Category Archives: Accountability

Welcome to First Line Management at S-II

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was a technician in my company, they called me a lead technician, eight years on the job. Whenever there was a problem, most of the guys would come to me. If I couldn’t solve the problem, then we would go to our supervisor. Now, I am the supervisor.

No one really explained the difference between a lead tech and a supervisor. I always knew my supervisor did something different in his role than I did in my technician role, but now that it’s me, I’m not sure what the real difference is.

Response:
Good question. A supervisor is a first line manager, so welcome to the world of management. You are no longer directly doing the work, you are now accountable for the output of other people. It is your role to make sure the production (technician) work is getting done.

As a technician, you were always focused on two things, pace and quality. Were you working fast enough to produce the expected output? Did your output meet the quality standards set for the work? At times, if you worked too fast, a quality standard might be compromised. You might notice that in the reject rate, re-work, warranty complaints. To compensate, you might slow down, pay attention to each of the quality steps, so the output met the quality spec. But then, the pace might be too slow and you might not produce the expected output. It was a constant battle, pace and quality, pace and quality.

And, now, you are the supervisor. The issues are still about pace and quality, but the time frame is different. As a technician, your struggle with pace and quality was all about today, maybe this week, but not much more. Even as the lead technician, your struggles with pace and quality may have been about this week, maybe this month, but not much more.

As the supervisor, what are the elements that can impact both pace and quality?

  • Right technician assigned to the right project
  • Safe working environment, proper safety equipment
  • Right training for the right skill required by the project
  • Right tools used by the technicians required for the project
  • Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project
  • Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project
  • Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height
  • Corrective feedback for mistakes
  • Encouragement for performance

These are the levers that impact pace and quality. And, these are the levers for the supervisor. As you look at this list, to put all these in place requires a longer term outlook. Personnel has to be scheduled. Workload has to level amongst the team. Equipment has to be scheduled, maintained. The workplace has to be clean and maintained. Safety equipment in place, in perfect working order. Materials have to be ordered, accommodating lead times for certain materials. The time span outlook for this coordinating role requires thinking and working 3-12 months into the future.

The tools you will be using are no longer real tools, but schedules and checklists. You will conduct short meetings, huddles to make sure your team is all on the same page.

As a lead technician, you were the go-to-guy. When one of your team mates got stuck, you would quickly try one solution or another, based on your experience, and typically solve the problem. Until, of course, you got stuck.

Then, you would go to your supervisor. Your supervisor may or may not have as much experience as you, but your supervisor was relying on another set of problem solving tools. While you were trying this or that, your supervisor checked to see if we had solved that problem before and documented its best-practice solution.

S-II – Supervisor – Documented experience, best practice solutions

S-I – Technician – Trial and error problem solving

In the past, you relied on your skill at trial and error problem solving. You used your intuitive judgement to quickly test alternatives to solve the problem. Someone noticed and gave you a promotion.

Now, your world has changed. You will still solve many problems through trial and error, but you will begin to see the patterns in problems and connect them with tried and true solutions, elements in your standard operating procedure or best-practice manual.

As a technician, your value-add was quality. As a supervisor, your value add is accuracy, completeness and timeliness of output. Welcome to the world of first line management. –Tom
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As a side note, role designations may be different from one country to the next. The real calibration for the role is determined by the identified level of work in the role. In the United States, supervisory roles are typically S-II roles (3-12 months time span). In Australia, I am told supervisory roles may designate an S-IV role (2-5 year time span). Check your local listings. Film at eleven.
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Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration

Some Get It, Some Don’t

“Some of guys get it and some of them don’t,” Germain explained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, we train them. We have a great training program. We send them to St Louis for two weeks at corporate. But when we put them in the field, some do well, but some struggle.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I pressed.

“I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t paying attention in class.”

“It’s one of four things,” I said.

  • Capability. Does the candidate have the capability necessary for the role?
  • Skill. Does the candidate have the skill, were they trained in the skills necessary for the role? Do they continue to practice the skill?
  • Interest or passion. Does the candidate have the interest or passion for the work? Do they place a high value on the work or a low value on the work?
  • Required behaviors. Does the candidate engage in the required behaviors necessary for the work? Some behaviors, you contract for. Some behaviors are driven by habits. Some behaviors are driven by culture.

