Too Expensive and Too Late to Train

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
Our company has a critical issue around finding skilled workers. Our community is growing fast and we cannot find the skilled workers we need to meet the demand. We are trying to connect with our community college and state & local job staffers. I am calling on my former company, an economic development corporation to talk about a recruiting program to bring skilled workers to our market. What else?

Response:
In South Florida, this phenomenon appeared three years ago in SWOT analysis. Most of my construction related clients clearly identified – when the recovery happens, we are going to run short of qualified technicians and skilled labor.

Two things contributed. First, when the recession hit hard, many immigrant workers (both legal and illegal) simply went home (and stayed). Second, many in our work force discovered air conditioning. Construction trades often work outside in the elements and for about the same money, the fast food industry offered work inside under air conditioning.

This resurgence in the overall economy has bolstered two cottage industries – recruiting and training. There are, indeed, industry associations that focus on this dilemma. The leader is an organization called Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). They have a strong national organization and local chapters in every major and many minor markets. They offer a range of training from basic OSHA certifications to vocational training in specific skilled labor trades.

It’s funny. When we identified this problem three years ago, everyone pushed back and said they weren’t equipped to train or they couldn’t spend the time to train. Training took too long, they needed workers now. But, if they had jumped in with training programs two years ago, there would be a stream of graduates in the market, now.

Others pushed back, saying they could not take the risk of training. They feared they would invest in a person’s training and then have them leave the company. What’s more expensive? Training someone and having them leave, or not training someone and having them stay?

Who Gets on the Team?

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems,” I repeated. “You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

“Yes, but who?” Drew replied.

“That’s for you to decide. In addition to making sure that production gets done, as a manager, one of your primary roles is to build the team.”

“You mean like team building?”

“More like a talent scout, except you get to observe all the time. Here are your levers.

  • Selection
  • Task assignment (what, by when, resources)
  • Assessment
  • Coaching
  • De-selection (if you made a mistake in the first step)

“Okay,” Drew hesitated.

“Start with selection. You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. You can’t pick your friend’s nose, but you can pick who is on your team. That’s where it starts. If you do this job well, the rest is easy. You do this job poorly, the rest is miserable.”

“But, sometimes, I feel like I don’t get to pick who is on my team. They just sort of show up from HR,” Drew protested.

“Candidates may come in sideways. I know your hiring protocol. HR does a great job at trying to source candidates for your production team. I know your manager screens those candidates and several other people conduct interviews and give you their feedback. But, at the end of the day, you pick. As the hiring manager, you have, at a minimum, veto authority as to who is on the team.”

The Problem Isn’t Your Boss

“You seem a bit frustrated,” I said.

“I am, I am,” Drew replied. “I think I do a pretty good job in my role as a supervisor. We have a complicated process with long lead items and seasonal demand. During season, we build to order. Off season, we build to stock. We have certain constraints in our process that slow us down and sometimes things stack up when we overproduce some of our sub-assemblies. All in all, I keep things together pretty well.”

“Then, why the frustration?”

“If I could spend the time analyzing the way the work flows through, look at some things that could be done at the same time, understand where the bottlenecks are, I think we could get more through the system.”

“So, why don’t you do that?”

Drew thought for a minute. “Every time I start flow-charting things out, I have to stop and take care of something gone wrong, something we are out of, a team member who didn’t show up for work. It’s always something.”

“What happens when something goes wrong?”

“I get yelled at. My boss tells me to stop thinking so hard and get back to work. The time I spend working on the system just increases my workload beyond what I can get done in a day,” Drew complained. “I am constantly reminded that my primary function is to make sure that orders ship. I just can’t convince my boss that if the company is to move forward, we need to spend time looking at the sequence of steps to make things run smoother.”

“If you keep getting dragged back into day to day problem solving, fighting the fires of the moment, what is the solution? Who else on your team could buffer some of those problems?”

“Nobody. I am the go-to guy. There isn’t anyone else, and there is only one of me.”

“So, the problem isn’t your boss, it’s you,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems. You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

Relationship for the MOR at S-V

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
For a system architect at S-III, you described the role of their manager at S-IV. What would be the role of the manager-once-removed at S-V?

