Archives for July 2008

Beyond Clever – Leadership in a Different Key

“One of the paradoxes of improvisation is that it’s a mixture of two opposites—tremendous discipline and regimen balanced by spontaneity, listening, and playing in the moment.” – Gary Burton, vibraphone player

Despite our efforts at definitional packaging, something remains elusive about the notion of leadership, something that is unaccounted for when we are done with behavioural and competency profiling. It is that something, I suspect, that made Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, hesitate when asked if he thought it possible to train people to be Level 5 leaders. These are individuals he describes as possessing a paradoxical combination of powerful will and personal humility.

I recently thought of this when I saw Charlie Rose interview one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy. Rose asked him what it was like to work with fellow actor Judi Dench. Nighy said that Dench manages to do what very few actors can do and that is to arrive on stage “unarmed” and let the evening happen to her. He went on to say that this requires courage and a generosity of spirit because it means going on stage without tricks or a Plan B. “She’s beyond clever,” said Nighy.

The great jazz pianist Bill Mays said something similar when asked what it was like to make music with people he had never worked with before, a not uncommon experience for jazz musicians. “As long as they’re egoless and fearless, it will be fine,” was his response. And, in a similar vein, the psychologist Gordon Allport talks of tentativeness and commitment. “Taken by itself, tentativeness is disintegrative; commitment is integrative. Yet the blend seems to occur in personalities that we admire for their soundness and perspective.”

Egoless and fearless; humble and powerful; tentative and committed. Beyond clever indeed!

The case that can be made for the value of these paradoxical combinations resides in another paradox: possessing institutional power makes one potentially vulnerable. By extension, the person with the most institutional power—a CEO, for example—is potentially the most vulnerable. After all, the leadership paradigm that has dominated our imaginations holds that leaders are to be fearless, powerful, and committed but surely not egoless, humble, and tentative.

Here’s how it works: We are only as smart as what we know. Because organizational leaders are dependent on others to tell them what they ought to know, they are only as smart as what people choose to tell them. What little fish choose to tell big fish is largely a function of how little fish calculate consequences. And what little fish have learned is that it is always better to calculate on the side of self-preservation. Bottom line? Organizations do not become terrific if they are populated with wary little fish.

The success of the improvised jazz performance depends upon the leader’s ability to enter into the performance “unarmed”. This, in turn, makes it possible for the other musicians to, as it were, laydown their arms. What is aimed for here is the creation of an environment in which, in Bill Mays’s terms, the “egoless and fearless” can create their musical magic.

Does it involve risk? Of course it does-real learning does not happen without it. But in an environment of uncertainty-and that most certainly is the defining characteristic of our age-we, individually and collectively, either learn or we die. Of course in situations where everyone is egoless and fearless, humble and powerful, tentative and committed, it is pretty hard to spot the “real” leader because it could be anybody. Nothing wrong with that, huh?

A former HR executive, Brian Hayman is a jazz musician and organization development consultant who teaches in the Queen’s IRC Leadership Capacity program.

Bah Kumbaya

Respect, not superficial goodwill, is the key to inspired teamwork, says Dr. Shawna O’Grady, Associate Professor of Management at Queen’s School of Business. Great teams work hard at keeping members aligned and making the most of creative conflict. We spoke recently with Shawna about the challenges of creating and sustaining a collaborative work environment.

When you have a team that is generally well-managed, how do you know when things are starting to go wrong?

One of the things that I often notice is when teams stop meeting face-to-face and communicating. Members of a great team will usually want to spend time together and one of the first signs of trouble is when this stops happening. You can have plenty of e-mail and other technology-enabled contact but there must be some time that is spent face-to-face, whether weekly or bi-weekly.

Another thing is what I hear people call “workarounds”, as in, We’re going to work around her. That’s very dangerous. It usually points to an issue of equity, where someone is not pulling his or her weight, and that’s not going anywhere but downhill. It always leads to difficulties if team members avoid assigning work to one or more of their colleagues. It plays to lack of communication. You’re not acknowledging the elephant in the back room.

How is creative tension managed on a team without spiraling into the dark side?

You first need to determine when you want it and when you don’t. Many organizations have a team-based structure and then they think they need to use teams for every decision. You have to remember that simple tasks still require simple solutions. Creative teams are best for complex issues, anything unique, and when you want to have an innovative outcome. Also for when you need strategic alignment across the organization and for anything ambiguous, when you unsure of the outcome.

But organizations often neglect to take the time to allow their teams to recognize what strengths each team member brings to the project. Even taking a half day to build some recognition of different problem-solving styles and how they can each contribute to the creative tension in the room can be extremely valuable.

The second step would be to align the team members to a common purpose around what they are trying to do. Unless you’re in a very creative culture where that dynamic is understood, oftentimes people feel they have to be polite or they have to play nice. Eventually that breaks down and you learn that there is very little respect across the individuals in the team. Without respect, you cannot have a creative outcome or an effective team.

What do we say to the manager who comes in, whether from a different department or from outside, who inherits a group that is just not clicking?

