Tag Archives: accountability

The Truth About Empowerment

“Empowerment!” Joshua proclaimed. “The answer is empowerment.”

“Really?” I turned my head. “Just exactly what does that mean?”

“Well, when we are trying to get people to do something, we have to empower them.”

“All you did was use the word in a sentence, you didn’t tell me what it means.”

“When you want to raise morale, make people feel better about their job, you have to empower them,” Joshua tried again.

“Empowerment is a weasel word,” I explained. “Everyone uses (misuses) it, no one knows what it means. There are whole books about it, and no one knows what it means. It’s a cover-up, the salve to heal a wound inflicted by management. We have an empowerment problem. Our employees need to be empowered. WTF does that mean?”

Joshua turned sheepish. “I dunno.”

“Of course, you don’t know, you just stumbled into it. Sounded good, so you said it. Don’t ever use that word around me again. You don’t have an empowerment problem, you have an accountability and authority problem. You don’t need to empower your employees, you need to sit with your team and define the authority and the accountability that goes with it. It’s a contract with two parts. Empowerment is like a government oversight committee that has the authority to indict with no accountability. If you have the authority to do something, then you have the accountability that goes with it. Don’t talk about empowerment, talk about accountability and authority.” -Tom
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Weasel words is a concept codified by Lee Thayer Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing. In the history of this blog, in addition to accountability, we have identified two other weasel words, motivation and holocracy.
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Registration for our Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer is now open. Find out more – Hiring Talent.

Procrastination and Time Span

Joyce had her thinking cap on. Her dissatisfaction with Phillip was elusive. Not just a lack of performance, but from a lack of capability.

“I want you to begin to think about capability in terms of Time Span,” I prompted.

“You’re right,” she replied. “Phillip seems to stay away from, or procrastinate on all the projects that take time to plan out and work on. And then, it’s like he jams on the accelerator. He even told me that he works better under pressure, that last minute deadlines focus him better. I am beginning to think that he waits until the last minute because that is the only time frame he thinks about.”

“Give me an example,” I asked.

“Remember, I found him hidden away in the warehouse, rearranging all the shelves himself. It’s really a bigger project than that. We are trying to move the high turning items to bins up front and slower moving items to bins in the back. But it’s going to take some time to review, which items need to be moved, how to re-tag them, how to planagram the whole thing. We started talking about this three months ago with a deadline coming due next week. So, only now, Phillip focuses in the warehouse doing things himself. And the result is likely to be more of a mess than a help.”

“Is it a matter of skill, planning skills?” I ventured.

“No, I don’t think so. The whole project is just beyond him,” Joyce said with some certainty.

“Then how are we going to measure the size of the project, the size of the role? And how will we state Phillip’s effectiveness in that role?”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom

How to Spot Micro-Management

Joyce was thinking about her team. Things were not a disaster, but not running too smoothly. There was a friction in the team that was beginning to take a life of its own.

“I have been watching Phillip,” she started. “It seems he is struggling with his job as a supervisor, but it’s hard to tell. He has his good days, but not too often.”

“How would you rate his performance?” I asked.

“Well, that’s pretty easy to see. He is always late with stuff and it’s never completely done the way it should be. And then, when I go to talk to him about it, I can’t find him.”

“Is he in the building?”

“Oh, yeah, he will turn up, but it’s like, he was two hours down in receiving, he said he was organizing the place. Now, I know the place needs to be organized, but he was doing it all alone. He was not out here, supervising on the floor, where he really needed to be. The receiving guy should be doing the organizing in receiving.”

“What do you think the problem is?”

“Well, even though he is a supervisor, it seems he would rather be doing lower level-of-work stuff. Some of his team members even accuse him of micro-managing.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“It’s like he is in a role that he doesn’t even like, and probably in over his head,” Joyce concluded.

“And who put him in that spot?”

Joyce turned her head, looked at me sideways. A bit of a smile, a bit of a grimace.

Not a Personality Conflict

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am trying to sort out an argument between one of my foremen and our safety officer. They have two different personalities. My foreman is driven, goal oriented with a knack for getting things done, even if he has to bend a rule or two. My safety officer is conservative, a stickler for policy without much admiration for getting things done. On the face of it, their personalities are suited to the roles we have them in. Until they get in the same room, or in the same meeting, or worse case, on the same job-site. It’s like oil and water. We have done personality testing to confirm what I have described, but they fight like cats.

Response:
You don’t have a personality conflict, you have an accountability and authority issue. Both roles have goals and objectives. Neither role is the manager of the other, yet they both have to work together. You could stand in and referee every interaction (if you have that kind of time on your hands) or you can get clear about the accountability and authority of each.

The foreman, no doubt, has production goals to meet each week and month for the duration of the project. The foreman has the authority, as the manager of his crew, to assign tasks, monitor those tasks and adjust work assignments as time goes by.

The safety officer has goals and objectives related to the absence of workplace accidents, the adherence to safety policies and long term, a reduction in work-comp modification factors. The safety officer is in a classic auditor role, accountable for safety, and, also with special authority to delay or stop work in the face of an unsafe work practice.

