The Struggle for Emerging S-IV

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
It took a long time, but our company has grown. Our business model is a distributor, it’s all about supply chain for our customers. Because our business model is driven by the logistics of incoming and outgoing material supply, we recently promoted our warehouse manager to VP-Inventory Control. For us, it was more than just a change of role title. Our warehouse manager took us through re-binning our inventory, bar coding SKUs, RFIDs on serialized product. He is a really bright guy. But his promotion to VP-Inventory Control seems to have gone to his head. With his new-found power, he has emerged as a prima-donna. In our executive team meetings, he believes that inventory control should be the deciding factor in every business decision for the company. If he keeps this up, he is going to get fired.

Response:
Indeed, the move from a Stratum III (S-III) inventory manager to an (S-IV) is a dramatic change in level of work.

  • S-III – System (creates the system, monitors the system and improves the system)
  • S-IV – Integration of multiple systems and sub-sytems (attention to dependent systems, interdependent systems, contingent systems and bottlenecks)

The focus at S-III system level is internal. We demand each of our systems be efficient, profitably leveraging its resources for maximum output. Your inventory manager did just that with a bin system, bar codes and RFIDs. Kudos.

The focus at S-IV is integration. With an internal focus on inventory management, his new role is to assist in the integration of inventory with all the other systems in the company. It is no longer a matter of profitably leveraging resources for maximum output, but optimizing output with the other systems in the company. It is a matter of how one system’s output (reinforcing system) is impacted by another system’s output (balancing system).

This requires the focus for the new S-IV to transition from internal to external. You don’t have a prima donna personality conflict. You have not clearly defined and communicated the new role, nor its differences from the prior role.

You also skipped a step. How did you know if the inventory manager was ready for these new accountabilities? You didn’t. You blindly promoted and now you have a bit of a chocolate mess. The step you missed, prior to the promotion, was assigning S-IV project work, coaching and evaluating the output. Team members should NEVER get a promotion. They earn promotions by successful completion of project work similar or identical to the work in their new role. -Tom

Culture as an Accountability

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
Is culture a Key Result Area (KRA) in a role description?

Response:
Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion – Yes.

Here are the four absolutes identified by Elliott Jaques required for success (effectiveness) in any role.

  • Capability (time span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

Culture is that unwritten set of rules (based on our beliefs and assumptions) that governs the required behaviors in the work that we do together.

While culture impacts everyone in the organization, I find it is a managerial accountability related to setting context. Context is culture, culture is context.

I look for several things from a manager.

  • Awareness of the company’s culture.
  • Ability to communicate the company’s culture in stories and examples.
  • Model behaviors that support the company’s culture.
  • Observe behaviors in others and where appropriate, provide coaching, when necessary, corrective action.
  • Participate in the on-going definition of the company’s culture.

Here is what it looks like in a role description –
Key Result Area (KRA) – Culture
As a member of the management team, the manager will understand and be conversant in the company’s mission, vision and values related to culture.

Accountability – the manager will be accountable for effectively communicating the company’s mission, vision and values. This will include the telling of stories and examples of connected behaviors that support the company’s culture. The manager will be an effective model of those behaviors that support the company’s culture. The manager will be attentive to the behavior of other managers and staff in accordance with the company’s mission, vision and values. The manager will be accountable for coaching, and, where appropriate, taking corrective action. The manager will actively participate in meetings regarding the definition and maintenance of the company’s mission, vision and values, providing constructive input to the definition of the company’s culture.

Without This, a Void Filled With Shenanigans

I am told that we need more leadership around here. I am told that we manage things, but we lead people.

My experience tells me otherwise.

I believe, especially as companies grow larger, that we need more management. I would concur that it is very difficult to manage people. People resist being managed. But, it’s not the people who need to be managed, it’s the relationships between those people. In a company, it is the working relationships that need to be managed.

I hear about personality conflicts in an organization. But, I don’t see a personality conflict, I see an accountability and authority issue. In an organization, we rarely define the accountability and authority in the working relationship. We never defined where people stand with each other, who can make the decision, who can make a task assignment and who is accountable for the output.

We take relationships for granted. We take for granted that people know how to behave with parents, with siblings, with teachers. We take for granted that people know how to behave as managers, but, in most cases, managers behave the same way they were treated by their managers.

There is a science to all this. It has to do with context. Effective managers are those who create the most effective context for people to work in. It is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together. There is a science to context.

Organizational structure is context. It is the defined accountability and authority in our working relationships. Without it, people fill the void with all kinds of shenanigans. Not their fault. It is the responsibility of the manager (including the CEO) to set the context.

Your Problem is on This List

“I don’t understand why my team consistently underperforms. We have a target to produce five units, they produce four. We are supposed to finish a project this afternoon, it doesn’t get completed until tomorrow,” Frances complained.

“You are the manager,” I observed. “What do you think is the problem?”

“I really don’t know. Before every project, we have a meeting to go over the project, all its elements. I try to keep those meetings upbeat, optimistic.”

“What if it’s not a problem with your team?” I asked.

“Then, what could it be?” Frances pushed back.

“Yes, what could it be?” I repeated.

I could see Frances racing through possibilities. Could it be equipment failure, substandard materials, faulty tools. “What if it’s me?”

“You are the manager?” I replied. “What are the productivity levers every manager has to work with?”

“Well, I pick the team, or I pick the people who end up on the team.”

“What else?” I was taking notes.

“I am the one who assigns the task. I set the context, describe the vision of the project, set the quality standards, quantity. I estimate a reasonable amount of time to finish the project, the deadline. I tell them what resources are available.”

“And?”

“And, I watch, to see how well the team does.”

“And if they screw things up?” I asked.

“We have a conversation,” Frances nodded.

“And if the team member continues to screw up?”

