Alligators Take Over

From the Ask Tom Mailbag –

Question:
I would love to get more information on how to beat back those Alligators! What happens when the Alligators are taking over?

Response:
This is where the role of the Manager becomes truly important. The people who do production work (Strata I) can only work harder. The people who make sure production gets done (Supervisor, Strata II) can only organize the chaos (also known as straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic).

The role of the Manager (Strata III) is to analyze what is causing things to be overwhelming and out of control. This is system work.

Stop and think. What is the cause?

The most useful tool I know of is a long roll of butcher paper (available at any restaurant supply store). Roll it out and tape it on the wall. Create a flow chart of the essential steps necessary to do the work that is required. We are talking circles, boxes and triangles connected by arrows, cause and effect. Step One, Two, Three and Four. Then, for each step, ask why we are doing that? Is that in line with our senior purpose?

This exercise will expose unnecessary steps or activities that simply do not add value to the process. Get back to the fundamentals, do only those things that are truly essential.

Draw flames around the hotspots, the burning platforms. Are instructions clear, is there a hand-off missed? This is system work.

Constructive Criticism?

“Never criticize, condemn or complain,” – Dale Carnegie.

To provide corrective feedback or constructive criticism may spring from a noble intent, AND the effort is futile, likely counterproductive to correcting a behavior or increasing the level of performance.

As a manager, are you required to deliver both positive feedback and corrective feedback?

Yes.

Delivering positive feedback is the easier of the two.

It is the corrective feedback that consternates most managers. Sometimes, delivering corrective feedback is so uncomfortable that managers avoid the conversation altogether.

Managerial effectiveness does not come from telling people what to do. Managerial effectiveness comes from asking the most effective questions.

Positive feedback – a strength I saw in your project, was your adherence to the schedule you created in the planning stage. The reason I say that is most people don’t have a plan, even if they do, they rarely use it to effectively guide the project.

Corrective feedback – if you had to do the same project again, what would you do differently? What impact would that have on the outcome of the project? If you made that change in the project, how would that look in the planning stage? What change would that make to the schedule? Who would need to be in the loop about this change?

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions. And, it doesn’t sound like criticism.

Making Mistakes

Do people learn more from success or failure?

For me, it is always failure. I learn the most from my mistakes.

Success, for me often breeds arrogance. How does the saying go – the worst thing that can happen to a golfer is to have a great day on the greens.

It is our mistakes, our failures where we learn the most. For a manager and a team member, learning cannot be an exercise of micro-management, but one of failure and mistakes.

So, if we learn more from mistakes, how do we teach people to fly a plane? Mistakes cost life and limb. Mistakes can be fatal.

As a manager, you have to manage the risk in project work. We teach people to fly in simulators, where they can make mistakes, learn, make more mistakes and learn. We learn more from one mistake than we do from a dozen successes.

Manage the Risk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We’ve had to hire a lot of people this year to keep up with production and increased demand in our product. We’ve had to promote people to new levels of responsibility. Often we pick wrong. How can we know someone will succeed when we promote them? How do we test a person for capability?

Response:
Testing a person to determine their capability is counter-intuitive. I do not judge people. I did not go to school for that, I don’t have a degree in that. I am not certified by any agency to practice psychotherapy. I think I would stink at it. So, I just don’t do it.

There is something that I AM expert in. And most seasoned managers are, too. We understand the work. Work is problem solving and decision making. Given a role (to recruit, or promote), most managers have a very clear understanding of the problem solving and decision making required.

How do you test a person for capability?

You test a person for capability with project work. Every manager should constantly test every team member for capability with project work. I may not be able to judge a person, but I can certainly judge the work. When I delegate a project, I pay specific attention to the problem solving and decision making in the project. Then, all I have to do is determine if, during the course the project, the team member is effective, or not. Pretty much thumbs up, thumbs down.

Managers who constantly test their team will have a running intuitive understanding of the capability of each team member.

Here is the insight. Every manager already maintains a running intuitive understanding of the capability in each team member. Project work allows us to consciously calibrate effectiveness in specific decisions to be made and problems to be solved.

Give a person a promotion, and they fail, you have a chocolate mess on your hands. Give a person a project and they fail, you have a failed project, and, as the manager, you can manage the risk in the project.

Looks Like a Personality Conflict

The situation may look like a personality conflict, but the symptom leads us astray. When two people are at cross-purposes, locked in disagreement, it is because we, as managers, created the conditions for the behavior we see.

Still looks like a personality conflict?

If you are in a place of worship, a temple, synagogue, sanctuary, are you likely to be loud and boisterous or quiet and reflective? If you are at a sporting event and your team just scored a goal, are you likely to be loud and boisterous or quiet and reflective? Your behavior in those two circumstances is quite different, but did your personality change?

Your behavior changed because the context changed.

Change the context, behavior follows.

Structure is the way we define the working relationships between people in our organization. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behaviors in the work that we do together. Structure is culture. Culture is context. Change the context, behavior follows.

Be careful how you define the working relationships in your organization. Structure creates the conditions for things that look like personality conflicts.
——
Change the context, behavior follows, first taught to me by Gustavo Grodnitzky.

