Keep Them or Transition Them Out

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In an attempt to retain their highest producers, a call center instituted an incentive plan that highly favored a group of seven. These “Magnificent Seven,” as the partners called them, did produce a high percentage of the revenues. But they were also highly dysfunctional as a group as each one was high maintenance with lots of personal baggage in his/her own right. While the reward system worked to retain these seven, the churn rate for the remaining 23 seats was over 400%. In effect, the incentives to retain seven people came at the expense of morale, work environment, job satisfaction and even the bottom line. The cost of continuously replacing the 23 employees far exceeded the benefit of retaining the seven. Your thoughts?

So, if I was a direct manager and needed high volume sales for only the next three months, I would go the M-7 every time. But, that is not the way most organizations work. Most organizations need sustained revenue over years and decades. Most organizations need a sustainable system of sales which contemplates sales methodology, recruiting, orientation, portfolio growth, levels of work, promotion and retirement. This goes back to time span.

Three months time span – Magnificent Seven
Ten year time span – Not the Magnificent Seven

What to Delegate, What to Self-Perform?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Here is what I have noticed about levels of work. When a leader works at a lower (incorrect) level, he/she actually destroys value in the people on the team. The team becomes frustrated and honestly sometimes, lazy, because the boss will come in and do the work anyway.

Most managers have difficulty delegating because they don’t understand the level of work in the task. Identifying level of work tells the manager specifically what tasks can effectively be delegated and what tasks must be self-performed. In the delegation, level of work tells the manager what decisions, authority and accountability can reasonably be expected. This understanding allows managers to engage in higher levels of system design, planning and problem prevention.

As a Candidate, How Would I Interview My Manager?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

As most of the world does not understand levels of work, in an interview process how can a candidate ensure that he/she doesn’t end up working for someone operating/thinking at the same or a lower stratum than themselves. Are there some questions or items for a candidate to look for during the interview process to assess the requisite level of the prospective manager and even peers?


Employment and job satisfaction live on a two-way street. Both the employer and the candidate have a very important decision to make, a decision that has long term consequences, for better or worse. As I thought about my response, it occurred to me how important these issues are to the work experience of every employed person.

Here are my guideposts for managerial roles, which establish the basis for the questions I would ask, as a candidate.

  • Stratum IV – Integration of multiple systems and sub-systems.
  • Stratum III – Creation, monitoring and improvement of a single serial system.
  • Stratum II – Implementation and coordination of resources inside a system, specifically people, equipment and materials related to output.
  • Stratum I – Production work (non-managerial).

S-I – Production
If I were applying for a production role, I would want to speak with my hiring manager about these questions.

  • Briefly describe for me, my work instructions related to each process? (Here, I am not looking for a training program, I am looking for one or two sentences that are clear.)
  • Briefly describe to me what elements have to be coordinated for me to effectively complete my assigned tasks?
  • Briefly describe how you, as my manager, go about making sure all production elements are coordinated? (Here I am looking for a description of checklists and schedules.)
  • Briefly describe what changes occur during the working week that impact the production schedule, that may change my production during that week? (Here, I am looking to see how my manager responds to things that change, because things change.)
  • How long have you been in this role?

S-II – Implementation and coordination
If I were applying for a supervisory role, to make sure production gets done, I would want to speak with my hiring manager about these questions.

  • Briefly describe to me, the work flow system that I will be implementing? What are its steps? Can you draw me a diagram?
  • Briefly describe changes that have been made to the work flow system and why?
  • What production problems have been systematically prevented by the current work flow system?
  • How long have you been in this role?

S-III – Single serial system manager
If I were applying for a managerial role, to create, monitor and improve a single serial system, I would want to speak with my hiring manager about these questions.

  • Briefly describe to me, how my system interacts with other systems (departments) in the organization?
  • Briefly describe how the organization optimizes throughput, what meetings happen, what handoff transitions exist, QC stage-gates and other feedback systems?
  • What imbalances have occurred between systems and how did the organization respond to optimize the imbalance?
  • How long have you been in this role?

As a candidate, these issues, at each level of work, will predict my future job satisfaction. They will impact a positive or negative relationship with my manager. These are predictors of competence. These are elements of a competent organization.

How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of a Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

First of all thank you for your help with understanding Elliott Jaques methodology. I am interested in applying it in one of the banks where I’m working currently.

Could you please advise a practical tool of installing a simple and reliable system of performance appraisal based upon the principle that it is the direct manager who is accountable for the results of his/her subordinates?

There is a good example in Social Power & the CEO of how to arrange personal effectiveness evaluation system of rank and file staff. However it does not say anything about how to evaluate managers.

