A Bad Attitude is Invisible

“So, tell me,” Russell asked, “how can we interview for a bad attitude?”

“Well, let’s think about attitude,” I started. “Is attitude, particularly a bad attitude, something inside a person, perhaps invisible?”

“You nailed it,” Russell shook his head. “It’s invisible, some people even hide it.”

“It’s invisible until when?”

“It’s invisible until something triggers it, or the pressure builds up. That’s when a bad attitude shows up.”

“See, I can’t interview for something invisible, like a bad attitude,” I said. “I can only interview for behaviors connected to a bad attitude. So, what I want to know is, how does the candidate behave when the pressure builds up?”

“I’m listening,” Russell replied.

“Tell me about a project, likely the worst project you ever worked on, where everything seemed to go wrong. A project where the customer was unreasonable, never satisfied, in spite of your best efforts.

  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How large was the project team? Who was on the team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • How did you discover the project was not going well, as planned?
  • How did the customer find out?
  • What was the customer’s reaction?
  • Step me through the interaction with the customer?
  • What was the customer’s reason to be upset?
  • What was your role in the interaction?
  • How did you respond to the situation?
  • What resolutions were discussed?
  • What was the outcome?

“You see, Russell, I cannot interview a candidate for a bad attitude, only for behavior in a situation where a bad attitude might be driving things.”

Interview for a Bad Attitude

“We always hire people for their technical skills, but we fire them for who they are.” Russell explained.

“Tell me more,” I asked. “What do you mean you fire them for who they are?”

“Well, they may have the right experience, know how to handle the technical part of the job, but their attitude is a little out of whack. In the beginning, it doesn’t show up, but after a couple of months, little things appear. After six months, this strange behavior actually begins to flourish and it’s downhill from there.”

“What do mean, strange behavior?” I was curious.

“Sometimes, it’s just people skills. They are a little gruff at first, then a couple of people get on their bad side. Pretty soon, they become downright rude. They publicly dress people down in meetings. No one can disagree with them without a huge public confrontation.”

“Do you interview to discover this type of behavior?”

“No, usually the person is pretty well coached by a headhunter on how to handle the interview, so we don’t find out until later.” Russell stopped, his brow furrowed. “Do you mean, you can interview for a bad attitude?”

“Yes, you can.”

Who Do You Hang Around With?

Jessica was talking about her boss, Matthew. Matthew is one of those special people who, in the midst of a problem always seems to see a solution. In a meeting, where an idea may be shot down, Matthew reverses the energy. He says, “I know it is impossible, but if it weren’t impossible, how would we do it?”

What she finds interesting about Matthew is that when he walks in the room, she feels an uncanny ability to conquer any difficulties in her current project.

Stay away from naysayers, and surround yourself with people who are pathologically positive. Find the energy to make things happen, to solve the problems around you. Find that person who gives you the energy and the uncanny ability to conquer difficulty.

By Design, or By Chance?

I was just about to leave when Lawrence stuck his hand in the air. “What about the people?” he asked.

“The role of the Manager,” I started, “is to create the system and make the system better. The most important system is the people system. How people work in your organization is top priority for the Manager. Look, here is the bad news. Right now, your people system is working exactly as it was designed to work.”

“How can that be?” Lawrence replied. “Our people system sucks.”

“You designed it that way, or by choice, you decided to leave it to chance. Either way, you designed it to suck.”

“But, it’s not my fault. I have only been a manager here for two months.” Lawrence was backpedaling big time.

“And so, for the past two months, you have supported a system by doing nothing about it,” I replied. Lawrence was looking for a better excuse, but I stopped him. “Look, in the short time you have been a manager, have you drawn a brief diagram about how people work around here, how they relate to each other, how they depend on each other? Have you written job profiles to document the specific accountabilities of each person on the floor?

“Lawrence, you are in charge of the most important system in your company, the design of how people work together as a team.”

Alligators Take Over

From the Ask Tom Mailbag –

Question:
I would love to get more information on how to beat back those Alligators! What happens when the Alligators are taking over?

Response:
This is where the role of the Manager becomes truly important. The people who do production work (Strata I) can only work harder. The people who make sure production gets done (Supervisor, Strata II) can only organize the chaos (also known as straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic).

The role of the Manager (Strata III) is to analyze what is causing things to be overwhelming and out of control. This is system work.

Stop and think. What is the cause?

The most useful tool I know of is a long roll of butcher paper (available at any restaurant supply store). Roll it out and tape it on the wall. Create a flow chart of the essential steps necessary to do the work that is required. We are talking circles, boxes and triangles connected by arrows, cause and effect. Step One, Two, Three and Four. Then, for each step, ask why we are doing that? Is that in line with our senior purpose?

This exercise will expose unnecessary steps or activities that simply do not add value to the process. Get back to the fundamentals, do only those things that are truly essential.

Draw flames around the hotspots, the burning platforms. Are instructions clear, is there a hand-off missed? This is system work.

Constructive Criticism?

“Never criticize, condemn or complain,” – Dale Carnegie.

