Category Archives: Accountability

Can I Do This By Myself?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I attended your session last week on levels of work. I can see that my organization has a lot of work to do, but I am just a manager. I don’t have the authority to do some of the things you suggest. How can I, as a manager, implement some of these ideas with my own team. Where do I start?

Response:
Remember this phrase, “It’s all about the work.”

Work is solving problems and making decisions. That is where to start. As a manager, think about your team and its function inside your company. Is it marketing, sales, contracting, project management, operations, quality control, research and development, accounting, human resources, legal? What is the function of your team?

In that function, what are the problems that have to be solved? What are the decisions that have to be made? You don’t have to answer these questions by yourself, ask your team.

As you discuss this with your team, three distinct levels of work will likely emerge.

  • There is some direct activity, or production work that must be done.
  • There is some organizing work that schedules the production work, its people, materials and necessary equipment to make sure that the production gets done, on time.
  • There is system work that decides the most efficient sequence, time duration, quality standard and assesses the output to make improvements for a more consistent and predictable product or service.

You will notice that each level of work has its own problems to solve and decisions to make. You will also notice the time span of each level of work is different.

  • The direct activity, or production work may be observable in days or weeks.
  • The organizing work will anticipate the production schedules in weeks or months.
  • The system work will ensure that the product or service is consistent over a longer period of months and years.

You will notice, that to be effective, each level of work may carry its own skill set, engage in distinctly different activities and measure its outcomes in different ways.

Remember this phrase, “It’s all about the work.” As a manager, become an expert in the work. -Tom

New Team, New Manager

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

Respect comes, not from the authority of the position, or the experience of the manager. Respect comes from bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the individuals on the team.

In fact, team members will always seek out the person in the company that brings value to their thinking and their work. If it happens to be their manager, that’s great. All too often, it’s not.

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 thinking, our work and our lives.

So, if you are the new manager, which boss are you?

Gain More Control

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You say, your challenge, as a manager, is to work less and gain more control. Easy to say. Hard to do.

Response:
Management is a mindset. Levels of work help us understand that management is not about working more, or working harder, it is about working differently. Delegation is all about working differently.

In every role, there is a level of problem solving and a level of decision making. When Marshall Goldsmith says “What got you here, won’t get you there,” he is talking about a different level of work.

When Albert Einstein says “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” he is talking about a different level of work.

Elliott Jaques‘ research on levels of work makes this management advice concrete. Intuitively, we understand levels of work, but only when Jaques defined levels of work related to time span, did we get some useful direct insight.

The time span of the goal defines the level of work. In a technician’s world, goals range from a day to three months. In your role as a supervisor, or first line manager, your longest time span objectives range from 3-12 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

In your role as a manager, your longest time span objectives range from 12-24 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

What is left? It is those longer time span tasks that make up your role as a manager. It is only when you have effectively delegated shorter time span task assignments that you will get more throughput and more control over the quality of the output. -Tom

Level of Work – Time Span Objectives
S-I – 1 day to 3 months
S-II – 3 months to 12 months
S-III – 12-24 months
S-IV – 2-5 years

Mindset of the Magic Pill

Several years ago, I told the story of the Magic Pill. The Magic Pill is prescribed to every manager and prevents them from working more than 40 hours in a week.

I can hear the protests already. No way you can get all your work done in 40 hours a week.

The Magic Pill is a mind-set. Forty hours a week is a mind-set. Of course, managers work more than 40 hours a week, but the point is the mind-set. If you worked 80 hours in a week, would you be able to get all of your work done? The answer is no. The work of a manager is never done.

The point of the Magic Pill is two-fold. First, when you get tired, exhausted, burned out, your effectiveness drops off dramatically, down to zero. But the most important part of the Magic Pill is to work differently. The role of a manager is not the same as the work of a team member.

Let me tell you about the Super-Magic pill. It only allows for 10 hours of work in a week. If you took the Super-Magic pill and only worked 10 hours a week, what would you have to change to work effectively?

No, I am not kidding. I am as serious as a heart attack (the one you will have working 60-70 hours a week). -Tom

Work Less and Gain More Control

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Sometimes, at work after hours, it is quiet and I ask myself, why am I here? I should be home with my family. But, there is still so much to be done. And if I don’t take care of some loose ends, something critical will blow up tomorrow. I feel guilty, responsible. But, the harder I work, the more things seem out of control.

Response:
You are not the only manager thinking that thought. This is a self-inflicted wound.

So, you have to think if something doesn’t change, about the way you manage your team, what will happen? What will happen in another week? What will happen in another month? What will happen in another year?

You likely feel tired every morning. You stopped working out because I don’t have time. You feel like a cold is coming on. And you still feel out of control.

This is counter-intuitive. You feel like you need to work more. My suggestion will be to work less.

  • Determine the work that is necessary to be done.
  • In the work that is important, determine the level of work that is necessary for you to work on and the level of work that is necessary for your team to work on.
  • Stop doing the work your team should be doing. Assign the work and spend your time coaching instead of doing.

You are a manager, not a technician. The more you work, the less control you have. Ask yourself this question – If I were to work less, how could I have more control?

Must Become a Habit

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I feel like I am in big trouble. I was just promoted to manager. So, I understand I am the one who is supposed to make all the decisions, and that I am accountable for all the results.

But, it seems like I have to make up all the plays, call the plays, take the snap, throw the football, catch the football, and run for the touchdown. I am a bit overwhelmed.

Response:
Did you forget to block? My guess is you worked over the weekend and logged about 60 hours last week. Your manager probably told you had to delegate, but that has not been in your nature, you don’t have a habit of delegating.

