Category Archives: Accountability

I Don’t Know What That Means

“So, what is the goal?” I asked. “What is the expected output?”

Marianna smiled, looked down at the paper in front of her. “Strategically improve current workflow resulting in improved success on projects in support of long-term company goals.”

I nodded. “Sounds great. But, I don’t know what that means.”

Marianna looked puzzled. “Well, that is what I expect from the manager in this role,” she replied.

“I know that’s what you expect, but I am still confused.” I stopped. “It is noble to improve workflow, but I don’t know what you expect to see. How are you going to evaluate effectiveness? What do you expect this person to do?”

“Well, we have work-cells that pass work along the line. Sometimes there are delays where things stack up. Sometimes, there are quality problems that are discovered at the end of the line, where we have to scrap a whole day’s production because of a small adjustment up the line. Sometimes, we run out of raw materials, so production stops. Sometimes, our work flow gets interrupted by a priority order that gets inserted at the last minute.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You want the person in this role to chart out the workflow, identify problems related to workflow delays, interim quality inspections, raw material min-max levels and expedited orders. The accountability (work output) will be a one-page work flow chart showing work-cell to work-cell production hand-offs, identifying where delays occur, when interim quality inspections are performed, quantities of raw material inventory related to production, and contingency processes for expedited work orders.”

Marianna nodded her head in agreement.

“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I smiled.

Not Enough Time

“I gotta get something off my plate,” Adrian shook his head. “I am so busy, I just don’t have time to get everything done.”

Busy?” I asked. For me, busy is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Busy. I get here early to catch things up from yesterday, make some headway on one of my projects, but about 7:30, the chaos begins.”

Chaos?” I asked. For me, chaos is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Chaos,” Adrian replied. “Unsolved problems from yesterday. Yesterday’s decisions delayed until today. It hits my email, it hits my text messages, it hits my phone, it walks through my office door.”

“So, you think you have a problem?” I clarified. “And, if you could get something off your plate, you would have more time? And if you had more time, you wouldn’t be so busy? And if you weren’t so busy, there would be less chaos?”

“That’s it,” Adrian agreed.

“Then, why did you start coming to work so early?” I probed.

“Because I was too busy during the day. There was too much chaos during the day. I couldn’t get anything done,” Adrian was frustrated with his circular problem.

“So, you came to work early to get more time, but you are still too busy and there is still too much chaos? Do you think not-enough-time is really the problem.”

What If There is a Hiccup on the Project?

“I just want to be clear on this,” Roger said. “For my project, I initially asked for five hours of accounting support from your department. It turns out I needed ten hours, but you are giving me three hours from Nancy and three hours of data entry. That’s only six hours.”

Javier smiled again. “Yes, Nancy collected all the data about your project, transaction volume, your reporting requirements on the project, integration with our job-cost accounting system. With that information, I am comfortable that we can get your project accounting done in six hours a week, and Nancy will be there to make sure it is on time and accurate. You are getting a service from my department.”

“What if there is a hiccup on the project, something changes. Do I always have to go through you to communicate with Nancy? Seems like a lot of bureaucracy?” Roger challenged.

“No, you don’t have to go through me. My role is to provide you the service. I created a system for the accounting work to be done.

  • Nancy codes the transactions
  • Data entry enters the transactions into our accounting software
  • Nancy reconciles the data entry, proofs and publishes your report

So, the system is in place. Within that system, as the project leader, you have prescribing authority to directly assign tasks to both Nancy and data entry. You are right. There will be a hiccup, you can make adjustments directly. If you call a meeting with the two of them, they are obligated to attend the meeting and participate with their best efforts. As long as the system works for you, I don’t have to be involved.”

“So, what if your system breaks down? Who do I talk to, then?” Roger was still a bit defensive, not sure he trusted the system.

“Actually, I will know before you will. Nancy is acting as my monitor. If something changes, she will let me know and I will examine the system in case we need to make more adjustments.”
_________

Cross-functional working relationships

  • Service giving-Service getting – a project or department receives a service from another function or department
  • Prescribing authority – directly makes task assignments within the system
  • Monitor authority – monitors a defined system and reports anomalies to manager

Why Is Nancy So Slow?

“I knew this would happen,” Javier smiled from his chair in the conference room. “Not a big deal. Roger, when you came to me and said you needed five hours per week of accounting support, I knew you had no idea how much work it really was. You said, five hours, so I assigned Nancy, one of our staff accountants, to your project. She has a lot of other work to do in our accounting department, but I knew she would get a handle on things and report back to me on your project.”

“Yes, but, now, I need Nancy for ten hours,” Roger complained. “And, she said she couldn’t give me ten hours.”