The distinguishing factor between most performance appraisals and Jaques personal effectiveness appraisal is that it requires the manager to use judgement in considering all the factors surrounding a team member’s effectiveness. This requires the manager to look at ALL the variables surrounding output, only one of which is the team member’s performance.

Jaques uses the example of concrete pouring. In some companies, a performance appraisal considers only the output, how many yards of concrete were poured during an 8-hour shift. Irrespective of how direct labor shows up to work on time, uses their best effort to locate the truck properly and guide the concrete into the forms, the actual output may have more to do with the moisture content of the mix in the truck. Sometimes, travel time between the mixing plant and the pour site delivers a HOT batch, where the chemical setting up is already occurring before the truck even arrives at the site. Or the moisture content of the sand/rock mix may be too high and creates a slurry mix. All of these variables will have an impact on output in spite of the best efforts of the pouring crew.

A personal effectiveness appraisal requires the manager to take all those factors into account when asking the simple questions – Is the team member as effective as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half? And in that half, top, middle or bottom?

Now, how to translate that to managerial roles? It’s the same.

The problem with managerial roles, is that we seldom define the work. What is the WORK of a manager?

Most managers receive no guidance related to the WORK of a manager. That is why the role description is so critical. But, most role descriptions are poorly organized, a list of non-sequitur tasks that provide no guidance to priority or objective.

An effective role description takes that list and groups the tasks that go together and separates the tasks that don’t go together. The tasks are now grouped into key areas (Key Result Areas – KRAs). The effective role description now clearly defines the output (goal, objective, accountability) in each KRA. The process is no different for a managerial role, but the KRAs are different and include a different level of work. Here are some typical managerial KRAs found in most managerial roles.

  • Team selection
  • Production system
  • Team training
  • Output planning
  • Quality control
  • Resource coordination (equipment, materials, tools)
  • Capital equipment budgets
  • Workforce planning

An effective role description will describe the required tasks/activities and state the accountability (output, goal, objective).

With this role description, in each KRA –
Is the manager as effective as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half? And in that half, top, middle or bottom?

If you would like to receive by email, a template that organizes this review, just Ask Tom. A detailed discussion of KRAs in the role description can be found in Hiring Talent.

Should HR Be Involved in Terminations

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Is it common practice for HR to be directly involved in the termination of an employee?

This question speaks to the larger role for HR in any organization. And, while some things may be common practice, common practice may often create problems.

It is an excellent idea to include HR in all processes related to de-selection and termination. There are several compliance issues related to continuance of health insurance, severance conditions and eligibility for unemployment compensation. Often these issues require specific documents and sequence that I do NOT expect managers to be expert on. Managers need to have a sound understanding, but I do not expect them to be expert.

I do not expect HR to be the “hatchet.” In the same way that managers are accountable for selection, they are also accountable for de-selection and termination.

In ALL cases, managers should be actively coached by their manager on all things related to the team. That active coaching is NOT an event, but a constant, scheduled conversation about workforce requirements, utilization, team capacity and individual capability within the team.

In the instance of termination, my rule is “two sets of eyes.” The manager and the manager-once-removed must agree on termination. A third set of eyes, from HR, is always a good idea to make sure the process is conducted within established guidelines.

Difference Between S-II and S-III Problem Solving

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

The manager understands he is accountable. The result he achieves on a key metric is well below the expectation which he or she clearly understood. They have achieved success before on this same metric but are now way off acceptable performance. What now?

Indeed, what now? Embedded in your question are stratum II descriptions of problem solving.

  • Solve problems based on experience.
  • Solve problems based on documented experience.
  • Solve problems based on best practices.
  • Solve problems according to standard operating procedures.

All of these methods have delivered output according to the metric before. They achieved success before on this same metric, but now, are way off acceptable performance. What now?

They now face a problem they have not faced before and their stratum II problem solving methods fail them. Understand this team can solve all the routine problems, but now faced with this problem, they struggle, even the supervisor. This is where the stratum III manager must step in. This problem requires a stratum III solution.

  • Solve problems through root cause analysis.
  • Solve problems through A-B testing.
  • Solve problems through comparative analysis.
  • Solve problems through what-if?

Solving problems with these methods requires a higher level of capability on the part of the manager. And that’s what a manager is for, to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team.

Team members can solve the routine problems and make the routine decisions, it’s when they struggle, they need the active support and coaching from their manager. This is the critical nature of managerial accountability and the building block of organizational structure.

Whose Goal?

“What changed?” I asked.

