Category Archives: Accountability

Stuck in a Pattern

“I just do what comes naturally,” Morgan started. “I manage my team the way it feels right. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.”

“Sometimes not?” I asked.

“Sometimes, what feels natural, puts me right back in the same problem as before. What feels like progress is just staying stuck.”

“Staying stuck?”

“In the past, I made managerial moves that didn’t work out. Like delegating a project, then dissatisfied with the result, taking the project back. Next project, same thing, over and over.”

“Over and over?”

“Like a grooved, routine behavior. I got used to taking projects back. Almost like a habit, even if it didn’t work. Taking a project back was comfortable. The project got done (by me) and the quality was up to standard. Problem solved,” Morgan explained.

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“Just because we do something over and over, doesn’t make it the best move. I have to do something different to interrupt the pattern, when the pattern doesn’t get what I want.”

“What do you want?”

“I want my team to solve the problem, and I want the output up to standard,” Morgan replied.

“So, how are you going to interrupt the pattern?”

Required Behaviors – Habits

Elliott’s Four Absolutes, required for success in a role (any role, no matter the discipline), here is the list.

  • Capability (measured in Time Span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors

Required behaviors, with three strings.

  • Contracted behaviors
  • Habits
  • Culture
  • Today is about habits.

    When I interview a candidate, I look at the role description, identify the critical role requirements and those habits that support those role requirements. We all have habits that support our success, we all have habits that detract from our success.

    Habits are those routine grooved behaviors that we lean on during times of decision, times of problem solving and times of stress. Some habits, we lean on, even if those behaviors were not successful in the past. Habits are familiar, habits require less brain power. Habits are a short cut to decision making and problem solving. In the face of urgency, we lean on our habits.

    As a hiring manager, interviewing a candidate, we can anticipate the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made in the role. The question is, what are the habits that contribute to success, what are the habits that detract from success?

    We all think we choose our success. We do not. The only thing we choose are our habits, and it is our habits that determine our success.

Required Behaviors – Contracted

When I look at Elliott’s Four Absolutes, required for success in a role (any role, no matter the discipline), here is the list.

  • Capability (measured in Time Span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors

Required behaviors is an interesting absolute, with three strings.

  • Contracted behaviors
  • Habits
  • Culture
  • Today, the focus is on contracted behaviors. Through his career, Elliot shifted away from personality theory (though, he was trained as a clinical psychologist) to required behaviors. He became less interested in a person’s behavioral tendencies and more interested in required behaviors. If a person wants the job, there are required behaviors. There are some behaviors, you simply contract for.

    Some people do not possess the behavioral tendency for punctuality. But, if the role required the person be on-site at 8am, Elliott didn’t care about the behavioral tendency, the requirement was on-site at 8am. Not on-site at 8am, can’t have the job. As a matter of contract.

    Can I contract for respect (Aretha Franklin rule)? Not the attitude of respect, because I cannot figure out what goes on in the mind of my teammates, but behaviors connected to respect?

    Anything I can translate into behavior is a behavior I can contract for. I cannot contract for respect, but I can contract for behaviors connected to respect.

    “If you disagree with a teammate, you are required, first, to listen before communicating your position.” Listening is a behavior. I can contract for that.

    “If you disagree with a teammate, you are required, first, to listen, not because it is a nice thing to do, not because it is courteous, but as a matter of contract. If you disagree with a teammate, you are required, first, to listen.”

    Elliott did not care if you had a dominating personality or did not value relationships, as a matter of contract, you were required to listen. Can’t listen, can’t have the role. There are some behaviors, you simply contract for.

Either Play, Or Not

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
I’ve been in my new position as a manager for the past three year. Over time, I noticed that one of our supervisors always seems to do his own thing and doesn’t conform to all of the company’s policies. He has been with the company since it started and has a wealth of knowledge about our industry. Yet, he refuses to help train new employees or take on a larger work load. This causes problems with the other supervisors who feel their work load is too heavy. A month ago, I inherited this situation. His former manager never confronted him so he feels like his behavior is normal and that no change is necessary. What can you suggest to help this situation?

Response:
The inattention from his former manager placed you in a tough position, but that’s nothing new. Management is all about the reality of behavior. I know you want him to either shape up or ship out, but the downside is the loss of tribal knowledge, continuity of service to customers, having to recruit and train a replacement.