“I know,” Javier calmly replied. “Nancy came back to me with a breakdown of the work. You need a couple of hours to code all your paperwork to the right expense accounts on your project, then some time to put that data into our computer accounting system, then about twenty minutes to proof and reconcile the output for the week. And, you are right, if Nancy was going to do all the work, it would likely take ten hours.”

“But, she said she couldn’t give me ten hours. If my project is getting a service from the accounting department, how is this going to work?”

“I talked to Nancy. She is going to do the up-front coding and she is going to proof the output, so she is only going to spend three hours on your project. And, we have a data entry clerk who can bang all those transactions into the computer system in another three hours. This data entry specialist is like lightening on a keyboard. We will still get all your work done, but it will probably only take six hours instead of ten.”

“Why is Nancy so slow on the data entry part?” Roger wanted to know.

“Nancy doesn’t practice on data entry. Her level of work requires judgment to connect the right expenses to the right account codes in our accounting system. It’s a different level of work than data entry. If your project was smaller, I would have Nancy do all the work including the data entry, but your project is bigger than you thought, so we are going to bring in a data entry clerk. That clerk just has to accurately get the data into the computer, there is very little judgment required.”

________S-II – Coding, proofing, reconciling. (Nancy)
____S-I – Data entry. (Data entry clerk)

Is It Just Red Tape?

“Just to be clear,” I repeated. “You expect a junior accountant to work overtime on your project, or if she cannot work overtime, to leave her other work undone while she finishes your work?”

“Look, it’s her work, now,” Roger replied. “She controls the pace and quality of her work. It is up to her to get it all done.”

“But, you arranged, with her manager, for five hours per week to do the accounting on your project. Because the job is bigger than you thought, it takes ten hours. Who resolves the conflict?”

“Her manager manages her other work. I am her manager on this project. She has to figure it out.”

“So, she has two managers? Are you her manager?”

“Yes, I am her manager for this project,” Roger insisted.

“So, if she underperforms or makes an egregious mistake, you can fire her from the company?” I wanted to know.

“Well, no,” Roger said. “Her other manager is in charge of that.”

“And, if she needs skills training, you would make arrangements to approve and send her to that training?”

“No,” Roger shook his head. “Her other manager would do that.”

“Then, you are not her manager.”

Roger sat up straight. “I am her manager on this project,” he stated flatly.

“Roger, you are the manager of this project. You are getting a service from the accounting department in the form of five hours of Nancy’s time per week. You have prescribing authority to directly give her task assignments, up to five hours per week. But if you need ten hours per week, you have to go to Nancy’s manager and negotiate for more time.”

“That seems like a lot of red tape to me,” Roger announced, as he stormed out of the room.

Priority Conflict Between Two Managers

“I am getting a service from our accounting department for my project. It’s a big enough project that it has its own budget, so I talked to the accounting manager to see if they could provide five hours a week in project accounting for me,” Roger announced.

“And?” I asked.

“So they assigned Nancy, a junior accountant to do the work. But, the transaction volume in the project is double what we thought, so I really need ten hours per week. I told Nancy and she said she had other work that had to get completed and she could only spend five hours. I told her that was unacceptable.”

“Why was that unacceptable?”

“Well, I am her manager for this project. Isn’t she supposed to do what I tell her?” Roger complained.

“Are you her manager?”

“For this project, yes. She has two managers, her accounting manager for her other work and I am her manager on this project,” he flatly stated.

“And, what if there is a priority conflict in her work between the two of you?”

“She will just have to work a little longer to get it all done. Not my problem.”

“Just to be clear, you expect a junior accountant to make a decision to work overtime, or if she can’t work overtime, to leave some work undone, while she finishes your work?”

Not a Time Management Issue

“Yes, you could call it stress,” Daniele replied. “And it’s building. I seem to get farther behind and I can see there are things that need to be done, there is no way I will get to them.”

“What do you think is happening?” I asked.

“I get to work early to get a few minutes of peace and quiet. It’s usually my most productive hour of the day. But then, there is an email, or a note on my desk about a struggling project and boom, I am in the weeds again. I am not complaining about the work, but I feel the stress. I am torn between these urgent projects and the work I know I really need to be doing. It even affects my work-life balance. I feel like I need to come in to work two hours early.”

“Do you think you have a work-life balance problem?”

“Yes. My husband thinks so,” Daniele nodded.

“You know I am a structure guy. I don’t think you have a work-life balance problem, I think you have a structure issue. Why do you think you get pulled into the weeds and cannot get to the work you need to be doing as a manager?”

“My team has questions that have to be answered, problems that have to be solved and decisions that have to be made,” she described. “If I don’t spend that time, they just get stuck and don’t know what to do.”

“Your stress is only the symptom. It looks like a time management issue, but it’s not. It’s a structure issue.”

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.