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

How to Interview for Interest and Passion

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was in your Time Span workshop where you spoke about the 4 Absolutes required for success.

  1. Capability (time span)
  2. Skill (technical knowledge, practiced behavior)
  3. Interest, passion (value for the work)
  4. Required behaviors (contracted, habits, culture)

I think I have always known about #3, interest, passion (value) for the work. It speaks to a candidates attitude about the work. In some cases, that is more important than skill (which, over time, I can teach anyway). But, here is my struggle. How do you interview for interest or passion for the work.

Response:
This is a dilemma faced by most hiring managers. Intuitively, you know how important this is, but you struggle on how to collect data related to interest and passion. The reason is – you can’t.

Interest and passion lives inside a person’s head and you know my warning – Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stay out of people’s heads.

But, as a manager, you are an expert at observing behavior. Translate the attitude into behavior with this magic question – How does a person with interest or passion for this work behave? Then interview for those behaviors. I also look for related attitudes like pride, importance and challenge?

  • Tell me about a project you are most proud of?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Who was on your project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What were the characteristics of the project that made you proud of your accomplishment?
  • Tell me about a project that was important to your professional growth?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Who was on your project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What were the characteristics of the project that made this important to your professional growth?
  • Tell me about a project that you found professionally challenging?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Who was on your project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What were the characteristics of the project that made it professionally challenging?

All of these responses will give you behavioral clues to interest and passion for the work. -Tom

The magic question is courtesy of Barry Shamis, my hero in the behavioral interview.

How to Bring Value to Decision Making

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted to a new role in my company, as an S-III manager. Every working relationship is now different. All these years, I avoided my manager because the only feedback I got was criticism, my task assignments seemed like barked orders. The less we talked, the better we got along, at least from my perspective.

As time went by, my manager moved on and I was tapped to take his place. So, now, I have a new manager. In your workshop, you said it is the role of every manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of each team member. While this is certainly advice for me as I work with my new team, I am more curious how I might kickstart things with my new manager. I refuse to stand by the same dysfunction I had with my old manager. How can I get the most out of the working relationship with my new manager?

Response:
First, congratulations on your promotion. I can see from your question why your company selected you. I assume your new manager is in a role at S-IV.

  • Clarify expectations
  • Organize expectations
  • Define the output
  • Schedule a recurring meeting
  • Set the agenda
  • Don’t skip the meeting

Clarify expectations
The central document to clarify expectations is a role description. The tendency is to assume understanding without a written agreement. Write it down.

Organize expectations
In your new role, you will be accountable for a range of outputs. An S-III role is a big role. You will have a long list of tasks and activities. Some of the things you do will go together, but some things will be separate and distinct from the other tasks and activities. All are important, none can be overlooked. Find the things that go together and collect them (in the role description) into a Key Area, a Key Result Area (KRA). Go back to your list and find the next things that go together, separate and distinct from the other tasks and activities. Collect them (in the role description) into another KRA. By the time you finish this exercise, you should have defined approximately 6-8 KRAs.

Define the output
In each KRA, based on the tasks and activities, define the output. What is the accountability in each KRA? Each Key Area must have at least one, no more than three defined outputs.

Schedule a recurring meeting
Schedule a recurring meeting with your manager, two hours, once per month. This meeting is just the two of you, 1-1. This is not a casual meeting, but a formal meeting with a start time and an end time. You set the agenda.

Set the agenda
Your agenda will follow the Key Result Areas (KRAs) you defined. Your role description will give you a general idea of the tasks and activities, as well as the defined output in each KRA. Your agenda will identify the specific actions and short term goals for the next thirty days. In the meeting, as you describe your intentions to your manager, you will make notes and commitments.

Don’t skip the meeting

There will always be something that seems more important at the appointed time of your meeting, but it’s not. The event that gets in the way of your meeting will be more urgent, but never more important.

This is the meeting where your manager will bring value to your decision making and problem solving. -Tom

Biggest Variable in Workforce Planning

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

“This company is pretty stable in what it does,” Melanie replied. “We may replace a machine or our volume might go up or down. But what is really volatile, 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. “The biggest change is always the people. And even if the people don’t change, the people change. It’s still the same people, but, 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.

“It’s not just the people that change,” I smiled. “It’s the relationships. Organizational structure is the working relationships between our team members.”

“So, as a manager, I have to see the way things are now, and think about the impact a year from now?”

“Yes,” I nodded. -Tom

If We Had Only Known

“But, how could I possibly know, a year in the future, what my team members will do?” Melanie asked. “I don’t even know what I am going to do a year from now.”

“That’s an interesting question,” I replied. “What questions could you ask? Think about the two supervisors you just lost, who graduated from night school. What questions could you have asked?”

“Well, I could have asked them if they were going to night school.”

I smiled. “You already told me you knew they were going to night school, so somehow you managed to ask that question. Think deeper. Think further into the future.”