I looked directly at Germain. “Which one is it?”

“I’m not sure if I know,” he replied.

“Germain, you are the hiring manager. Those four things should guide you in the interview. At this stage of the game, you shouldn’t be wondering.” -Tom
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Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration

Will I Even Show Up?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your workshop on Time Span, you mention interest and passion as a critical role requirement. That sounds nice, but what does it mean?

Response:
Indeed, interest and passion have a kumbaya appearance in the midst of more tangible candidate characteristics. So, what is it, related to work, that we have interest in and passion for? You know me well enough, this is not a casual metaphorical discussion.

We have interest in, and passion for, work on which we place a high value. If we place a high value on the work, it is likely we will have interest and passion for it.

If we place a low value on the work, it is likely we will not be interested. Low value means we will not bring our highest level of capability. We will most likely only do what is minimally necessary.

My wife places a high value on a type of work called “back yard gardening.” You can imagine that my home in Florida is a veritable jungle of exotic plants and butterflies. Why? Because she place a high value on that type of work.

I, on the other hand, place a low value on a type of work called “back yard gardening.” So, if I am ever summoned to the back yard to complete a task assignment, will I even show up? Of course, I will show up, I am married, but I will only do what is minimally necessary and then I disappear.

So, think about the work in the roles you have for your team. Think about the work you have for yourself. What are the problems that have to be solved? What are the decisions that have to be made? Interest and passion come from value for the work.

Why They Don’t Want to Help

“But how can you hold the regional manager accountable for a hiring decision made by the supervisor?” Regina complained. “That’s what my regional managers will say. That’s why they don’t want to help. Helping gets their fingerprints on the hire. If it’s a poor hire, they get dragged into mess.”

S-III – Regional Manager
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S-II – Hiring Supervisor
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S-I – Technician Role (open)

“Exactly!” I replied. “Except, I don’t want to simply drag the regional manager into the mess. The regional manager is accountable to drive the whole process. Just as the supervisor will be accountable for the output of the technician, I hold the regional manager accountable for the output of the supervisor. If the regional manager is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring supervisor, what changes?”

Results Can Be Misleading

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In hiring, you caution against the myopia of results-based-performance. We may naively “assume that a company’s results were created by the candidate’s performance, when there are a hundred other things that contribute – reputation, price point, product superiority, terms, another supplier that failed to deliver.”

I would think that a track record of consistent results over an extended period of time would hold a tremendous amount of value. So the question is, are you minimizing the use of results even when there is a proven track record of results over an extended period of time? Or is it just in situations where the “results” are much more limited where it would be difficult to verify that they really are the result of the individual’s actions?

Response:
Yes, results for short sampling periods are always suspect, and, yes, I also have my red flags up, even with a longer term statistical track record of positive results. I am more interested in the behaviors that created the result than in the result. Especially during an interview, I am not in a great position to judge the cause and effect relationships that ended in a positive result. I may be encouraged with positive results, but I will still focus on behaviors.

Coincidence of Results

Registration continues this week for Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer. Find out more – Hiring Talent.
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“I am not so sure about this candidate,” Marcus explained. “He says he would make a good sales manager, but even on his resume, he has only been in that role for seven months.”

“So, what does he say?” I asked.

“When, I think about it, sounds more like promises,” Marcus nodded. “I asked him what kind of impact he was having on his current sales team. He said that by the end of the year, they were looking at a substantial increase in sales. He said they should have made him sales manager three years ago.”

“But, they didn’t? And, does the increase in sales have anything to do with the sales manager, or is their market just improving? You are basing your judgment of effectiveness based on a result (that hasn’t even happened, yet). You have fallen in a trap. Results based performance is a trap.”

“But, results are important,” Marcus defended.

“And, results can be a sucker punch. You assume the results were created by the performance, when there are a hundred other things that contribute – reputation, price point, product superiority, terms, another supplier that failed to deliver. Results are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. When you abdicate your judgment of effectiveness based on results, you ignore the candidates behavior. What are the behaviors you expect out of your sales manager?”

Marcus had to stop and think. “Coaching, goal setting, teaching, observing, giving constructive feedback, encouraging, bringing out the best in his sales team.”

