If We Had Only Known

“But, how could I possibly know, a year in the future, what my team members will do?” Melanie asked. “I don’t even know what I am going to do a year from now.”

“That’s an interesting question,” I replied. “What questions could you ask? Think about the two supervisors you just lost, who graduated from night school. What questions could you have asked?”

“Well, I could have asked them if they were going to night school.”

I smiled. “You already told me you knew they were going to night school, so somehow you managed to ask that question. Think deeper. Think further into the future.”

Melanie’s mind began to crank. “I could have asked them what they were studying. I could have asked why that interested them. What they hoped would happen as a result of going to school.”

“And if you had known the answers to those questions?” I prompted.

“I guess I would have found out if what they wanted was something they could find here, in our company.”

“But you didn’t get that chance, did you?” -Tom

The Value of One Year into the Future

“Why is it important for a Manager to think one year into the future?” I asked.

Melanie had finally opened her mind to discovery. “If I had been thinking out a year, I could have had conversations with my supervisors a long time before they quit. I would have known what changes to make to keep them challenged. I didn’t think they would be interested in learning new things and stepping into more difficult projects.”

“So, if I asked you, as a Manager, to take a single piece of paper and chart out your team members, think about their capabilities and interests, and develop a one year plan for each one, could you do it?”

“Well, yes, but I would probably have to talk to each person, to make sure I was on target, it’s going to take some time,” Melanie replied.

“So, what do you have to do that is more important?” -Tom

The Myth of Results Based Performance

From the Ask Tom mailbag –
In reference to Judging Effectiveness

Question:
Lets assume in a given role, the Key Result Areas (KRAs) have been defined. The person is producing the target results in these areas, then, I would say they are capable … what am i missing?

Response:
If I ask a hundred managers if they believe in results-based-performance, they would all raise their hands. They would be wrong. Results are only part of the story.

Effectiveness is NOT a “matter of counting outputs, super credits for super outputs, or penalties for lateness or sub-standard quality.” (Elliott Jaques)

If a salesperson has a target sales quota of 100 units, and brings home an order for 110 units, do we say that salesperson was 110 percent effective? Could it have been that the company has a stellar reputation in the market, on-time delivery through logistics, impeccable customer service (resolved a service problem for that same customer two weeks ago)? Could it be the design of a rebate that put the account into a new discount tier?

Effectiveness is not a matter of counting outputs. Effectiveness is a managerial judgement that takes into account all of the circumstances around the team member’s behavior. Blinders looking only at measured output may lead the manager astray. Output is a clue, but only a clue. The only measure of performance is performance. (Lee Thayer)

Judging Effectiveness

Question:
You often talk about effectiveness. In our company, we measure results. How do you measure effectiveness?

Response:
Effectiveness is a matter of judgment. Effectiveness is a matter of managerial judgment. How well does the team member perform in the achievement of the desired goal? Given all the ins and outs, the difficulties faced, the unanticipated, unplanned monkey wrenches that get in the way, how well does the team member perform?

This is a matter of managerial judgment.

Two assumptions:
1. Any task (or role) requires a certain capability.
2. The person assigned to the task or role has the appropriate capability.

The judgment is whether the person is committing full capability to the task (or role).

This is NOT a “matter of counting outputs, super credits for super outputs, or penalties for lateness or sub-standard quality.” * This is about bringing full capability to the completion of the task.

It is the job of the manager to observe and account for all the surrounding circumstances and make this most important judgment. And it is precisely this judgment that most managers avoid.

*Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization, 1989.

How to Test Capability at S-IV

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

Your post last week helped to explain our dilemma in transitioning an (S-III) Inventory Manager to an (S-IV) VP-Inventory Control role. You said we should have tested him with a project prior to promoting him. Maybe it’s not too late. I know we already promoted him, but could we give him a project as a training tool to introduce him to this new level of work.

Response:

Yes, not a bad idea. This project will give his manager an indicator of how your Inventory Manager is making this transition. The biggest difference in this transition is a subtle shift from a single system internal focus to a multi-system external focus.