Delegation is more than a series of steps –

  • Selecting the task to delegate.
  • Selecting the person to delegate to.
  • Holding a delegation meeting.
  • Describing the purpose and vision of the completed task.
  • Describing the specific performance standard, goal or objective.
  • Describing the guidelines, constraints, budget, access to resources.
  • Creating the action plan.
  • Setting the interim followup.
  • Evaluating the execution.

Delegation is a mindset. Your first question is not how something should be done, but who? Yes, you have the accountability for the outcome, but you have to accomplish it in a whole new way. And, delegation must become a habit. Over and over. Again. -Tom

Who is Accountable for Results?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Our company just adopted a new management system called (MFR) Management for Results. As a manager, I have been told to focus on results. I am supposed to delegate a task assignment, create a measurement for the result, then manage to the measurement. It is supposed to make my team discussions shorter and more to the point. If my team cannot create the result, then I am supposed to write them up. Our HR department is very supportive of MFR because, they say, it creates an objective paper trail for termination.

Here is my problem. I am supposed to measure the result at the end of each month. It has only been a week and my team is already struggling. My manager is telling me to stay out of it and just manage the result at the end of the month. If nothing changes, every single team member will get written up.

Response:
Of course you would not wait until the end of the month. You, as the manager, have an output goal and if you wait until the end of the month, you will terminate the team AND be short of the goal.

This is the myth of results based management. It places accountability for the goal on the team, when it is the manager who is accountable for the goal. If the team is failing, it is incumbent on the manager to diagnose the problem and make the necessary moves to achieve the goal.

  • Is it a matter of training?
  • Is it a matter of capability?
  • Work method?
  • Appropriate tools or tooling?
  • Defect measurement?
  • Scheduling?
  • Material inspection?

There are a number of contributing factors that could cause a team to underperform, and it is the manager I hold accountable, not the team. -Tom

Where Management Trouble Begins

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your workshop last week, you stressed the importance of a role description. To be honest, we don’t really have time to write them. We either use an old version from HR, get something off the internet, or use our posting from Craig’s List.

Response:
And, that’s where the trouble begins. The reason we have so much difficulty with issues related to motivation and management is that we don’t accurately define the work. The role description is the cornerstone document –

  • Defines the work, the outputs, the expectations in the role.
  • Organizes the bank of interview questions.
  • Creates the basis for behavioral interview questions.
  • Structures the decision making process for selecting from the candidate pool.
  • Structures the monthly (or more frequent) 1-1 conversation between the team member and the manager.
  • Structures a performance improvement plan, when necessary.
  • Provides grounds for termination, when necessary.

It’s all about the work. Our problems begin when we don’t accurately define the work. What are the decisions to be made, problems to be solved in the role?

A Shift in the “Why?” of Delegation

“I know I have to actually delegate something to make progress,” Ruben confirmed. “But I get to work, things start to happen and before you know it, I am up to my elbows in problems.”

“Tell me what you want to happen,” I prompted.

“It’s not what I want to happen, it’s one thing after another. For example, I can take you through yesterday, minute by minute and you’ll see what I’m up against.”

“I believe you could take me through, minute by minute, but explaining what happens doesn’t change things. Tell me, Ruben, what do you want to happen?”

“I want to be a better delegator.”

“Now, change one element of your thought. Change want to necessary. It is necessary for you to be a better delegator.”

Ruben looked at me with lizard eyes.

“Why is it necessary for you to be a better delegator?” I asked.

“So, I can be more effective?” Ruben floated.

“No, it is necessary, because if you don’t delegate, you can’t play the role. And if you can’t play the role, then we have to find someone who can. That’s why it is necessary for you to become a better delegator.”

Routine Grooved Behaviors

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In the Four Absolutes, under Required Behaviors, you talk about habits. How do you interview for habits?

Response:
Habits are routine grooved behaviors kicked in by the brain in an approach to problem solving or decision making. To set the context, here are the Four Absolutes (required for success in any role).

  • Capbility (stated in time span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors

Under Required Behaviors, there are three strings attached.

  • Contracted behaviors
  • Habits
  • Culture

To be successful in any role, there are some required behaviors. When I interview a candidate, I examine the role description, in each key result area (KRA), I identify the critical role requirements (required behaviors) and identify the habits that support and the habits that detract.

We all have habits that support our success, we also have habits that work against us.

Reading the resume
Habits are patterns. Read the resume from the back page to the front page. Most resumes are written in reverse chronological order, very tough to see a pattern going backward.

Identify the habit, then look for it
When I hire for a project manager, one habit I look for is planning vs improvisation. Improvisation is fun, but creates chaos. Improvisation may get the job done (once), customer may be very happy, but the cost is organizational body bags and friction, negatively impacting project profitability.

Effective project managers possess the habit of planning. Planning is a behavior that I can interview for. I will look for patterns of planning behavior as I move through the resume from past to present. Then I specifically look for planning behavior with specific questions.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where planning was required?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project
  • How many people on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • At what point during the project did planning begin?
  • Step me through the planning process for the project?
  • What was the form of the plan? written? whiteboard? verbal?
  • How was the plan used during the course of the project?
  • How often was the plan referred to during the course of the project?
  • How were revisions to the plan handled during the course of the project?
  • How were revisions to the plan documented during the course of the project? written? whiteboard? verbal?
  • What were the results of the project in comparison to the original plan?
  • Step me through the debrief (post mortem) of the project in relation to the plan?
  • What did you learn from the project debrief that impacted your plan on the next project?

Habits are those routine grooved behaviors automatically initiated by the brain in response to a problem that must be solved or a decision that must be made. -Tom