Category Archives: Time Span

What Does It Take to Be President

I usually don’t talk about levels of work above S-VI, but today is inauguration day. A new president takes the oath of office and for the next four years, plays a role, making decisions and solving problems.

Levels of work were first explained to me in 2001. My teacher was Jerry Harvey, a colleague of Elliott’s. On this day, I imagine, Jerry is on some heavenly golf course, trying to make a side bet with Elliott about how things will turn out.

Jerry described the role of President of the United States (POTUS) as a Stratum VII role. We are talking about the role, not the person. Decisions made at this level of work will have 20-50 year impact, both good decisions and bad decisions.

The goals and objectives at this level of work have target completion times 20-50 years into the future. As Jerry put it, this is not a short game. Can you imagine putting the wheels in motion, to set out on a journey, the fruits of which we will not see for 20-50 years. And, yet the public expects the problems to be solved in the first 100 days.

The state of thinking required to be effective at S-VII is Serial (Conceptual). See the iterative chart below.

States of Thinking

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)
  • S-V (5 years to 10 years) Declarative (Conceptual)
  • S-VI (10 years to 20 years) Cumulative (Conceptual)
  • S-VII (20 years to 50 years) Serial (Conceptual)

Jerry described Bill Clinton as effective at S-VI for his first six years in office, effective at S-VII only during the last two years of his term. He joked about the year 2000 election, both Gore and Bush at S-V. That’s why we couldn’t tell the difference and the election ended in a stalemate, had to be decided by the Supreme Court.

I do not judge a person’s capability. I only judge the role. What is the work? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Then, my question is simple, was the person effective? or not?

What is the level of work in your role? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Are you effective in your role? -Tom Foster

Time Span of Intention

This week, I shared a planning document (you can download it below), with the headline, “What is your intention?”

Elliott closed his last book with this notion of intention, in a drawing he described as, the most important illustration of his book, the Axis of Intention.

Planning is simply the documentation of your intention.

We have two dimensions of time, the past and the future, separated by the nanosecond of the present. Events that occur are measurable by a stopwatch. The melting point (time to melt) of a metal at a given temperature is predictable, can be scientifically documented. It is known, concrete, tangible.

In life, the Axis of Achievement (the past) is overlaid by the Axis of Intention (the future). What is your intention? What is the time span of your intention?

I get pushback on planning.

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

We don’t have time to plan. Then what is the time span of your intention, that you don’t have time to consider your intention?
Actual results never meet the plan. Of course not, but actual results are shaped by the axis of your intention.
We might be held accountable for what we said. Accountability is output. Accountability is the reconciliation between these two dimensions of time –
The past, axis of achievement.
The future, axis of intention.

The linchpin is this understanding of time span. What is the time span of your intention? That is what will shape your world. -Tom

You can download the planning document here. 2017 Planning Template

Levels of Work and Appropriate Decision Making

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your workshop today, you asked two questions –

  • What have been your growing pains (as an organization)?
  • What has to change going forward?

It occurred to me, the reason our company is stuck, is that decision making always gets pushed to the CEO. In our executive team meeting, whenever there is a decision to be made, even seemingly routine decisions, I see heads go down, deference to the CEO. We all wait, unable to make a move until she speaks.

Response:
Dependency is the collusion required to institutionalize parenting and patriarchy. It’s a two-way street. Given the opportunity for the CEO to play God, it is very difficult to resist. Allowing someone else (the CEO) to make the decision lets the executive management team off the hook of accountability. It is a perfect collusion.

Allowed to persist, the executive management team is crippled from making ANY decision, especially those they should be making. When all decision making streams through the desk of the CEO, speed slows down and accountability is concentrated.

When you understand levels of work, you are suddenly able to determine what decisions are appropriately delegated and who to delegate them to. There is appropriate decision making at every level of work.

When the decision emerges in the executive management team, ask these two questions –

  • What is the appropriate level of work to make this decision?
  • Who, at that level of work, will be accountable for the consequences of that decision?

-Tom

The Value of One Year into the Future

“Why is it important for a Manager to think one year into the future?” I asked.

Melanie had finally opened her mind to discovery. “If I had been thinking out a year, I could have had conversations with my supervisors a long time before they quit. I would have known what changes to make to keep them challenged. I didn’t think they would be interested in learning new things and stepping into more difficult projects.”

“So, if I asked you, as a Manager, to take a single piece of paper and chart out your team members, think about their capabilities and interests, and develop a one year plan for each one, could you do it?”

“Well, yes, but I would probably have to talk to each person, to make sure I was on target, it’s going to take some time,” Melanie replied.

“So, what do you have to do that is more important?” -Tom

Level of Work Required in a Sales Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We need to hire someone in a sales role. You said in your workshop that we need to identify the level of work. What’s the level of work in a sales role?