Have to Use a Different Tool

“My boss just told me, now I am the manager. She didn’t tell me I was supposed to do anything different than what I was doing as a supervisor,” explained Lawrence.

“That’s because most companies don’t truly understand the role of the manager,” I nodded, “nor the tools they use to get their work done.”

S-III Manager – creates the system in which work is done
—————-
S-II Supervisor – makes sure production gets done
—————-
S-I Technician – production work

“For the people who do production work, (S-I) the tools are real tools, machinery and equipment, that’s easy to see. But what are the tools of the supervisor?” Lawrence looked quickly to the left to see if the answer was written over my shoulder.

“The role of the supervisor (S-II) is to make sure production work gets done, so the tools of the supervisor are schedules and checklists. The supervisor uses those tools to make sure the right people are at the right place using the right materials on the right (well-maintained) equipment.”

“So what are the tools of the manager?” asked Lawrence.

“The role of the manager (S-III) is to create the system, and make the system better. The tools of the manager are flowcharts, time and motion, cause and effect sequence, role definitions and analysis.

“The work of the manager is different than the work of the supervisor and requires different tools.”

Your Only Hope

“But how do you get out of the weeds?” Lawrence complained. “So much stuff hits my desk. I am constantly walking the floor. Everybody seems to have a problem for me to solve. All of a sudden, the day is over and I have done nothing. The next day, it starts all over.”

“Dig a little, beat back the alligators, dig a little more,” I said. “Understand that this is not a time-management problem. You cannot organize your way to greatness.

“This is the secret, the keys to the kingdom. Your only hope (in this case, hope is a strategy) is to improve your delegation skills. Delegation and training. The only thing that will keep a manager out of the weeds is to build a team to support the position. When a company gets big enough, it is called infrastructure. Without that support, there is no hope.

“Nothing great was ever created by individual achievement. You have to build a team to solve the problems you used to solve. You have to build a team to make the decisions you used to make.”

You Won’t See It Coming

His brow furrowed. Lawrence had to concentrate to understand. “But I thought a manager was supposed to manage. I thought I was supposed to manage everything on the floor.”

“You’re not a supervisor anymore,” I said. “Your new focus, as the manager, is on the system. Your role is to create the system and make the system better. When you became the manager, you promoted Nicole to be the supervisor. Whenever you do Nicole’s job, you are not paying attention to the system.”

“I thought I was just trying to help,” defended Lawrence.

“And if you continue to help by doing Nicole’s job, you will continue to ignore the system, and you will fail as a manager.”

“Not sure I know what you mean,” challenged Lawrence.

“Nicole is busy scheduling her team around vacations, people calling in sick, having doctor’s appointments and such. That’s her job.

“As the Manager, you just received a revised a production forecast from sales. Three weeks from now, you historically ramp up into your busy season. I looked at your headcount from last year. You are down three people and Charlie just gave notice, his last day is Friday. Everything looks fine, now, but four weeks from now, your production is going to get slammed and Nicole won’t have enough people to schedule from. As the Manager, you have to look ahead and build your labor pool. Now.

“If you are too busy scheduling this week’s production, you will be so far in the weeds, you won’t see what’s coming down the road in four weeks.”

Toughest Thing for a New Manager

“Lawrence, you have been a manager now, for how long?” I asked.

“Two months. It’s really different, but it seems like a lot,” he replied. “Not only am I doing all the stuff I was doing before, but now I have new stuff to do on top of that.”

“Who said you were supposed to keep all the tasks you were doing before?” I wanted to know.

“Well, my boss said I was still responsible for scheduling the people and making sure the materials were ordered. He said if we didn’t meet our daily targets, my butt was still on the line,” defended Lawrence.

“Okay, I understand. And does that mean you are the person who actually has to make up the workload schedule?”

“Yeah, but if it’s wrong, I am still in trouble.”

“Lawrence, do you have to create it to make sure it is right, or do you just have to check it to make sure it is right?”

Lawrence knew the answer, but it was difficult for him to say it. The toughest thing to do, as a new manager, is to stop being the supervisor.

Deadline to Finish and a Deadline to Start

Nicole was exasperated, “I try to delegate, but I always seem to end up with the project back in my lap.”

I was curious, “Tell me what kinds of things do you try to delegate?”

“Some small stuff, but I really try to delegate projects or phases of projects. These are significant responsibilities, not just petty stuff I am trying to dump off.”

“Nicole, when you delegate a project, how does the conversation sound?”

“I don’t know, I get with the person, hand over the file and give them a deadline. I always give them a deadline.”

“So, where do you think the breakdown is?”

“Even though they know the deadline, I don’t think they start fast enough. Or they need help, but don’t even know they need help because they didn’t start the project early enough to find out. Then it ends up on my desk, half finished or half assed, one of the two.”

I pressed for a different approach. “Nicole, what one thing should you change to get a different result?”

“Maybe I should frontload an extra meeting within 24 hours of the delegation to make sure they started the project and to find out what problems they have.”

“Indeed.”