  • S-III – System (creates the system, monitors the system and improves the system)
  • S-IV – Integration of multiple systems and sub-systems (attention to dependent systems, interdependent systems, contingent systems and bottlenecks)

So, here are the elements to embed in the project.

  • The project has to be real. No contrived projects as a test. If you want to build a leader, it has to be a real project.
  • Your new VP-Inventory Control needs to be the project leader, under the coaching of his manager. The VP-Inventory Control’s manager is likely to be the CEO (S-V).
  • The members of the project team need to be interdisciplinary, from functions outside of the authority of Inventory Management. As the project leader, your VP-Inventory Control will have to gain willing cooperation from the team, not as a manager, but in a cross-functional role as project leader (prescriber authority). He will have to negotiate with each project team member’s manager for their participation.
  • To be effective, the VP-Inventory Control will have to understand how separate systems impact each other.

Here are the learning objectives of the project (how to evaluate).

  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control understand the systems outside of inventory control? How does he seek to understand those systems? How does he speak with others and ask questions outside of inventory control?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control select people to be on the project team? How does he staff the project team? How does he anticipate the input he will need from others outside his own area of expertise?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control state the mission of the project, gain willing cooperation from others where he is NOT their manager?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control negotiate with peers in the organization to use their resources to accomplish project goals?

It might have been helpful to engage in this type of project prior to the promotion. But, this project can still be helpful to the new VP’s manager (likely, the CEO).

A Short List of Gratitude

This week, the US celebrates the holiday of Thanksgiving. The holiday commemorates a meal of the harvest. Its origin may have been a meal in 1565 in St. Augustine Florida, or another in 1621, Plymouth Plantation. It is a time when families and friends come together to celebrate and give thanks for the world we live in.

I want to thank my readers. This blog started twelve years ago, 2,256 posts. Just a reminder of the awesome responsibility we have, as CEOs, as managers, to move people, to challenge people, to provide a place of work for each team member to realize their fullest potential. This responsibility is a gift. I am grateful.

Management Blog will return next Monday, November 28, 2016. Have a great Thanksgiving. -Tom Foster

The Struggle for Emerging S-IV

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
It took a long time, but our company has grown. Our business model is a distributor, it’s all about supply chain for our customers. Because our business model is driven by the logistics of incoming and outgoing material supply, we recently promoted our warehouse manager to VP-Inventory Control. For us, it was more than just a change of role title. Our warehouse manager took us through re-binning our inventory, bar coding SKUs, RFIDs on serialized product. He is a really bright guy. But his promotion to VP-Inventory Control seems to have gone to his head. With his new-found power, he has emerged as a prima-donna. In our executive team meetings, he believes that inventory control should be the deciding factor in every business decision for the company. If he keeps this up, he is going to get fired.

Response:
Indeed, the move from a Stratum III (S-III) inventory manager to an (S-IV) is a dramatic change in level of work.

  • S-III – System (creates the system, monitors the system and improves the system)
  • S-IV – Integration of multiple systems and sub-sytems (attention to dependent systems, interdependent systems, contingent systems and bottlenecks)

The focus at S-III system level is internal. We demand each of our systems be efficient, profitably leveraging its resources for maximum output. Your inventory manager did just that with a bin system, bar codes and RFIDs. Kudos.

The focus at S-IV is integration. With an internal focus on inventory management, his new role is to assist in the integration of inventory with all the other systems in the company. It is no longer a matter of profitably leveraging resources for maximum output, but optimizing output with the other systems in the company. It is a matter of how one system’s output (reinforcing system) is impacted by another system’s output (balancing system).

This requires the focus for the new S-IV to transition from internal to external. You don’t have a prima donna personality conflict. You have not clearly defined and communicated the new role, nor its differences from the prior role.

You also skipped a step. How did you know if the inventory manager was ready for these new accountabilities? You didn’t. You blindly promoted and now you have a bit of a chocolate mess. The step you missed, prior to the promotion, was assigning S-IV project work, coaching and evaluating the output. Team members should NEVER get a promotion. They earn promotions by successful completion of project work similar or identical to the work in their new role. -Tom

Culture as an Accountability

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
Is culture a Key Result Area (KRA) in a role description?