Response:
The consultant’s answer is always, it depends.

But, it depends on something very specific. The level of work will depend of the length of your sales cycle.

Level I – Time-span (1 day – 3 months)
Short sales cycles can be effectively maintained by trained order takers. Level I sales roles can be found in catalogue call centers, counter sales and sales oriented customer service centers.

Level II – Time-span (3 – 12 months)
Sales work at Level II is found in longer sales cycle projects, where building relationships is important. This sales work consists of prospecting for new customers, qualifying prospective customers, gathering customer needs according to a checklist, matching products to customer needs, making presentations, negotiating and closing the sale. On the customer side, the counterpart to Level II sales work would be the purchasing agent.

Level III – Time-span (1 – 2 years)
Decisions in business to business purchases often require additional input. While the buying criteria for most purchasing agents is price, the Level III buyer, sometimes a specifying engineer, is more concerned about function. Interacting with a Level III buyer may require the capability of a Level III sales person, a product engineer. Sales work at this level is more concerned with needs analysis, product match and application. Sales functions like prospecting may be delegated to sales team members at Level II.

Level IV – Time-span (2-5 years)
Occasionally the buying decision involves product functionality that integrates with other systems that exist in the customer organization. The Level II purchasing agent is concerned about price. The Level III specifying engineer is concerned about function. The Level IV buyer is concerned about how the product or service will integrate with other systems in the company. Sales cycles greater than two years may require Level IV capability to understand the complexities of how the product or service integrates into customer systems. A primary accountability for this level of work in the selling company will be feedback loops into research and product or service development. Examples of Level IV sales roles exist in pharmaceuticals, automobile components, electronic components, large scale construction projects, international logistics, financial instruments and insurance products. -Tom

How to Identify High Potential in a Team Member

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I just finished reading your book Hiring Talent. As I finished the book, I thought about my evaluation of high potential internal candidates. How do I know if a team member has a long enough time span of discretion to be able to do the job at the next level?

Response:
There are two places to play. One is to climb inside the head of the individual, the other is to focus on the work. The Head or The Work? Stay out of their head. Focus on the work.

Step 1 – Define the work at the next level. What are the problems that have to be solved at the next level? What are the decisions that have to be made at the next level?

Step 2 – Create a project that requires solving a problem at that level of work. Create a project that requires a decision at that level of work. It’s just a project, no promotions, no raises, no corner office, just a project.

Step 3 – Evaluate the project. Did the candidate execute as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role? And in that half, top, middle or bottom? After the project, you should be able to answer those two questions in about 5 seconds.

Evaluation
———————————-
Top – Top
Top – Middle
Top – Bottom
———————————-
Bottom – Top
Bottom – Middle
Bottom – Bottom
———————————-

If there is potential, there is always evidence of potential. Do not make this decision based on a hunch, a feeling or an assumption. Make this decision (on potential) based on your judgement of evidence of potential.

Work output from a person who has potential is almost always error-free and on-time or early. -Tom

Transition from S-II Supervisor to S-III Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I read, with interest, your description of the transition from a lead technician (S-I) to a supervisor (S-II). I find myself in the same situation. I was in a supervisory role (S-II) for the past six years, and now find myself in a managerial role (S-III), as a manager to a team of five supervisors, each with their own team. As a supervisor, when I struggled, I went to my manager. Now, I am the manager.

Response:
Not only are you, now, no longer doing the production work, you are no longer directly implementing the day to day, week to week or month to month production schedules, you are now a manager (S-III) of first-line managers (S-II).

You are still committed to two central questions, pace and quality, but your time orientation is, now, much longer. Yours is a system focus.

Take the concerns at S-II and change the outlook from 3-12 months to 12-24 months.

Team
S-II – Right technician assigned to the right project (3-12 months).
S-III – Build a team of technicians, accounting for the lead time from entry level to working competence, so, when a technician is needed, there is a competent team member ready to step in. Workforce planning (12-24 months).

Safety
S-II – Safe working environment, proper safety equipment (3-12 months)
S-III – Create systems of safety, begin with a prevailing mindset of safety. Create a safety curriculum, including policies, procedures, initial and recurrent training programs. Track those training programs to ensure that all personnel receive effective and appropriate training. Review safety metrics to adjust the safety program (system) to be continuously more effective. Review, recommend, approve and implement safety budgets for equipment, to ensure organizational competence to safety related matters (12-24 months).

Training
S-II – Right training for the right skill required by the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Identify necessary skills training, select appropriate training programs, both internal and outsourced. Assess the effectiveness (metrics) of those programs and adjust the training system (12-24 months).