“So, interview for those behaviors. Effectiveness in those behaviors will tell the story of your candidate. Don’t be fooled by a result (that hasn’t happened yet).”

The Danger of Missing Stratum IV

Registration continues this week for Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer. Find out more – Hiring Talent.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We have silos. Everybody is in a power struggle. We used to have a great reputation, but I think we outgrew it. The company seems lopsided. Sometimes sales outstrips our ability to fill orders, so some of our sales orders turn into back orders, some of our back orders turn into canceled orders and some of our best customers defect to the competition. Other times, production outstrips our ability to sell, so our finished goods don’t get sold, they stack up in the warehouse. The warehouse gets full, so we rent another warehouse. We carry inventory so long it turns obsolete and costs to hold, eat up our profit. We are like a monster machine. Just read a book by Ken Blanchard Be a Silo Buster. Do we really have to bust up the company and start over?

Response:
With all due respect to Ken Blanchard, you created those silos for a reason. Do NOT bust them up. You need efficient, profitable internal systems. It is not a matter of busting up silos, it is a matter of integrating them together. This is a classic example of a company growing into Stratum IV. This is similar to the chaos we see in Stratum II companies, but on steroids. This is not a few individuals stepping over each other. This is whole departments, internally focused, head down, nose to the grind stone without care or consideration for the other functions in the company.

But, the fix is not to tear them down. The fix is integration and requires capability at S-IV. This is not finding the constraint in a single serial system (S-III), but understanding the impact of one system on another system (S-IV). This is not root-cause analysis, but systems analysis. We have reinforcing systems and balancing systems. This requires, not serial thinking, but parallel thinking.

This is not multi-tasking (because humans cannot multi-task), but truly seeing the dependency, inter-dependency, contingency, and bottle-necks that exist among out multiple systems and sub-systems. This requires a parallel state of thinking. Two specific things to look at –

  • Balance of each system output, optimized to its surrounding systems output.
  • Handoff of work product from one system to the next system as work output flows through the organization.

Optimization
Sales has to be optimized to production. There is no sense selling inventory that cannot be produced timely to the sales order. There is no sense producing finished goods that cannot profitably be sold timely to the market. The output of both systems has to be optimized so they work in sync. Reinforcing systems and balancing systems.

Handoff
A department, head down, will work to their own internal efficiency. The state of their work product may be incomplete or carry a defect for the next stage in the work flow. Work does not flow up and down in a department. Work flows horizontally through the organization, output handed off from one department to the next.

  • Marketing hands off to sales.
  • Sales hands off to estimating
  • Estimating hands off to contracting
  • Contracting hands off to project management
  • Project management hands off to operations
  • Operations hands off to QA/QC
  • QA/QC hands off to warranty
  • Warranty hands off to research and development
  • Research and development hands off to marketing, and so the cycle goes

Each handoff must be inspected and improved. This is the role at S-IV.
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To read more on system constraints, theory of system constraints, The Goal by Eli Goldratt.
To read more about reinforcing and balancing systems, The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.

The Danger of Missing Stratum II

The Danger of Missing Stratum III
The Danger of Missing Stratum IV

The Danger of Missing Stratum III

Registration continues this week for Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer. Find out more – Hiring Talent.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Our company somehow always manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat, put the fire out that saves the refrigerator, crosses the finish line crawling through glass. But, we can never relax. Every major project is drama. Every major project is the one that will put our company over the top, but we never quite make it. We are always in a state of overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, our customers are very happy and return to us, project after project, but it is such a struggle. We never get to breathe, we never finish in stride.

Response:
Your company is operating at S-II (implement), in a market that requires S-III (system). If your organization is completing one project well, what does it get? Another project.

If your organization is completing two projects well, what does it get? A third project. How does it do the third project? The same way it does projects one and two. So, what does your organization get? Another project.

But, what if your organization got fifty projects? How would it do fifty projects? Certainly, not the same way it did projects one and two. Most S-II companies would kill to get 50 projects, not realizing that the 50 projects will kill them. What’s missing? S-III (system) capability.

S-III stands back from the 50 projects and sees the common pattern, extracts that pattern into a system. The system optimizes resources, reduces waste and minimizes effort. The company that wins the race is the one that goes the fastest with the least amount of effort.