The conflict you witness between your foreman and your safety officer has nothing to do with personality, everything to do with the lack of clarity on your part, as their manager, related to their accountability and authority. The safety officer has the authority because you define it. If you don’t define it, you will get behavior that looks like a personality conflict.

Who Needs to Be Fired Today?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am a manager, and I understand that I am accountable for the output of my team. My team is accountable for showing up every day with full commitment to do their best. But, I feel stymied by my colleagues, my manager and his colleagues. I know I am accountable, but my authority is constantly under pressure to keep members on my team who should have been terminated long ago. The trouble is, it’s so difficult to get rid of anybody around here. Yet, I am accountable for substandard output. My manager points to HR, HR points to policy, policy points back to me and my hands are tied.

Response:
It is not unusual for an organization to be fuzzy about hiring and firing practices. Upper management does not trust lower management to make sound decisions, and this lack of clarity creates a malaise of inaction that is allows underperformance to continue, simultaneously debilitating the morale of the rest of the team.

Elliott Jaques was quite clear that managerial accountability also requires managerial authority. Organizations underperform because this issue remains unresolved with managers, at all levels, passing the buck.

For a manager to be held accountable for the output of the team requires the manager to be given, minimum, veto authority in team member selection. Likewise, that same manager must have authority to de-select an individual from the team.

There are two implications. No manager can unilaterally make hiring and firing decisions in a vacuum. There are considerations of budget, work flow, work schedule, capacity. These circumstances create the context of the hiring and firing decisions. The second implication is the role of the manager-once-removed. The concern of upper management about the decision-making of lower management is not without merit, but, for Pete’s sake, get clear about the authority that goes with the accountability.

Manager-once-removed
——————–
Hiring manager
——————–
Team member

In hiring practice, the manager-once-removed is required to create a slate of qualified candidates for the hiring manager to select from. The manager-once-removed should be well aware of the context of the hire, including budget, work flow, work schedule and capacity planning. In this way, the manager-once-removed can be assured the hire is proper in context and that the hiring manager has a qualified slate to select from.

In firing practice, the manager-once-removed is required to be an active coach to the hiring (firing) manager. The hiring (firing) manager may de-select an individual from the team, but terminations from the company require the agreement from the manager-once-removed. Again, the manager-once-removed should be well aware of the context of the de-selection and/or termination related to budget, work flow, work schedule and capacity planning.

Most organizations leave this authority fuzzy and suffer the consequences. For a manager to be accountable for the output of the team, that manager must have the minimum veto authority on team selection and authority to de-select after due process.

So, why would the manager-once-removed want to get tangled up in this mess? Because the manager-once-removed is accountable for the output of the hiring manager. The manager-once-removed is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring manager. This accountability changes everything, overnight.

Difference Between S-II and S-III Problem Solving

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
The manager understands he is accountable. The result he achieves on a key metric is well below the expectation which he or she clearly understood. They have achieved success before on this same metric but are now way off acceptable performance. What now?

Response:
Indeed, what now? Embedded in your question are stratum II descriptions of problem solving.

  • Solve problems based on experience.
  • Solve problems based on documented experience.
  • Solve problems based on best practices.
  • Solve problems according to standard operating procedures.

All of these methods have delivered output according to the metric before. They achieved success before on this same metric, but now, are way off acceptable performance. What now?

They now face a problem they have not faced before and their stratum II problem solving methods fail them. Understand this team can solve all the routine problems, but now faced with this problem, they struggle, even the supervisor. This is where the stratum III manager must step in. This problem requires a stratum III solution.

  • Solve problems through root cause analysis.
  • Solve problems through A-B testing.
  • Solve problems through comparative analysis.
  • Solve problems through what-if?

Solving problems with these methods requires a higher level of capability on the part of the manager. And that’s what a manager is for, to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team.

Team members can solve the routine problems and make the routine decisions, it’s when they struggle, they need the active support and coaching from their manager. This is the critical nature of managerial accountability and the building block of organizational structure.

Managerial Acccountability Up the Food Chain

“I understand, that, as a manager, I am accountable for the output of my team,” Janice was trying to make sense of who is accountable. “But my manager isn’t accountable for my output, is he? I thought it was only about our production teams.”

“As a manager, you are accountable for the output of your production team. You are accountable for their work output. Why shouldn’t your manager be accountable for your work output?” I asked.

“But, I don’t do production work, at least, not anymore,” she defended.

“Work is making decisions and solving problems. When your production team has a difficult decision to make or a difficult problem to solve, don’t you jump in and help them through?”

“Yes, because I am accountable for the team’s output. If I don’t help them make the right decision, I am on the hook for the consequence.”

“And you have told me that you are struggling, when it comes to hiring. You have a difficult decision to make. That’s work. What is the output of your decision making?” I prompted.

“It’s either going to be a good hire or a bad hire,” Janice relented.

“And why shouldn’t I hold your manager accountable for the quality of your decision?”