The first thing you need to do is find out the root cause of the dysfunction. It may not be a team-building issue at all but rather a performance-related problem or a resource issue. You should also check whether or not there have been any breaches of trust. I always ask first: Is everyone pulling his or her weight? Secondly, it is tough to build trust or respect if someone has betrayed someone else. If so, this must be addressed and specific expectations clarified before moving forward. Sometimes one or both of the people involved may have to leave the organization to restore a positive culture.

Most of the issues I see fall into two categories. One is a problem of perception. In cases where one team member perceives another one negatively, it usually comes down to a lack of understanding of the other person’s strengths. In that case, you need to go back to teambuilding exercises to help build trust and respect.

The second major issue is alignment around a clear set of norms for working together. In effective team building, you help teams to set these up, but the key is whether or not the team members stick to the norms. Once the team has time to live together for a while, issues begin to arise and expectations get out of alignment. Team members need to confront the lack of alignment to remain effective. A good example is arriving on time to meetings. Some people take this much more seriously than others yet all team members may have agreed to a norm of “No late arrivals”. Sometimes you have to set new norms or confront an issue to re-establish alignment.

Have you seen many cases where organizations fail to “walk the talk” in terms of encouraging strong team work?

A lot of organizations say teams matter but they continue to reward individual behavior. Very few have a good performance management system that backs up teams. This is very important to ensuring team success. People do what they are rewarded for. It’s only natural. When employees an individual puts a lot of effort into helping a team succeed, they or she should be rewarded and celebrated. Also, when a team comes to you as the manager and tells you that one person isn’t contributing and that they’ve tried everything to turn that person around, what is the organization prepared to do? In both cases, we need to be able to send the right messages.

Have you seen organizations use compensation to back up commitment to teams?

Yes, but you have to be careful. What you don’t want to do is have one team in competition with another. Sometimes people will think an easy answer is to have a team bonus system. These can be dangerous because you can have one team winning at the expense of another. The best are organization-wide systems where there is a component of team reward in which each member of the team has an incentive to work collaboratively with each other as well as with other teams.

The other thing to remember is that it does not have to be linked back to compensation. It does have to be linked to accountability. There can be a peer review where team members have input in each other’s evaluation. This way team members receive clear feedback on areas they are doing well and areas needing improvement. If someone is a free rider and taking advantage of the team, An individual lcan be that person can be involved in setting out clear expectations and then coached over a period of time to do better. given a set of expectations to do better and a period of time to make things better. Only if he or she does not change are there negative consequences.

Money is not the number one motivator here. The best way to create engagement and great performance is for people to know they need to do a great job because they will be receiving feedback from peers and that they have to live up to their expectations. Someone who you respect cares and is paying attention. Accountability is also important. If you do well, it is rewarded through celebrations and recognition – possibly pay but not necessarily. And if you do not meet expectations, you know there will be consequences.

The Rigour of Requisite Organization

Requisite Organization (RO) is a science-based management theory that traces organizational dysfunction to poor structure and systems rather than underperforming employees. According to RO adherents, the way to fix dysfunction is to fix the system. That means having crystal clear management accountability, setting compensation and employee capability to job complexity, and ensuring the proper number of organizational layers. The result: souped up organizational effectiveness, says Ken Shepard, founding president of the Toronto-based Global Organization Design Society. In the following Q & A, Ken discusses RO’s relevance to people management practitioners.

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is the Requisite Organization philosophy?

For the senior human resources practitioner, Requisite Organization (RO) is a strong beacon of light in the darkness of the management theory jungle. It’s an integrated management system that helps organizations achieve their strategic business results. It brings fairness to a radically higher performing workplace, and builds trust between managers and subordinates – as opposed to the exploitive and paranoid relationships that exist in most organizations. It all adds up to strong employee engagement.

RO includes many evidence-based tools to design and align roles and practices throughout the organization. It can be used to better understand and bring together the many partial truths that makeup the craft of designing and managing organizations.

I understand it was developed by a Canadian management guru Elliott Jaques.

Yes, Elliott Jaques was born in Canada. He was a multi-disciplinary scientist and long-time organizational clinician. He graduated in psychology with honours from the University of Toronto, then completed a medical degree at John Hopkins Medical School, and a doctorate in social relations at Harvard. After service during World War II with the British Army, he settled in the UK, where he was one of the founding members of the Tavistock Institute. He worked in the UK as a scientist and researcher for many years, and that’s where he developed his theories.

These theories are being applied with dramatic results to the world’s largest organizations. He was a pioneer and a brilliant innovator. He died in 2003, and wrote 20 books on how organizations using his integrated organization design and management systems can be made to work effectively.

What characterizes his method?

His levels-based approach to organization design and management creates significant increases in employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and financial results. It involves three main steps: getting the right structure; getting the right people in the right roles; and holding all managers accountable for using the right managerial practices.

RO provides leverage and power for working strategically, and you can do it with less energy. It’s a good theory that makes complicated work actually light and easy. Rather than carrying around100 tools, I would rather have one integrated tool. Jaques’ system is like having the Swiss Army Knife as opposed to all the disorganized tools in different sizes, all with different handles.

