Category Archives: Accountability

The Enterprise as a Whole

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

“Different functions in a business do different things, and they each have their own set of cultures, rules and ways to be measured. We need to respect this, and stop imagining that how it works for us is how it should work for everyone else. Each function needs to be managed in the best way to suit its purpose, and the business needs all of its functions to work well and respect each other and their methods and measures if the enterprise as a whole is to be successful.” Comment posted to Responsibility, Accountability and Authority.

This comment began by railing against management as command and control, ended up with a brilliant description of what management IS. To understand management, as a subject to be studied and understood, we have to step back. We complain that how management works one way, does not work in another way. We get wrapped around the axle.

In the differences, there are universals. Here is what I pulled out of the comment posted above.

  • Business is a collection of different functions. Each function will have its own set of cultures, rules and measurement systems. And those systems will have different characteristics.
  • Each function must have a purpose. All the discussion about goals and objectives ultimately arrive back at purpose.
  • Each function must work together, must be optimized and integrated for total organizational throughput. Out of balance systems create internal feasts and famine, starving and bloating. Some optimized systems remain appropriately idle waiting for constrained functions to catch up.
  • Management is about the whole organization, separate functions coordinated together for the benefit of the whole system. This coordination depends on discretionary judgement, making decisions and solving problems, in roles we call management.

As the organization grows more complex, it needs more management.

Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign

“But he has been doing a terrible job, as a Manager,” Cheryl observed.

“So, do you want him out of the company? Should he be gone?” I asked.

Cheryl shook her head. “No, Harold has too much knowledge, he knows everything about everything, he is just in the wrong position for our company. What he is doing now, works against us. But he could be so valuable in a different role.”

“Right now, you have Harold in the role as a Senior Manager, which you say is the wrong place for him. But you don’t want to fire him, just reassign him. How do you think that will work, in Harold’s eyes?”

“He’s not going to like it,” Cheryl replied, still shaking her head. “He might quit and we really do need his technical knowledge. I am afraid he is going to be embarrassed in front of his peers, in front of his direct reports. This move is going to be very touch and go.”

“So, what is the one thing you have to do, to make this move successful?” I pressed.

“Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

Malicious Water Cooler Talk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I was recently hired in to a new organization as a manager. It is evident that one of my team members was passed over for the role. He has been here for ten years and contributes well in his current role, but I can see why he was passed over. Unfortunately, the rest of the team doesn’t see it that way and I am getting stone-walled. He is also well-liked by a couple of board members, so I am getting squeezed on both sides.

As I look at the staff, there is complacency, some have been coasting for years. The company invested in some new software a year ago and still no one is using it. It’s the software we used at my old company, so I know it works well. That’s why I was hired.

The team’s behavior is passive-aggressive. I get agreement in meetings and excuses on the back end.

  • Just too busy this week.
  • Not sure how the software works.
  • Our old system is better.
  • Easier to do it the old way.

At the end of the day, I will be held accountable if we can’t get this new software integrated into our routine. The water-cooler talk is malicious. I don’t have a single friend in the bunch.

Someone made a decision to hire you. And my guess is, unless you make some progress, that same someone will also fire you. But, for now, they are in your corner. That is where I am going to hang my hat.

You are the manager of the team, but you also have a manager. Your manager is your coach. Schedule regular meetings and play this straight. You have a job to do and you need solid counsel. But, do NOT go in empty-handed.

You are new, and in the beginning, you should be in high data gathering and diagnosis mode. You have been given an objective, get the new software going and people using it. What’s your plan? How long will it take? Is the software installed and configured? Is there training available or are you on your own with help files and manuals? What are your short term milestones, medium term milestones and long term milestones? This is stuff for you to review with your coach.

You have been given a team. What is your assessment of your team? You have talked to them and worked beside them for a couple of weeks. What are your observations about their capabilities, skill levels, interest and value for the work? This is stuff to review with your coach.

You need some small wins, and they might have nothing to do with the software. You need to get to know your team. What attracted them to the company? How long have they been there? Best part of their job? What gives them juice? What challenges them? Gather data. Your team will tell you how they work best together. When was the last time the team faced a real challenge? How did they approach it? What problems did they have to solve? What decisions did they have to make? I know you feel like this software is your project, but it is really the team’s project. This is more stuff for you to review with your coach.

Then work your plan. My guess is that no one has taken this team to a new place in quite a while. This can be a challenging journey or the team can stiff-arm you until you quit.

Skills Training, Necessary but Not Sufficient

“Look at this,” Phil exclaimed. “We just had the training on this last week. And I just pulled samples from the prototypes. Thank goodness this isn’t a production run. I ought to fire the whole lot of them.”

I winced. “Yes, I guess you could fire them, all eight of them. But then you would have to run the line yourself. I don’t know if you could keep up.”

“You know what I mean. I’m not going to fire anybody. I’m just frustrated. Maybe it’s our training department. Maybe we need to look at the training program.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “You know, when people acquire a skill, I mean really acquire a skill, it takes more than a training program.” Phil looked at me, like I was from Mars.

“When you were a kid, did you ever learn how to throw a ball?” I continued. Phil nodded. “So, someone showed you how to throw, and you threw one ball and then you were an expert?”

Phil laughed. He suddenly knew where I was going with this. “Of course not. I had to throw a hundred balls. I had to practice. My mom was my coach.”

“So, what do you think is missing from your training program?”

Phil’s eyes narrowed. His head began to nod. “Practice and coaching.” And with that, he scooped up the samples, turned on a dime and headed for the production floor.

Just Promoted, No Respect

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I was just promoted to the supervisory position on a crew I worked with for the past 2 years. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time gaining the trust and respect of my co-workers as well as other supervisors and managers. It seems to be difficult for some to grasp the fact that I have been entrusted with the responsibility for this team. It might be the fact that I have not had a great deal of time in the position, as of yet, so hopefully it may get better with time and my ability to be patient. But if there is any bit of advice and/or support that you may be able to provide, I am all ears.

It is always tough to become a new supervisor, to an existing peer group or a new group. A new supervisor always means change. And most people don’t like change, at least they don’t like the unknown parts of change.

Respect comes, not from the authority of the position, or the experience of the supervisor. Respect comes from bringing value to the work and thinking of the individuals on the team.

Team members always seek out the person in the company that brings value to their decision making and problem solving. If it happens to be their supervisor, that’s great. All too often, it’s not.

Think about it. We all work for two bosses. We work for the boss who is assigned to us, and we work for the boss we seek out. The boss we seek out is the one who brings value to our work, our thinking and our lives.

So, if you are the new supervisor, that’s the boss you need to be.

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.