Category Archives: Accountability

One Stratum Separation

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Thumbnail from yesterday’s post Which Manager is Accountable?

There are three roles in play.

  • Product Manager
  • Marketing Manager

and

  • Marketing Services

The question is, which, of the two managers listed, should be the manager of the Marketing Services role? There are four questions that must be answered before making this decision. Today, the first question –

  • What is the level of work in each role described?

To be an effective manager, there must be one stratum separation between the manager and the team member. So, a role at S-III can be an effective manager to a role at S-II. A role at S-IV may have difficulty being an effective manager for a role at S-II, because their goals and objectives look at dramatically different time frames. An S-II role cannot be an effective manager for another S-II role because, given a difficult problem to solve, they both solve problems the same way. Given a difficult decision to make, they both make decisions the same way.

And, role titles can often be misleading. While the word “manager” often points me to an S-III role, there are many S-II roles that also use the word “manager.” To design the appropriate managerial relationship or the appropriate cross-functional relationship, we first have to determine the level of work in each role.

Tomorrow, we will look at the second question. Which manager is in the best position to bring value to the decisions made and problems solved by the Marketing Services role?

Which Manager is Accountable?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
What is your feeling about a manager only managing one person?

Here is the scenario. We have a Product Manager accountable for new product development research and portfolio creation. Suggestion was to have a Marketing Services person, accountable for the creation of marketing collateral and advertising campaigns, report to the Product Manager. This Marketing Services person would be the only report that the Product Manager would be supervising.

My fear is that the Product Manager, also accountable for major business development activities centering on future business and product development, will be engaged in production type work involving market assessments and research for new product development. The Marketing Services role will be of little help in this work.

The Marketing Services person is accountable for today’s activities rather than future. In some ways it would seem distracting for the Product Manager to supervise the Marketing Services role.

Personally I think the Marketing Services role should report to the Marketing Manager, who is better suited. The Marketing Manager would then have seven direct reports. Better use of resources.

Response:
This is a classic example of organizational design, that contemplates whether the structure between the roles should be a managerial relationship or a cross-functional relationship.

There are some fundamental questions that must be answered first?

  • What is the level of work in each role described?
  • Which manager is accountable for the output (quantity, quality, within timeframe, using allocated resources) of the Marketing Services role? You describe who reports to who. Wrong question. We all report to lots of people. The central question is which manager is accountable?
  • Which manager is in the best position to bring value to the difficult problems and difficult decisions made by the Marketing Services role?
  • Is the work assigned to the Marketing Services role by the Product Manager full time or part time, and is the duration of that work forever, or in defined projects that start and stop?

The answers to these questions will help determine the appropriate structure. We will take them one at a time over the next few days.

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.

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.

Only Measure of Performance

“I have a dilemma,” Sylvia explained. “I have a team member who consistently underperforms. And, every time I ask what happened, to try to find out what went wrong, the cause of the project failure, I always get a plausible reason. I understand why the project failed and it’s not this person’s fault. My dilemma is, I have a make or break project that needs to go to this person, but I hesitate to assign it.”

“Is this person competent in completing assigned projects?” I asked.

“Not in completing them,” she defended, “but, there is always a plausible explanation.”

“Do you need the project completed, or do you need an explanation?” I pressed, not waiting for an answer. “It sounds like your team member doesn’t get better at performing. Your team member gets better at explaining why the underperformance is never their fault. Your team member gets better at an explanation that you actually believe. The measure of performance is not an explanation. The only measure of performance is performance.”

Short bow to Lee Thayer, Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing.

Responsibility, Accountability and Authority

Words mean things. One of the biggest problems with managerial practices and the concepts constructed to support them, is the lack of clarity. And whenever things are not clear, people make stuff up, like holacracy, self directed work groups, management by objective, results based performance.

My thanks to Nick Forrest and his book How Dare You Manage, to bring some clarity to three words, responsibility, accountability and authority.

You see, you may think you have a communication problem, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem. You may think you are observing a personality conflict, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem.

Accountability, or an accountability is a contract between a manager and team member related to an agreed upon output. An accountability is a contracted output.

Responsibility is a feeling of obligation, created and maintained within an individual to perform or take action. It is a feeling generally connected to a contracted output (accountability). Responsibility that is NOT connected to an accountability can be a recipe for disaster, because noble action may be taken without regard for a defined objective.

Authority is a limit. Authority is a limit, within which an individual has the freedom to use their discretionary judgment to make decisions (even the wrong decision) and control resources to reach a defined objective (goal, task assignment).

Whenever I see some management fad, like holacracy, emerge, it is likely because these three words have never been accurately defined. And in that void, people make stuff up. And sometimes, that stuff is nonsense. And sometimes, the nonsense can lead us astray, waste resources and in the end, destroy the organization that we were trying to build in the first place.