“I told the team that if they failed to reach the goal, I am the one accountable. I told them that I would no longer yell at them if we didn’t meet the output target,” Glen explained.

“You are not going to yell? What are you, getting soft on me, turning into a nice guy?”

“This has nothing to do with being nice. This has everything to do with accountability. I realized that, as the manager, I control all the resources. I can modify the method of work, I can make adjustments to deal with unforeseen circumstances, I can add team members, I can authorize overtime, I can reassign some of the work to someone else, I can call the client and re-negotiate a partial delivery. As the manager, I control resources. It’s me. I am the one accountable for the output of the team. It’s my goal.”

“And, how did your team respond?”

“Amazing. They said they would help me.”

Hiring Decision is Clouded by Urgency

“But, it’s my decision,” Janice tried to explain. “How can you hold my manager accountable for my decision?”

“Who is your coach?” I asked.

Janice stopped cold. Her eyes briefly closed, fluttered. “My manager is my coach,” she replied.

“Prior to your last hire, did you write a role description?” I prompted.

“Well, I used one from HR. It’s an old one, but that was all they had.”

“And, what was your hiring criteria?”

“Well, I was a bit desperate, so I really needed someone who could start immediately,” Janice replied.

“And your coach, what was his hiring criteria?”

“Funny, after it was all over, he said he never would have hired the person I picked. He said the candidate wasn’t strong enough. He said I should have held up a higher standard for the position. Not to be so quick to make a decision.”

“And that’s why I hold your manager accountable for the quality of your decision. He is your coach. He sets the context for your decision. He is the quarterback for this hire. He knows what is really required for success in the role. You are concerned about production. He is concerned about building a stronger team.”

What’s Your Point?
Hiring managers are almost always under the gun to make a quick hire. There is a missing person on the team and the hiring manager is covering the work. Decision making is clouded by urgency. The hiring manager’s manager (the MOR) has clearer perspective on what is really required for success in the role. It is critical for the MOR to step up and be an active coach.

Managerial Acccountability Up the Food Chain

“I understand, that, as a manager, I am accountable for the output of my team,” Janice was trying to make sense of who is accountable. “But my manager isn’t accountable for my output, is he? I thought it was only about our production teams.”

“As a manager, you are accountable for the output of your production team. You are accountable for their work output. Why shouldn’t your manager be accountable for your work output?” I asked.

“But, I don’t do production work, at least, not anymore,” she defended.

“Work is making decisions and solving problems. When your production team has a difficult decision to make or a difficult problem to solve, don’t you jump in and help them through?”

“Yes, because I am accountable for the team’s output. If I don’t help them make the right decision, I am on the hook for the consequence.”

“And you have told me that you are struggling, when it comes to hiring. You have a difficult decision to make. That’s work. What is the output of your decision making?” I prompted.

“It’s either going to be a good hire or a bad hire,” Janice relented.

“And why shouldn’t I hold your manager accountable for the quality of your decision?”

What’s Your Point?

Accountability is not just about production. Managerial accountability goes all they way up the food chain.

  • Supervisors (S-II) are accountable for the output of production.
  • Managers (S-III) are accountable for the output of supervisors (S-II).
  • Executive managers (S-IV) are accountable for the output of managers (S-III).
  • Business unit presidents (S-V) are accountable for the output of their executive managers (S-IV).

So, Easily Turned Away

“There must be a trick to hiring,” Janice announced. “My manager always seems to find good people.”

“You feel your manager is better at hiring than you are?” I wanted to know.

“Better track record. He only hires one or two people a year, and they seem to stick. They are really smart, know how to do the job from the first day, they are confident, in control. How does he find these people?” she grimaced. “I’ve tried, I know how hard it is.”

“Have you ever asked him?”

“Yes,” Janice explained. “He just grins, says I will catch on, and then leaves me to twist in the wind.”

“Oh, really?”

“Once, just once, I wish he would take the time to help me. He just says, your team, your responsibility. But, he sees my struggle. He sees the turnover on my team.”

“So, you are so easily turned away?” I challenged.

“What?” Janice leaned back.

“You know, as a manager, that you are accountable for the output of your team. The same holds true for your manager. He is accountable for your output.”

What’s Your Point
When we understand that it is the manager accountable for the output of the team, everything changes. Janice’s manager is accountable for the quality of Janice’s decision, yet Janice is so easily turned away. This is a two way street. Janice needs help (we all need help and coaching makes us better) and she should actively seek that coaching from her manager.

“I need help. Here is the decision I am struggling with, and here are my two alternatives.” Powerful words.