. Jaques was quick to point out that corporate work entities are built upon contracts with individuals and not with groups or teams. He also argued that for leadership to flourish in any organizational environment, the structure has to be right. Too many organizational layers often result in managers suffocating subordinate efforts because there is insufficient distance between the two parties, manager and subordinate. As described previously, Jaques’s research suggested that the modern corporation need not have more than seven managerial layers from the bottom to the top-most layer, later expanded to eight to reflect even larger and more complex organizations.
Jaques also spelled out the need to clearly define the nature of lateral working relationships in terms of their underlying accountability and authority base. Once the correct structure has been clearly established, it is then necessary to ensure that individuals with the correct working capacity are selected to fill all roles in the structure. Finally, Jaques argued that it is then essential to ensure that all managerial leadership practices support getting work done efficiently and effectively, such as compensation practices—pay people correctly for the level of work they perform, hold subordinates accountable to work to their full individual capacity, have managers perform all potential assessments two levels down, and so on. Given the breadth of the above concepts, it is our contention that Jaques pioneered efforts at developing a general theory of organizational science. In the years since Dr. Jacques’s groundbreaking work, we believe we are now able to describe the foundational building blocks required to dramatically improve organizational performance and individual leadership.
Wikipedia Bio for Elliott Jaques (January 18, 1917 – March 8, 2003) was a Canadian psychoanalyst and organizational psychologist. He developed the notion of requisite organization from his “stratified systems theory,” running counter to many others in the field of organizational development. Although he is most widely known for developing the concept of “social systems as defense against unconscious anxiety” (Jaques, 1951) which shed light on the close relationship between organizational task (i.e. the main aim of an organization, such as to produce, cure, etc.) and unconscious group dynamics and how each can aid or distort the other. Jaques' ideas are still very influential in the psychoanalytic study of organizations.
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Jaques was educated at University of Toronto and studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University before receiving his Ph.D in social relations from Harvard University. During World War II, he moved to England where he remained after the war, studying under British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. He was a founding member, in 1946, of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. In 1964, he founded the School of Social Sciences at Brunel University where he became a professor and head of the school, and of its Research Institute of Organizational Studies.
Dr. Jaques is the author of more than 20 books, including The Life and Behavior of Living Organisms (2002), Social Power and the CEO (2002), Requisite Organization (1996), Human Capability (1994) with Kathryn Cason, Executive Leadership (1993) with Dr. Stephen Clement and General Theory of Bureaucracy (1976).
The concept of the mid-life crisis was introduced by Jaques in 1965. His development approach to organizational development makes him one of the early contributors to Positive Adult Development.
He died in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 2003.