It’s All About Empowerment, Really?

But, as the budget dollars piled up, Kevin DuPont could smell trouble. “Look, guys and gals, boys and girls. I know you all have important projects, but all this costs money. And you know very well, I am accountable to the board to make sure this company is fiscally sound. I am afraid that I have to take issue with the budget you have presented.”

There was silence in the room. After all, the executive team just followed instructions. They followed Al Ripley’s instructions, before. They followed Kevin DuPont’s instructions, now. Finally, one person had the courage to speak, Javier Ramirez.

“Mr. DuPont, with all due respect. We are only doing what you told us to do. You said you empowered us with group decision making. Give us a problem to solve and leave it to us. Well, we decided on a budget, and I know that the expenses are more than our current revenue, but if we are going to grow, we have to take risks. The group is willing to take that risk, but now, you are pulling the rug from underneath us.”

Kevin turned a red tinge around the rim of his ears, his pulse quickened. “That was not my intention. I want each of you to feel better about being a part of this management team. That is why I empowered you. But I also know my board and they will not stand for another losing quarter. The government is auditing the subsidies on some of our routes. This airline has to learn to stand on its own.”

“But, you said you trusted us, it would be our decision,” Javier stood up. “It is a matter of empowerment.”

“I know, I know,” Kevin continued to defend. “But I am accountable to the board. If we lose money next quarter, you will all still have your jobs. You are not accountable to the board. It’s me whose job is on the line. You are only accountable for the performance of your departments. All I can say, at this point is, I’m sorry. Meeting adjourned.”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, now available on Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

What’s a Manager For?

“Here is one thing we do know,” Peter chimed in. “We think everyone comes to work, at Outbound, every day, intending to do their best. We can watch a technician doing their best, yet, sometimes the output falls short. Maybe they couldn’t finish an installation on time, or they have four maintenance items to do and the second item turns into a bag of worms, so they only finish three during their shift. Sometimes, in spite of doing their best, the expected output just doesn’t get done. So, the technician gets called out and humiliated in front of the team, when the truth is, they were doing their best.”

“But, isn’t the technician accountable for all four items?” Jim asked.

“Of course,” Peter continued. “But, here’s the thing. Let’s say the technician couldn’t finish a project because the shop runs out of materials. Or a specialized piece of equipment isn’t available, or it takes two people and no one else is around to help. There is someone in charge of all those things, but it’s not the technician, it’s his manager. We are wondering, if the technician is accountable for doing his best, is it the manager who is accountable for the output of the technician? It’s the manager who controls all the variables around the technician – supplies, equipment, tools and other personnel. Should it be the manager who is accountable for the output of the technician?”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Outbound Air

For Every Management Problem

Al Ripley believed, for every management problem, there was a management consultant. As issues surfaced in meetings, Al looked down his nose, over the top rim of his glasses, and ask the inevitable. “Don’t we know a consultant that can help us with that?”

Those meetings were short and decisive. Ripley emerged from the conference room victorious, confident that he met adversity with a firm commitment to the solution, by hiring a consultant.

Some problems, however, did not go away. But then, Al quickly pointed out, “We must have hired the wrong consultant.”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Outbound Air

The Executive Team Meeting

As time ticked by, Kevin DuPont’s democratic decision-making began to show some cracks. The executive management team got together each week to kick around the most pressing issues. But Kevin and his team were often at loggerheads when it came around to budget issues. Each department seemed to have its favorite projects.

The starched white shirts would gather in pairs, making deals on the side to support this budget item or that odd project. As presentations were made, the team was slow to poke holes, for fear their pet project would be subject to the same scrutiny.

The Executive Team Meeting, it was called. There were hidden agendas, under the table handshakes, unconscious agreements not to spoil the day for each other. Each meeting’s agenda was like a stepping stone across a creek. Quick strides for each measured step. If a stepping stone was unstable, discussion moved quickly to the next item. Real problems in the agenda were avoided. There was collusion, not cooperation. There was defensiveness, not inquiry. This was the Executive Team Meeting.

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Advisor

Advisor

“And this advisor relationship?” Catherine asked.

Javier stopped, looked first at Catherine and then at Jim. “That’s easy,” he concluded. “Jim is your advisor. He doesn’t make task assignments. He doesn’t audit or monitor, but when asked, he gives you his best judgment, advice and counsel.”

Cross Functional Working Relationships

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Collateral

Collateral

“And, what is this collateral relationship?” Catherine asked.

Javier nodded. “It’s like a coordinating relationship, but typically between project team members. They are required to cooperate, support and help each other. Where they have a priority conflict, they have to decide how their manager would handle the priority. If they can’t figure it out, they have to ask their manager. In some cases, the manager has to step in, but if the team members can make the appropriate judgment, it speeds things along.”

Cross Functional Working Relationships

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Coordinating

Coordinating

“And what’s this between marketing and operations?” Catherine asked.

“The timing is tricky,” Javier explained. “We need to close a gate and shut down operations, but we also need to maintain confidence from our customer base. We need to communicate that we know what we are doing, and that we stand behind our commitments. At the end of the day, each ticket we issue is a contract for carriage, and we have to make that commitment good. Flight operations can decide what to do, but we have to coordinate with marketing to make sure we explain things accurately and timely to the public.” Javier stopped to make sure his explanation was understood.

“So, I got my flight operations manager and my marketing manager together to explain their accountability,” Javier nodded. “Funny, they both complained that they could not be accountable because they had to depend on the other manager to execute. I agreed that, yes, they had to depend on each other to effectively execute. If either called a coordinating meeting, the other person was required to attend and actively participate. Neither was each other’s manager, but, both required to be responsive to each other.”

Cross Functional Working Relationships

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Monitor

Monitor

“And for some cases, I don’t think we need a full blown auditor,” Javier explained, “but we may need someone to monitor the way we do something. The monitor and the auditor are looking for the same things, but the monitor does not have the authority to delay or stop the activity, only the accountability to report to someone who does have that authority. With this distinction, I can specifically assign the authority that is appropriate. Everyone understands, so no one gets bent out of shape.”

Cross Functional Working Relationships

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Auditor

Auditor

“We have some contractual commitments still in force,” Javier explained. “While we may renegotiate some of these obligations, until then, we have to abide by the contract. In some cases, I enlisted people to review the way we shut down some of the routes and gates. If we are about to do something that will put us in default, they have the authority to delay or stop what we are doing?”

“So, are they prescribing things for people to do, as a project leader?” Catherine asked.

“No,” Javier replied. “They are there to observe and review, but they have the specific authority to delay or stop anything that jeopardizes the project.” Javier thought for a moment. “An auditor is like a safety director. The safety director doesn’t tell people what to do, or give people task assignments. But, if someone is engaged in an unsafe work practice, the safety director has the authority to delay or stop the unsafe work practice, even though they are not anyone’s manager.”

“Okay, I get it,” Catherine agreed.

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Authority of a Project Leader

Prescribing (Cross Functional Working Relationship)

“And what will your relationship be with each person working on your project team?” Catherine asked.

“First, I am not the manager for the people on my project team,” Javier was clear. “But, I do have authority to directly make task assignments within the scope of the project and within the parameters I negotiated with their manager. If there is a priority conflict between my task assignments and their manager’s task assignments, the project team member just raises their hand. It’s up to me and their manager to work it out between the two of us. We understand the context of their regular assignments and the context of the project work. The team member does not have to be schizophrenic, or play favorites, they just have to raise their hand.”

“Okay, and what else?” Catherine asked.