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

How to Cripple a Team

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
Faced with a problem to solve, my team never really comes up with anything. Sometimes it seems they just want me to tell them what to do so they don’t have to think. We are really busy, so most times, I give in, tell them the answer and get them back to work. But, at the end of the day, I am exhausted.

Response:
Of course they want you to tell them what to do. If you tell them what to do, then they are not responsible for the solution. Every time you solve a problem that the team should solve, you cripple the team from solving the next problem.

It’s a tough assignment for you to turn down. You get all the glory, you get to strut, you get to be the head Fred, you get to be the go-to guy when there is a problem to solve. It feels good AND it destroys your team.

Most of all, your team likes it that way. They are relieved of the difficult decisions.

This is not just a method called team problem solving, this is a mind-set on the part of the manager. If you want to build a team, give them a problem to solve. As the manager, you may have to help define the problem, facilitate alternate solutions and ask questions related to the best solution, but let the silence do the heavy lifting.

I can always tell a team is stuck when they fail to solve the same problem they had a year ago. I can always tell a team is growing when they trade in the problems from a year ago (now solved) for a new set of problems for tomorrow. -Tom

Anything That Can Go Wrong

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am still struggling with the concept of time span. You say that time span indicates complexity. How?

Response:
Don’t overthink this fundamental concept. Life is about uncertainty. It is like the weather and the stock market. There is always uncertainty.

Combine this level of uncertainty with our intentions (goal directed behavior) and you observe the consternation of the ages. This is not a matter of going with the flow, but trying to get something done, achieve a goal, create an accomplishment. Elliott describes this as the “time span of intention.”

In spite of our best intentions, the longer it takes to achieve the goal, the more time life has to be unpredictable. The shorter time it takes to achieve the goal, the less time life has to happen, the less opportunity for some circumstance to come in sideways and blow everything up.

Time span is about contingencies. Time span becomes a calibration tool that allows us to precisely measure the impact of uncertainty in our best laid plans.

Step back and remember Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. How long do we give Murphy to play?

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

When Times are Good

“You look comfortable,” I said.

“Things are going really well,” Jordan replied. “The market is good, new customer count is up, year over year revenues are positive. Yes, things are comfortable.”

“I noticed your accounts receivable ratio to new sales is above your threshold limit. And, that you rented a new warehouse to store some slow-moving inventory. Your revenue-per-employee head count is way down over the past six months. What gives?”

“Hey, when times are good, those things happen. More revenue, more accounts receivable. We set the ratio threshold during the last recession when things were tight, so it’s no big deal. And, yes, we rented another warehouse to give us more capacity. The new warehouse gives us a buffer so if we get a spike in sales, we can cover without having to increase production. But, you are right. I am a little troubled by our revenue-per-employee. It just seems it takes more people these days, and wages are increasing so our revenue-per-payroll dollar is even worse.”

“Jordan, when things are tight, we pay attention, we measure, we make moves. We don’t make our biggest mistakes when times are tough. We make our biggest mistakes when times are good. A little success can create a whole lot of overhead.*” -Tom
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*Homage to Red Scott.

Reactive vs Proactive Sales Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We have 15 sales managers and 100 sales reps. We’ve taken top performing sales reps and made them managers. Now as managers they are finding it hard to find time to manage the behaviors of their rep team members. They don’t argue that the more time they spend directing their reps the more productive the reps become. But these dedicated managers are spending nights and weekends catching up with directing (through our CRM) the actions of the reps. The managers are still our best closers. No one on the team is better. How do I coach the manager?

Response:
As the sales manager (of reps), what do you want me to do? What is the level of work?

If your dedicated managers are spending nights and weekends directing their reps, what do they do in the daytime? This description is classic S-II behavior. It appears there is no system, no systematic coaching, no systematic sales planning. It appears things are ad-hoc, reactive and improvised. It is possible to be effective with this strategy, but at what cost? You will burn out your sales managers and begin to experience turnover.

This ad-hoc behavior is your fault. You have not created an effective system (S-III) for your sales managers to work in. Your coaching with your sales managers needs to focus on sales planning, pipeline evaluation and rep evaluation. What are the proactive moves (rather than reactive moves)?

As long as your sales managers remain reactive, your company will experience no better sales performance than it has in the past. Only when you create a system approach to your market, will you experience deeper penetration. And, your system should be operated as a day job, not nights and weekends.
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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?

Embedding Culture as a Key Result Area

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area (KRA). What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

  1. What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  2. How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  3. How is culture tested?
  4. How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

What is the source of culture, where does it start?
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

How is culture visible, how do we see it?
Culture, the way we see the world, drives our behavior. We cannot see our bias. We cannot see our interpretation. We cannot see the story we carry in our minds, but, we can see our behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

How is culture tested?
Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Where there is congruence between behavioral intentions and the test of consequences, intentions (the way we see the world) moves forward. Where there is a disconnect between behavioral intentions and the test of consequences, intentional culture stops DEAD.

How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?
Those behaviors that survive the test of consequences become institutionalized, for better or worse. Positive behaviors that survive the test against reality can become the customs and rituals that reinforce the way we see the world. Alternatively, counterproductive behaviors that survive can be institutionalized in the underground of our organization and will prevail, more powerful than our official rules and enforcement.

You get to decide. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area of Company Culture?

Key Areas for a Project Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was in your workshop last week. When you look at qualified candidates for a role, you say “It’s all about the work.” We are looking at a project management role. What do you consider the three most important parts of project management?

Response:
Project Management is a classic Strata II role. From a macro level, it involves the coordination of people, materials, equipment and project sequence. Three core Key Result Areas (KRAs) drive the project forward.

  1. Project Planning (creating a comprehensive project plan including milestones and accountabilities).
  2. Task Checklist (documenting and tracking all the details for completion and quality).
  3. Project Schedule (creating and monitoring the project schedule, prioritizing and sequencing time frames associated with changing elements of a project).

The value adds for Project Management are project control, accuracy to project specifications, timeliness and completeness.

Other KRAs would include –

  • Pre-con Hand-off Meeting (critical meeting where pre-construction hands the project over to project management).
  • Punch List (audit of the project checklist, when everyone else thinks the project is complete).
  • Buy Out (assembling the list of material suppliers and subcontractors, with competitive cost information).
  • Customer Relations (creating the necessary customer relationship that addresses project discrepancies, project change orders and avoids litigation)

All of these would make the basis for a comprehensive role description for your Project Manager. -Tom