Tag Archives: accountability

Contrived System of Reward

“But the worst part of my little bonus system,” Reggie confided, “was not that my managers manipulated the numbers, but that the system I created changed the mindset. I corrupted their thinking. Digging out of that hole is going to take time. And some of them will not survive. I created a contrived system to reward something I thought was good.

“And the winner of my little contest, the successful candidate who gets the position as the new division VP, is going to think he got the job by gaming the system. It doesn’t matter how I explain it, in his heart, his experience will tell him that he got the job by playing with the numbers.

“It is really true,” Reggie continued, “the behavior you reinforce, is the behavior you get. I created the incentive. I got the behavior.”

“If you are going to create a different environment, what has to change first?” I asked.

“All crumbs lead to the top,” Reggie said. “I have to change first.”

Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign

“But he has been doing a terrible job, as a Manager,” Cheryl observed.

“So, do you want him out of the company? Should he be gone?” I asked.

Cheryl shook her head. “No, Harold has too much knowledge, he knows everything about everything, he is just in the wrong position for our company. What he is doing now, works against us. But he could be so valuable in a different role.”

“Right now, you have Harold in the role as a Senior Manager, which you say is the wrong place for him. But you don’t want to fire him, just reassign him. How do you think that will work, in Harold’s eyes?”

“He’s not going to like it,” Cheryl replied, still shaking her head. “He might quit and we really do need his technical knowledge. I am afraid he is going to be embarrassed in front of his peers, in front of his direct reports. This move is going to be very touch and go.”

“So, what is the one thing you have to do, to make this move successful?” I pressed.

“Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

I Don’t Know What That Means

“So, what is the goal?” I asked. “What is the expected output?”

Marianna smiled, looked down at the paper in front of her. “Strategically improve current workflow resulting in improved success on projects in support of long-term company goals.”

I nodded. “Sounds great. But, I don’t know what that means.”

Marianna looked puzzled. “Well, that is what I expect from the manager in this role,” she replied.

“I know that’s what you expect, but I am still confused.” I stopped. “It is noble to improve workflow, but I don’t know what you expect to see. How are you going to evaluate effectiveness? What do you expect this person to do?”

“Well, we have work-cells that pass work along the line. Sometimes there are delays where things stack up. Sometimes, there are quality problems that are discovered at the end of the line, where we have to scrap a whole day’s production because of a small adjustment up the line. Sometimes, we run out of raw materials, so production stops. Sometimes, our work flow gets interrupted by a priority order that gets inserted at the last minute.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You want the person in this role to chart out the workflow, identify problems related to workflow delays, interim quality inspections, raw material min-max levels and expedited orders. The accountability (work output) will be a one-page work flow chart showing work-cell to work-cell production hand-offs, identifying where delays occur, when interim quality inspections are performed, quantities of raw material inventory related to production, and contingency processes for expedited work orders.”

Marianna nodded her head in agreement.

“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I smiled.

Dotted Lines Create Ambiguity

“Each department manager turned toward internal efficiency because you told them to. No waste, no scrap, predictable output,” I said. “But now you have multiple departments, multiple systems and subsystems. You have silos. Silos that compete. Silos that compete on budget. They compete for resources. They compete for your managerial attention. Most companies stay stuck here. It’s your move.”

Regina was thinking. Her eyes looked down, her vision went inside. “I am the problem,” she observed. “I told them to be this way?”

“You are the problem,” I agreed. “And you are the solution. Your departments are perfectly capable of creating those internal efficiencies, but those internal efficiencies have to be optimized. Work goes sideways through the organization. It starts with marketing, then goes to sales, then to contracting, then to operations, then to warranty, looping into R&D. Work gets handed off from one department to another.”

“So, I can’t just put all the managers in a room and tell them to figure it out?” she guessed.

“Your role is one of integration,” I nodded.

“Like all the dotted lines on the org chart?” Regina offered.

“Your dotted lines on the org chart have your best intentions. Intuitively you understand the horizontal cross-functional working relationships, that’s why you drew the dotted lines. But dotted lines create ambiguity. No one understands the specific accountability and the limited authority that goes with those dotted lines. So people make stuff up. And that’s where the trouble begins.”

Outlast the Panic

From Outbound Air

“So, what did you think?” Jim asked.

Kevin DuPont stared into the corner of the room, not making eye contact with Jim. “I am not sure. That was a pretty awkward meeting. Before it started, I agreed with you. I mean, all we did was change the name of the meeting. But I can put two and two together. I didn’t like the reaction of the team.”

“What did you expect?” Jim asked.

“I don’t know. What did you expect?” Kevin replied.

“Exactly what we got. Panic. Except for Javier. He was the only calm head in the room. Of course, you cut the meeting short.”

“Well, yes. Couldn’t you feel the tension? Tough enough that morale is bad, now we have, what did you say, panic?”

Jim chuckled. “You young guys just don’t have the patience. Didn’t you know that all you had to do was outlast the panic?”

And If the Advice is Wrong?

From Outbound Air

“So, what happened?” Jim wanted to know.

“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Mary said. “What matters is that it was my decision and my decision alone. I was accountable for the decision and the consequences of the decision. The technical crew did their best to keep the aircraft in pristine working order. Flight operations did their best to keep the customers on schedule.

“If I decided to fly the plane and something happened, the technical crew would not be accountable. If I canceled the flight and the repair turned out to be a non-event, flight operations would not be accountable. This decision was my decision.”

“What if the technical advice you get from your team is wrong?” Jim pressed.

“I am still accountable. As the manager, I have to evaluate the risk. If the risk is high, even if I trust my team to do their best, sometimes I have to double-check the data or bring in a second opinion on the analysis. I am still accountable.”

Who Makes the Decision?

From Outbound Air

“Exactly,” Catherine beamed. “As long as nothing changes, your teams do not need you. They can handle all the routine decisions and problems. But, you know that something will change, something always changes. This airline operates in a world of uncertainty. You helped define a number of standard operating procedures. Your teams know how to handle weather systems, flight delays and lost baggage. They know how to re-route customers. They even know what to do in the event of a computer outage or a security breach.”

Catherine stopped to let this sink in, before she continued.

“But, what happens when our load factors on a route fall below the level of profitability for a thirty day period. Should they cancel all the flights?”

A wave covered the room. Some stared down at the table, some stared at the ceiling. They did not avoid eye contact, but, instead, looked inside to connect to some logical response. Javier broke the silence. “No,” he was emphatic. “First, that is a decision they do not have the authority to make.”

“And, why not. The routes are unprofitable, why shouldn’t your shift supervisors cancel those flights?” Catherine challenged.

“It’s not their role to make a decision like that?” Javier replied.

“Says who?” Catherine baited.

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.