We lost an icon in management thinking. Some of us had the honor to meet Jerry, some of us only read his books. It was Jerry’s connection with Elliott Jaques that made a major impact on my life and studies over the past 15 years. We will miss his wit and humor, his perspective on the world.
“But he has been doing a terrible job, as a Manager,” Cheryl observed.
“So, do you want him out of the company? Should he be gone?” I asked.
Cheryl shook her head. “No, Harold has too much knowledge, he knows everything about everything, he is just in the wrong position for our company. What he is doing now, works against us. But he could be so valuable in a different role.”
“Right now, you have Harold in the role as a Senior Manager, which you say is the wrong place for him. But you don’t want to fire him, just reassign him. How do you think that will work, in Harold’s eyes?”
“He’s not going to like it,” Cheryl replied, still shaking her head. “He might quit and we really do need his technical knowledge. I am afraid he is going to be embarrassed in front of his peers, in front of his direct reports. This move is going to be very touch and go.”
“So, what is the one thing you have to do, to make this move successful?” I pressed.
“Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
I was recently hired in to a new organization as a manager. It is evident that one of my team members was passed over for the role. He has been here for ten years and contributes well in his current role, but I can see why he was passed over. Unfortunately, the rest of the team doesn’t see it that way and I am getting stone-walled. He is also well-liked by a couple of board members, so I am getting squeezed on both sides.
As I look at the staff, there is complacency, some have been coasting for years. The company invested in some new software a year ago and still no one is using it. It’s the software we used at my old company, so I know it works well. That’s why I was hired.
The team’s behavior is passive-aggressive. I get agreement in meetings and excuses on the back end.
- Just too busy this week.
- Not sure how the software works.
- Our old system is better.
- Easier to do it the old way.
At the end of the day, I will be held accountable if we can’t get this new software integrated into our routine. The water-cooler talk is malicious. I don’t have a single friend in the bunch.
Someone made a decision to hire you. And my guess is, unless you make some progress, that same someone will also fire you. But, for now, they are in your corner. That is where I am going to hang my hat.
You are the manager of the team, but you also have a manager. Your manager is your coach. Schedule regular meetings and play this straight. You have a job to do and you need solid counsel. But, do NOT go in empty-handed.
You are new, and in the beginning, you should be in high data gathering and diagnosis mode. You have been given an objective, get the new software going and people using it. What’s your plan? How long will it take? Is the software installed and configured? Is there training available or are you on your own with help files and manuals? What are your short term milestones, medium term milestones and long term milestones? This is stuff for you to review with your coach.
You have been given a team. What is your assessment of your team? You have talked to them and worked beside them for a couple of weeks. What are your observations about their capabilities, skill levels, interest and value for the work? This is stuff to review with your coach.
You need some small wins, and they might have nothing to do with the software. You need to get to know your team. What attracted them to the company? How long have they been there? Best part of their job? What gives them juice? What challenges them? Gather data. Your team will tell you how they work best together. When was the last time the team faced a real challenge? How did they approach it? What problems did they have to solve? What decisions did they have to make? I know you feel like this software is your project, but it is really the team’s project. This is more stuff for you to review with your coach.
Then work your plan. My guess is that no one has taken this team to a new place in quite a while. This can be a challenging journey or the team can stiff-arm you until you quit.
“Look at this,” Phil exclaimed. “We just had the training on this last week. And I just pulled samples from the prototypes. Thank goodness this isn’t a production run. I ought to fire the whole lot of them.”
I winced. “Yes, I guess you could fire them, all eight of them. But then you would have to run the line yourself. I don’t know if you could keep up.”
“You know what I mean. I’m not going to fire anybody. I’m just frustrated. Maybe it’s our training department. Maybe we need to look at the training program.”
“Perhaps,” I said. “You know, when people acquire a skill, I mean really acquire a skill, it takes more than a training program.” Phil looked at me, like I was from Mars.
“When you were a kid, did you ever learn how to throw a ball?” I continued. Phil nodded. “So, someone showed you how to throw, and you threw one ball and then you were an expert?”
Phil laughed. He suddenly knew where I was going with this. “Of course not. I had to throw a hundred balls. I had to practice. My mom was my coach.”
“So, what do you think is missing from your training program?”
Phil’s eyes narrowed. His head began to nod. “Practice and coaching.” And with that, he scooped up the samples, turned on a dime and headed for the production floor.
“So, you were surprised that you didn’t get fired?” I asked. Kim and I were talking about her near disaster with a forklift.
“I was certain I would get fired. It was a boneheaded move on my part. But my manager used it as leverage. He knew he had my undivided attention over the forklift. He also knew that I was motivated to make things right. So he got someone (me) to run the safety program, where it benefited the most.” Kim replied.
“How did that bring value to your thinking and your work?”
“Well, he could have fired me, he could have yelled at me. He could have embarrassed me in front of the team. He could have called me out to his boss. He could have suspended me. But what he did was to make me think.
“He had me motivated to sit down and learn more about how serious this safety stuff really is. It was one of the most important lessons in leadership that I ever learned.”
A good bit of the morning had passed when I met Kim in the coffee room.
“Okay, I came up with a list,” she said. “It’s not a long list, but I was able to think about some specific things that were helpful to me when I was a supervisor. It’s funny. At the time, I didn’t realize how helpful it was, but now, I can see it clearly.”
“So, what’s the biggest thing on the list?”
