Category Archives: Time Span

Test With Project Work

Hiring Talent Summer Camp starts in two weeks.
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“What could I have done differently?” Joyce asked. “I thought Phillip was the right choice. I know now, that I was wrong, but how do you make the decision on whether or not to promote someone?”

“Why did you think he was a candidate for promotion?” I asked.

“Well, he has been with us for a little over a year. He knows the ropes. He was a team leader, had the respect of his team,” Joyce replied.

“And what level of work do you think he is capable at?”

“Well, based on what we have been talking about, his current capability seems to be about four weeks or a little more, but not a lot more.”

“So, how could you find out how much more?”

“Well, he was successful at four weeks. I could have given him a task that took six weeks to complete, or eight weeks.”

“Exactly,” I pointed out. “The best way to determine performance is with project work. The problem with project work, is that, until we talked about Time Span, you had no way to determine the level of work. With Time Span, you can measure with more precision. Your job, as his Manager, becomes more precise.”

How to Measure the Level of Work

“I hope he snaps out of it, soon,” Warren shook his head. “Tyler was one of our best supervisors before he got promoted to manager?”

“How big is this new job, as a manager?” I asked.

“I didn’t really think it was that much different,” Warren lamented. “I mean he went from six people to eighteen people, but he has two supervisors under him now, each handling a team of eight people. So, he really only has the two supervisors that he has to directly work with.”

“How big is this new job?” I repeated. “How do you measure the level of work in this new role?”

Warren thought. “It does seem more complicated. He has more resources to work with, but I don’t know that I can actually measure the level of work.”

“What was the longest time span task that Tyler had, as a supervisor?”

“Well, as a supervisor, he was accountable for making sure all the production got done. He had to make sure he had enough people on the line, that we had enough raw material to work with, make sure all the machinery was available and in working order. It was a pretty big job.”

“And what was the longest lead time item on his plate?”

Warren smiled. “Oh, yes. There is this one material that we order from Indonesia. When it arrives, we outsource a special coating. The whole process takes about six months before we even bring it in-house. And we can’t run out or all of our production shuts down. Tyler had to pay specific attention to that.”

“So, we can measure the longest time span task in his old role at about six months?” I confirmed. “So, what is the longest time span task in his new role as a manager?”

How to Measure the Size of the Role?

Warren was puzzled. “I talked to Tyler three times today. He has been having difficulty ever since I promoted him to manager.”

“So, at one point, he was effective?” I asked.

“Yes, he has been with the company for several years. He was a supervisor with six people on his team. Now, he is a manager of two supervisors with a total of eighteen people on his team.”

“What do you notice about him?” I pressed.

“It seems like he is too removed from the work. I ask him what is going on and he doesn’t have an answer. Says he has to go check. I mean, he gets the daily output reports, so he should know precisely what it happening, but it’s like he is disconnected.”

“Drugs? Alcohol?” I wanted to know.

“Don’t think so, Tyler is too conscientious for that,” Warren replied.

“What do you think the problem is?”

“It’s like the job is just too big for him.”

“So, how do you measure how big the job is?”

Don’t Play Amateur Psychologist

From the Ask Tom mailbag – gleaned from a colleague’s mail list.

Question:
Do you have anything on Meta Competencies, if you have never heard of them, they’re personal indicators of future potential for higher up jobs. All part of our talent management project, which is based on “being good enough at your current job doesn’t mean you have potential to do a higher up job.”

Response:
This is a noble question which leads us astray for the answer. It is a sucker punch which assumes there is a psychological indicator for human potential. The question invites us (managers) to climb inside the head of a candidate or team member. But, once inside this head, most managers will find themselves on shaky ground. That psychology course in high school or college will abandon them. Few managers have degrees in psychology, advanced degrees or are certified to practice psychotherapy, yet here they are, inside the head of a candidate, looking for a “personal indicator of future potential.”

An alternate course, to answer this question, to identify “potential to do a higher up job” starts with how to define “a higher up job.” Talking about the job, talking about the work, now, most managers are on solid ground. Most managers can easily identify a “higher up job.” And that is where the answer is. Don’t try to climb inside the head of the candidate, focus on the work.

