Tag Archives: accountability

Onward Thru the Fog

Eduardo was hanging up the phone when I arrived. I could tell he was puzzled.

“It’s funny,” he said. “This is the third time I have explained things to my Ron, but it just doesn’t sink in. For two years, he was doing great, but now, he seems to be in a fog.”

“You are Ron’s manager?” I asked. Eduardo shook his head.

“Yes, in fact, he was a good hire. We started him in a little office with only two people. He grew it to six, now he is at twelve. Somewhere along the line, he lost it.”

“Alcohol, or drugs?”

“No, I don’t think so. He is too conscientious for that,” Eduardo observed.

“But he seems to be in a fog? Tell me what has changed in the past year, going from six people to twelve people.”

Eduardo looked to the far corner of the room, picturing the changes before he described them. “It’s like Ron was supervising the work pretty well, but now he is one step removed. He is now managing a couple of supervisors. Maybe that’s the problem. He is too far away from the what he knows how to do?”

“Is it a matter of skill, something he can learn, or is it a matter of capability?”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

What’s a Manager For?

“Here is one thing we do know,” Peter chimed in. “We think everyone comes to work, at Outbound, every day, intending to do their best. We can watch a technician doing their best, yet, sometimes the output falls short. Maybe they couldn’t finish an installation on time, or they have four maintenance items to do and the second item turns into a bag of worms, so they only finish three during their shift. Sometimes, in spite of doing their best, the expected output just doesn’t get done. So, the technician gets called out and humiliated in front of the team, when the truth is, they were doing their best.”

“But, isn’t the technician accountable for all four items?” Jim asked.

“Of course,” Peter continued. “But, here’s the thing. Let’s say the technician couldn’t finish a project because the shop runs out of materials. Or a specialized piece of equipment isn’t available, or it takes two people and no one else is around to help. There is someone in charge of all those things, but it’s not the technician, it’s his manager. We are wondering, if the technician is accountable for doing his best, is it the manager who is accountable for the output of the technician? It’s the manager who controls all the variables around the technician – supplies, equipment, tools and other personnel. Should it be the manager who is accountable for the output of the technician?”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Outbound Air

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Advisor

Advisor

“And this advisor relationship?” Catherine asked.

Javier stopped, looked first at Catherine and then at Jim. “That’s easy,” he concluded. “Jim is your advisor. He doesn’t make task assignments. He doesn’t audit or monitor, but when asked, he gives you his best judgment, advice and counsel.”

Cross Functional Working Relationships

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Authority of a Project Leader

Prescribing (Cross Functional Working Relationship)

“And what will your relationship be with each person working on your project team?” Catherine asked.

“First, I am not the manager for the people on my project team,” Javier was clear. “But, I do have authority to directly make task assignments within the scope of the project and within the parameters I negotiated with their manager. If there is a priority conflict between my task assignments and their manager’s task assignments, the project team member just raises their hand. It’s up to me and their manager to work it out between the two of us. We understand the context of their regular assignments and the context of the project work. The team member does not have to be schizophrenic, or play favorites, they just have to raise their hand.”

“Okay, and what else?” Catherine asked.

Which Manager is Accountable?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
What is your feeling about a manager only managing one person?

Here is the scenario. We have a Product Manager accountable for new product development research and portfolio creation. Suggestion was to have a Marketing Services person, accountable for the creation of marketing collateral and advertising campaigns, report to the Product Manager. This Marketing Services person would be the only report that the Product Manager would be supervising.

My fear is that the Product Manager, also accountable for major business development activities centering on future business and product development, will be engaged in production type work involving market assessments and research for new product development. The Marketing Services role will be of little help in this work.

The Marketing Services person is accountable for today’s activities rather than future. In some ways it would seem distracting for the Product Manager to supervise the Marketing Services role.

Personally I think the Marketing Services role should report to the Marketing Manager, who is better suited. The Marketing Manager would then have seven direct reports. Better use of resources.

Response:
This is a classic example of organizational design, that contemplates whether the structure between the roles should be a managerial relationship or a cross-functional relationship.

There are some fundamental questions that must be answered first?

  • What is the level of work in each role described?
  • Which manager is accountable for the output (quantity, quality, within timeframe, using allocated resources) of the Marketing Services role? You describe who reports to who. Wrong question. We all report to lots of people. The central question is which manager is accountable?
  • Which manager is in the best position to bring value to the difficult problems and difficult decisions made by the Marketing Services role?
  • Is the work assigned to the Marketing Services role by the Product Manager full time or part time, and is the duration of that work forever, or in defined projects that start and stop?

The answers to these questions will help determine the appropriate structure. We will take them one at a time over the next few days.

Only Measure of Performance

“I have a dilemma,” Sylvia explained. “I have a team member who consistently underperforms. And, every time I ask what happened, to try to find out what went wrong, the cause of the project failure, I always get a plausible reason. I understand why the project failed and it’s not this person’s fault. My dilemma is, I have a make or break project that needs to go to this person, but I hesitate to assign it.”

“Is this person competent in completing assigned projects?” I asked.

“Not in completing them,” she defended, “but, there is always a plausible explanation.”

“Do you need the project completed, or do you need an explanation?” I pressed, not waiting for an answer. “It sounds like your team member doesn’t get better at performing. Your team member gets better at explaining why the underperformance is never their fault. Your team member gets better at an explanation that you actually believe. The measure of performance is not an explanation. The only measure of performance is performance.”

Short bow to Lee Thayer, Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing.

Responsibility, Accountability and Authority

Words mean things. One of the biggest problems with managerial practices and the concepts constructed to support them, is the lack of clarity. And whenever things are not clear, people make stuff up, like holacracy, self directed work groups, management by objective, results based performance.

My thanks to Nick Forrest and his book How Dare You Manage, to bring some clarity to three words, responsibility, accountability and authority.

You see, you may think you have a communication problem, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem. You may think you are observing a personality conflict, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem.

Accountability, or an accountability is a contract between a manager and team member related to an agreed upon output. An accountability is a contracted output.

Responsibility is a feeling of obligation, created and maintained within an individual to perform or take action. It is a feeling generally connected to a contracted output (accountability). Responsibility that is NOT connected to an accountability can be a recipe for disaster, because noble action may be taken without regard for a defined objective.

Authority is a limit. Authority is a limit, within which an individual has the freedom to use their discretionary judgment to make decisions (even the wrong decision) and control resources to reach a defined objective (goal, task assignment).

Whenever I see some management fad, like holacracy, emerge, it is likely because these three words have never been accurately defined. And in that void, people make stuff up. And sometimes, that stuff is nonsense. And sometimes, the nonsense can lead us astray, waste resources and in the end, destroy the organization that we were trying to build in the first place.

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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Hiring Talent Summer Camp kicks off next Monday. Follow this link to pre-register.

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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Hiring Talent Summer Camp kicks off next Monday. Follow this link to pre-register.

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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Hiring Talent Summer Camp kicks off next Monday. Follow this link to pre-register.