What’s Your Point?

Accountability is not just about production. Managerial accountability goes all they way up the food chain.

  • Supervisors (S-II) are accountable for the output of production.
  • Managers (S-III) are accountable for the output of supervisors (S-II).
  • Executive managers (S-IV) are accountable for the output of managers (S-III).
  • Business unit presidents (S-V) are accountable for the output of their executive managers (S-IV).

Fix Accountability, Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You seem to think that when the manager is held accountable for the output of the team, it’s a game-changer. You seem to think this one idea has a significant impact on morale.

Response:
Mindset drives behavior. This is a central premise to culture. What we believe, the way we see the world, drives behavior.

When a manager believes the team is accountable for their own output, it creates a punitive, blaming mindset on the part of the manager. I often hear the refrain from one manager to another, “Well, did you hold them accountable?”

And I have to ask, “Accountable for what? And just what managerial behavior is involved in holding them accountable?”

Is it a matter of reprimand, jumping up and down and screaming? Is it a matter of volume, frequency? If I told you once, I told you a thousand times. At that point, I am convinced that I am talking to a manager who has no children.

Managers who engage in this behavior have a direct negative impact on team morale. Response is predictably fight, flight, freeze or appease.

But, when the manager is accountable for the output of the team, everything changes. A manager accountable for the output of the team will –

  • Take extreme care in the selection of who? is assigned to the project.
  • Will take extreme care in the training of team members assigned to the project.
  • Will take extreme care in the work instructions for the project.
  • Will take care to monitor the progress of work on the project.
  • Will take care in the coaching of team members who may struggle in connection with the project.

Why? Because the manager is accountable for the output of the team. The attitude, the mindset, moves the manager from blaming behavior to caring behavior. If this becomes the mindset of all the managers, the entire organization’s culture changes. We don’t need sensitivity training, or communication seminars. We just need to fix accountability.

Team Member Contract for Accountability

From the Ask Tom mailbag – related to the post on Reprimands and Individual Accountability vs Accountability for Output.

Context:
Accountability for output travels down levels of work, with each manager accountable for the output of their team. Individual accountability travels up levels of work, with each individual accountable for bringing their full commitment and discretionary judgement to do their best.

Question:
The emphasis on the last comment was on Output, which is typically an end measure. Where is the emphasis on Input? The Input of each member of the team (the level of tasks and work) directly correlates to the Output measurement. What about having each be accountable to not only measure their daily input of work but also use those metrics to improve upon their own performance? That will impact everyone’s Output.

Response:
There is appropriate discretionary judgement at every level of work. Meaning, there is appropriate problem solving and decision making at every level of work. Most decisions relate to pace and quality. The work product related to pace and quality turns out to be output.

Let’s blow apart full commitment and discretionary judgement related to Elliott’s contract.

  1. The team member is accountable (individual accountability) to come to work everyday, with their full commitment, using their discretionary judgement, to do their best.
  2. If the team member’s output is behind schedule (pace), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  3. If the team member’s output is ahead of schedule (pace), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  4. If the team member’s output is below the quality standard (quality), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  5. If the team member’s output is above the quality standard (quality), they should inform their manager ASAP.
  6. If the team member is unable to do their best (that day), they should inform their manager ASAP.

Nick Forrest calls this feedback loop, “best advice.” Each team member is obligated to give their manager “best advice” related to their output.

With “best advice,” the manager is in a position, and has the authority to make adjustments to schedule, bring in more hands, authorize overtime, call the customer and delay the output, stop production to re-tool, add an inspection process, scrap out-of-spec production. The reason the manager is accountable for the output of the team is, the manager controls all the resources. The manager understands a larger context of the work, and has oversight. That comes with accountability for output.

Individual Accountability and Accountability for Output

From the Ask Tom mailbag – related to the post on Reprimands

Question:
I am unclear how a CEO can run a company without an alignment of accountabilities. Your description that the manager is accountable for the output of the team just gives the people below the manager a pass. This changes nothing. It just moves the dynamics up to between manager and superior. It’s a fractel of the same pattern grounded in a paternalistic paradigm. “Hey I’m not accountable, the team, as an entity, isn’t accountable – the manager is.” In a company of grown ups we hold ourselves accountable. Where does this accountability come from? Accountable to whom?

Response:
Indeed, how does a CEO run a company without an alignment of accountabilities? At Stratum V, the CEO holds the S-IV executive team accountable for the output of the S-III managerial team. In turn, the S-III managerial team is accountable for the output of the S-II supervisory team. In turn, the S-II supervisory team is accountable for the output of the S-I technician team. This is accountability related to output.

Here is the shift.

The S-I technician team is individually accountable, for themselves, according this contract. The S-I technician is individually accountable to show up for work each and every day, with their full commitment to do their best. That’s it.

This individual accountability then travels all the way back up to the CEO, each person, at every level of work, individually accountable to do their best. This is the alignment of accountabilities, individual accountability to do their best, with the accountability for output resting with the manager at each level of work.