While we have an intuitive sense of a “higher up job,” until we can accurately define levels of work, identifying potential in a candidate will remain elusive, and indeed, allow psychologists to try to sell us all sorts of magical assessments. The instant we can accurately identify levels of work, we can get great clarity on human potential.

Focus on the work. Managers are experts on work. Let me borrow an insight from Lee Thayer. “The best measure of performance is performance.” Hint, this is NOT a circular reference.

The best measure of potential is evidence of potential (the original question). A person with potential will leave clues. All we have to do is see the clues. “Being good enough at your current job doesn’t mean you have potential to do a higher up job.” The answer is simple. Give the person a higher level of work. The best method to test a person’s potential is project work. Given a higher level of (project) work, the candidate will either effectively handle it, or not. The best measure of performance is performance.

Stop playing amateur psychologist and focus on the work. It’s all about the work.

Management Myths and Time Span

In 2001, I stumbled over some startling research.  For two years, I privately shared this research with two of my executive peer groups, who encouraged me to take it on the road.  In 2003, I presented the first public workshop called Management Myths and Time Span to a group in Plymouth MN.  Ten years and 350 presentations later, this workshop makes it to my own hometown.

Here is the press going out.

Every CEO, executive and manager struggles with this hidden key to performance, find out why!  Do any of these apply to you?

[ ] A Project Manager Blows the Deadline?  Again?
And you have to call the customer to explain that the project will be late.  There is no reason for the delay, just an excuse.

[ ] Your Top Performer Got Promoted to Manager.  Now Failing.
She has been with the company for 12 years, promoted to a game-breaker role.  What happened?  She is loyal.  Everyone likes her.  She is floundering.

[ ] You Sent Him to Manager Training.  The Same Person Came Back.
Your high hopes for this young manager are dashed.  He showed such promise.  Or did he?

[ ] A manager got promoted to his level of incompetence, WHY?
Unlock and understand the Secret behind the Peter Principle.

November 20, 2013
Everglades University
Boca Raton, FL
Management Myths and Time Span
Reserve Now

On Wednesday, November 20, Tom Foster will present the 50 years of scientific findings of Elliott Jaques.  According to Foster, “This is the missing link to human capability. This missing link is based on a simple principle and touches every element of a manager’s work.”

Date – Wednesday, November 20, 2013
8:00 – Coffee
8:30 – Program begins
Noon – Adjourn

Reserve today $200 Only $99*
Seating is limited to 60 participants.
* Vistage/TEC Member guest discount

We select our top performer and promote them to the next level, introduce them to the team as their new leader, only to find them floundering and earning no respect.

In the hopes of filling a position in the corporate org chart, we diligently interview, do personality testing and check references. We hire the person with the best of intentions only to find them failing after a few short weeks.

You just promoted Sally — she is now in your office complaining that her new boss has his head in the clouds and is completely out of touch with the real problems facing the department. Ten minutes later, Sally’s boss, Joe, is in your office complaining about Sally, his new direct report, saying that she is totally incompetent and cannot see the big picture. What did we miss?

Tom Foster will present the research and statistically significant scientific findings of the late Elliott Jaques, the psychologist who discovered a correlation between workers across industries and their internal capability to handle different levels of work.

Particular areas that will be addressed are:

  • Most hiring managers underestimate the level of capability required for success in the role.
  • Personality conflicts in an organization are often smokescreens for a misalignment in structure.
  • Most CEOs mis-understand the true nature of executive work and often, are drawn into activity that pulls them away from higher-levels of work.
  • The flat organization is a misguided management fad — organizational hierarchy is essential and exists for very specific reasons.

Note: Participants may find it helpful to bring a current organization chart, starting with the CEO and driving down three levels.  And if they exist, a short paragraph description for the CEO role and each senior management position.