RO is a nonsense screen. There’s no field so full of fads and puffery than HR. So many things in the marketplace are being sold to HR managers. How do you make sense of them? Knowing this theory helps you sort it out really quickly.

How was RO developed?

It was in a unique partnership between a British industrialist, Wilfred Brown, and Elliott Jaques. These two worked in daily partnership over15 years solving problems at every level of a major manufacturing organization, and then carefully building an integrated management system that they carried around the world. The system was further developed during a subsequent 15 years in an interdisciplinary management consulting institute at Brunel University with major contracts in redesigning the UK Public Health Service.

Senior consultants brought RO ideas to General Electric’s talent pool work in the 1970s; McKinsey consultants took it to CRA in Australia in the 1980s; and the U.S. Army has used it for over 20 years. Recent world conferences on RO practice have brought together practitioners from 14 countries to Toronto to share their experiences and to learn.

Why should HR leaders be interested in RO?

Senior HR practitioners need to understand the organization as a system and to support the CEO’s work in leading that system, to contribute to strategic business results, and to enhance the quality of work life for managers and employees at every level. RO provides methods to support the CEO in preparing and developing the senior management team for re-design and strategy execution. In terms of structuring the organization, its methods enable measurement of the level of work complexity required to accomplish the organization’s strategy; design of the optimum number of managerial levels for the organization; and role design and related vertical and lateral authorities and accountabilities. RO methods are valuable for recruitment, for establishing effective managerial leadership practices throughout the organization – including a transformed, trusting, and accountable relationship between manager and subordinate, and for designing aligned and effective systems. These might include setting fair compensation systems aligned to work level sand capabilities, effective talent pool systems including identification and development of high potentials, and effective cross-functional teaming systems.

Which Canadian organizations have applied RO principles successfully?

Since the 70s in Canada there’s been a lot of RO activity in the private and public sectors. RO has been applied by Bank of Montreal, Canadian Tire Acceptance Ltd., Canadian Tire, Imperial Oil, Inco, Inglis, Ontario Hydro, Roche Canada, Suncor, Chapters Indigo, and Tembec, among others. Many VPs of HR ran RO projects, including at Roche Canada. Various elements stuck very well: restructuring corporations, getting rid of pay for performance systems, putting in the requisite compensation programs, and introducing product launch teams. (See below to read a case study from Organization Design, Levels of Work and Human Capability: Executive Guide.)More recently, Denis Turcotte – Canadian Business CEO of the year last year – used it to turn Algoma Steel around. After being bankrupt Algoma became one of the most profitable steel companies in the world, and that was using Requisite Organization. As well, the Government of Canada, including Health Canada and the Public Service Commission, has used RO extensively on its own structure and in evaluating and assessing levels of executive leadership in the public service. Not-for-profits such as the Victorian Order of Nurses have used it. In the HR field five years ago we used it to help the board of HRPAO to reposition the organization, and it led to an explosive growth period.

Is RO a radical approach for North American organizations?

It is. It challenges conventional assumptions. It’s a more thoughtful approach to management. The people who like it are those who read – and not many managers read anymore. They’re people who think, are reflective, who have a longer time horizon. They’re systems thinkers. To get your head around RO requires more than a one-day workshop. It takes some time and study, because it has substance. It’s foundational. You can build on it – you can use it. It gives you such a powerful lens, grounded in solid theory. No matter what part of management you do – and as an HR person you might be recruiting, you might be in compensation, you might be in labour relations – if you understand this theory, you can do whatever you do so much better.

Can HR practitioners benefit from RO’s leadership practices?

Yes. In the HR field there is this current interest in competencies, which tend to explode in number, and it gets fairly bureaucratic and difficult. In the RO system, there are about 10 leadership practices, all based on the need to dialogue. These require some study and practice. But it’s a much lighter system. You don’t have to have 150 competencies to do the job well. If you can do these dozen or so practices, and grow in your ability to do them as you move up the organization, they will serve you well. They’re very well thought out, and very well designed.


For an introduction to Requisite Organization theory, download The Global Organization Design Society’s new book, Organization Design, Levels of Work and Human Capability: Executive Guide. It is available free at:

If you have limited time, focus on these articles:

The Long View of Leadership

An Executive’s Guide to RO-based Organization Design

How Did Dennis Turcotte become Canada’s CEO of the Year?

The Inglis Story: How It Became The Number One Appliance Company in Canada

Teams Can’t Be Better Structured Than Your Organization: How Roche Canada’s Created High Performing Cross-Functional Product Launch Teams

The Global Organization Design Society – formed in 2004 to promote the RO approach – has a website with articles, books, and video interviews. Go to:

There’s a useful, keyword-searchable, 1,000-page bibliography at:

The Integration of a Change Management Approach With IT Implementations Should Not Be an Afterthought or Add-on

Too often, implementing information technology initiatives neglects consideration of the human factor from very early in the process. The author demonstrates that attention to organization development and change management in IT implementation has resulted in a positive impact on productivity, job satisfaction, and other work attitudes. This justifies proactive efforts to plan for change management effectiveness in most organizational interventions, particularly in IT initiatives that traditionally tend to turn the organization into which they are introduced upside-down.

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