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Cross Functional Working Relationship – Auditor

Auditor

“We have some contractual commitments still in force,” Javier explained. “While we may renegotiate some of these obligations, until then, we have to abide by the contract. In some cases, I enlisted people to review the way we shut down some of the routes and gates. If we are about to do something that will put us in default, they have the authority to delay or stop what we are doing?”

“So, are they prescribing things for people to do, as a project leader?” Catherine asked.

“No,” Javier replied. “They are there to observe and review, but they have the specific authority to delay or stop anything that jeopardizes the project.” Javier thought for a moment. “An auditor is like a safety director. The safety director doesn’t tell people what to do, or give people task assignments. But, if someone is engaged in an unsafe work practice, the safety director has the authority to delay or stop the unsafe work practice, even though they are not anyone’s manager.”

“Okay, I get it,” Catherine agreed.

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Biggest Excuses for Not Planning

On one hand, most managers would agree that planning is important, but on the other hand, most managers avoid the process. Here are the biggest excuses I hear.

  • I don’t have time to plan.
  • Things change too fast, so the plan is out of date before it’s even finished.
  • No one pays attention to the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one even looks at the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one cares about the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one can find a copy of the plan, once it’s written.

Have you ever written a grocery list, then left it at home when you made your trip to the store. Likely, your shopping was still 90 percent effective without the list. Why?

It’s not the plan, it’s the process.

If you intend to avoid the process, that’s fine. But, if you are looking for a short (3-page) process that includes a 2015 goal tracking sheet, just ask. It’s a Word doc, so you can modify it to meet your needs.

Year End Sign Off Message

I have to thank all my tenacious readers as we pass ten years and enter our eleventh year of publishing Management Skills Blog and Hiring Talent Blog.

Hiring Talent just passed 2,000 copies sold. It would be a dismal failure in traditional publishing, but a triumph for me, because I don’t have that many friends.

On tap for first quarter 2015, a new book, stay tuned for details.

So, I am signing off for this year. We will see you in the new year. -Tom Foster

I first published this holiday message in 2005, based on a short afternoon meeting on Christmas eve.

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch and the mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

Holacracy, the Latest Management Craze

I have been reading about this latest management fad, holacracy, for some months now, but it was Gregory Ferenstein’s post on July 11 that finally sent me over the edge. For the record, here are two other articles that tee up this management craze. Zappos says goodbye to bosses by Jena McGregor and a more reasoned explanation, published in the Economist, The holes in holacracy.

Also note that the word holacracy is a registered trademark. It is a brand, which always raises red flags in my world regarding its methods. Is it really something new or is the word made up to muddy the already turbid waters in management consulting.

But, I promised to talk about what Tony Hsieh is doing at Zappos and provide a more reasonable context for the structural decisions he is making.

First, “getting rid of bosses.” Boss-ing is something siblings do to each other. Indeed, it is a power struggle. The descriptions of holacracy appear to equate boss with the word manager. I am always amused at where the power lies in the manager-team-member relationship. It is like telling a kid that they have to eat broccoli. But, it is the kid who will determine if broccoli will, in fact, be eaten. Being an effective manager has very little to do with power.

“There are no managers in the classically defined sense. Instead, there are people known as “lead links” who have the ability to assign employees to roles or remove them from them.”

When I look at the “classic definition” of a manager, that person is vested with some very specific authorities. How is this “lead link” different?

  • Determine who is on the team.
  • Determine who is off the team.
  • Set the objective.
  • Assess the team member’s effectiveness in the context of the objective.

“Zappos and Robertson are careful to note that while a holacracy may get rid of traditional managers (those who both manage others’ work and hold the keys to their career success), there is still structure and employees’ work is still watched. Poor performers, Robertson says, stand out.”

So, now I am curious. Just exactly who is it that is doing all the watching if it’s not the manager? Is “lead link” another word for manager?

So, what is all this talk about abolishing managers?

“while the system lacks traditional managers, it does not mean that leaders won’t emerge.”

No shit. Leadership is an observable phenomenon, it happens. And when an organization selects its managers, it had better be paying attention to qualities of managerial leadership (as opposed to political leadership, parental leadership, spiritual leadership).

Apparently, Tony wants to provide the appearance of the absence of managers, by defining broad latitudes of discretion within the various levels of work at Zappos. That is what hierarchy is all about. Hierarchy is not about being the boss, it is not about command and control. Hierarchy is about establishing the boundaries of discretionary judgment within a level of work.

Discretionary judgment is required to make decisions and solve problems appropriate for that level of work. And most teams can handle the problems and decisions that sit within their level of work.

Here’s the pinch. When the problem is difficult or the decision is hard, on the upper end of that level of work, who does the team go to? That would be the manager. Being a manager is NOT about telling people what to do (boss-ing), it is about bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team. And that’s the role of the manager. At Zappos, those people exist, and Tony knows exactly who they are. I don’t care what he calls them.

I Need Your Help

I have been asked to make a presentation at an international conference sponsored by the Global Organization Design Society at the IBM Palisades Center NY, July 31-Aug 5, 2014.

I need your help in my preparation for that presentation. My subject at the conference will be how companies have applied the Time Span principles contained in the research of Elliot Jaques. I am looking for both informal application in how a manager sees decision making and problem solving to formal application in hiring systems or organizational changes in structure.

If you have attended one of my Time Span workshops (I have delivered 400 workshops over the past ten years) and you have used some principle or understanding to help you in your managerial work, I would like to hear from you. Please use the form at Ask Tom to send me a short note.

Thank you for your interest in the Time Span research of Elliott Jaques.