 Biography: Tom Foster works mostly with CEOs in executive peer groups.  He conducts classroom training for managers and supervisors in the areas of delegation, planning and communication skills. He spent 14 years in the television production industry and another 10 years with a large CPA firm. A Vistage Chair since 1995 and former trainer with Dale Carnegie Training, Tom holds a B.S. in radio-television-film and a master’s degree in communication, both from the University of Texas at Austin.

Reserve your space now.

Designed Around the Work

“I know you want me to be the nice guy,” Jim Dunbar pushed back, “that I would have a better organization if I wasn’t so hard on people, but at the end of the day, we have to get some work done around here.”

It stings against political correctness, but if you consider, for a moment, that statement is true, what changes?

What if, it is all about the work? What if the purpose of your organization is to actually get some work done, solve a problem, execute a solution? It’s not for every organization, only those with the intended purpose to get work done, complete a task, achieve a goal.

Some organizations are designed around other intentions, religious organizations, political organizations, educational organizations, collegial organizations, all with purpose, all with goals.

What if the purpose of your organization was to get some work done? What if your organization was designed around the work?

No Voodoo, No Amateur Psychology

“What is the Time Span capability required in my sales people?” Dennis asked.

“Sucker-punch question that will lead you down the wrong path,” I replied.

“Not sure I understand?” Dennis quizzed.

“Define the Level of Work, then ask if your salespeople are effective at that work.

“Not sure I understand the difference. Don’t we get to the same place?” Dennis pressed.

“I don’t think so,” I surmised. “Trying to determine the Time Span capability in a person prompts us to play amateur psychologist.”

Dennis mulled over the thought, so I continued.

“Identifying the Level of Work in the role is the work of a manager. Evaluating the effectiveness of the person we have assigned to this role is the work of a manager. There is no voodoo, no amateur psychology.”

Designing the Work

Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but this is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.”

“Not really,” I said. “To me, your system is working exactly the way it is designed to work.”

Chase was puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s not working at all.”

“No, it is working exactly the way it is designed to work. The design of your day’s work is to drink coffee for the first fifteen minutes, then run around the floor solving urgent problems. At the end of each day, you check the list to make sure you didn’t do anything important.”

I paused. “Not a bad design. How’s that working for you?” Chase didn’t like what he was hearing.

“If you want to change your day, you have to change your design for the day. I see about four major design changes you might want to consider, but let’s start with just one. Don’t let anyone work during the first fifteen minutes of the day. Instead have a huddle meeting around the boss’ list of important projects. That one design change will be a good start.”

How is your day designed?

Interviewing for Potential

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
Many proponents of Requisite Organization claim that a person needs to have work commensurate with their potential capability to be engaged and fulfilled at work. They claim that being required to work at a level of work that is below one’s potential capability can lead to high levels of stress and negatively affect a person’s health. Assuming this is true, how do you assess a person’s potential capability in an interview? If you ask questions about their past experience to assess the level of work they have done before this may not reflect their potential capability (because they may not have had the opportunity to do work commensurate with their potential capability before). Doesn’t this approach entail the risk of hiring someone who will be frustrated, stressed or bored by the level of work in the position?

Response:

You make it sound like working below one’s potential capability is devastating. Everyone works on Time Span task assignments all over the place. What is necessary is that a significant portion of one’s work be fully challenging. And understand that this is ALWAYS a moving target. People constantly grow and mature, we are constantly changing, our Time Span capability constantly increasing. Matching the Level of Work with capability is, as Elliott puts it, always a “work in progress.” So, we do the best we can. As managers, we do the best we can to make this match.

Conducting a candidate interview is likely the most difficult assessment challenge we face, as managers. In most managerial situations, we can observe behavior and output, we can have managerial conversations with our team members, we can ask very direct questions about problems that have to be solved and decisions that have to be made. It’s a walk in the park compared to the candidate interview.

Hiring Talent always carries risk. Making the wrong hire is expensive. It costs dollars, time, energy, morale. I will only make hiring decisions based on evidence of work output based on past experience. I will not speculate, I will not hope, I will not assume. I will only hire on evidence. This means I will restrict my questions to real situations that can be observed and verified.

