For the last 15 years or so I have benefited enormously from studying the ideas and concepts developed by the late Elliot Jaques. He is one of the most important thinkers on organization and management of the past 100 years, on par with Peter Drucker. Unfortunately far too few organizations have understood or applied his system; had they done so they would have reduced a great deal of wasted energy and money and, more importantly, created much more effective organizations for the benefit of employees, shareholders, and customers.
Still, it is never too late to learn and thus I personally return to his work to ground my own thinking on the foundation of his concepts. I encourage others to read his work and assess for themselves the merits and applicability of his system.
Most of his material is available from Requisite Organization International Institute. I have read and would recommend the following books:
- Requisite Organization, Revised Second Edition.
- Human Capability (with Kathryn Cason)
- Executive Capability (with Stephen Clement)
- Creativity and Work
There are also a series of working papers. Some of the papers I have read and recommend includes
- Str-II (strat II) Managerial Leadership
- Organization of Cross-Functional Processes
- The Control of Process Variance
In my opinion, some of the key insights of Jaques (I would encourage people, however, to read Jaques work for themselves to gain a proper grasp of the concepts) include:
1. The need to understand and properly apply to the right situation, Managerial Accountability Hierarchies (MAHs) versus Associations;
2. Potential Capability (PC) is the highest level at which a person can work now and is a function of Complexity of Mental Processing (CMP);
3. Applied Capability (AC) is the level at which a person is actually working now in a role that may or may not call upon that person’s exercise of full potential, and is a function of CMP as affected by their Values & Commitment and the Skilled Knowledge that is applied;
4. Future Potential is a function of Maturation of Potential and that this follows predictable bands such that one’s level of Complexity of Mental Processing in your 20’s can forecast your rate of CMP maturation and ultimate level throughout your life
5. At any given age, there exists individuals with greater Complexity of Mental Processing than others;
6. That there are five levels of increasing complexity of information:
- Pre-Verbal (infants);
- Concrete Verbal (thinking and language in children pointing to and speaking about things);
- Symbolic Verbal (thinking and language used by most adults and characterized by a time horizon of up to 5 years);
- Conceptual Abstract (the mode required for successful work at senior corporate levels and characterized by thinking that ranges at the low-end of 5-10 year time horizon up to a time horizon 50 to 100 years;
- Universal Order (the mode of societal genius), whose time horizon is measured beyond the 100 year time-frame and whose scope of thinking encompasses new societies, ethics, cultures, and value systems;
7. That the world of corporate organizations can be defined by 8 strata that line-up to the Symbolic Verbal and Conceptual Abstract modes above;
8. That each strata has a requisite complexity of mental process and time-horizon of role;
9. That organization effectiveness is directly affected by constructing Managerial Accountability Hierarchies with the right number of levels, occupied with people whose level of Complexity of Mental Processing is appropriate for that managerial level;
10. That enormous dysfunctions occur when there are too many levels (or in some cases, too few), when people in roles requiring a certain time horizon and mental ability have CMPs that are below the strata required (subordinates see that the boss isn’t mentally qualified) or when people are in strata that are below their CMP level and are thus bored.
There are many more dimensions to Jaques’ thinking, but suffice to say that he developed an entire system of managerial organization that addresses many other elements including role accountability and authority, cross-functional relationships, managerial leadership practices, compensation, talent pool development, vertical layering, and individual capability.
I have found that one of the concepts that I frequently refer to is that of stratum and the corresponding time –span and typical organizational role and title. Jaques’ indicated that “time-span” can be measured by the maximum target-completion time of the longest tasks in a role and that as the required time-span of a role increases it increases the inherent complexity of mental processing needed to effectively envision, plan and carry those plans to completion, as well as increasing the number of variables, uncertainties, ambiguities that requires conceptual thinking in increasing complexity such as multiple, parallel lines of thought and with second and third order effects to consider.
Stratum 1: work whose time-span is from a low of 1 week ahead to a high of 3 months: Assistants to First-line Managers, operators, clerks, Privates in the Army.
Stratum 2: time-spans from a low of 3-6 months to a high of 9 months to a year: First-line managers, first line specialists, a Captain/Lieutenant; 20-70 direct subordinates.
Stratum 3: time spans from a low of 12-16 months up to a higher capability of 20-24 months: Unit manager, Lt. Colonel/Major; a maximum of about 250-300 people through a set of Stratum 2 managers where the Stratum 3 manager is the manager-once-removed from the group of up to 300 people.
Stratum 4: time spans from a low of 2-3 years up to a higher capability range of 4-5 year time-horizon; General Manager, specialist GM, Army Division commander e.g. 1-star General; up to 2,000 people.
Stratum 5: time horizons from 6 to 7 years to a higher capability level of 8 to 10 years; Business unit President; Specialist VP, 2-star General; up to 6,000 people.
Stratum 6: time horizons from a low-end of 10 to 15 years to a higher end of 18-20 years; Corporate EVPs, Specialist Corporate EVPs, Corp commander e.g. 3-star General; up to 30,000 people.
Stratum 7: time horizons of 20-30 years at the lower end to high-capability individuals operating at 40 to 50 year time-spans; Corporate CEOs and COOs, Army commander e.g. 4-star General; up to 100,000 people.
Stratum 8: 50 to 100 years; Super Corporation CEOs, General of the Army e.g. 5-star General; up to a 1 million of more people.
Having worked in several situations consisting of specialists whose role was not predominantly about managing others, it is my experience that one can still usefully apply Jaques’ stratums by focusing less on the traditional titles or on numbers of direct and indirect subordinates, and focusing on the time-span.
For example, a thought leader in a Performance Improvement group at stratum 5 should have the mental processing ability of issues with a complexity of 8 to 10 year time-spans. For example, I have typically thought of new Black Belts as needing to operate at a minimum at the low-end of stratum 2, with more senior, experienced Black Belts operating at the higher end of stratum 2 and then progressing to the lower end of stratum 3, the higher end of stratum 3 and so on.
You can order copies of Jaques’ books at this website: