Category Archives: Organization Structure

How Big is Your Story?

Sitting across the table, I could tell Brett was thinking.

“Brett, let me ask you, how big is your story?”

“What?” he replied.

“How big is your story?” I repeated. “You are building a department inside this company. How big is your story?”

“Well, the company has been pretty successful, so far. We are holding our own against competitors. Lots of market opportunity.”

“So, how big is your story? You see, Brett, the bigger your story, the higher the level of work. The higher the level of work, the more you will depend on finding competent people. The most important decision you will make, as a manager, is who to hire. The people you hire will make you successful or will be the crucible of your downfall. The bigger your story, the more critical this decision.”

Brett continued to stare.

“As a manager in this organization, you are writing a story of the future. The people you cast into the roles of your story will determine its ending, intentional, or otherwise.”

Keep Them or Transition Them Out

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In an attempt to retain their highest producers, a call center instituted an incentive plan that highly favored a group of seven. These “Magnificent Seven,” as the partners called them, did produce a high percentage of the revenues. But they were also highly dysfunctional as a group as each one was high maintenance with lots of personal baggage in his/her own right. While the reward system worked to retain these seven, the churn rate for the remaining 23 seats was over 400%. In effect, the incentives to retain seven people came at the expense of morale, work environment, job satisfaction and even the bottom line. The cost of continuously replacing the 23 employees far exceeded the benefit of retaining the seven. Your thoughts?

So, if I was a direct manager and needed high volume sales for only the next three months, I would go the M-7 every time. But, that is not the way most organizations work. Most organizations need sustained revenue over years and decades. Most organizations need a sustainable system of sales which contemplates sales methodology, recruiting, orientation, portfolio growth, levels of work, promotion and retirement. This goes back to time span.

Three months time span – Magnificent Seven
Ten year time span – Not the Magnificent Seven

Difference Between S-II and S-III Problem Solving

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

The manager understands he is accountable. The result he achieves on a key metric is well below the expectation which he or she clearly understood. They have achieved success before on this same metric but are now way off acceptable performance. What now?

Indeed, what now? Embedded in your question are stratum II descriptions of problem solving.

  • Solve problems based on experience.
  • Solve problems based on documented experience.
  • Solve problems based on best practices.
  • Solve problems according to standard operating procedures.

All of these methods have delivered output according to the metric before. They achieved success before on this same metric, but now, are way off acceptable performance. What now?

They now face a problem they have not faced before and their stratum II problem solving methods fail them. Understand this team can solve all the routine problems, but now faced with this problem, they struggle, even the supervisor. This is where the stratum III manager must step in. This problem requires a stratum III solution.

  • Solve problems through root cause analysis.
  • Solve problems through A-B testing.
  • Solve problems through comparative analysis.
  • Solve problems through what-if?

Solving problems with these methods requires a higher level of capability on the part of the manager. And that’s what a manager is for, to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team.

Team members can solve the routine problems and make the routine decisions, it’s when they struggle, they need the active support and coaching from their manager. This is the critical nature of managerial accountability and the building block of organizational structure.

How HR Can Help Resolve a Conflict

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I have a question about how to resolve conflicts between a manager and a team member. Is this a role that is appropriate for HR, or should the conflict be resolved by the MOR (Manager Once Removed)?

I am a big fan of the HR role. HR roles help bring discipline to all those functions that involve humans. And, many times, our problems are created by a lack of discipline.

  • Lack of discipline in the hiring process
  • Lack of discipline in context setting
  • Lack of discipline in the delegation process
  • Lack of discipline in the planning process
  • Lack of discipline in project reviews
  • Lack of discipline in effectiveness reviews

And, where HR can help in discipline, accountability still rests with the manager and the MOR.

You asked about a conflict between the manager and the team member. In all situations, I need more detail, but I assume most conflicts would be about work method or priority conflict. In some cases, there may be a conflict related to underperformance or misbehavior. In all cases, it is still the manager and the MOR who are accountable for resolving the conflict.

If the conflict is about work method or priority conflict, the team member is accountable for giving best advice. The manager is accountable to consider the advice and make an appropriate decision. If the two are still at loggerheads, the manager should seek advice and coaching from their manager (the MOR). Either manager can seek advice from the HR professional, but the manager and MOR are accountable for the decision and the consequence of that decision.

