Category Archives: Accountability

Change Comes With a Price

“If you want to change the team, first you have to change yourself,” I responded. “But, there is a price to pay.”

“Oh, I am willing to pay,” replied Ted. “And my company is willing to support me, to pay for training, whatever it takes.”

“Ted, the price you pay has nothing to do with the price of a seminar or a book on management. The price you pay has to do with you. The price you pay is in your commitment, your passion, your focus, your discipline. It is a high price. It is a price not many people are willing to pay. Most will pay for a seminar or a book, but few are willing to pay the real price.”

Ted took a deep breath. It was not a sigh, but an attempt to get some extra oxygen to his brain.

“You are telling me this is not going to be easy,” he finally replied.

“Oh, it’s easy to be a manager, and only slightly more difficult to be a mediocre manager. But, what I am talking about is more than being a good manager, it is a question of being a great manager. What price are you willing to pay?”

The Team You Deserve

“Ted, your team is functioning exactly as it was designed to function,” I started.

“What do you mean? You make it sound like it’s my fault,” he defended.

“Exactly, as the manager, the team you have is the team you deserve.”

I could tell Ted was getting agitated. It is easy to look at someone else to blame. It is tough when the responsibility is ours.

“The team you have is the team you deserve,” I repeated. “As time goes by, you will find that your team will be no better than you are. The speed of the pack is the speed of the leader.

“If you find that your team is not what you want it to be, if you find that you are not able to bring out the best in that team, to bring them to higher levels of performance, then, as the manager, you are not the leader who deserves better. At least not yet.”

Ted was quiet.

After a minute, I broke the silence. “So, what do you think we need to work on? Where should we start?”

Ted took a breath. “I guess we have to start with me.”

Stars Can Win Trophies

“Look, I have the best engineer, I have the best mechanic, I have the best designer, I have the best installer,” Ted complained. “Then why do we get such mediocre production?”

“I don’t know, what do you think?” I asked.

“We just can’t seem to make our numbers,” he started. “It’s like we have all the best talent, but just can’t put it all together.”

“So, it’s the putting together part?”

“Well, yeah.” Ted stopped. “You’re right, it’s not the talent part, it’s the putting together part. They don’t sync up, they are all running in a different gear. They don’t relate.”

“So, you just found your constraint? How well you connect is how well you do as a team. Your production will never be as good as your star player. It doesn’t matter how well your star plays. Individual stars can win a trophy, but it takes a team to win a championship.”

A Manager’s Speech

Hank surveyed the floor, timecards in hand, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it,” he observed. “They know they are supposed to be here at 8:00a sharp, but, look at this, only two people punched in on time. The next nearest one is 8:06, then 8:09, then 8:12. A couple of people were 20 minutes late. And it’s this way everyday. So, everyday, I have to make my little speech, but it just doesn’t seem to work.”

“And you know this just by reviewing the time cards?” I asked.

“Of course, that’s why we have punch clocks.” Hank looked sideways at me, wondering if I had never seen a punch clock before.

“I understand, but you didn’t actually see when they got here.”

“Oh, no, I don’t have to be here until 8:30a when my manager’s meeting upstairs starts. I’m a supervisor now, I don’t have to be here until then.”

“And, your team doesn’t listen to your daily speech about being here on time?”

“Nope, I will remind them again this afternoon before the shift is over, just to make sure they remember,” Hank replied confidently.

“Here is the thing, Hank. Sometimes, what we do speaks so loudly, they can’t hear what we say.” -Tom

The Aretha Franklin Rule

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

Question:
I’m going to be promoted in July as a manager and I will have to manage 5 people who are older and more experienced than me. I have been working with 2 of them for a year and 2 of them are new to the company, the last person has no experience. My boss knows this will be a real challenge for me. He is promoting me because I have the technical ability to do the job. I need to work on my soft skills. I have strong analytical skills which are not always an asset to manage a team effectively. Do you have any advice?

Response:
Age and maturity is always a problem for a younger manager working with older team members. You will have to earn their respect and you will not be given much room for error.

Here is the principle I follow.

Every team member of an organization, in their pursuit of doing a good job, will always seek out the person who brings value to their problem solving and decision making.

Wouldn’t it be great if that person was the manager? Often, it’s not, and that is where the trouble begins. My advice to any manager who wants to be successful is very simple.

Bring value to the problem solving and decision making of your team.

That’s it. What can you do, as a manager, to bring value to the thinking and work of your team members? -Tom

Culture, Munoz and United

Because I occasionally fly United Airlines, I received an email from Oscar Munoz, CEO at United Airlines that illustrates an often missed step in the culture cycle. Here is what he said in his email, “Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes. It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”

So, here is the culture cycle. Pay close attention to step 3.