Tools
S-II – Right tools used by the technicians required for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Review, recommend and approve budgets and acquisition of appropriate (state of the art) tools, including capital budgets for equipment investments (12-24 months).

Materials
S-II – Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Material contracts with suppliers, negotiate favorable discounts and terms. Identifying critical order quantities, lead times and stock to meet production volume based on sales forecasts (12-24 months).

Equipment
S-II – Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Review, recommend and implement annual and capital budgets for equipment. Anticipate end-of-life for existing equipment, improvements in technology and capacity to meet production volume based on sales forecasts (12-24 months).

Work Environment
S-II – Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height (3-12 months).
S-III – Work flow layout, time and motion studies, sequence of production, system constraints and strategic constraint (12-24 months).

Coaching
S-II – Corrective feedback for mistakes and positive reinforment for performance (3-12months).
S-III – Conduct effective coaching 1-1s with supervisory team, model coaching sessions, set context. Ensure that supervisory team conducts effective coaching sessions with production team. Act as manager-once-removed to production team, review training, assess capability for advancement, set context.

All of these issues have long term impact on pace and quality. Your tools are no longer simple schedules and checklists, but work flow diagrams, schematics, time and motion studies, sequencing and planning.

As a supervisor (S-II), you relied on best-practice solutions to identified problems. As a manager (S-III) you will be asked to solve problems that have not been solved before. You will employ root cause or comparative analysis to examine difficult problems, to generate solutions based on cause and effect.

The value-add at this level of work is consistency and predictability. As a supervisor (S-II), it was your role to make sure that production was accurate, complete and on-time. As a manager (S-III), it is your role to ensure that the product or service is effectively delivered, AND that delivery was completed efficiently, yielding a reasonable (consistent and predictable) profit for the time, effort and resources required.

Welcome to the world at Stratum III. -Tom

Missing Stratum III

“I am not sure what is happening,” Monika said. “We have three supervisors, all of them have been here for five to seven years. Up until about six months ago, they were all doing just fine. Now, they are struggling. Not just one supervisor, but all three of them.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a meeting to discuss a new problem area. Our work order volume through the shop has increased from twenty work orders a day to fifty work orders. We promise our customers a delivery time, then we find out there are problems with their order, delays in getting some of the special items. We put people on to fix those things, but then that delays other work orders. The white board we use for scheduling can’t handle all the things that change during the day. There is an industry scheduling software, within our budget. We decide on a course of action to find out more about the software, if it will work for us. Each supervisor has their assignment to examine the software. We break the huddle and nothing happens.”

“What do they say?” I pressed.

“We get together a week later. We still have the same problem. One supervisor says they talked to their team, but got push-back. Their team likes the white board. Then they got busy, and here we are, a week later. Another supervisor just stares and says there is too much work to get done, to spend time looking at the software. All three supervisors admit that it is very important to solve this problem. They suggest we hire some assistant supervisors.”

“What happens if you don’t solve this problem?”

“Nothing immediately, but we have some signature projects coming up and if those get delayed, we could lose the projects. And if those projects push other work orders, we could lose other customers.”

I let Monika slow down and stop.

“Have you ever considered that the level of work in your operations department has increased,” I asked. “The way you handle one project, or two projects or twenty projects is different than how you handle fifty projects or sixty projects. If I told your supervisors, tomorrow, would have to handle 100 simultaneous projects, how would they respond?”

“The whole department would implode,” Monika replied.

“But you have the floor space, you have capacity, it is just a matter of handling the complexity created by the additional volume. It’s a higher level of work. And, hiring assistants will not solve your problem. You have to change your system. Do you have the time to work on this?”

“Nope,” Monika was quick to respond. “I have seven departments to keep moving. I can’t get bogged down in this one. It’s almost like we are missing a manager to direct my three supervisors.”

S-IV level of work – Monika
S-III level of work – Missing level – system work
S-II level of work – three supervisors
_________________________
Clarification on levels of work in Australia, from Adam Thompson at the Working Journey
In Australia, Supervisor usually denotes the S-I role Assistant to Frontline Manager (FLMA, S-II) role, your Leading Hand.

Team Leader is the role that may denote either the FLMA role or the S-II Manager role.

Str-III sits uncomfortably between Manager / Senior Manager / General Manager and sometimes even Director.

Str-IV is reasonably consistent – General Manager. I think that’s a VP in your world. -Adam

Welcome to First Line Management at S-II

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was a technician in my company, they called me a lead technician, eight years on the job. Whenever there was a problem, most of the guys would come to me. If I couldn’t solve the problem, then we would go to our supervisor. Now, I am the supervisor.

No one really explained the difference between a lead tech and a supervisor. I always knew my supervisor did something different in his role than I did in my technician role, but now that it’s me, I’m not sure what the real difference is.

