Category Archives: Accountability

Smile Training

WHY I wrote Outbound Air

As the organization grows, the chaos of Go-Go is killing the organization. The company has clearly defined its methods and processes, but the sequence is not necessarily efficient. Mom and Pop, who started the organization, long for the days when they could just do everything themselves. This motley crew of people (the team) is going through the motions, doing what they have now been trained to do.

For the most part, the product or service makes it to the customer, and for the most part, the customer is happy. But as sales volume grows, the chaos of Go-Go creates enough substandard output that people begin to notice. Deadlines are missed, defects become visible. The organization reacts by creating a customer service department, to apologize and smile.

But smile training doesn’t cut it. The company is now in pursuit of some sort of consistency, so that every product consistently meets its specification, so that every service meets the standard, every time. The strategic focus turns to a system focus.

____________Adolescence – system focus
________Go-Go – define and document methods and processes
____Infancy – focus on sales, production, find a (any) customer

The methods and processes are examined for sequence and priority to create a system that is efficient, predictable and most of all profitable. The bank wants that line of credit paid off.
Homage to Ichak Adizes, Corporate Lifecycles, 1988.

And If the Advice is Wrong?

From Outbound Air

“So, what happened?” Jim wanted to know.

“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Mary said. “What matters is that it was my decision and my decision alone. I was accountable for the decision and the consequences of the decision. The technical crew did their best to keep the aircraft in pristine working order. Flight operations did their best to keep the customers on schedule.

“If I decided to fly the plane and something happened, the technical crew would not be accountable. If I canceled the flight and the repair turned out to be a non-event, flight operations would not be accountable. This decision was my decision.”

“What if the technical advice you get from your team is wrong?” Jim pressed.

“I am still accountable. As the manager, I have to evaluate the risk. If the risk is high, even if I trust my team to do their best, sometimes I have to double-check the data or bring in a second opinion on the analysis. I am still accountable.”

It Doesn’t Matter What Department

From Outbound Air

“It doesn’t matter what department,” Frank added. “The level of work is that same whether it’s clerical, baggage handling or customer service work. They have different skills but the time span of their tasks is in the same range.”

“Wait, you are telling me that a baggage handler is the same level of work as customer service?” Catherine challenged.

“Within the range,” Johnny replied. “We talked all night about this one. At first blush, you might think that a baggage handler isn’t very high up on the food chain. But think about the discretionary judgment that team has to use. They have problems to solve and decisions to make as they maneuver portable conveyors in and around multi-million dollar aircraft. What happens if they misjudge and push a machine one inch into the skin of an airplane? Or if they fail to fasten a baggage door? Or if they are careless about the way cargo and equipment is secured inside the belly? Remember ValuJet?”

The somber reference to the 1996 airline disaster that killed 110 aboard fell over the group.

Who Makes the Decision?

From Outbound Air

“Exactly,” Catherine beamed. “As long as nothing changes, your teams do not need you. They can handle all the routine decisions and problems. But, you know that something will change, something always changes. This airline operates in a world of uncertainty. You helped define a number of standard operating procedures. Your teams know how to handle weather systems, flight delays and lost baggage. They know how to re-route customers. They even know what to do in the event of a computer outage or a security breach.”

Catherine stopped to let this sink in, before she continued.

“But, what happens when our load factors on a route fall below the level of profitability for a thirty day period. Should they cancel all the flights?”

A wave covered the room. Some stared down at the table, some stared at the ceiling. They did not avoid eye contact, but, instead, looked inside to connect to some logical response. Javier broke the silence. “No,” he was emphatic. “First, that is a decision they do not have the authority to make.”

“And, why not. The routes are unprofitable, why shouldn’t your shift supervisors cancel those flights?” Catherine challenged.

“It’s not their role to make a decision like that?” Javier replied.

“Says who?” Catherine baited.

What Do We Need a Manager For?

From Outbound Air

“Right then, if your teams can carry on the same way tomorrow, then what do I need you for?” Catherine stared sternly in the eyes of her executive team.

Peter looked around to see if someone else might fill the void of silence. It was Mary’s turn. “You are absolutely right. My team can carry on the same way, day after day. And they can make decisions and they can solve problems, as long as those decisions and problems are the same as yesterday. But, here’s the rub. Something is going to change. It might be a weather system, a mechanical delay, or a broken flight connection. Something is going to change and that’s when they will need me.”

“Exactly,” Catherine beamed. “As long as nothing changes, your teams do not need you. They can handle all the routine decisions and problems. But, you know that something will change, something always changes.
Back to the central question, how do we define the word -manager? What is the role of a manager?

Self Directed Work Teams?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

This question came from a different thread I follow, but it is a very interesting conundrum.

We operate manufacturing facilities in several states, with each Plant Manager, reporting to a VP who is about to retire. We are considering the elimination of the VP role. Have you experimented with or implemented self-directed work teams. Are there any lessons to be learned before this decision is made.

I have to wince. Wince is an involuntary response to pain which has not yet happened. I fear there is already bias to experiment with self-directed work teams and endure the predictable pain. But, it is still a fair question.

In my second book Outbound Air, the CEO asks a similar question.
“Come on, you arrived at work this morning and came straight away into this meeting. Your teams are all out there, without you, making decisions and solving problems. How do they know what to do today?”