Response:
Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion – Yes.

Here are the four absolutes identified by Elliott Jaques required for success (effectiveness) in any role.

  • Capability (time span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

Culture is that unwritten set of rules (based on our beliefs and assumptions) that governs the required behaviors in the work that we do together.

While culture impacts everyone in the organization, I find it is a managerial accountability related to setting context. Context is culture, culture is context.

I look for several things from a manager.

  • Awareness of the company’s culture.
  • Ability to communicate the company’s culture in stories and examples.
  • Model behaviors that support the company’s culture.
  • Observe behaviors in others and where appropriate, provide coaching, when necessary, corrective action.
  • Participate in the on-going definition of the company’s culture.

Here is what it looks like in a role description –
Key Result Area (KRA) – Culture
As a member of the management team, the manager will understand and be conversant in the company’s mission, vision and values related to culture.

Accountability – the manager will be accountable for effectively communicating the company’s mission, vision and values. This will include the telling of stories and examples of connected behaviors that support the company’s culture. The manager will be an effective model of those behaviors that support the company’s culture. The manager will be attentive to the behavior of other managers and staff in accordance with the company’s mission, vision and values. The manager will be accountable for coaching, and, where appropriate, taking corrective action. The manager will actively participate in meetings regarding the definition and maintenance of the company’s mission, vision and values, providing constructive input to the definition of the company’s culture.

Without This, a Void Filled With Shenanigans

I am told that we need more leadership around here. I am told that we manage things, but we lead people.

My experience tells me otherwise.

I believe, especially as companies grow larger, that we need more management. I would concur that it is very difficult to manage people. People resist being managed. But, it’s not the people who need to be managed, it’s the relationships between those people. In a company, it is the working relationships that need to be managed.

I hear about personality conflicts in an organization. But, I don’t see a personality conflict, I see an accountability and authority issue. In an organization, we rarely define the accountability and authority in the working relationship. We never defined where people stand with each other, who can make the decision, who can make a task assignment and who is accountable for the output.

We take relationships for granted. We take for granted that people know how to behave with parents, with siblings, with teachers. We take for granted that people know how to behave as managers, but, in most cases, managers behave the same way they were treated by their managers.

There is a science to all this. It has to do with context. Effective managers are those who create the most effective context for people to work in. It is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together. There is a science to context.

Organizational structure is context. It is the defined accountability and authority in our working relationships. Without it, people fill the void with all kinds of shenanigans. Not their fault. It is the responsibility of the manager (including the CEO) to set the context.

Your Problem is on This List

“I don’t understand why my team consistently underperforms. We have a target to produce five units, they produce four. We are supposed to finish a project this afternoon, it doesn’t get completed until tomorrow,” Frances complained.

“You are the manager,” I observed. “What do you think is the problem?”

“I really don’t know. Before every project, we have a meeting to go over the project, all its elements. I try to keep those meetings upbeat, optimistic.”

“What if it’s not a problem with your team?” I asked.

“Then, what could it be?” Frances pushed back.

“Yes, what could it be?” I repeated.

I could see Frances racing through possibilities. Could it be equipment failure, substandard materials, faulty tools. “What if it’s me?”

“You are the manager?” I replied. “What are the productivity levers every manager has to work with?”

“Well, I pick the team, or I pick the people who end up on the team.”

“What else?” I was taking notes.

“I am the one who assigns the task. I set the context, describe the vision of the project, set the quality standards, quantity. I estimate a reasonable amount of time to finish the project, the deadline. I tell them what resources are available.”

“And?”

“And, I watch, to see how well the team does.”

“And if they screw things up?” I asked.

“We have a conversation,” Frances nodded.

“And if the team member continues to screw up?”

“They are off the team.”

I finished writing down what Frances described and slid the paper across the table.

  • Selection, who is on the team?
  • Task assignment, quantity, quality, time and resources?
  • Evaluate effectiveness?
  • Coaching?
  • De-selection?

“As the manager, this is what you control,” I said. “Your problem is on this list.” -Tom