S-V – Manager-once-removed (5-10 year objectives)
—————————-
S-IV – Manager (2-5 year objectives)
—————————-
S-III – System architect (1-2 year objectives)

Response:
The relationship between the manager at S-IV and the system architect at S-III is an accountability relationship. When they get together, they talk about the work, solving problems and making decisions. The manager at S-IV is accountable for the output of the S-III system architect.

The relationship between the manager-once-removed at S-V and the system architect at S-III is a mentoring relationship. When they get together, they talk about -

  • Challenge in the role
  • Work environment
  • Training interests
  • Long term career opportunities

The focus for the S-V manager-once-removed is on strategic objectives 5-10 years out, so the question is, how will this S-III system architect contribute to my strategic objectives over the next 5-10 years? Will this system architect become more capable over time and be able to assume an S-IV role over the next 5-10 years?

What’s the Work of a System Architect at S-III

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
So, yes, we have an individual technical contributor, a system architect role, at S-III, with no reports. Does this then mean the system architect fulfills “production” and that a Stratum IV role would be the supervisor and a Stratum V role would create the system? Or, would you say that the system architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Again, this question reveals a couple of important issues.

  • What is production work at S-III?
  • What is the role of the manager at S-IV and the manager-once-removed at S-V?

In some business models, especially B2B, the product or service delivered to the customer might easily be a system which requires S-III capability to create.

For example, a customer might require a software system to automate a large work process. This customer might contract with a company to accomplish the following work.

  • Needs analysis
  • Workflow documentation
  • Automation system design
  • Software selection and procurement
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Workflow integration with the software
  • Role re-design to include software operation around the work process
  • Training of personnel
  • Testing of workflow for throughput
  • Evaluation of automated workflow related to the initial needs analysis

This is all clearly S-III system work and might easily take 12-24 months to accomplish. Remember, the goal is NOT to install an automated system, but to install an automated system that exceeds throughput of the original work process. The goal is to get the automated system up to a full working capacity.

Indeed, the production work is S-III system work, for the role of a system architect, with no direct reports.

Assuming the system architect has the capability to be effective at this level of work, it is likely that she will create her own progress metrics (making sure production gets done). In addition, she may also document the system for creating the system. So, much of the supervisory and managerial work related to the project might be accomplished by this same system architect.

But, every person performs at a higher level with a manager, so what is the role of the system architect’s manager (at S-IV). The function of a manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. The system architect can handle the routine decisions and problems, but might require help with the tough problems and decisions.

For example. The system architect might be able to automate this work process, but struggle with how this automated system might integrate with other systems in the customer’s company. It is one thing to automate manufacturing planning and procurement, stock and inventory of raw materials used in a manufacturing process, but how might that integrate with research and development? This is where the system architect’s manager might bring value.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the role of the system architect’s manager-once-removed.

What About in Individual Technical Contributor?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In the levels of work definition, from Elliott Jaques, you have highlighted that

  • Strata III – creates the system for production (typically a managerial role).
  • Strata II – makes sure production gets done (typically a supervisor role).
  • Strata I – production (typically a technician role).

Assuming one is working in a highly technical field, one might have a Systems Architect role at Stratum III, with no reports. Does this then mean that they fulfill ‘
“production” and that a Strata IV role would be the supervisor and a Strata V role creates the system? Or, would you say that the Systems Architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Thanks for the question. You have tipped off a number issues. The example I use most often in my Time Span workshop is a manufacturing or direct service model. These models are easy to understand, both in level of work and managerial relationships.

But there are hundreds (thousands) of business models that are not so straightforward in level of work. The calibration to determine level of work hinges on the length of the longest time span task in the role. As you suggest, in a technical industry, you may have “production” work at S-III, meaning the longest time span task would take longer than 12 months and shorter than 24 months to accomplish. This is quite typical in professional service firms (accounting, legal, financial advisory, engineering, architecture).

Your illustration also reveals the role of an individual technical contributor. An individual technical contributor is not necessarily a managerial role, but likely requires level of work at S-II, S-III or S-IV. Again, this is typical in technical business models.

If you have interest, I describe more details related to level of work, in the book Hiring Talent, for the following business models.

