Being Busy

“You were promoted because your manager was promoted. I didn’t think you were ready to make the move from supervisor to manager, but the position was open and the COO was impatient. He is now having second thoughts when he looks at your turnover statistics.”

Melanie was quiet. Her voice, calm. “I didn’t know that. But you said two of my supervisors quit because they graduated night school and got better jobs. I can’t help that?”

“We found out in the exit interview. They had jobs lined up three months before they gave you notice. And you didn’t know.”

“But how was I supposed to know. We stay pretty busy around here,” she protested.

“Melanie, the job of being a manager is not about being busy. It’s not about scrambling to save the day. As a supervisor, you were effective at that. Now, it is killing your effectiveness as a manager. As a manager, your role is completely different.

“You said you could anticipate things, as a supervisor,” I continued. “You said you could see the future. I need you to see even further into the future. As a manager, I need you to think out 12 months.”

Melanie shifted, sat up, “But, who knows what is going to happen a year from now?”

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

Watch for the release of our online program – Hiring Talent 2016, scheduled for Jan 15, 2016. Here are some responses to the program.

“Drilling down to get to the core of what candidates actually did and were responsible for was a big take away for me. Before this course, I would have moved to the next question without getting the answer I needed to make an informed decision as people do try to answer what you want to hear not with what they have demonstrated they are capable of.”

“There were two ideas that were the most helpful to me. One was taking the time to develop a set of interview questions for each role that focused on how the candidates meet the job requirements. The other idea that was helpful was the decision matrix, especially when considering a number of qualified candidates.”

“The biggest concept that is sticking with me is the importance of the interviewer controlling the interview so that they obtain the important, detailed information from each candidate regarding the candidate’s skills, capabilities and attitudes. It is so easy for the candidate to control the interview and “dazzle” the interviewer with made-up answers that are pleasing to the ear but not necessarily true. This program taught us not only that it is important to create specific questions that elicit the truth from candidates, but it taught us HOW to create those questions. It was extremely helpful that we created questions for an actual job that exists in our company because it made it easy to apply the concepts of the course to our own real situations at work.”

Transition From Supervisor to Manager

“Do you know why you were promoted from supervisor to manager last year?” I asked.

“Because, I was the best darn supervisor the company had,” Melanie replied.

“And, being the best supervisor, what did you do that none of the other supervisors were able to do?”

“Oh, that was easy. I could see the future. I could tell when something was going to get screwed up, weeks ahead of time, and I could adjust the schedule to make sure we stayed productive. You know, if you reject some raw material because it’s out of spec, that means you have to shift some stuff around.”

“Yes, you were one of the best schedulers around.”

“What do you mean, were?” quizzed Melanie. “I still am.”

“Not exactly. Do you know why you were promoted from supervisor to manager last year?”

If Not You, Then Who?

“This is all spilt milk, anyway,” Melanie snorted. “I know I have to step up, get out there, put an ad in the paper. I have gone through this before, third time this year.”

“I know,” I nodded. “I read the exit interviews. Did you know that two of the three supervisors that left you this year graduated from night school?”

Melanie’s eyes got wide. “Well, I knew they were going to school at night.”

“Did you know they had new jobs lined up three months before they graduated?”

“Well, I thought that was all talk. I didn’t pay attention to that.”

“I know you didn’t pay attention. If you had paid attention, you would have three months advance time to make a different move, prepare a new supervisor to take over. Now, you have to scramble. Melanie, the only reason you still have a job, here, as a manager, is that you are a pretty good scrambler. But, one day, you won’t be able to scramble and you’ll get sacked for a loss.”

Messenger or Manager?

“I feel let down,” Melanie lamented. “One of my team members, Kyle, just quit. I don’t know how I am going to explain this to the CEO. He has a short temper for this kind of thing. The worst part, I’m just the messenger, but likely to get the brunt of it.”

“Why do you feel you are just the messenger?” I asked.