Response:
Good question. A supervisor is a first line manager, so welcome to the world of management. You are no longer directly doing the work, you are now accountable for the output of other people. It is your role to make sure the production (technician) work is getting done.

As a technician, you were always focused on two things, pace and quality. Were you working fast enough to produce the expected output? Did your output meet the quality standards set for the work? At times, if you worked too fast, a quality standard might be compromised. You might notice that in the reject rate, re-work, warranty complaints. To compensate, you might slow down, pay attention to each of the quality steps, so the output met the quality spec. But then, the pace might be too slow and you might not produce the expected output. It was a constant battle, pace and quality, pace and quality.

And, now, you are the supervisor. The issues are still about pace and quality, but the time frame is different. As a technician, your struggle with pace and quality was all about today, maybe this week, but not much more. Even as the lead technician, your struggles with pace and quality may have been about this week, maybe this month, but not much more.

As the supervisor, what are the elements that can impact both pace and quality?

  • Right technician assigned to the right project
  • Safe working environment, proper safety equipment
  • Right training for the right skill required by the project
  • Right tools used by the technicians required for the project
  • Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project
  • Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project
  • Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height
  • Corrective feedback for mistakes
  • Encouragement for performance

These are the levers that impact pace and quality. And, these are the levers for the supervisor. As you look at this list, to put all these in place requires a longer term outlook. Personnel has to be scheduled. Workload has to level amongst the team. Equipment has to be scheduled, maintained. The workplace has to be clean and maintained. Safety equipment in place, in perfect working order. Materials have to be ordered, accommodating lead times for certain materials. The time span outlook for this coordinating role requires thinking and working 3-12 months into the future.

The tools you will be using are no longer real tools, but schedules and checklists. You will conduct short meetings, huddles to make sure your team is all on the same page.

As a lead technician, you were the go-to-guy. When one of your team mates got stuck, you would quickly try one solution or another, based on your experience, and typically solve the problem. Until, of course, you got stuck.

Then, you would go to your supervisor. Your supervisor may or may not have as much experience as you, but your supervisor was relying on another set of problem solving tools. While you were trying this or that, your supervisor checked to see if we had solved that problem before and documented its best-practice solution.

S-II – Supervisor – Documented experience, best practice solutions

S-I – Technician – Trial and error problem solving

In the past, you relied on your skill at trial and error problem solving. You used your intuitive judgement to quickly test alternatives to solve the problem. Someone noticed and gave you a promotion.

Now, your world has changed. You will still solve many problems through trial and error, but you will begin to see the patterns in problems and connect them with tried and true solutions, elements in your standard operating procedure or best-practice manual.

As a technician, your value-add was quality. As a supervisor, your value add is accuracy, completeness and timeliness of output. Welcome to the world of first line management. –Tom
____________________
As a side note, role designations may be different from one country to the next. The real calibration for the role is determined by the identified level of work in the role. In the United States, supervisory roles are typically S-II roles (3-12 months time span). In Australia, I am told supervisory roles may designate a high S-I role (3 months time span). Check your local listings. Film at eleven.
____________________
Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration

How to Interview for Passion at S-IV Level of Work

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-IV roles are integration roles, integrating systems and sub-systems for total organizational throughput. The tools at S-IV are system metrics. The role is typically an executive manager, VP or C-suite. Longest time span goals and objectives would be 2-3-4-5 years. Learning would be long-term (longitudinal) analytic. Highest level problem solving would include systems analysis (Senge-Fifth Discipline). Value-add to the organization is multi-system efficiency and total throughput. It is the role at S-IV to optimize multi-system output so that no one system overwhelms or drags on other systems, and to improve handoffs of work output from one system to the next system. One of the most important functions at S-IV is as the manager of S-III and the manager-once-removed (MOR) at S-II.

Managerial roles at S-IV are accountable for the output of the team at S-III.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems in your prior company and examine the way those systems worked together?
  • In your last role, list the functional systems that existed?
  • What was your role title?
  • Which single function were you most focused on?
  • Looking at that system, what impact did other systems have on its output?
  • Describe the balance or imbalance of your focus system and its surrounding system?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you discover the imbalance?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to correct the imbalance?
  • How did you communicate the corrective steps necessary to re-balance the systems?
  • How long did it take to re-balance the systems?
  • How did you know, what metrics indicated the systems were back in balance?
  • Step me through the work flow, start to finish as work moved from one function to another in your organization?
  • As work moved from one function to the next, how was that work transferred, communicated, handed-off?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you detect problems?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you communicate the necessary steps to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you document the hand-off transition steps?
  • How did you know when the hand-off transitions improved?
  • Tell me about another example?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-III Level of Work