  • Managerial roles
  • Accounting roles
  • Engineering roles
  • Computer programming roles
  • Sales roles
  • Restaurant roles
  • Fleet service roles
  • Creative agency roles
  • Financial planning roles
  • Insurance agency roles
  • Construction trades roles
  • Legal firm roles
  • Public accounting roles
  • Medical roles
  • Educational institution roles (K-12)

Your question also asks about the nature of the managerial relationship for an individual technical contributor where the level of work is S-II, S-III or S-IV. I will save that for tomorrow.

Biggest Excuses for Not Planning

On one hand, most managers would agree that planning is important, but on the other hand, most managers avoid the process. Here are the biggest excuses I hear.

  • I don’t have time to plan.
  • Things change too fast, so the plan is out of date before it’s even finished.
  • No one pays attention to the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one even looks at the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one cares about the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one can find a copy of the plan, once it’s written.

Have you ever written a grocery list, then left it at home when you made your trip to the store. Likely, your shopping was still 90 percent effective without the list. Why?

It’s not the plan, it’s the process.

If you intend to avoid the process, that’s fine. But, if you are looking for a short (3-page) process that includes a 2015 goal tracking sheet, just ask. It’s a Word doc, so you can modify it to meet your needs.

Year End Sign Off Message

I have to thank all my tenacious readers as we pass ten years and enter our eleventh year of publishing Management Skills Blog and Hiring Talent Blog.

Hiring Talent just passed 2,000 copies sold. It would be a dismal failure in traditional publishing, but a triumph for me, because I don’t have that many friends.

On tap for first quarter 2015, a new book, stay tuned for details.

So, I am signing off for this year. We will see you in the new year. -Tom Foster

I first published this holiday message in 2005, based on a short afternoon meeting on Christmas eve.

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch and the mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

The Myth of Results

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
I raised my hand in your workshop the other day when you asked if we believed in “results based performance.” You indicated that was misguided. And I stopped listening. Now that the workshop is over, I think you’re right, but now, I am not sure why?

Response:
Results based performance is a misguided management concept with two sources. Over the past three decades (I can’t remember further back), there has been a focus on results, management for results. Results are important, they are the endpoint of the goal, but if our focus is solely on the outcome, we might lose our way in getting there.

The first source of this focus is an abandonment of management related to the activities that lead to the goal. It is as if to say, “I don’t know how to manage the process and I don’t how to manage the people in the process, so I will simply use the result as my objective measure of effectiveness.”

The second source of this focus is a politically correct attitude that people should not judge other people. Many current management fads adopt the position that we should not judge people, only output. These fads have weaned us away from managerial judgment. As if to say, “Let the facts stand for themselves, if the sale was made, then the salesperson must have been doing a good job. If the sale was lost, then the salesperson must have been doing a poor job.”

Abdicating our managerial judgment to an “objective” measure of success is baloney. It also delays the time when the manager must step in and take corrective action when things go off course. If we are to evaluate effectiveness based only on the objective result, then we must wait until the result is known. The truth is, most managers know early on when a project is off course. They don’t have to wait for the result.

If a team member is working on a 12 month time span project, the manager can tell quickly if the team member is making the right moves in the first two weeks. But, if we say we have to wait for the outcome, the manager is hobbled, loathe to intervene. If there is anything that Elliott trusted, it was the judgment of a manager.

But that’s subjective, you say. Yes, it is subjective. And highly accurate.

Difference Between Non-Profit and Profit Organizations

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We run a non-profit organization. Curious, related to Requisite Organization, what differences between not-for-profit and a profit organization.

Response:
Biggest differences between for-profit and not-for-profit -
1. Profit is called surplus.
2. The entity doesn’t pay taxes, or pass through taxes.
3. No person “owns” the entity.
4. Governance is achieved through a board of directors, which, in turn, hires the CEO.

While it is a fair question, the contrast in RO between for-profit and non-profit is minimal. The technical name for most of Elliott’s research is a Management Accountability Hierarchy (MAH). It’s purpose is to get work done.

There are larger contrasts between entities organized for purposes other than getting work done. There are differences between an MAH and a religious organization, a political organization, a family unit, a collegial organization, a fraternity, a sports team. Organizations are not necessarily designed for the purpose of completing work. And, there, is where you might see larger differences in accountability and authority related to problem solving and decision making.