Category Archives: Accountability

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

What’s the Level of Work?

“Where do we start?” Eduardo asked.

“Where do you think we should start?” I replied.

“We are trying to measure Hector’s capability. Is he big enough for the role. That’s the goal of this session,” Eduardo established.

“So, what unit of measure have we talked about when it comes to defining the tasks involved in his job?”

“We talked about time span,” he said.

“And, what was the measure of the longest task in Hector’s job?”

“We said, one month. Hector is in charge of shipping, but it’s more than just getting freight out the door. He is responsible for proper crating, working with vendors to select the proper crating materials, collecting information about product damage in transit. It is really a big job. Some of the problems that have to be solved involve testing in-house, you know, crash testing and then field testing.

“So, I don’t think one month is accurate. I think, to be successful, the longest task is three months. It takes that long to solve some of the material damage issues in that department,” Eduardo concluded.

“Okay, three months is the longest task required. To be successful running the shipping area requires the ability to work three months into the future, without direction, using his own discretionary judgment?”

Eduardo nodded, “Yes, I need Hector to carry the ball the whole way. I may check up on him more frequently to see if he still has the ball, but I need him to supervise the resolution to some of these issues without me. If I really have to get involved, then Hector is not doing the necessary work.”

“So, success in the job requires a time span of three months?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“That is step one. Firmly establishing the time span of the longest task, establishing the required time span for the role.

“Are you ready for step two? The next part is to measure Hector.”

Who Let Who Down?

Glen was working late. “What’s up?” I asked.

He stared at a project book on his desk. Not in a jovial mood, he took in a long breath and a measured exhale. Blood boiled behind his eyes, betraying his exterior composure.

Finally he spoke, “I thought this project would be done by now, but it’s not. It is due at the client tomorrow morning at 8:00, and is only half finished. My team let me down.”

“Who was the project leader?”

“Andre,” he replied.

“And what did Andre say?”

“Funniest thing. He said he knew the deadline was tomorrow, but since I never came around to check on the project, he didn’t think it was important anymore, he didn’t start on it.”

“So, where is he now?”

“Finishing a different project from another project manager, in Kansas City. Looks like I will be here until midnight.”

“So, tell me, Glen. What happens to the importance of any project when the manager fails to follow its progress?”

“I know. At first I was mad at Andre, but it’s my own fault. I set follow-up meetings and just blew them off. Now I have to pay.”

“And next time?”

“Next time, I will make the follow-up meetings, instead of having to finish the project on my own.”

When to Start Training for Succession

“But I was here until 10:00 last night. I am working myself to the bone and my company seems to want more. I can’t work any harder.” Victoria was tired. I could see it in her eyes, the hint of a glaze.

“What is it that your company wants more of?” I asked.

“I just don’t know. I have all the stuff I was doing before I was promoted and now I have new stuff.”

“Why are you still doing the old stuff?”

“Well, who is going to do it?” she snapped.

I paused, “As you left your old position, weren’t you supposed to train someone to take over those tasks?”

“Well, yes, I was supposed to, but there was just never any time to do that,” she said, calming down a bit.

“So, now you are in double trouble. You didn’t take the time to train someone else to do the work, so now you have even more work and less time.”

Victoria silently nodded.

“You have proved me wrong,” I said. “I always tell managers that they can never be promoted until they train someone else to take over their old job. But here, you have managed to do exactly what I said could not be done.”

Victoria started laughing. “No, I did not prove you wrong. You are still right. I have not managed this very well at all.”

“So, when should you have started to train someone to take over?” I inquired.

“The very first day on the job, of my old job. In fact, I should already be looking at my new tasks to figure out who I should be training right now.”

Necessary

Ted bit his lower lip. “I am ready,” he said. “Right now, being a manager is not much fun. If I was better at this, if I knew what to do, things would be easier. I want to make this happen.”

Wanting is not enough,” I replied. “You have to make it necessary.”

Ted looked sideways. “What do you mean, make it necessary?”

“You may think that high levels of performance are driven out of desire, team spirit and rah, rah. But that sputters out eventually. When you don’t feel well, your desire gets weak. When your team has an off day, the rah, rah disappears. All of that will impact your performance.

“The only way that high performance can be sustained is if that high performance becomes a necessity. It will only be sustained if there is no other way. Necessity. Necessity drives high performance.”

“I am still not sure I understand,” Ted said. “What makes something necessary?”

“Something is necessary only when there is no other way. Look, Ted, you think you want to be a better manager. That will only sustain you when you feel like it. Unless becoming a better manager is necessary, you will ultimately fail. But if there is no alternative, if becoming a better manager is a necessity, then you cannot fail.”