Having the Right Answer

Ernesto introduced himself to the class. “Hello, my name is Ernesto, and I have been in management for ten years. The biggest challenge with my team is making sure they do the job right. I have so much experience that I seldom make mistakes and I think that is why I was promoted. It’s important we don’t make mistakes because mistakes cost the company.”

Here’s the difficulty. How many ways does an expert have to solve a problem?

  • Instead of curious, the expert has the learned answer.
  • Instead of inquiring, the expert speaks with a solution.
  • Instead of exploring, the expert knows the right and only way.

Instead of being a curious child, we get good, we become learned, we become an expert. What are the predictable problems Ernesto has faced all of his managerial career?

It’s not so much to have the right answer, but to ask the right question. -Tom

Time Span of Intention

This week, I shared a planning document (you can download it below), with the headline, “What is your intention?”

Elliott closed his last book with this notion of intention, in a drawing he described as, the most important illustration of his book, the Axis of Intention.

Planning is simply the documentation of your intention.

We have two dimensions of time, the past and the future, separated by the nanosecond of the present. Events that occur are measurable by a stopwatch. The melting point (time to melt) of a metal at a given temperature is predictable, can be scientifically documented. It is known, concrete, tangible.

In life, the Axis of Achievement (the past) is overlaid by the Axis of Intention (the future). What is your intention? What is the time span of your intention?

I get pushback on planning.

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

We don’t have time to plan. Then what is the time span of your intention, that you don’t have time to consider your intention?
Actual results never meet the plan. Of course not, but actual results are shaped by the axis of your intention.
We might be held accountable for what we said. Accountability is output. Accountability is the reconciliation between these two dimensions of time –
The past, axis of achievement.
The future, axis of intention.

The linchpin is this understanding of time span. What is the time span of your intention? That is what will shape your world. -Tom

You can download the planning document here. 2017 Planning Template

Habits and Planning Effectiveness

Many of you asked to receive a copy of my planning template for this year. It is a simple template based on a gap analysis.

  • Where would you like to go?
  • Where are you now?
  • What’s the gap in between? (Resources, milestones and obstacles)

I am working with several people preparing their plans for management team meetings, peer executive groups and 1-1 meetings, so I get to see what people actually put to paper.

One element strikes me as critical, the role of habits.

It is one thing to work on each goal as a project, with a discrete start and finish, very results oriented. But the real power in your ability to create lasting impact over time is in the creation of a habit. A habit is a grooved, routine behavior, often below consciousness that continuously moves us toward the goal.

All behavior is goal oriented. We think we create our own success. We do not. We only create our own habits, and it is our habits that determine our success. -Tom

You should be able to download the planning template here. 2017 Planning Template

What Are Your Intentions? – 2017 Planning Guide

It’s 2017. What are your intentions?

Benefits to planning –

  • Gain agreement from stakeholders on what is necessary to be achieved.
  • Gain agreement on reality. No plan survives its train-wreck with reality.
  • Gain agreement on how we will know. Really, how will we know? What are the measurements, key performance indicators.

Blocks to planning –

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

You decide.-Tom

If you would like some help, you can download the planning template here. 2017 Planning Template

Amidst the Hustle and Bustle

People are scurrying to take off for the holidays. I see the hustle, bustle and last minute shopping. I, too, am battening down for a winter holiday, a little feasting, a little skiing. We will see you back here in January. For now, hug those around you and give thanks.
_____

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. The mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

See you all next year. -Tom

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