Melanie moved her head back, almost startled. “I am not sure what you mean,” she said. “I’m not the one who quit. I am just the one who has to report it upstairs.”

“You’re Kyle’s manager?” I confirmed.

“Well, yes, but Kyle is the one who quit.”

“I understand Kyle is the one who quit and I am also curious to know who is responsible for the team that is now missing a member with a backlog that is going to crunch an important deadline?”

“But, Kyle is the one who quit,” Melanie protested. “You can’t hold me accountable for the pickle we’re in. I know I am the manager, but what am I supposed to do?”

Pace and Quality

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I manage a drafting department of 12 people and have been quite successful over the past 5 or 6 years in improving the quality of our output and the morale of our team.

I have one team member with good skills but he takes forever to get anything done. In my effort over the years to make him more productive, I’ve afforded him the opportunity to become skilled at many different tasks, each time hoping that this would be the one that “clicked”. His production level, however, never improves even after the “learning curve” of any new skill is overcome.

I’m finally facing the fact that this guy will not ever make the pace we expect. Letting him go is difficult for me though, since I’ve acted all this time as his “enabler”. I probably should have realized his limitations a lot sooner and avoided the situation that I’m in now, that being, having a multi-skilled individual who ironically, is too slow.

What’s your take on this?


Some people master a skill quickly; others may complete a task only after some hard work (which takes time). Your response (training him in many skills) to the amount of time for task completion may have been misguided, making matters worse, even slowing his production time. Two critical components for every role are pace and quality. Pace and quality.

1. Determine what you need this team member to do. This should be based on what the company needs from him. What is his role? Write this down. Instead of training him on many different tasks, focus on the essentials of his deliverables. Don’t create a role around him. Determine the role and determine his capability to fill that role.

2. Baseline evaluation of the “candidate.” This is a very serious conversation. You have had conversations before, this one is different. Your prior conversations have been searching for something he might be good at. This conversation will focus on what the company needs from him in his role. This is a focusing conversation. The next conversation will be your evaluation, after one day, of his baseline performance in that role.

3. Improvement metrics. Rather than looking to train him on many different skills, the focus should be on throughput speed in the essential deliverables the company needs from the role. Examine each step in the process that speeds him up or slows him down. We don’t need him to learn a whole bunch of other skills, we simply need to get him faster at the essential skills.

4. Evaluate his long term contribution. After a period of three weeks, as a manager, you will know whether his behavior is becoming more effective or staying the same. As his manager, it will be time for you to make a judgment. It will be time for you to make a decision. Is the candidate becoming more effective in the essential role that we have for him? This is a yes or no question.

5. If the answer is yes, then you have a contributing member. If the answer is no, inform your manager that you are de-selecting this person from your team. If your manager has another role which might be suitable, turn this person over to your manager for placement. If your manager has no other role, it is time to release this person to industry.

Every part of this should be explained to the candidate. There should be no secrets. The candidate should understand the consequences of underperformance. At the same time, underperformance does not make him a bad person. It is likely that he will be relieved that he can look for a position more appropriate to his speed level, rather than live in the shadow of underperformance and constant scrutiny.

Leadership is Observable

The group worked for ninety minutes in a simulation to complete a complex task. Once the task sequence and its steps were decided and practiced, the test was to complete the entire sequence in a twenty minute time frame.

I stopped the simulation to ask a simple question. “Which of you is the leader?” There had been no formal selection, but the group immediately looked at Sam.

“What is it about Sam, that made him the leader?” I asked.

The team members exchanged glances, wondering if they were all thinking the same thing. “Well, Sam seemed to know how to organize this thing together,” Marvin volunteered.

“How did he do that? You have not worked together as a team before.”

There was a brief moment, then Kyle piped up. “Sam pulled us all together, asked questions about what each of us thought. Within three minutes, he had a plan, assigned some individual responsibilities and we started working.”

Sam was chosen as the leader because he understood the complexity of the situation better (at least faster) than the others.