If the conflict is about underperformance or misbehavior, the discussion is different, but the accountability is the same. Elliott Jaques always traced underperformance or misbehavior to one of these four absolutes –

  • Capability
  • Skill (technical knowledge and practice)
  • Interest or passion for the work, value for the work
  • Required behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits or culture)

Elliott would also expect the manager to know which of these four absolutes contributed to the underperformance or misbehavior. The underlying cause might lead to more training, coaching or de-selection.

No matter the resolution, while HR can assist in the discipline of the process, the accountability remains with the manager and the MOR.

Twelve Months From Now

I repeated my question. “What things do you need to pay attention to, that will have an impact one year from now?”

“This company is pretty stable in what it does,” she replied. “We may replace a machine or our volume might go up or down. But what really changes, is the people. You never know what is going to happen with the people.” Melanie’s mind began to race like she had just discovered uranium.

“You’re right,” she continued. “The biggest thing that always changes, is the people.”

“And even if the people don’t change, the people change. Even if it’s still the same people, they are not the same people.”

Melanie’s discovery of uranium was shifting to panic. This new world that opened up just a few seconds ago, suddenly got very scary.

“So, I am responsible for knowing that, a year into the future?” she asked.

I nodded.

Watch for the release of our online program – Hiring Talent 2016, scheduled for Jan 15, 2016.

Being Busy

“You were promoted because your manager was promoted. I didn’t think you were ready to make the move from supervisor to manager, but the position was open and the COO was impatient. He is now having second thoughts when he looks at your turnover statistics.”

Melanie was quiet. Her voice, calm. “I didn’t know that. But you said two of my supervisors quit because they graduated night school and got better jobs. I can’t help that?”

“We found out in the exit interview. They had jobs lined up three months before they gave you notice. And you didn’t know.”

“But how was I supposed to know. We stay pretty busy around here,” she protested.

“Melanie, the job of being a manager is not about being busy. It’s not about scrambling to save the day. As a supervisor, you were effective at that. Now, it is killing your effectiveness as a manager. As a manager, your role is completely different.

“You said you could anticipate things, as a supervisor,” I continued. “You said you could see the future. I need you to see even further into the future. As a manager, I need you to think out 12 months.”

Melanie shifted, sat up, “But, who knows what is going to happen a year from now?”

“Indeed,” I said. “What things do you need to pay attention to that will have an impact one year from now?”

Watch for the release of our online program – Hiring Talent 2016, scheduled for Jan 15, 2016. Here are some responses to the program.

“Drilling down to get to the core of what candidates actually did and were responsible for was a big take away for me. Before this course, I would have moved to the next question without getting the answer I needed to make an informed decision as people do try to answer what you want to hear not with what they have demonstrated they are capable of.”

“There were two ideas that were the most helpful to me. One was taking the time to develop a set of interview questions for each role that focused on how the candidates meet the job requirements. The other idea that was helpful was the decision matrix, especially when considering a number of qualified candidates.”

“The biggest concept that is sticking with me is the importance of the interviewer controlling the interview so that they obtain the important, detailed information from each candidate regarding the candidate’s skills, capabilities and attitudes. It is so easy for the candidate to control the interview and “dazzle” the interviewer with made-up answers that are pleasing to the ear but not necessarily true. This program taught us not only that it is important to create specific questions that elicit the truth from candidates, but it taught us HOW to create those questions. It was extremely helpful that we created questions for an actual job that exists in our company because it made it easy to apply the concepts of the course to our own real situations at work.”

Transition From Supervisor to Manager

“Do you know why you were promoted from supervisor to manager last year?” I asked.

“Because, I was the best darn supervisor the company had,” Melanie replied.

“And, being the best supervisor, what did you do that none of the other supervisors were able to do?”

“Oh, that was easy. I could see the future. I could tell when something was going to get screwed up, weeks ahead of time, and I could adjust the schedule to make sure we stayed productive. You know, if you reject some raw material because it’s out of spec, that means you have to shift some stuff around.”

“Yes, you were one of the best schedulers around.”

“What do you mean, were?” quizzed Melanie. “I still am.”

“Not exactly. Do you know why you were promoted from supervisor to manager last year?”