This issue will not be solved overnight.

Step One. Start with a one on one conversation. As a manager, this is a listening exercise, using questions. The subject areas should begin with history, then job satisfaction, teamwork, team member assessments, productivity and training. The purpose of this conversation is to make the supervisor’s thoughts visible, nothing more. It is likely that what is said by the supervisor more closely conforms to company policy than the behavior you have witnessed.

Step Two. Use the team dynamic to have a supervisor’s meeting to discuss those same subject areas. Again, this exercise is one of asking questions and listening. The purpose of this conversation is to make the team’s thoughts visible. And this is the first of several on-going meetings. The time spent in this meeting should not exceed thirty minutes. Do not try to solve the world’s problems, but make their thoughts visible, thank them and adjourn the meeting.

Step Three. Continue with these meetings on a scheduled basis, perhaps once a week and make progress toward problem solving especially in those areas where you have noticed a breakdown in collaboration. The purpose of these meetings is to have the supervisors define and take responsibility for making progress. Your supervisor in question will either play, or not.

Elements of the Accountability Conversation

“When you talked to Taylor, what did you tell him?” I asked. Dana had just completed her first accountability conversation. It had not gone so well.

“I told him that I really liked the work that he was doing, but that he needed to come to work on time. And that I really appreciated the effort he was making,” Dana replied.

“I can see why he thought he might be in line for a raise. Dana, the first part of his behavior that you want him to change is coming to work on time. What impact does it have on the rest of the team when he shows up late?”

Dana stuttered for a second, then organized her thoughts. “Well, no one else can get started on their work, until Taylor is there. It’s not just him. In the fifteen minutes that he is late, he costs the team about 90 minutes of production.”

“And what are the consequences to Taylor if he doesn’t start coming to work on time?”

Again, Dana had some trouble. She had not thought this through to the next step. “Well, I guess he could get fired,” she finally realized.

“You guess? Dana, you are the manager. What are the consequences?”

“You’re right,” she concluded. “If I have to speak to him twice about coming in late, I have to write him up. Three written warnings are grounds for termination. So, yes, he could lose his job.”

“And, when do you want this behavior corrected?”

“Well, tomorrow would be nice.”

“Dana, if you want this behavior changed by tomorrow, you need to call Taylor back in here and have another go at this accountability conversation. What two things do you need to cover?”

“I need to talk about the impact he is having and the consequences.”

Not So Sage Advice – the Positive Sandwich

Dana was trembling when I showed up. The color was gone from her face. “Water,” she said, “I need some water.”

There was a chilled bottle on the corner of her desk, still full. I slid it to her, waited for her to continue.

“I don’t think I did that right,” she finally spoke.

“Step me through it,” I asked.

“I had to talk to Taylor. He has been coming late, dawdling on the work he is supposed to get done, and he is really snippy with everybody around him, like he has a chip on his shoulder.”

“So, what happened?”

Dana shook her head from side to side. “Well, I tried to be positive first, then the negative part, then finish it off with another positive. But I don’t think I got my point across. He thinks he is going to get a raise.”

Most of the Time, It’s the Manager

“Oh, man, they did it again!” Ralph exclaimed, covering his face.

“And how did you help them screw up?” I asked.

Ralph peeked between his fingers. “What do you mean? I didn’t have any part in this.”

“I know, I know,” I agreed. “But if you did contribute to the problem, what was it?”

Ralph started to chuckle, hands now propped on his hips. “Well, if I did have a hand in this, it was picking this group of knuckleheads in the first place. And I probably didn’t explain what needed to happen very well.”

“Indeed. As a manager, before we jump to blame the team, it is always important to ask the question.

“How did I contribute to the problem?

“The Manager is usually at the center of what goes wrong.” -Tom

What Went Wrong?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

We had a deliverable and the engineers on the project came in 3 days late. They finished the project and the quality was solid, so we want to acknowledge their success AND we also want to understand why they didn’t deliver on time. Extra hours were not put in near the end of the project to meet the delivery date. We struggle with acknowledging success when they are simply just doing what they were hired to do.