Finally, Peter spoke up. “Sounds too obvious, but my team is mostly doing their work today, the same as they did, yesterday.”

“And, if I hold you in this room, through tomorrow, how will they know what to do tomorrow?”

Peter was on a roll. “I suppose they will carry on tomorrow the same way they carried on today, the same way they carried on yesterday.” He looked around to see if anyone else appreciated his humor.

“Right then, if your teams can carry on the same way tomorrow, then what do I need you for?” Catherine stared sternly in the eyes of her executive team.
This question strikes at the very heart of management. How do we define the word -manager? What is the role of a manager? I will let you kick this around for the day (comments?) and we will pick this discussion up tomorrow.

How to Measure the Complexity in a Role

“And how big is Ron’s job right now?” I asked.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Eduardo protested. “I am just trying to get my arms around measuring the size of the job by using Time Span.”

“I understand,” I replied. “So, think about it now. Measuring the size of the job using Time Span will become clear.”

“Okay,” Eduardo started. “Ron’s role now is to manage two supervisors with a total staff of twelve people. That’s two supervisors and ten workers.”

“So, what are the tasks and what is the Time Span of the longest task?” I prodded.

“Well, Ron has to teach his supervisors to use the same process he used when he was a supervisor. But he had all that in his head, so now he has to either write it down, or draw a picture, flow chart it out, or something. He has to create the system for his team.” Eduardo stopped. “This is really a different job. I think one of his supervisors isn’t doing that great and needs to be replaced. Ron is going to have to figure out what skills would be valuable to interview for and then he has to go out and recruit.

“He also has some equipment that needs to be replaced with more sophisticated machines, get a bit more automated, but he is going to have to make his case. And he has to budget for it. And he has to get that budget approved. Our budget process alone is done on an annual basis.

“Without thinking much more about it, I think the Time Span required for Ron’s job, now, is about twelve months.”

“So, based on Time Span,” I said, “the size of Ron’s current job is twelve months?” Eduardo was nodding. Time Span as a unit of measure was beginning to sink in.

Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure now available on Amazon.

Outbound Air

It’s a Manager’s Judgment

“How do you measure the size of the job?” Eduardo whispered, talking to himself, but making sure I knew he was thinking.

“We have to make a judgment call here,” I said. “We have to decide if Ron is big enough for the job. But to do that, we have to decide how big the job is.”

Eduardo had never thought about work this way. Measuring the size of a job was a little off-the-wall for him, but I could see in his face that it made sense.

“I am thinking, and your question seems logical, but I don’t have a clue how to really measure something like the size of a job.” Eduardo was still with me, but he was out of ideas.

“Think about when Ron was successful, when he was supervising the work to be done. What was the longest task that he had to accomplish, in terms of time?”

Eduardo was thinking. “Do you mean, that he had to hit his daily production targets?”

“In a sense, but I am guessing, if he was supervising, he was working toward a goal with a longer Time Span than daily production.”

“Well, yeah, I mean Ron was in charge of daily production, but some days were up and some days were off and some days, we shut down production for preventive maintenance. We looked at production on a monthly basis.”

“So every month, he had to hit the same number?”

“Well, no. Some months were up and some months were down. Ron had to work to the sales forecast. There was some seasonality to it, and some of the production orders took more than a month to cycle through. We really looked at things on a quarterly basis.”

“So, the Time Span for Ron’s role as a Supervisor was around three months?”

A light bulb went off in Eduardo’s head. “Time Span? Is Time Span the measure of how big the job is?”

Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure now available on Amazon.

Outbound Air

How Big is Job? How Big is the Person?

“I don’t know,” replied Eduardo. “I just hope he snaps out of it. Ron was our poster boy. For the past couple of weeks, he has seemed distant, removed from his crew, removed from the work.”

“You ruled out alcohol or drugs. Is it a matter of skill, something he can learn, or is it a matter of capability?” I repeated. “You can hope this will fix itself. How much patience do you have?”

“What do you mean?” Eduardo had a new sense of curiosity. “Ron has to snap out of it fast.”

“Tell me again, what has changed with Ron’s role?”

“Well, a year ago, he was supervising a couple of people, making sure the work got done. Now, he has to manage other people who are supervising that work.”

“Is the job bigger, now?” I asked.

Eduardo looked at me, puzzled. “Well, yeah. He has more people, I guess it is more complicated.”

“So the job is bigger now. How do you measure, how much bigger the job is?”

“Measure?” Eduardo had never been asked to measure the size of a job before. “I don’t know,” he continued. “It’s just more complicated, I guess.”

“So, how do you measure the complexity of Ron’s new job?”

Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure now available on Amazon.

Outbound Air

Testing a Person Prior to a Promotion

“You told me, before I promote someone to a new role, that I should test them, with project work,” Maryanne surmised.

“So, how will you test this person?” I prodded.

“Her assembly work is good, but to keep everyone on the line productive, we need an ample supply of raw materials. There is a lead time of three weeks from ordering and we can only keep so much in stock. I could ask her to put together the next order from our supplier.”

“And, you will check her order before she places it?”

“Of course. But after she does it couple of times, I can likely trust her. Then I will give her another project to do related to the preventive maintenance schedules on some of our machines.”

“And, what will be the trigger point for the promotion?” I asked.

“Good question. I think I should sketch out an overall plan for this promotion to include a sample project from each skill required in the new position.”

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

Outbound Air