At that moment, Emma stood up. She was sitting on the sidelines, in fact, I wondered if she was paying attention.

“I think we can complete this task in five minutes, instead of twenty,” she said.

All eyes turned. In an instant, a new leader emerged. Leadership is an observable phenomenon.

2016 Planning Template

It’s that time of year. Lingering days of 2015 will fade into the holidays AND 2016 will come rushing in. Are you ready? In my groups, we have an early January session to talk about planning and goals. To help organize thoughts, we distribute our annual planning document. It is a Word.doc, so it expands as you type into it. If you would like a copy, just give me a shout at Ask Tom?

A Little Compromise, Give and Take

“What happened?” I asked.

“It was amazing,” Sean described. “We changed the name of the meeting from the VPs Meeting, to the President’s Meeting.”

“How was that different?”

“It was now clear that, as the president, I would be accountable for the decisions of the group. Before, the group was accountable as a group, sort of, but not really. Now, it is crystal clear. I am accountable for the decisions in the meeting.”

“What happened?”

“The tone of the meeting was completely different,” Sean continued. “Before, everyone was tactful and compromising, give a little here, take a little there. It was quite an agreeable bunch, and they arrived at quite agreeable decisions.”


“And, now, without the need to compromise, knowing that I will listen to best advice and the decision is mine, there was quite a difference of opinion. The group uncovered problems that had always been swept under the rug. Some issues surfaced that had been off limits before. The discussion was actually uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable?” I said.

“Yes, and whenever the discussion is uncomfortable, I know we are talking about something important.”

The Clarity of Accountability

“it’s funny,” Byron thought out loud. “You always ask me, as the manager, about my contribution to the problem. Immediately, I always think – Who? Me? I didn’t contribute to the problem.”

“And, what have you discovered when you deny accountability?” I asked.

“I just have to stop. I have always confronted my team with blame-colored glasses. When I realize that I am the one accountable for the output of my team, everything changes. When I realize that I am accountable for the output of the team, I take ownership. Ownership is a powerful stimulant for caring about my team. Constructive coaching automatically follows, not because I have to, but, because I am accountable.”

“And your team?”

“They change too. They are no longer on the receiving end of blame, but are now, part of a team, supporting me, as their manager,” Byron nodded.

“And did that change happen because you circled the team to sing a song?”

“No, it happened because we got clear about accountability.”

The Electrifying Subtle Shift

“So, it turns out that the ten percent reject rate was caused by a burr on a threaded plastic part. Your inspection system failed to sample a new vendor at a higher rate and their sub-standard parts were co-mingled with good parts from your current vendor?” I nodded.

“That’s about it,” Byron agreed.

“And, yet, you yelled at your team for not working hard enough, until you discovered the defective parts?”

“I did,” Byron fessed up.

“Yet, your team was doing their very best already.”

“I know, but we were still getting the ten percent reject rate. I had to do something,” Byron protested, again denying responsibility.

“Don’t get defensive, this is important. You had a ten percent reject rate and you responded in two ways, one effective and one not.

  • You yelled at your team (not effective).
  • You inspected your system, ultimately focusing on receiving inspection, and sample rates of inspection (effective).

And where did you find the problem?”

Byron understood half the problem. “It was only when we looked at the system,” he said.

“And the other half of the problem is this. Your team is only accountable for full commitment and doing their best. When you yelled at them, you were holding them accountable for the ten percent reject rate. As the manager, you can ONLY hold them accountable for doing their best. It is you, as the manager, who is accountable for the output of the team.

“You solved the problem only when you examined your own contribution to the problem. As the manager, you are accountable for the system. It was a system problem.

“What did you accomplish by yelling at your team, holding them accountable for output?” I challenged.

“The only thing it did,” Byron admitted, “was to crush the team. I think I described it as down in the dumps.”

“And, what did you accomplish when you examined your system? You solved the problem. This subtle shift in accountability is electrifying. The team is accountable for full commitment and doing their best. It is the manager accountable for the output.”