Response:

It really doesn’t matter what you, as the manager, think. The only thing that matters is what your engineers think. Based on your description, time sensitivity, or sense of urgency was not top of mind.

Project effectiveness, in this case is mixed. While the technical side may have been solidly constructed, the client may have lost several thousand dollars per day because of the delay. Many construction contracts contain liquidated damages for failure to meet deadlines. Most construction litigation is based around damages due to delay-claims.

So, time is important, in many cases, critical.

At the conclusion of every major project, I always insist on a post postmortem meeting to review the following questions:

  • What did we expect?
  • What did we do well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can we do next time to prevent this from going wrong?

These questions would allow your engineers to pat themselves on the back for things done well and give them the opportunity to address real issues of underperformance.

On an extended project, I use these same questions at interim checkpoints.

  • What do we expect?
  • What are we doing well?
  • What is going wrong, what is beginning to slip?
  • What corrective action do we need to take, now, to get back on course?

Expecting engineers to call their own meeting to ask these questions will never happen. That is your responsibility, as the manager. Remember, what you think doesn’t matter. What matters is what your engineers think. -Tom

Would You Say It, If It Wasn’t True?

“You described the situation with your team like a rubber band. Your team is stretched, trying to deal with the problem,” I said, “what do you think the problem is?”

“The problem is that we are behind schedule,” Deana stated flatly.

“What if I told you the problem with the team has nothing to do with the schedule?” I proposed.

“What do you mean? That’s the problem, the ops manager is manipulating the schedule so it looks like we are on-time when we are behind.”

“So, you are on the side of the project manager?”

“Yes. I mean, outside the meeting, without the ops manager, everyone on the team talked about it, and the truth is, the ops manager is manipulating the schedule,” Deana insisted.

“The truth?”

“Well, yeah, I wanted to check with other team members, get my facts straight and that’s what everybody thinks. When the project manager brought it up in the meeting, that is exactly the way he said it. He told the ops manager straight to his face, ‘Everyone in here thinks you manipulated the schedule.’ I don’t think he would say that unless it was the truth.”

“There’s that truth word again,” I smiled.

This is the story of a team in the classic struggle of BAMs. BAMs is the mental state of any group that drives its behavior. BAMs is in one of two states, work or non-work.

  • Work Mode vs. Non-Work Mode
  • Rational vs. Irrational
  • Scientific vs. Unscientific
  • Cooperative vs. Collusive
  • Controlled vs. Uncontrolled
  • Conscious vs. Unconscious

Deana’s team has a problem. In a classic move of non-work, the team mis-identifies the problem. The team does not have to deal with the real problem if it can create the appearance of working a different problem. The problem you solve is the problem you name. The team named the wrong problem.

I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. This is not the story of a team (your team). This is the story of a nation. This is the story of a nation in BAMs. Has the nation named the wrong problem?

The Team is Whispering

“So, tell me, Deana, if the ops manager is manipulating the project schedule, so it looks like we are on-time when we are behind, and if we can’t talk about it in the scheduling meeting, what will eventually happen?” I asked.

“It’s like a rubber band about to snap,” Deana replied. “The ops manager is so overbearing that everyone is terrified to bring it up, except the project manager. And my manager made it clear that if the project manager had a beef with the ops manager, they were to take it up outside the meeting, in private. So, it’s hands-off in the meeting.”

“Does this impact the team?” I wanted to know.

“Of course. How can we fix schedule delays, when the schedule says we are on-time?”

“What will happen?”

“I don’t know. The project manager is about ready to quit. He feels helpless, and no one on the team will support him, or even ask a question about it. More than one meeting got so tense that my manager squashed any kind of meaningful discussion. The rest of the team is whispering about all kinds of rumor-mill stuff at the water cooler.”

“How do you know all this?”

“People are coming to me privately. They feel like they can trust me. I mean, no one is stabbing anyone in the back, but if they are willing to talk about other people behind their back, what are they saying about me behind my back?”

“Why do you think your manager stopped the discussion in the meeting?”

Deana thought for a minute. “I think she was afraid of losing control of the team. I think if she allowed the confrontation to happen in front of the team, it might blow the team apart.”

“Tell me what is happening to the team,” I nodded.

“The team is coming apart anyway,” Deana concluded.