218 – Requisite leadership, stratified systems theory and local government management.

By Colin Weatherby                                                                                              680 words

Jacques levels of work authority

Lancing Farrell posted an interesting piece using Elliott Jaques’ requisite organisation theory to explain the best use of Executive time. It prompted some related thinking on my part. Jaques has provided a significant body of knowledge that can be very useful for managers in bureaucracies and hierarchical organisations.

The idea that people naturally organise themselves into hierarchical, or stratified, managerial systems in organisations reflects the reality of local government.  This is reinforced by legislation that focuses accountability on top management.  They are held responsible for the work outputs of people in the organisation and this responsibility cascades downwards through the management hierarchy.

Opponents of hierarchical ‘command and control’ organisations, particularly John Seddon, have reasons for their position, which are frequently validated by the behaviour of public organisations.  It doesn’t change the fact that senior management needs a way to ensure work outputs meet the expectations of the various sources of accountability.

Each of us has different capabilities and limitations. Jaques says these individual differences need to be taken into account in organising work – everyone needs to work at a level that corresponds to their capacity.  They also need to have their role and status clearly defined in a way that is acceptable to them.  Therefore, workplace boundaries and authority need to respond to these human and social needs in order to maximise the effectiveness of the organisation.  This resulted in the division of work in stratified systems theory.

I doubt any of this is news to you.  The challenge is how leaders act on this understanding to create an effective, harmonious and productive workplace.

This is where Jaques (writing in collaboration with Stephen Clement) challenges the current thinking about leadership.  They argue that charismatic leadership is not the key to organisational success and that leadership needs to be ‘requisite’ for a particular time and place (i.e. requisite leadership).  They say managerial leaders require the following qualities to be effective in managerial work:

  1. The level of cognitive processing power necessary to carry out the level of work complexity of their role.
  2. A strong sense of value for their work and the leadership of others.
  3. The appropriate skills and knowledge in their work, plus experienced practice.
  4. The necessary wisdom about people and things.
  5. The absence of abnormal emotional characteristics that disrupt their ability to work with others.

I find this list interesting as a checklist for myself and other leaders. Points 2 to 4 are typical of what anyone would expect from a senior manager and leader.  It is points 1 and 5 that raise interesting questions.

  • How do you determine the cognitive complexity of work and the cognitive capability of a person to carry it out?
  • What are abnormal emotional characteristics?

On the first question, Jaques believes that highest level of task complexity in each stratum (level) needs to be within the cognitive capabilities of the individual given the work.  The cognitive complexity of work is determined by the number, ambiguity, rate of change, and interweaving of variables involved.  Cognitive capability relates to the ability of an individual to organise information to make it available for doing work.  The reality is that some individuals are able to deal with more variables and process more information in any given period of time.

In relation to emotional characteristics, Jaques and Clement believe that a manager’s emotional make-up has little effect on their ‘in-role leadership’ performance, unless they exhibit an emotional extreme.  They say there are an infinite range of possible and acceptable behaviours and go on to  describe emotional extremes using examples, such as reflection becoming inability to decide, or tenacity becoming stubbornness, or critical evaluation becoming paranoid suspicion.

This is necessarily a brief overview of some of Jaques’ work.  It provides a way of thinking about managerial leadership (I quite like that term) in our organisations that reflects the legislated responsibilities of local government, the way people are at work, and how it is possible for us to be more accountable and effective.

Jaques, E. and Clement. S., D. (1991) Executive Leadership – A practical guide to managing complexity. Blackwell Business, Cambridge.

Jaques, E (1976) A General Theory of Bureaucracy. Heinemann, London.


217 – What should our Executives spend their time doing, and why don’t they?

By Lancing Farrell                                                                            1800 words


Image: http://content.wisestep.com/why-your-resume-should-be-one-page-good-reasons

This is the question that crossed my mind recently when discussing time management with a colleague who is part of an Executive team that is reviewing use of their time. They have engaged a consultant to work with them individually to understand how to best use their time. Like every Executive team, they always have more work to do than the time available to do it.

After keeping a time diary in 15 minute intervals for two days and coding up each activity according to musts, wants, work that should be delegated, and work that shouldn’t be getting done at all, it became apparent to my colleague that more efficient use could be made of available time but this wouldn’t solve the problem. Optimising use of time wouldn’t provide enough to do all the work. The nature of the workload needed to be examined.

In part this examination was prompted by the time management consultant suggesting that the time spent by my Executive colleague in meetings with direct reports could be reduced or the meetings held less often. In considering this idea, she realised that this was some of the most valuable time they spent each week. She also realised that (at the moment) she didn’t have a better use for that time. What could she do with the time that would be more valuable than influencing and helping her direct reports? This realisation started her thinking more broadly about the work she was doing.

This led her to re-examine Elliott Jaques’ work on requisite leadership. In particular, Jaques’ concept of time defining the degree of complexity in managerial leadership roles. The idea that every task has a target completion time and that the longer the time-span of discretion for tasks, the more complex the role, struck her as relevant in working out where she needed to spend her time and effort.

Jaques’ describes seven levels of organisational hierarchy, each with a different time-span of discretion ranging from 3 months to 50 years. He calls them requisite levels. Based on this, my colleague sketched out the relationship between Jaques’ theory and her work and time allocation challenge in the following table. Continue reading

164 – Who should push back with the councillors? The CEO, Directors or Managers?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          600 words


I think this is a good question and it is one that every manager will ask themselves at some point. It may take a bit of experience to ask it. Individual councillors regularly ask for the organisation to do things that are outside policy or they become conflicted. So who should be saying no?

In many councils there has been an organisational correction about the type of contact councillors can make with staff. Usually this happens after a councillor has attempted to influence a junior staff member to do something outside policy. When councillors complain about the staff member because they won’t do what they asked (or if the officer complains) the organisation reinforces the rule that councillors can only talk to senior officers – i.e. the CEO, Directors or Managers.

This partially solves the problem and often introduces new problems. Continue reading

145 – The deep web and local government recruitment.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         1100 words

deep web

Local government executive recruitment is a game. Often recruitment is not genuinely based on competence and ability. In many cases, relationships are far more important. I have heard it described as the ‘deep web’ – what you see isn’t all there is. So, how does it work?

Councils recruiting a new CEO tend to go for ‘tried and true’ or ‘shiny and new’.  I think analysis will show an alternating pattern from one to another. It is almost as though councilors become bored with their CEO, or, more likely, the CEO refuses to do what they tell them to do. Once a CEO stands up and says ‘no’, they are likely to be on the way out.

Councilors know that they can demand that a CEO does what they want – whether or not it is in their or the community’s best interests. I think that once a council has dismissed a CEO and they have a ‘taste of blood’ they are more likely to do it again and a cycle of CEO non-reappointments and appointments begins (with all the disruption this brings).

When councils are recruiting a CEO, they rely on assistance from the recruiters – companies that specialise in helping councils to recruit executives. These companies can be highly influential. Continue reading