“We were under some pressure to get a big order pulled for shipping. I was supervising the crew. Things were hectic. I commandeered a forklift that had been pulled out of service. One of the buckles on its safety harness was being repaired. I was thinking, how stupid, not to use a forklift for a few minutes just because it didn’t have a safety harness.
“Big mistake. I told one of my crew to use it anyway, just to move some product about ten feet over in the staging area. That part was okay, but when I wasn’t looking, the crew member took the forklift over and started moving other stuff. He figured it was okay to use the machine, since I said so. He was turning a corner and ran over something, his load shifted and he came right out of the machine.
“I was lucky. No one was hurt, nothing got damaged. In fact, everyone that was there, thought it was funny. Well, except for my manager. I thought I was going to get fired. It was a stupid thing I did.”
“So, what did your manager do?”
“He never yelled at me. I remember, he just came into my office that afternoon. He said one word, ‘Lucky!’ Then, he put some safety books on my desk, said he would be very interested to attend my safety meetings for the next three months.”
“So, tell me, how did that bring value to your thinking and your work?”
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
I was just promoted to the supervisory position on a crew I worked with for the past 2 years. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time gaining the trust and respect of my co-workers as well as other supervisors and managers. It seems to be difficult for some to grasp the fact that I have been entrusted with the responsibility for this team. It might be the fact that I have not had a great deal of time in the position, as of yet, so hopefully it may get better with time and my ability to be patient. But if there is any bit of advice and/or support that you may be able to provide, I am all ears.
It is always tough to become a new supervisor, to an existing peer group or a new group. A new supervisor always means change. And most people don’t like change, at least they don’t like the unknown parts of change.
Respect comes, not from the authority of the position, or the experience of the supervisor. Respect comes from bringing value to the work and thinking of the individuals on the team.
Team members always seek out the person in the company that brings value to their decision making and problem solving. If it happens to be their supervisor, that’s great. All too often, it’s not.
Think about it. We all work for two bosses. We work for the boss who is assigned to us, and we work for the boss we seek out. The boss we seek out is the one who brings value to our work, our thinking and our lives.
So, if you are the new supervisor, that’s the boss you need to be.
“Think about it this way,” Jean explained. “In an ideal world, with 400 resumes, we would conduct 400 interviews, but that’s just not practical.”
I nodded in agreement.
“So, we have to have some way, by looking at the resumes, to determine which of those would most likely yield the kind of candidate that ultimately brings something to the open role.”
“And, now,” I jumped in. “You look for something about the resume that would disqualify the candidate instead of something about the candidate that is actually interesting, related to the role? You are sorting OUT, not IN?”
“Exactly,” Jean replied. “The purpose for disqualifying resumes is only to reduce the workload of slogging through candidates. It does reduce the workload, but doesn’t necessarily leave us with a high quality candidate pool.”
“So, you think there is a better way of sorting resumes that creates a better pool?”
“Yes,” Jean replied. “Let’s say we want to reduce the resume pool from 400 down to 50. I could work to find 350 reasons why we would reject a resume, or I could work to find 50 reasons why I want to take a resume to the next step.”
“So, what criteria would you use to find those 50 reasons,” I pressed.
“For that, I have to go back to the role description. Remember, it’s all about the work.”
“So, what is the goal?” I asked. “What is the expected output?”
Marianna smiled, looked down at the paper in front of her. “Strategically improve current workflow resulting in improved success on projects in support of long-term company goals.”
I nodded. “Sounds great. But, I don’t know what that means.”
Marianna looked puzzled. “Well, that is what I expect from the manager in this role,” she replied.
“I know that’s what you expect, but I am still confused.” I stopped. “It is noble to improve workflow, but I don’t know what you expect to see. How are you going to evaluate effectiveness? What do you expect this person to do?”
“Well, we have work-cells that pass work along the line. Sometimes there are delays where things stack up. Sometimes, there are quality problems that are discovered at the end of the line, where we have to scrap a whole day’s production because of a small adjustment up the line. Sometimes, we run out of raw materials, so production stops. Sometimes, our work flow gets interrupted by a priority order that gets inserted at the last minute.”
“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You want the person in this role to chart out the workflow, identify problems related to workflow delays, interim quality inspections, raw material min-max levels and expedited orders. The accountability (work output) will be a one-page work flow chart showing work-cell to work-cell production hand-offs, identifying where delays occur, when interim quality inspections are performed, quantities of raw material inventory related to production, and contingency processes for expedited work orders.”
Marianna nodded her head in agreement.
“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I smiled.
“We had 400 resumes in response to our job posting,” Jean complained, “but when I look at those that made the cut, I am disappointed.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I looked at the reject stack. Here was one that was rejected for a spelling error, but the candidate had completed a special certificate program at a school in upstate Vermont. I know about that program. I want to talk to that candidate.”
“Rejected for a spelling error?”
“And here was one, rejected because of a three month gap in employment. But the candidate spent six months with a special ed program in a village in Africa. I want to talk to that candidate.”
“And?” I prompted.
“This candidate graduated from an unremarkable college, fresh out of school, with no work experience in our field, but managed to hold down a full-time job, a part-time job and take a full-course load in college. I want to talk to that candidate.”
“So, what passed the stage-gate?” I wanted to know.
“Here’s one. Perfect spelling, no gaps in job history, a reputable academic history, ten years experience in a retail perfume department. Only one small problem. We don’t sell perfume. How did that resume make it to the IN stack?”
“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.
“I think we are going about this all wrong. We look at resumes and find some flaw to disqualify the candidate. We look at resumes and sort OUT. I think we need to reverse the process. We need to determine the critical role requirements and then sort IN for those qualities.”