Tag Archives: accountability

The Realization of a Manager

“But, what if one of my team members doesn’t show up?” Sheri defended. “How can I be held accountable for that?”

“You are not accountable for the team member not showing up,” I replied. “But you are accountable for the output of the team who is now short one team member. I hold you accountable for having back up, cross trained team members to pick up the slack. I hold you accountable for knowing your team well enough to anticipate who is not going to show up, and having an alternate plan in that event.”

Sheri was quiet. While she was backpedaling, she knew she was still on the hook.

“Being accountable for the output of the team changes everything,” I continued. “Once you realize that accountability, your behavior changes.

  • You have to know your team members
  • You have to provide clear expectations within the team’s capability to deliver
  • You have to prepare your team to handle the inevitable problems that will come up
  • Your team has to practice to become fluent in handling those problems
  • You have to provide context for the work that your team will be a part of
  • You have to inspect the output to make sure it meets quality standards within time limits

This is all about people, this is all about your team. And, as the manager, you are accountable for their output.”
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The Team Will Never Be Much Better Than the Leader

“So, I have the team I deserve,” Sheri nodded.

“Yes,” I agreed. “And understand the team you have, will never be much better than you. If you want the team to get better, who has to get better first?”

Sheri was still nodding in agreement, but while her head was moving, her brain was pushing back. She still wanted to lay the blame on her team. “Okay, the team did not do what they were supposed to do, but you seem to say that it is my fault.”

“Fault, schmaltz,” I chuckled. “I don’t care whose fault it is. But, I do hold you accountable for the output of the team. All crumbs, always, lead to the manager. As the manager, you control all the resources for the team. You control the work instructions, you pick the team, you pick the number of people on the team. You pick the roles for people to play, you design the workflow. I hold the team member accountable for showing up and doing their best, but I hold the manager accountable for the output.”
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Is This the Team You Built? (It is.)

“But, I deserve better,” Sheri protested. “I work so hard, as a manager, I deserve higher performance from my team.”

“You probably do deserve better,” I replied. “Where does that higher performance start? Does it start with you?”

“What do you mean?” Sheri pushed back.

“Your team sounds just like you do. They work so hard, for mediocre results. They deserve better for their efforts.”

Sheri got quiet.

“If I want to know the kind of organization I deserve, I should look at the one I have. Some of this team, I inherited, some of this team I built. But, it’s my team. It’s the team I deserve.”
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Intentions and Behavior

“I don’t understand,” Sheri shook her head. “The team said they were committed to this project. They understood everything I presented at the meeting. They didn’t have any questions. I did not sense any push-back.”

“And what happened?” I asked.

“Nothing. We discussed changes they were going to make in the work process. We talked about organizing things differently. But nothing happened,” she reported.

“So, what did you learn, as a manager of this team?”

Sheri paused for a short time. Processing. “If someone says they want to get better at something, understand that their words are only intentions. Watch how they practice. Listen to the words that people say, but watch what they do. It’s the behavior that makes the difference.”
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How Many People Can One Person Manage?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
How many people can a person effectively manage?

Response:
This is a great question.  As I travel around North America, I talk to hundreds of managers each year, there is always this question, stated in different ways.

  • How many people can one person effectively manage?
  • What is the appropriate span of control?
  • When does a manager get spread too thin?

To answer this question, we need to reframe the assumption.  It is not a matter of management or control, it is a matter of accountability.  Here is my reframed question -

  • How many people can one manager be accountable for?

This shifts our understanding of the role and helps us answer the question.  The magic maximum number is “about” 70.  But it depends.  It depends on the variability of the work.  If the work is very repetitive and work instructions seldom change, one manager can be accountable for a fairly large group.  If however, if the work changes from day to day, hour to hour, where work instructions must be adapted constantly from a set of guidelines, that number may drop to four.

Let’s take a military example.  One drill sergeant, in basic training, where work instructions are repetitive, may be accountable for the work output of a high number of raw recruits.  On the other hand, in a Navy Seal team, with specialized missions requiring high levels of judgment which may change minute to minute, one team leader may only be effectively accountable for five or six team members.

What is the level of work on your team, what is its variability, how much judgment is required related to work instructions, what is the risk of underperformance?  Those are the questions you have to answer first.

How to Hold Someone Accountable

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
I very much enjoy your blog and always find improvement opportunities within your messages.  As you point out rather frequently, holding the right people accoutable is crucial.  In that regard, I would like to ask, what different ways have you found effective in “holding people accountable” beyond expressing your dissatisfaction with their performance, formal performance improvement requirments (PIP)  or replacing them?  I would like to know what tools/techniques you recommend and believe most effective.

Response:
Here is my short list -

  • Raising my voice.
  • Repeated criticism.
  • Frequent complaining.
  • Public flogging.

The person who believes these methods effective is someone who has no children.  None of these work.  I spent several hours with one of my executive groups on this very issue and at the end of the day, here was our conclusion.  The only person who can truly hold me accountable is me.  All other forms of harassment are largely ineffective.  Self-accountability is the only path.

Yet, we still say that we have to hold someone accountable.  My definition of a manager is that person held accountable for the output of their team.  So I say it, too.

So, here’s a better list of conditions required for self-accountability.

  • Make the expectation (of output) clear.
  • Ensure the availability of required resources.
  • Validate the required skills and sufficient practice for the task.
  • Match the persons capability with the capability required for the task (measured in time span).
  • Ensure the person places a high value on the work (interest or passion for the work).
  • Ensure the person engages in reasonable behaviors required to complete the task.