“They are off the team.”

I finished writing down what Frances described and slid the paper across the table.

  • Selection, who is on the team?
  • Task assignment, quantity, quality, time and resources?
  • Evaluate effectiveness?
  • Coaching?
  • De-selection?

“As the manager, this is what you control,” I said. “Your problem is on this list.” -Tom

It’s Time

“The possibilities for the improvement of the social and political quality of life in our free enterprise democracy are awesome. It is therefore a matter of the greatest good fortune that the people systems that will most benefit the feelings, outlook and morale of its citizens will, at the same time, contribute optimally to the successful operation of the people systems in which people work on the one hand, and to the well being of the nation, on the other.

“Good managerial systems bring out mutual trust and commitment in people. Bad systems breed extreme self-interest.” -Elliott Jaques, Social Power and the CEO, 2002.

It’s time to get back to work. -Tom Foster

It’s Over, TRUMP WINS!

Earlier this year, two sharks entered the water, complete with the most sophisticated tracking ever witnessed by the human race. And sharks do what sharks do. We watched, and we wondered, and we watched some more. But it’s over and TRUMP WINS.

#makoprediction

On Monday, Sept. 26, as the human candidates took the stage for their first debate, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) researchers starting tracking the Clinton Shark (motto – “Swimming Stronger Together”) and the Trump Shark (motto – “Mako America Great Again”) as they did what mako sharks do, they swam, like sharks.

After logging mile after mile from September 26 through noon, Fri. Nov. 4, 2016, the Trump Shark beat the Clinton Shark 652.44 miles to 510.07 miles. TRUMP WINS!

The project is the brain child of NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. They have a web-based tracking map so you can track each candidates surrogate shark throughout the race.

Florida has the largest reef system in the continental United States and the third largest barrier reef ecosystem in the world. Last Friday, five universities met in Fort Lauderdale to create a new Marine Research Hub based in South Florida. #makoprediction is a project to draw attention to this conservation effort. And, to lighten things up a bit before everyone votes tomorrow. -Tom

How to Pick Up the Energy in a Meeting

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a new manager. I hold a weekly meeting that goes pretty well. We say the things that need to be said and make our plans, but the meetings seem to bomb at the end. They just stop. The energy in the room is flat. I tried to give a motivational rah-rah speech at last week’s meeting but it fell flat on its face. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. The meeting is missing something at the end. How can we finish on a high note?

Response:

Follow your own advice and keep your mouth shut. Unless you are one of the rare charismatic managers, your attempts to raise the energy level will feel contrived and pointless.

Why?

Because the energy is all coming from you. You need some help. Try the following exercise.

At the end of the meeting, distribute 3×5 index cards. Have everyone write down one action item they plan to do based on the meeting. Then make your way around the table, asking each team member, in turn, to publicly state (in one sentence) their commitment to action. You will be amazed at the rise in energy as you adjourn the meeting.

This is no hollow rah-rah. The reason this works is because it is real and every person participates. -Tom

Listen for What?

Listen.

If you are in sales, listen. Your customer will tell you how they want to buy.

If you are a manager, listen. Your team will tell you how they need to be coached. Listen for what is said and what is not said. Listen for what is confronted and what is avoided. Listen for context. Listen for what people believe to be true. Listen for what people believe is not true. Listen for assumptions.

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions. Then, listen. -Tom
_____________________
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Don’t Get Rid of Your Silos

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__________________

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your workshop, for the bottom three layers, S-I-II-III, you said there was an internal focus. What happens at S-IV and S-V?

Response:
The Basic Building Block (S-I-II-III) populates every organization, no matter how big or how small. These layers have an overriding internal focus. Why? Because, we told them they had to be internally focused. We (S-IV and S-V) created very specific work instructions, to be efficient, profitable, no waste, no scrap, high utilization of available resources. Those work instructions are internally focused.

S-V – Business Unit President – Internal AND market focus
S-IV – Internal AND external system focus (multi-system integration)
S-III – Internal system focus
S-II – Internal implementation focus (make sure production gets done complete, accurate, on-time)
S-I – Internal production focus

To be effective at S-IV requires a combined internal and external system focus. As the organization grows, it creates more than one system. It ends up with multiple systems and sub-systems. Individual roles grow up into teams. Teams are created inside a single function, or department. With multiple departments (multiple systems and sub-systems) we observe the silo effect. Silos don’t get along with other because they are internally focused.

This internal focus is normal. We told each S-III system to be internally focused, but now we have a silo problem. You likely heard you need to get rid of your silos. Wrong. You need those silos AND you need those silos to be internally focused (efficient, profitable and predictable). The resolution to the silo issue is not to get rid of them, but to integrate them together.

Multi-system integration at S-IV requires an internal AND an external focus. Roles at S-IV have to be able to see outside a single serial system and understand the impact of one system on another system. Roles at S-IV are integration roles, optimizing multi-system output and transitions or work handoffs from one system to another system.

Some companies stay stuck with silos. Some resolve this organizational friction. But to resolve it, requires capability at S-IV, integration, a holistic look at the organization. -Tom

Habits, Success and Choice

There are some behaviors you simply contract for. But, just because we have an agreement, does not necessarily mean we will see the behavior. I always look for habits.

Required behavior is one of the Four Absolutes necessary for success in any role.

  • Capability
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion, value for the work/li>
  • Required behavior (contracted behavior, habits, culture)

I look for those routine, grooved behaviors that support the required behaviors in the role. If a behavior requires a Herculean effort to comply, it is likely that sooner or later, the agreement will be broken. If the behavior is supported by a habit, it is likely I will gain commitment to that behavior.

We think we choose our success.
We do not.
We choose our habits.
It is our habits that determine our success.

Here is how to interview for habits. -Tom