Elliot Jaques’ Concept of Time-Horizon

In a prior post, I shared some of my perspectives of Elliot Jaques’ Requisite Organization. One critical aspect that I believe is important to carefully understand is his definition of time span or time horizon. My summary of this concept, which I encourage readers to study directly themselves from Jaques’ Requisite Organization Revised Second Edition page pair 24, is:

  • Time-span is the maximum target completion time of the longest tasks in a role;
  • As the time-span of a role increases the “feeling of weight of responsibility increases, and the greater the complexity of mental processing (CMP) you need in order to cope”;
  • The “greater your potential capability (PC), the greater your working outreach in time – the further into the future you can not only plan, but can carry those plans through to the point of realization;”
  • That there exists a significant fact-base supporting the use of time-span as the most useful and objective measure of the level and complexity of work;
  • That any two roles with the same time-span regardless of occupation have the same level of work;
  • That Jaques’ concept of complexity of mental processing is not the same as “intelligence testing” or IQ.

When Jaques’ writes of “tasks,” he is not talking about activities, but rather “what-by-when,” for example, a task (or mission if this helps you to think about it) to set up a supplier network for a new aircraft within 2 years. In this case we say that the time-span of this role is 24 months. Another example he provides is a Strategic Business Group EVP whose task is to design and construct a port and road network in a third-world country with three phases over 12 years. In this case, the Group EVP has a time-span corresponding to Stratum VI whereas the role with 24 month time-span is an example of a GM, Stratum IV level of mental complexity.

It is also important to note that Jaques’ framework involves appreciating that along with time-span, the strata also align to four types of mental process — Declarative, Cumulative, Serial, Parallel – which recursively apply at each of four levels of information complexity. In other words, the key is understanding your current and future Potential Capability to mentally operate in more or less complex modes, and that it is Potential Capability that results in your suitability to work effectively in roles with greater or lesser time-spans. In some cases, we will find managers in roles whose required time-span and complexity of mental processing are beyond their capability; this results in frustration on the part of subordinates and others affected by the manager.

Most powerfully, Jaques’ findings are such that the “maturation of complexity of mental processing and the concomitant potential capability” are not hindered by gender, race, or social background; this will mature nonetheless. But capability is not the same as the opportunity to apply that level of capability.

Thus it is important to appreciate that there is an enormous need and opportunity, to help each person match their inherent potential capability as they mature. Unless people have the economic and social opportunity to “learn and to develop the necessary knowledge, tools, and orientation for work that matches their capability, people will fall behind in their ability to compete in their societies. At the very least, they will be frustrated and fed up and feel unjustly treated because they do not have the chance to exercise their full potential capability in socially acceptable ways, and thereby to reap their fair share of the wealth of that society.” (Human Capability, page 91)

I think this point has both enormous implications for business as well as for society.


One Comment on “Elliot Jaques’ Concept of Time-Horizon”

  1. […] as The Continuing Importance of Elliot Jaques’ Requisite Organization Work, Leadership Levels, Time Horizons, and the War for Talent Part 2 and Part 3. Jaques is not an easy read; his ideas might have gained […]


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