Category Archives: Accountability

How to Set Context With Your Team

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I hear you say that management is about setting context. I think I understand what that means, but I do NOT understand how to do it.

Response:
Culture is context. Setting context is the prime objective for every manager. Context is the environment in which work is done. Work is making decisions and solving problems. This is fundamental managerial work. Three moving parts –

  • Communicate the Vision. This is the future picture of a project, picture of a product in a package, the output from a service. This is what a clean carpet looks like.
  • Performance Standard. This is the what, by when. This is the objective in measurable terms. This is the goal – QQTR, quantity, quality, time (deadline or evaluation period), resources. The vision is full of excitement and enthusiasm, specifically defined by the performance standard.
  • Constraints. There are always constraints and guidelines. Budget is a constraint, access to resources is a constraint, time can be a constraint. These are the lines on the field. Safety issues are always a constraint. When the project is finished, you should go home with all your fingers and toes.

That’s it, then let the team loose to solve the problems and make the decisions within the context. Do not make this more complicated. It’s always about the fundamentals. -Tom

Levels of Work in Project Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Last week, we attended your workshop on Time Span. Your explanation of the capability difference between a technician, a supervisor and a manager, I think, provides a profound clarification for a huge hole in our hiring process. I now understand the difference between the roles. How do I tell the difference between candidates? How do I test for time span capability?

Response:
Don’t overthink this, and don’t play amateur psychologist. Telling the difference between candidates is not a matter of climbing inside the head of the person across the interview table.

We spend a great deal of time in the workshop defining levels of work and that’s the foundation for the diagnosis. You are not trained in psychology, but you are an expert in the work. Play to your strengths as a manager.

The cornerstone document that defines the level of work is the role description. To determine the level of work in the role, I ask –

  • What are the problems that must be solved and how must they be solved?
  • What are the decisions that must be made and what must be considered in making those decisions?
  • What is the longest time span task related to those problems and decisions?

Let’s look at project management.

Can you manage a project with sticky notes stuck around your computer screen? The answer is yes, as long as the project has few problems or decisions, and is of very short duration. For a long duration project, the glue on the sticky notes dries out and notes fall to the floor (or behind the desk). Stratum I level of work.

Longer time span projects will typically require list making and checking deadlines. Sticky notes graduate to an Excel spreadsheet. The problems to be solved will reference documented solutions (like a best practice) that are well-defined (as long as we pick the right best practice to the problem to be solved). Stratum II level of work, project three months to one year.

But spreadsheets break down when the project becomes more complex. Difficult problems appear with no defined solution. The problem requires analysis. Priorities change, elements in the system are uncertain, yet must be accounted for. Project management software replaces the spreadsheet checklists. (MS-Project is a spreadsheet on steroids). Stratum III level of work, one to two years.

And then we realize that we have more than one project attacking the same set of resources. Everything that could go wrong on one project is now multiplied by several projects. Projects, and their resource allocation, begin to impact each other, competing for budget and managerial attention. Simple project management software gives way to enterprise project management software like Primavera and Deltek. Stratum IV level of work, two to five years.

With the level of work defined, looking at problem solving tools, the next step is to interview candidates about their projects.

  • What was the time span of the longest project?
  • What were the problems that had to be solved, decisions made, in the planning stage?
  • What were the problems that had to be solved, decisions made, in the handoff stage to operations?
  • What were the problems that had to be solved, decisions made, in the execution stage?
  • How were those decisions and problems managed?
  • What systems did you use to manage those problems and decisions?

Don’t play amateur psychologist. Play to your strengths as a manager. It’s all about the work. It’s all about the level of work. -Tom

Procrastination and Time Span

Joyce had her thinking cap on. Her dissatisfaction with Phillip was elusive. Not just a lack of performance, but from a lack of capability.

“I want you to begin to think about capability in terms of Time Span,” I prompted.

“You’re right,” she replied. “Phillip seems to stay away from, or procrastinate on all the projects that take time to plan out and work on. And then, it’s like he jams on the accelerator. He even told me that he works better under pressure, that last minute deadlines focus him better. I am beginning to think that he waits until the last minute because that is the only time frame he thinks about.”

“Give me an example,” I asked.

“Remember, I found him hidden away in the warehouse, rearranging all the shelves himself. It’s really a bigger project than that. We are trying to move the high turning items to bins up front and slower moving items to bins in the back. But it’s going to take some time to review, which items need to be moved, how to re-tag them, how to planagram the whole thing. We started talking about this three months ago with a deadline coming due next week. So, only now, Phillip focuses in the warehouse doing things himself. And the result is likely to be more of a mess than a help.”

“Is it a matter of skill, planning skills?” I ventured.

“No, I don’t think so. The whole project is just beyond him,” Joyce said with some certainty.

“Then how are we going to measure the size of the project, the size of the role? And how will we state Phillip’s effectiveness in that role?”
____
Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom

Assessing Effectiveness

“So, let’s look at your description of Phillip,” I prompted. “You said he is probably in over his head. What exactly does that mean?”

Joyce’s brow furrowed. “You know. He is having trouble cutting it. Can’t deliver. Doesn’t know whether to scream or eat a banana.”

I smiled. “I know exactly what you mean. But how do we characterize this behavior so we can improve the situation?”

Joyce looked a little sheepish. “I don’t mean to poke fun. But I really don’t know how else to put it.”

“So, let’s say you fire Phillip and your boss wants to know the reason. Are you going to say that Phillip was terminated because he didn’t know whether to scream or eat a banana?”

“Of course not. I would have to think of something more tactful,” Joyce replied.

“Instead of something more tactful, think of something closer to the truth, something you can be objective about and measure.”

“I don’t know,” said Joyce, backpedaling. She shifted with the uncomfortable question. “I think I would have to go back to his job description and start there,” she replied.

“And if you went back to the job description, what would you find?”

Joyce got up from her chair and paced to the side of the room. “First of all, I would have to find the job description, but I already know it’s just a bunch of gobbledygook. It was written by a consultant several years ago and it’s out of date.”

“So, if I really put you to the test, as a manager, you are holding Phillip to a performance standard that you describe as gobbledygook?”

“Yes, but, I can still tell that he is not doing his job. He doesn’t have the capability to do his job. I know that, even without the job description.”

“So, how are we going to capture what you already know in measurable terms to help us know what to do with Phillip?”
____
Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom

How to Spot Micro-Management

Joyce was thinking about her team. Things were not a disaster, but not running too smoothly. There was a friction in the team that was beginning to take a life of its own.

“I have been watching Phillip,” she started. “It seems he is struggling with his job as a supervisor, but it’s hard to tell. He has his good days, but not too often.”

“How would you rate his performance?” I asked.

“Well, that’s pretty easy to see. He is always late with stuff and it’s never completely done the way it should be. And then, when I go to talk to him about it, I can’t find him.”

“Is he in the building?”

“Oh, yeah, he will turn up, but it’s like, he was two hours down in receiving, he said he was organizing the place. Now, I know the place needs to be organized, but he was doing it all alone. He was not out here, supervising on the floor, where he really needed to be. The receiving guy should be doing the organizing in receiving.”

“What do you think the problem is?”

“Well, even though he is a supervisor, it seems he would rather be doing lower level-of-work stuff. Some of his team members even accuse him of micro-managing.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“It’s like he is in a role that he doesn’t even like, and probably in over his head,” Joyce concluded.

“And who put him in that spot?”

Joyce turned her head, looked at me sideways. A bit of a smile, a bit of a grimace.

Not a Personality Conflict

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am trying to sort out an argument between one of my foremen and our safety officer. They have two different personalities. My foreman is driven, goal oriented with a knack for getting things done, even if he has to bend a rule or two. My safety officer is conservative, a stickler for policy without much admiration for getting things done. On the face of it, their personalities are suited to the roles we have them in. Until they get in the same room, or in the same meeting, or worse case, on the same job-site. It’s like oil and water. We have done personality testing to confirm what I have described, but they fight like cats.

Response:
You don’t have a personality conflict, you have an accountability and authority issue. Both roles have goals and objectives. Neither role is the manager of the other, yet they both have to work together. You could stand in and referee every interaction (if you have that kind of time on your hands) or you can get clear about the accountability and authority of each.

The foreman, no doubt, has production goals to meet each week and month for the duration of the project. The foreman has the authority, as the manager of his crew, to assign tasks, monitor those tasks and adjust work assignments as time goes by.

The safety officer has goals and objectives related to the absence of workplace accidents, the adherence to safety policies and long term, a reduction in work-comp modification factors. The safety officer is in a classic auditor role, accountable for safety, and, also with special authority to delay or stop work in the face of an unsafe work practice.

The conflict you witness between your foreman and your safety officer has nothing to do with personality, everything to do with the lack of clarity on your part, as their manager, related to their accountability and authority. The safety officer has the authority because you define it. If you don’t define it, you will get behavior that looks like a personality conflict.

Who Needs to Be Fired Today?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am a manager, and I understand that I am accountable for the output of my team. My team is accountable for showing up every day with full commitment to do their best. But, I feel stymied by my colleagues, my manager and his colleagues. I know I am accountable, but my authority is constantly under pressure to keep members on my team who should have been terminated long ago. The trouble is, it’s so difficult to get rid of anybody around here. Yet, I am accountable for substandard output. My manager points to HR, HR points to policy, policy points back to me and my hands are tied.

Response:
It is not unusual for an organization to be fuzzy about hiring and firing practices. Upper management does not trust lower management to make sound decisions, and this lack of clarity creates a malaise of inaction that is allows underperformance to continue, simultaneously debilitating the morale of the rest of the team.