Does that mean I might miss potential? Perhaps. But I don’t use the interview to assess potential capability. I use the interview to assess applied capability. I am not a clinical psychologist, I am not a soothsayer, I am not a fortune teller. I am a practitioner.

And, as a practitioner, here is one method to get an accurate picture of the prospective candidate.

I take the resume and work it chronologically. This means, I start at the back and work forward, because resumes are typically presented in reverse chronology. I have difficulty seeing patterns and progress in reverse, so I start young and work forward. This simple chronological method reveals natural progress of increasing capability as someone moves through their career. Gets me really close to their highest level of current applied capability.

I have some other thoughts about interviewing for potential capability, so let’s pick that up tomorrow.

A Plan is Not a Goal

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Background (Tom):
So, now we are left to think about your target completion time. If you truly believe that Stratum IV capability is required for success in this project, then I must assume the real “by when” of this goal is longer than you have stated. We need more data to see more clearly. Give us some more clues.

More Clues (Reader):
I have tried to tackle the clues, below, as a task assignment using CPQQRT (Context, Purpose, Quantity, Quality, Resources, Time) hopefully alluding to the longer term focus.

  • Task: Develop a comprehensive plan to ensure the pool of labour we draw our staff from continues to provide the capability we need.
  • Context: Our current labour pool is shrinking. Baby boomers are retiring, competitors using the same labour pool, increased community expectations around diversity hires.
  • Purpose: Without the labour, our operations will grind to a halt, or become nonviable due to increasing labour costs.
  • Quality/Quantity: A comprehensive plan – ie One that contains clear actions across a timeline extending out a further 12 months. This needs to also tie into our 5 year plan + take into account the expected changes in our industry and society over the next decade. I expect the plan to include the development of the labour pool through schools, universities and other external means, which by implication requires connecting with people in those institutions as well as various government departments. I would also expect you to conduct some external research into best-practice, population economics, intended changes in legislation.
  • Resources: You personally develop the plan and you make decisions on what to include/exclude. You may make use of a researcher/assistant to gather and interpret data as necessary. You have full access to anyone in the business, especially the senior leadership team.
  • Timeline: The plan is due by end Feb 2013. You will be expected to present it to the Executive Leadership Team and handle any questions from that team.

Question:
Is the capability required to complete this task assignment S-II, indicated by the six month Time Span of the Target Completion Time? Or is the capability required higher than S-II indicated by the likely State of Thinking (Declarative, Cumulative, Serial or Parallel)?

Response:
As I read your narrative, it becomes clear that this is a writing assignment to produce a written document. It appears that actual execution is NOT part of this task. But what is the goal?

If the goal is to simply write a document, collecting all these elements together into a coherent narrative, then I lean toward S-II, Cumulative processing. But I don’t think that’s the goal. A plan is not a goal. A plan is a tool, the design phase of a longer task assignment, and will require a higher level of capability.

The goal is actually to execute the work designed in this document, to create a labor (American spelling) pool in the face of shifting labor pool obstacles. I believe the document is the work design step in a much longer task assignment.

Given the challenges faced, what is a reasonable amount of time you (as the manager) would give someone to create this stable, predictable and available labor pool? You already stated that “clear actions extending out further than 12 months, expected changes in our industry and society over the next decade” would be a required element of this design. I suspect that a reasonable amount of time is 2-5 years plus, easily extending this task assignment to S-IV Parallel processing.

An example. In South Florida, we are seeing a modest and slow recovery in the commercial construction sector. And we are hiring. However, our pool of unskilled labor disappeared during the recession. Many returned to their home countries, others found work in other sectors. Available workers do not possess the skills required to complete the available work.

This is a tough problem, even beyond the scope of a single company. Contractor associations and trade groups are attempting to grapple with the same issues you describe. This will be a long term challenge, not solved within two years. It will require the development of skills training programs, recruiting unskilled workers into those training programs, creating conditions for workers to return from foreign countries. This is clearly a 2-5 year problem, will require a minimum of S-IV Parallel processing.