The Clarity of Accountability

“it’s funny,” Byron thought out loud. “You always ask me, as the manager, about my contribution to the problem. Immediately, I always think – Who? Me? I didn’t contribute to the problem.”

“And, what have you discovered when you deny accountability?” I asked.

“I just have to stop. I have always confronted my team with blame-colored glasses. When I realize that I am the one accountable for the output of my team, everything changes. When I realize that I am accountable for the output of the team, I take ownership. Ownership is a powerful stimulant for caring about my team. Constructive coaching automatically follows, not because I have to, but, because I am accountable.”

“And your team?”

“They change too. They are no longer on the receiving end of blame, but are now, part of a team, supporting me, as their manager,” Byron nodded.

“And did that change happen because you circled the team to sing a song?”

“No, it happened because we got clear about accountability.”

The Electrifying Subtle Shift

“So, it turns out that the ten percent reject rate was caused by a burr on a threaded plastic part. Your inspection system failed to sample a new vendor at a higher rate and their sub-standard parts were co-mingled with good parts from your current vendor?” I nodded.

“That’s about it,” Byron agreed.

“And, yet, you yelled at your team for not working hard enough, until you discovered the defective parts?”

“I did,” Byron fessed up.

“Yet, your team was doing their very best already.”

“I know, but we were still getting the ten percent reject rate. I had to do something,” Byron protested, again denying responsibility.

“Don’t get defensive, this is important. You had a ten percent reject rate and you responded in two ways, one effective and one not.

  • You yelled at your team (not effective).
  • You inspected your system, ultimately focusing on receiving inspection, and sample rates of inspection (effective).

And where did you find the problem?”

Byron understood half the problem. “It was only when we looked at the system,” he said.

“And the other half of the problem is this. Your team is only accountable for full commitment and doing their best. When you yelled at them, you were holding them accountable for the ten percent reject rate. As the manager, you can ONLY hold them accountable for doing their best. It is you, as the manager, who is accountable for the output of the team.

“You solved the problem only when you examined your own contribution to the problem. As the manager, you are accountable for the system. It was a system problem.

“What did you accomplish by yelling at your team, holding them accountable for output?” I challenged.

“The only thing it did,” Byron admitted, “was to crush the team. I think I described it as down in the dumps.”

“And, what did you accomplish when you examined your system? You solved the problem. This subtle shift in accountability is electrifying. The team is accountable for full commitment and doing their best. It is the manager accountable for the output.”

Decoding the Level of Work in the Role

—We do most of our web testing in the background where you can’t see it, and, some of you received an errant message on Sat called Test Post Number Three. It was a mistake, a dangling participle in a test queue. We apologize for additional traffic in your INBOX, though we got some very creative responses.—

I am working with a company struggling with role descriptions related to defining the Level of Work in the role. The group is working with one of my templates (ask, and I will send it to you). Level of Work is calibrated by defining the Time Span of the work. Defining the Time Span of a project is pretty easy, just follow the timeline WHAT, by WHEN and you will have the Time Span.

Operational work is a bit more difficult, where the work continues and repeats. What is the Level of Work in operational work? The central question is – What is the time span of discretion on the part of the team member. In my book Hiring Talent, I compiled a list of ten questions to help answer that question. Each question reveals a clue. The source for these questions is Elliott Jaques’ Time Span Handbook, which Elliott wrote to answer this question.

Before you get to the questions, remember the answers are only clues to Time Span of discretion. The actual Time Span of discretion is left to the judgment of the manager. This means, the manager decides the Time Span in the role. The manager decides the Level of Work in the role.

  1. What is the role title?
  2. What are the general responsibilities in the role?
  3. How is work assigned to the team member?
  4. How often is work assigned to the team member?
  5. When a work assignment is completed, how does the manager know?
  6. When a work assignment is completed, how does the team member know what to work on next? (Time Span of discretion)
  7. Who reviews or inspects the work completed?
  8. How often is the work reviewed or inspected?
  9. Does the team member have the authority to do additional work, before the current completed work is inspected?
  10. Does the team member work on multiple work assignments at the same time?

In Hiring Talent, I prepared four interviews (S-I, S-II, S-III, S-IV) to illustrate responses which you might hear from each Level of Work.

Your thoughts?