S-III (system) brings consistency of output, it’s always the same. Consistency of output yields predictability of output, so we can codify our system. This predictability helps us understand the real cost, now predictable, so we can build in reasonable profit.

Whenever I hear about a profitability problem, I never look for what‘s causing the problem. I always look for a who. In this case, it is a who, with capability at Stratum III. -Tom

The Danger of Missing Stratum II

Registration for our Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer is now open. Find out more – Hiring Talent.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We are small organization, but growing. We have a great CEO, with a smart executive team. Our engineering managers are really good at developing inventive systems. And we have a dedicated and loyal work force. We have a good reputation in the market with loyal customers (every one thinks they are special). Then why does our company struggle to make a profit? The CEO is open and honest about our situation. When we want to spend on new equipment or hire additional personnel, we can’t afford it. The profit we do make barely covers the debt service the CEO borrowed to start the company.

Response:
As I translate each element of your description into levels of work, I notice something very interesting.

  • We have a great CEO – S-V
  • Smart executive team – S-IV
  • Engineering managers, inventive systems – S-III
  • — – S-II
  • Dedicated work force – S-I

What’s missing?

When I describe levels of work based on the research of Elliott Jaques, often organizations make the mistake of thinking they have to beef up their hiring in the scarce talent pool at S-III and S-IV. They overlook the necessity at S-II. So what do they miss at S-II?

The work at S-II is typically an implementation role. This is where execution happens. While you may have a dedicated workforce at S-I, with highly skilled and effective technicians, the organization misses coordination of those efforts to these three outcomes –

  • Accurate (meets spec)
  • Complete
  • On-time

It is the role at S-II to make sure the entire project is complete, not just 90 percent. Major profit fade occurs in the last ten percent of the project. It is their accountability to make sure there are no gaps along the way. Hidden profit erosion occurs in these gaps. And, that, at the end of the day, our product or service meets the spec we promised to the customer. There is never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it twice.

I was told a story of a company running heavy equipment in a rural area on a distant continent. When I say, heavy equipment, I mean the driver had to climb a ladder to get in the cab of the truck. This was a large company, profitable everywhere else, but this remote location had not seen profit in the past ten years. They had a smart general manager with a brilliant team of engineers. They knew how to do what they were doing, they just could not execute. Their dedicated workforce was frustrated. Try as they might, they always missed their productivity targets, through no fault of their own.

What was missing was Stratum II. S-II is the land of checklists. What was NOT getting done? Think heavy equipment, checklists and preventive maintenance. What happens when you don’t change the oil on a preventive maintenance schedule (checklist)? How productive is a machine with a thrown rod? How long does it take to fly in a technician to troubleshoot the thrown rod? How long does it take to fly in the part to fix the machine?

Sometimes it is not a brilliant system (S-III). Sometimes, it is the implementation of that system (S-II), using a simple checklist. It’s all about the work. -Tom

The Truth About Empowerment

“Empowerment!” Joshua proclaimed. “The answer is empowerment.”

“Really?” I turned my head. “Just exactly what does that mean?”

“Well, when we are trying to get people to do something, we have to empower them.”

“All you did was use the word in a sentence, you didn’t tell me what it means.”

“When you want to raise morale, make people feel better about their job, you have to empower them,” Joshua tried again.

“Empowerment is a weasel word,” I explained. “Everyone uses (misuses) it, no one knows what it means. There are whole books about it, and no one knows what it means. It’s a cover-up, the salve to heal a wound inflicted by management. We have an empowerment problem. Our employees need to be empowered. WTF does that mean?”

Joshua turned sheepish. “I dunno.”

“Of course, you don’t know, you just stumbled into it. Sounded good, so you said it. Don’t ever use that word around me again. You don’t have an empowerment problem, you have an accountability and authority problem. You don’t need to empower your employees, you need to sit with your team and define the authority and the accountability that goes with it. It’s a contract with two parts. Empowerment is like a government oversight committee that has the authority to indict with no accountability. If you have the authority to do something, then you have the accountability that goes with it. Don’t talk about empowerment, talk about accountability and authority.” -Tom
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Weasel words is a concept codified by Lee Thayer Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing. In the history of this blog, in addition to accountability, we have identified two other weasel words, motivation and holocracy.
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Registration for our Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer is now open. Find out more – Hiring Talent.