  1. We hold beliefs and assumptions, about the way we see the world.
  2. We connect behaviors to those beliefs and assumptions.
  3. We test those behaviors against the reality of consequences.
  4. The behaviors that survive the test become our customs and rituals.

We can say we hold values of integrity, honesty, fairness. We can even define behaviors connected to those beliefs like courtesy, listening, understanding another’s viewpoint. But, somewhere along the line, for the crew on that United Airlines flight, they had learned that NOT following the rules ended in a reprimand. They attempted to displace four passengers for four crew trying to meet a schedule in another city. That was the rule. Had they not followed the rule, they knew there would be hell to pay, a write-up in their employee file, a graveyard shift, a demotion or skipped promotion. They knew that defined behavior of courtesy would never stand up against the reality of consequences.

So, someone got dragged out the door. Based on the settlement with the passenger, it would have been cheaper to purchase four Tesla automobiles for each of the four flight crew and ask them to drive instead of displacing the four passengers.

And right about now, every employee at United Airlines is confused about what to do in spite of what Munoz says.

Survival Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

What happens when you realize you were given a promotion and not able to live up to the capabilities? Do you admit it to your superiors? Do you keep it to yourself and risk failure?

Response:

There are many ways to survive in a position that’s over your head, but in the end, it’s only survival. Not a way to live.

I often ask managers, “How do you know, what behavior do you observe when a person is in over their head? Where the Time Span required for the role is longer than the Time Span capability of the person?”

The descriptions come back.

  • They feel overwhelmed.
  • They cover things up.
  • They cut off communication.
  • Their projects are always late.
  • I can’t ever find them.
  • They always blame someone else.
  • They have all the excuses.
  • They never accept responsibility.

So, the short answer is yes. When you realize you are in over your head, go back to your boss. Explain the difficulties you are having. Ask for help. If it is a matter of capability (Time Span), no amount of training, no amount of hand holding will help. It is possible that you may grow into the position, but it’s more likely a matter of years, not weeks that allows for the required maturity (increase in Time Span).

This doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you were placed in a position where you cannot be effective. Yet!

That’s Me

“I don’t care,” Roberto insisted.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t care if that is what the boss wants. It’s a stupid idea. And my role is not to do stupid shit.”

“Pushback?”

“Call it what you want. CEOs run fast, sometimes making a mess. That’s why I have a job, to clean up the mess they call strategy. Somebody has to execute. That’s me.”

Requires a Conscious Mindset

“So, how do I get the team back to productive work?” Miriam asked.

“Facing the issue of having to work together, in a conscious, cooperative way, takes effort,” I replied. “It doesn’t happen by itself. As the manager, when you push the issue back to the center of the table, there are four predictable responses. The team will go into fight or flight. They will freeze or appease, not necessarily in that order.”

“I just have to outlast the panic,” Miriam remembered.

“To work together, the team has to change its belief about the way it works together. Culture starts with the way we see the world, the way we see our circumstances. Teams that work together have a different mindset. They don’t cooperate (for long) because we tell them to. They support and help each other because they believe that is the way things are done around here. It may not be comfortable at first, but high performing teams not only live with the discomfort, but create rituals to meet adversity head on. I can always tell a team is making progress when they trade in (solve) old problems for a new set of problems.” -Tom

BAMS

“Miriam, I want you to look at these two columns of words,” I pointed. “One column describes a group engaged in work, the other describes a group engaged in non-work. When you observe a team, these are things to look for.

Work ——————- Non-Work
Team cohesion———- Pairing behavior
Conscious ————- Unconscious
Cooperation ———– Collusion
Scientific ———— Un-scientific
Constructive ———- Complaining
Focused ————— Distracted

“These are sometimes not so subtle signs of a team going into disarray,” I explained. “And, it is mostly unconscious. The team doesn’t even know it is doing it. There is an exercise I conduct at the beginning of most meetings. It’s called Good News. ‘Tell the group something positive that happened to you in the past week.’ Invariably, one or two people will have difficulty. ‘I can’t think of anything,’ they will say. What if I had asked the opposite question, ‘Tell the group something negative that happened to you in the past week?’ No group has a problem coming up with the negative stuff. It is unconscious. Positive thought requires conscious effort.”

Miriam’s eyes grew wide. “So, what do I do. I see this group behavior often. As their manager, how do I get the team back to productive work?”
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Some of you may recognize this model as BAMS, Basic Assumption Mental State, described by Wilfred Bion in his tortuous book, Experiences in Groups. -Tom