Melanie’s mind began to crank. “I could have asked them what they were studying. I could have asked why that interested them. What they hoped would happen as a result of going to school.”

“And if you had known the answers to those questions?” I prompted.

“I guess I would have found out if what they wanted was something they could find here, in our company.”

“But you didn’t get that chance, did you?” -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

The Myth of Results Based Performance

From the Ask Tom mailbag –
In reference to Judging Effectiveness

Question:
Lets assume in a given role, the Key Result Areas (KRAs) have been defined. The person is producing the target results in these areas, then, I would say they are capable … what am i missing?

Response:
If I ask a hundred managers if they believe in results-based-performance, they would all raise their hands. They would be wrong. Results are only part of the story.

Effectiveness is NOT a “matter of counting outputs, super credits for super outputs, or penalties for lateness or sub-standard quality.” (Elliott Jaques)

If a salesperson has a target sales quota of 100 units, and brings home an order for 110 units, do we say that salesperson was 110 percent effective? Could it have been that the company has a stellar reputation in the market, on-time delivery through logistics, impeccable customer service (resolved a service problem for that same customer two weeks ago)? Could it be the design of a rebate that put the account into a new discount tier?

Effectiveness is not a matter of counting outputs. Effectiveness is a managerial judgement that takes into account all of the circumstances around the team member’s behavior. Blinders looking only at measured output may lead the manager astray. Output is a clue, but only a clue. The only measure of performance is performance. (Lee Thayer)

Judging Effectiveness

Question:
You often talk about effectiveness. In our company, we measure results. How do you measure effectiveness?

Response:
Effectiveness is a matter of judgment. Effectiveness is a matter of managerial judgment. How well does the team member perform in the achievement of the desired goal? Given all the ins and outs, the difficulties faced, the unanticipated, unplanned monkey wrenches that get in the way, how well does the team member perform?

This is a matter of managerial judgment.

Two assumptions:
1. Any task (or role) requires a certain capability.
2. The person assigned to the task or role has the appropriate capability.

The judgment is whether the person is committing full capability to the task (or role).

This is NOT a “matter of counting outputs, super credits for super outputs, or penalties for lateness or sub-standard quality.” * This is about bringing full capability to the completion of the task.

It is the job of the manager to observe and account for all the surrounding circumstances and make this most important judgment. And it is precisely this judgment that most managers avoid.

*Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization, 1989.

How to Test Capability at S-IV

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

Your post last week helped to explain our dilemma in transitioning an (S-III) Inventory Manager to an (S-IV) VP-Inventory Control role. You said we should have tested him with a project prior to promoting him. Maybe it’s not too late. I know we already promoted him, but could we give him a project as a training tool to introduce him to this new level of work.

Response:

Yes, not a bad idea. This project will give his manager an indicator of how your Inventory Manager is making this transition. The biggest difference in this transition is a subtle shift from a single system internal focus to a multi-system external focus.

  • S-III – System (creates the system, monitors the system and improves the system)
  • S-IV – Integration of multiple systems and sub-systems (attention to dependent systems, interdependent systems, contingent systems and bottlenecks)

So, here are the elements to embed in the project.

  • The project has to be real. No contrived projects as a test. If you want to build a leader, it has to be a real project.
  • Your new VP-Inventory Control needs to be the project leader, under the coaching of his manager. The VP-Inventory Control’s manager is likely to be the CEO (S-V).
  • The members of the project team need to be interdisciplinary, from functions outside of the authority of Inventory Management. As the project leader, your VP-Inventory Control will have to gain willing cooperation from the team, not as a manager, but in a cross-functional role as project leader (prescriber authority). He will have to negotiate with each project team member’s manager for their participation.
  • To be effective, the VP-Inventory Control will have to understand how separate systems impact each other.

Here are the learning objectives of the project (how to evaluate).

  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control understand the systems outside of inventory control? How does he seek to understand those systems? How does he speak with others and ask questions outside of inventory control?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control select people to be on the project team? How does he staff the project team? How does he anticipate the input he will need from others outside his own area of expertise?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control state the mission of the project, gain willing cooperation from others where he is NOT their manager?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control negotiate with peers in the organization to use their resources to accomplish project goals?

It might have been helpful to engage in this type of project prior to the promotion. But, this project can still be helpful to the new VP’s manager (likely, the CEO).

A Short List of Gratitude

This week, the US celebrates the holiday of Thanksgiving. The holiday commemorates a meal of the harvest. Its origin may have been a meal in 1565 in St. Augustine Florida, or another in 1621, Plymouth Plantation. It is a time when families and friends come together to celebrate and give thanks for the world we live in.

I want to thank my readers. This blog started twelve years ago, 2,256 posts. Just a reminder of the awesome responsibility we have, as CEOs, as managers, to move people, to challenge people, to provide a place of work for each team member to realize their fullest potential. This responsibility is a gift. I am grateful.

Management Blog will return next Monday, November 28, 2016. Have a great Thanksgiving. -Tom Foster