The Shift from Supervisor to Manager

“Tell me, Joel, in making your transition from supervisor to manager, why do you think things slowed down for you?” I asked.

“The biggest difference,” he replied, “is that I am not dealing with things so much as I am dealing with people. When I was a supervisor, I just made sure material got received, stocked, staged and moved around, that machines worked, and that everybody was at their workstation. Sure, things shifted around and we changed the schedule all the time, but it was easy compared to this. As a manager, things have slowed down, but it’s a lot harder to get things done. It’s more complicated. I have to think further into the future.”

“How far into the future did you have to think as a supervisor?” I pondered.

Joel thought for a minute. He had never considered how far into the future he to think. “Well, as a supervisor, I guess it was only a few months out.  I mean, we had some long lead time items, and sometimes we had to reject materials that were out of specification, meaning the lead time doubled, but even with that, four to five months.  And with people, I just scheduled from the list of people of the team.  Now, I have to look out and see if we have enough people on the list.  I have to decide who is on the team.”

“Tell you what, Joel. The next time we meet, I want you to list out the longest tasks you had as a supervisor. I want to go over that list with you to see if we can make some sense moving forward as a manager.”

How Does a Non-Engineer Manager Bring Value to An Engineer Solving a Problem

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question – 
You said yesterday, that a non-engineer can be a manager to an engineer.  How could that work?  I remember you said that one purpose for a manager, is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member.  How can a non-engineer manager bring value to the decision making and problem solving of an engineer?

Response-
I will assume that an engineer can make decisions and solve problems that are clearly within their defined level of work, or they wouldn’t be in the role in the first place.  Further, I assume the engineer may need managerial support for tough problems and tough decisions.

Your question is, how can a non-engineer manager bring value to an engineer attempting to solve a tough engineering problem?

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions.

  • Describe the problem, what do you observe?
  • What are the possible causes of the problem?
  • Have we solved this problem before?
  • What are the alternative solutions?
  • Of those alternative solutions, which will most likely address the underlying cause of the problem?
  • How will you test the solution to determine if that will solve the problem?
  • If you test the solution and it doesn’t work, will it cause more damage?
  • How will you mitigate the damage so the problem doesn’t get worse?

A manager does not have to be an engineer to ask these questions.  Would these questions have been of value in the roll-out of a complicated website?

 

Caught Off-Guard, by Simplicity

Marcus was already in the conference room when I arrived. He had some papers spread on the table. I could tell by the look on his face he already had the answer. We were drilling down on an installation project that was under water.

“I knew when you asked for the production reports,” he started, “that we would find the problem within 30 seconds.”

“And?” I queried.

“You don’t even have to read the reports. The first three weeks, things are very repetitive. So repetitive that, starting in the fourth week, you can tell someone just photocopied the reports from the week before. The only change is the date at the top of the page. Then starting in week six, the reports stop.”

“And what does that tell you?”

“Well,” Marcus grimaced, “the quality of these reports follows exactly the real production curve in the field. We were meeting targets for the first three weeks. Things began to slide in week four and by week six, things went to hell in a hand basket.

“This is a very repetitive job, and it is very apparent that the weekly planning process just stopped. Everyone figured they would just keep working instead of stepping back to check progress and adjust. It seemed so simple, they lost the discipline of planning.

“The managers probably saved three hours per week in planning and checking, but lost more than 180 man hours in productivity. And they didn’t even know it until it was too late.”

“What’s the lesson?” I asked.

“Don’t relax by the appearance of simplicity. You still have to plan and check. In this case, the payoff would have been three hours to save 180 hours.”

Hiring Talent – Print Version Now Available

Hiring Talent

Based on my classroom course and based on my online program, Hiring Talent is now available in softcover and for download in the Kindle store. This pre-release softcover edition is available NOW from the CreateSpace store. Will populate to Amazon early next week.

This is the only book on hiring that blends the research on levels of work with the discipline of behavioral interviewing. Every role has a level of decision making, a level of problem solving. That level of work is measurable. The research on levels of work, pioneered by the late Dr. Elliott Jaques, is powerful science. The discipline of behavioral interviewing is the most effective method for its application. This is the only book that puts these two ideas together in a practical framework for managers faced with the hiring decision.

Who Creates the Talent Pool?

“In the midst of everything I have to do, with all of my management issues and motivation issues, you expect me to read resumes,” Byron was putting his foot down. “I am a Vice-President in this company. I have other people that read resumes for me.”

I did not respond, just raised an eyebrow. I could see the exasperation on Byron’s face.

“So, just exactly what do I do?” asked Byron. “I mean, I know what to do when I need to hire a manager on my team, but to hire a supervisor on one of my manager’s teams?”

“You won’t make the final selection, but I do hold you accountable for driving this process. Logistically, here is what it looks like. Your division has an opening two strata below you. As the manager-once-removed, it is your accountability to create the talent pool from which the hiring manager will select. Creating the talent pool means that you drive this process. Every morning, when you are fresh, I expect you to come in and spend a half hour to forty five minutes reviewing resumes. That’s every day, whether you have an opening in your division, or not. I expect that each day, you will find two or three resumes that you will find interesting. I expect you to make two or three screening phone calls every day. Once or twice a week, I expect you will actually run across a candidate. If you find only one per week, that is fifty people per year that you might bring in to interview for a supervisor level position.”

“But we have never had fifty people that qualified,” Byron continued to push back.

“Is that the truth, or is that something you believe to be true?”
_________
Hiring Talent, the print version, will be available from Amazon within the week, so we have a new cover. This link is for the Kindle version, available now.
Hiring Talent