To provide corrective feedback or constructive criticism may spring from a noble intent, AND the effort is futile, likely counterproductive to correcting a behavior or increasing the level of performance.

As a manager, are you required to deliver both positive feedback and corrective feedback?

Yes.

Delivering positive feedback is the easier of the two.

It is the corrective feedback that consternates most managers. Sometimes, delivering corrective feedback is so uncomfortable that managers avoid the conversation altogether.

Managerial effectiveness does not come from telling people what to do. Managerial effectiveness comes from asking the most effective questions.

Positive feedback – a strength I saw in your project, was your adherence to the schedule you created in the planning stage. The reason I say that is most people don’t have a plan, even if they do, they rarely use it to effectively guide the project.

Corrective feedback – if you had to do the same project again, what would you do differently? What impact would that have on the outcome of the project? If you made that change in the project, how would that look in the planning stage? What change would that make to the schedule? Who would need to be in the loop about this change?

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions. And, it doesn’t sound like criticism.

Making Mistakes

Do people learn more from success or failure?

For me, it is always failure. I learn the most from my mistakes.

Success, for me often breeds arrogance. How does the saying go – the worst thing that can happen to a golfer is to have a great day on the greens.

It is our mistakes, our failures where we learn the most. For a manager and a team member, learning cannot be an exercise of micro-management, but one of failure and mistakes.

So, if we learn more from mistakes, how do we teach people to fly a plane? Mistakes cost life and limb. Mistakes can be fatal.

As a manager, you have to manage the risk in project work. We teach people to fly in simulators, where they can make mistakes, learn, make more mistakes and learn. We learn more from one mistake than we do from a dozen successes.

Manage the Risk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We’ve had to hire a lot of people this year to keep up with production and increased demand in our product. We’ve had to promote people to new levels of responsibility. Often we pick wrong. How can we know someone will succeed when we promote them? How do we test a person for capability?

Response:
Testing a person to determine their capability is counter-intuitive. I do not judge people. I did not go to school for that, I don’t have a degree in that. I am not certified by any agency to practice psychotherapy. I think I would stink at it. So, I just don’t do it.

There is something that I AM expert in. And most seasoned managers are, too. We understand the work. Work is problem solving and decision making. Given a role (to recruit, or promote), most managers have a very clear understanding of the problem solving and decision making required.

How do you test a person for capability?

You test a person for capability with project work. Every manager should constantly test every team member for capability with project work. I may not be able to judge a person, but I can certainly judge the work. When I delegate a project, I pay specific attention to the problem solving and decision making in the project. Then, all I have to do is determine if, during the course the project, the team member is effective, or not. Pretty much thumbs up, thumbs down.

Managers who constantly test their team will have a running intuitive understanding of the capability of each team member.

Here is the insight. Every manager already maintains a running intuitive understanding of the capability in each team member. Project work allows us to consciously calibrate effectiveness in specific decisions to be made and problems to be solved.

Give a person a promotion, and they fail, you have a chocolate mess on your hands. Give a person a project and they fail, you have a failed project, and, as the manager, you can manage the risk in the project.

Looks Like a Personality Conflict

The situation may look like a personality conflict, but the symptom leads us astray. When two people are at cross-purposes, locked in disagreement, it is because we, as managers, created the conditions for the behavior we see.

Still looks like a personality conflict?

If you are in a place of worship, a temple, synagogue, sanctuary, are you likely to be loud and boisterous or quiet and reflective? If you are at a sporting event and your team just scored a goal, are you likely to be loud and boisterous or quiet and reflective? Your behavior in those two circumstances is quite different, but did your personality change?

Your behavior changed because the context changed.

Change the context, behavior follows.

Structure is the way we define the working relationships between people in our organization. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behaviors in the work that we do together. Structure is culture. Culture is context. Change the context, behavior follows.

Be careful how you define the working relationships in your organization. Structure creates the conditions for things that look like personality conflicts.
——
Change the context, behavior follows, first taught to me by Gustavo Grodnitzky.

Have to Use a Different Tool

“My boss just told me, now I am the manager. She didn’t tell me I was supposed to do anything different than what I was doing as a supervisor,” explained Lawrence.

“That’s because most companies don’t truly understand the role of the manager,” I nodded, “nor the tools they use to get their work done.”

S-III Manager – creates the system in which work is done
—————-
S-II Supervisor – makes sure production gets done
—————-
S-I Technician – production work

“For the people who do production work, (S-I) the tools are real tools, machinery and equipment, that’s easy to see. But what are the tools of the supervisor?” Lawrence looked quickly to the left to see if the answer was written over my shoulder.

“The role of the supervisor (S-II) is to make sure production work gets done, so the tools of the supervisor are schedules and checklists. The supervisor uses those tools to make sure the right people are at the right place using the right materials on the right (well-maintained) equipment.”

“So what are the tools of the manager?” asked Lawrence.

“The role of the manager (S-III) is to create the system, and make the system better. The tools of the manager are flowcharts, time and motion, cause and effect sequence, role definitions and analysis.

“The work of the manager is different than the work of the supervisor and requires different tools.”