Elliott Jaques was quite clear that managerial accountability also requires managerial authority. Organizations underperform because this issue remains unresolved with managers, at all levels, passing the buck.

For a manager to be held accountable for the output of the team requires the manager to be given, minimum, veto authority in team member selection. Likewise, that same manager must have authority to de-select an individual from the team.

There are two implications. No manager can unilaterally make hiring and firing decisions in a vacuum. There are considerations of budget, work flow, work schedule, capacity. These circumstances create the context of the hiring and firing decisions. The second implication is the role of the manager-once-removed. The concern of upper management about the decision-making of lower management is not without merit, but, for Pete’s sake, get clear about the authority that goes with the accountability.

Manager-once-removed
——————–
Hiring manager
——————–
Team member

In hiring practice, the manager-once-removed is required to create a slate of qualified candidates for the hiring manager to select from. The manager-once-removed should be well aware of the context of the hire, including budget, work flow, work schedule and capacity planning. In this way, the manager-once-removed can be assured the hire is proper in context and that the hiring manager has a qualified slate to select from.

In firing practice, the manager-once-removed is required to be an active coach to the hiring (firing) manager. The hiring (firing) manager may de-select an individual from the team, but terminations from the company require the agreement from the manager-once-removed. Again, the manager-once-removed should be well aware of the context of the de-selection and/or termination related to budget, work flow, work schedule and capacity planning.

Most organizations leave this authority fuzzy and suffer the consequences. For a manager to be accountable for the output of the team, that manager must have the minimum veto authority on team selection and authority to de-select after due process.

So, why would the manager-once-removed want to get tangled up in this mess? Because the manager-once-removed is accountable for the output of the hiring manager. The manager-once-removed is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring manager. This accountability changes everything, overnight.

Don’t Be the Critical Parent

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
I’m a new manager for a staff of about 65 people. It seems that my predecessor was not a good manager. I was left with people misinformed about company and regulatory policies. Anytime I point out something being done incorrectly, I end up being the bad guy. I’ve tried to be nice, explain my reasoning and show proof, but it doesn’t work. They just keep saying the previous manager didn’t tell them. One staff member even called another department to complain. How can I get them to listen and comply with rules and regulatory policies we have to follow? Should I start writing people up or just keep explaining myself?

Response:
One thing I learned a long time ago, no one listens to me. It doesn’t matter how brilliant I am. It doesn’t matter how I nail the solution to the problem, I get no respect. It’s the Rodney effect.

Why should they listen to you? Whatever you have to say, means a change for them. And it doesn’t matter if you are right.

There is one person, however, they will listen to. If you can figure out who that person is, and get that person to dispense the helpful advice, you will make some headway.

I have found the only person from whom people will take negative criticism is themselves. The advice has to come from them.

Here is how I would start. Observe the kinds of things that people are doing outside of guidelines and policies, take some notes and build a list. Then call a meeting to discuss how we could make improvements in various areas. Describe one difficulty or problem or one process in which we would like a different result. Divide the team into smaller groups of 2-3 to brainstorm ideas to get the best ideas, then invite team members to take the new actions and try them out.

I would conduct these five minute meetings 2-3 times per week, looking at all kinds of ways to make improvements. Pretty soon, they will see new ideas you never thought of. And you don’t have to be the critical parent.

Keep Them or Transition Them Out

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In an attempt to retain their highest producers, a call center instituted an incentive plan that highly favored a group of seven. These “Magnificent Seven,” as the partners called them, did produce a high percentage of the revenues. But they were also highly dysfunctional as a group as each one was high maintenance with lots of personal baggage in his/her own right. While the reward system worked to retain these seven, the churn rate for the remaining 23 seats was over 400%. In effect, the incentives to retain seven people came at the expense of morale, work environment, job satisfaction and even the bottom line. The cost of continuously replacing the 23 employees far exceeded the benefit of retaining the seven. Your thoughts?

Response:
So, if I was a direct manager and needed high volume sales for only the next three months, I would go the M-7 every time. But, that is not the way most organizations work. Most organizations need sustained revenue over years and decades. Most organizations need a sustainable system of sales which contemplates sales methodology, recruiting, orientation, portfolio growth, levels of work, promotion and retirement. This goes back to time span.

Three months time span – Magnificent Seven
Ten year time span – Not the Magnificent Seven

What to Delegate, What to Self-Perform?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Here is what I have noticed about levels of work. When a leader works at a lower (incorrect) level, he/she actually destroys value in the people on the team. The team becomes frustrated and honestly sometimes, lazy, because the boss will come in and do the work anyway.

Response:
Most managers have difficulty delegating because they don’t understand the level of work in the task. Identifying level of work tells the manager specifically what tasks can effectively be delegated and what tasks must be self-performed. In the delegation, level of work tells the manager what decisions, authority and accountability can reasonably be expected. This understanding allows managers to engage in higher levels of system design, planning and problem prevention.