If we still observe underperformance or misbehavior, we have to make a judgment as to the cause.  Then we have to make a judgment if this cause can be corrected.

The Role of the Manager’s Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question - 
I have appointed a new manager to my team, so I am his manager.  I thought he would pick things up quicker, but he seems to be floundering.  I think he will make over time, but I wanted to know if I should send him to training, get him a book on management?

Response -
If you think this new manager will make it, over time, just needs a sprinkling of managerial pixie dust, then you will hate this response.  The most potent step you can take is for you, as his manager, to get directly involved.

Certainly, you could offload him into a leadership program, there are many good ones around.  You could purchase a management book for him to read, but both will pale in comparison to the direct influence you can have, as his manager.

Every employee is entitled to have an effective manager with the capability to bring value to their problem solving and decision making.  Your job, as his manager, is to bring that value.  Easy to say, hard to do.

And just to make sure I have your attention.  It is you as his manager, that I hold accountable for his output in the role.  You selected him, you on-boarded him, you control the environment he works in.  You are in control of his training.  You are in the position of coach.  You are the manager accountable for his output.

How Does Hierarchy Promote Cooperation?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
I recently attended one of your Time Span workshops and want to know how hierarchy promotes cooperation?

Response:
The short answer is accountability.  Inherent in the structure of hierarchy is accountability.  Unfortunately, most managers misunderstand the purpose for hierarchy and where accountability is appropriately placed.

Most managers believe that hierarchy is a reporting structure.  Even our language misguides us.  “Who is the new guy going to report to?”  This is not the central question.

The definition of a manager is, that person held accountable for the output of other people.  The question is not “who should the new guy report to?”  The central question is, which manager can be held accountable for the new guy’s output?”

When managers begin to understand accountability, the whole game changes.  Hierarchy provides us with a visual representation, of which manager is accountable for the output of the team.

When managers begin to understand that they are accountable for the output of their team, attitudes change and behavior changes.  Behaviors change from controlling and directing to supporting and coaching.  Every employee is entitled to have a competent manager with the time span capability to bring value to their problem solving and decision making.

The purpose of hierarchy is to create that value stream, where managers, one stratum above (in capability) bring value to the problem solving and decision making of their team members.  For ultimately, it is the manager who is accountable for their output.

Why Do People Bring Their Personal Lives to Work?

“Why do people bring their personal lives to work?” Denise complained.  “I’m losing productivity.  Eight people on my team, one is out with a sick child, and one was late because his car broke down.  As the manager, I am held accountable for today’s lack of productivity, but it’s not my fault.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, and you are partly to blame.  You say the manager is accountable for the output of the team.  You assume that each person on my team is doing their best and, as the manager, I am accountable.  Well, I feel like my feet are being held to the fire for the lack of productivity, but it’s not my fault that somebody’s kid got sick.”

“I agree.  It’s not your fault that somebody’s kid got sick.  You are not held accountable because someone was late.  You are, however, held accountable for today’s production.  You are the manager, THINK.”

“I think I am being blamed for something that is not my fault,” Denise pushed back.

“Looking at the production schedule, there are ten orders that have to be completed and pushed out the door.  You are the manager.  What are you going to do about that?” I insisted.

Denise took a big breath.  She wanted sympathy, but was getting no warm and fuzzies.  Finally she spoke.  “There are two people on another crew that I could probably borrow for two hours.  They are cross-trained.  That will catch us up most of the way.  But there is one order that won’t make it today.  I know the customer and I know the project.  I can call and see if we can delay delivery for one day.”

“You are the manager.  Do you have the authority to make those decisions?”

“Yes.  I do,” Denise clarified.

“So stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You are not accountable for someone getting sick, but you are accountable for today’s production.”

The Problem with Matrix Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
Our company has a Matrix management structure within a functional structure.  Each department is struggling with execution and achieving target results partially due to resource alignment challenges associated with the functional and matrix organization structure. 

Response:
Matrix structures were created, with the best of intention, to resolve priority conflicts.  A team member who is temporarily assigned or part time assigned to a project team has a new built-in conflict.  “Who is my manager?”

Do I take direction from my manager or my project leader?  And when there is conflict between those directions, who wins?

And that is how matrix management was born.  Unfortunately, the end result simply codifies the existence of the team member’s (now) two managers without identifying who the real manager is.  Further, it does little to bring clarity to the project leader’s authority when there are conflicts.  The team member is simply stuck.

Again, the intention to invent Matrix was pure, to identify managerial authority and project leader authority related to the same team member.  Mixed results emerged.  Luckily, projects have limited duration and so the undecided conflicts eventually go away.  Some declared that Matrix was effective and then made the fatal mistake.  The fatal mistake was thinking that Matrix should then be applied to the entire enterprise.

Matrix operates under the false assumption that a team member can have two (or more) managers.  Matrix does little to identify the managerial authorities or the limited cross functional authorities required by a project leader.

This perspective was clearly identified by Elliott Jaques in his research on time-span. The prescription is to dismantle Matrix, establish clear accountability in your managerial relationships and structure cross-functional working relationships for the following roles -

  • Project leader
  • Auditor
  • Monitor
  • Coordinating relationship
  • Service getting relationship
  • Collateral relationship
  • Advisory relationship

These cross functional working relationships accurately identify the limited accountability and limited authority required to successfully move work horizontally through the organization.

If you would like a pdf about cross-functional working relationships, titled “Get Rid of Your Dotted Lines,” just Ask Tom.