Tag Archives: accountability

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

Some Get It, Some Don’t

“Some of guys get it and some of them don’t,” Germain explained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, we train them. We have a great training program. We send them to St Louis for two weeks at corporate. But when we put them in the field, some do well, but some struggle.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I pressed.

“I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t paying attention in class.”

“It’s one of four things,” I said.

  • Capability. Does the candidate have the capability necessary for the role?
  • Skill. Does the candidate have the skill, were they trained in the skills necessary for the role? Do they continue to practice the skill?
  • Interest or passion. Does the candidate have the interest or passion for the work? Do they place a high value on the work or a low value on the work?
  • Required behaviors. Does the candidate engage in the required behaviors necessary for the work? Some behaviors, you contract for. Some behaviors are driven by habits. Some behaviors are driven by culture.

I looked directly at Germain. “Which one is it?”

“I’m not sure if I know,” he replied.

“Germain, you are the hiring manager. Those four things should guide you in the interview. At this stage of the game, you shouldn’t be wondering.” -Tom
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Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
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Coincidence of Results

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“I am not so sure about this candidate,” Marcus explained. “He says he would make a good sales manager, but even on his resume, he has only been in that role for seven months.”

“So, what does he say?” I asked.

“When, I think about it, sounds more like promises,” Marcus nodded. “I asked him what kind of impact he was having on his current sales team. He said that by the end of the year, they were looking at a substantial increase in sales. He said they should have made him sales manager three years ago.”

“But, they didn’t? And, does the increase in sales have anything to do with the sales manager, or is their market just improving? You are basing your judgment of effectiveness based on a result (that hasn’t even happened, yet). You have fallen in a trap. Results based performance is a trap.”

“But, results are important,” Marcus defended.

“And, results can be a sucker punch. You assume the results were created by the performance, when there are a hundred other things that contribute – reputation, price point, product superiority, terms, another supplier that failed to deliver. Results are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. When you abdicate your judgment of effectiveness based on results, you ignore the candidates behavior. What are the behaviors you expect out of your sales manager?”

Marcus had to stop and think. “Coaching, goal setting, teaching, observing, giving constructive feedback, encouraging, bringing out the best in his sales team.”

“So, interview for those behaviors. Effectiveness in those behaviors will tell the story of your candidate. Don’t be fooled by a result (that hasn’t happened yet).”

The Danger of Missing Stratum III

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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Our company somehow always manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat, put the fire out that saves the refrigerator, crosses the finish line crawling through glass. But, we can never relax. Every major project is drama. Every major project is the one that will put our company over the top, but we never quite make it. We are always in a state of overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, our customers are very happy and return to us, project after project, but it is such a struggle. We never get to breathe, we never finish in stride.

Response:
Your company is operating at S-II (implement), in a market that requires S-III (system). If your organization is completing one project well, what does it get? Another project.

If your organization is completing two projects well, what does it get? A third project. How does it do the third project? The same way it does projects one and two. So, what does your organization get? Another project.

But, what if your organization got fifty projects? How would it do fifty projects? Certainly, not the same way it did projects one and two. Most S-II companies would kill to get 50 projects, not realizing that the 50 projects will kill them. What’s missing? S-III (system) capability.

S-III stands back from the 50 projects and sees the common pattern, extracts that pattern into a system. The system optimizes resources, reduces waste and minimizes effort. The company that wins the race is the one that goes the fastest with the least amount of effort.

S-III (system) brings consistency of output, it’s always the same. Consistency of output yields predictability of output, so we can codify our system. This predictability helps us understand the real cost, now predictable, so we can build in reasonable profit.

Whenever I hear about a profitability problem, I never look for what‘s causing the problem. I always look for a who. In this case, it is a who, with capability at Stratum III. -Tom

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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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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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.