Tag Archives: authority

Parlor Games at Best

Samuel Pierce felt it was his duty, as Chairman of the Board, to make sure the new CEO was grounded in reality. “Catherine, I just want to make sure that you are up to the challenges you face as the new CEO, and that you are not being too idealistic.”

Catherine Nibali was chosen as the successor CEO to a company in trouble.

“You will have the union to deal with,” Samuel warned. “I know it was here when you arrived, but it is here nonetheless.”

“That’s true,” Catherine agreed. “The existence of a union is only one indicator of the deeply ingrained misconceptions this company drifted into. The people systems were based on false assumptions of managerial leadership. It’s no wonder the union was able to take hold. But, Samuel, there is more. The union is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“With all due respect,” Samuel interrupted. “Your predecessor, Al Ripley, tried a number of things. He re-engineered many of the work processes, he allowed group dynamic exercises, ropes courses, results based incentives, group bonuses.”

It was Catherine’s turn to interrupt. “Exactly,” she stared directly at Samuel. “Parlor games. Parlor games that, at best, might create a small burst of productivity, but in the long run, laid the ground for the union and shaped a culture that provokes disruptive behavior. We stand for what we tolerate.”

This is the beginning of the next book, sequel to Outbound Air. Find out how Catherine got here.

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.”

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.

Authority Inside a Project Team

Service Getting (Giving)

“How did you explain it to the team?” Catherine asked.

“As I approached each department manager, I told them I was working on a project, Project X, where I needed specialized resources from other departments. I explained what I needed, how much I needed and asked for their recommendation.

“For the project accounting, I asked our CFO for a controller level person with ten hours a week to track the direct and indirect costs for the project. The CFO suggested this would be a subsidiary ledger inside our accounting system anyway, and she assigned someone to the project.

“That’s the way it went with the other five departments working on the project.” Javier stopped because he knew that Catherine would have a question.

The Key Ring

“Why did you think it was so important to give the key ring to someone else?” I asked.

“Because the key ring was a distraction,” Ryan explained. “People would come to me and ask for the key to the tool room, where we keep the calibration equipment. I loved when people asked my permission to gain access to the tool room.”

“Sounds like a powerful position,” I observed.

“And, I discovered that, as long as I had the key ring to all the doors, then people would continue to ask my permission. To the point, where I could not spend time on more important things.”

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“As long as I had the key ring, I was the bottleneck in every decision. And while that bottleneck grew, I ignored my real priorities.”

“So, you could not keep the keys AND do your job, at the same time?”

“No,” Ryan said. “I had to assign the key ring to a more appropriate person.”

“What did you learn?”

“I learned that the key ring was just a symbol for power that had little to do with effectiveness. And sometimes the key ring had nothing to do with keys. The key ring had more to do with decisions that should have been made at a different level of work, a more appropriate level of work.”

“And?” I pressed.

“And, so I have to constantly look for the key ring, I am holding, that I really need to let go.”

Who Carries the Keys?

“They called me KEYS,” Ryan explained. “I had the keys to every door and portal in the building. I was important. I was the person the company trusted with the keys.”

“And, what did you discover?” I asked.

“I thought the keys were a sign of power, and that power translated into being a manager.”

“And, why did you think that?” I pressed.

“No one could do anything without my permission.” Ryan replied. “I thought I had a great deal of authority.”

“And, now?”

“Now, I realize that carrying all the keys to the building has nothing to do with being a manager.”

“So, what did you change?”

“I found another trustworthy person to carry all the keys.”

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.

Designed Around the Work

“I know you want me to be the nice guy,” Jim Dunbar pushed back, “that I would have a better organization if I wasn’t so hard on people, but at the end of the day, we have to get some work done around here.”

It stings against political correctness, but if you consider, for a moment, that statement is true, what changes?

What if, it is all about the work? What if the purpose of your organization is to actually get some work done, solve a problem, execute a solution? It’s not for every organization, only those with the intended purpose to get work done, complete a task, achieve a goal.

Some organizations are designed around other intentions, religious organizations, political organizations, educational organizations, collegial organizations, all with purpose, all with goals.

What if the purpose of your organization was to get some work done? What if your organization was designed around the work?

No Respect

“Tell me about that picture of the next step for you, as a manager.” I was talking to Jeanine.

“I can’t. I can’t do it until I have the authority to do it.” She was struggling with her new position in the company. She was handed a project to help solve some communication issues between several teams inside the company. “I just don’t have their respect. If I had the title, it would just be easier.”

“Jeanine, I can’t give you the title. You have to earn the title. I cannot make people have respect for you, it has to be earned.”

“But, if I don’t have the authority, how can I get their respect?”

I paused. “Jeanine, it is really very simple. All you have to do is bring value to the problem solving and decision making of those around you. Stimulate their thinking, help them move to the next level, show them how they can solve their own problems.

“People will always seek out others in the organization that bring value to their thinking and their work. If their manager is not bringing value to the party, the team member will always seek out the person that is.

“If you want respect, forget the title. Bring value to the problem solving and decision making of those around you. You will earn it.”

Too Many Layers

Sydney thought for a moment. “We just promoted Justin to Team Leader. The rest of the guys on the crew say he is breathing down their necks. He is obviously not ready to be a full supervisor, and we are losing his productivity as a machine operator.”

“And?” I prodded.

“And I really don’t know what to do,” Sydney replied.

“Let’s look again at your instructions to Justin. You said if a team member has a problem, help them solve it, if they have a question, answer it and make sure all the work gets done by the end of the day. And yet, you said he was not ready to be a supervisor? Sounds like you gave him supervisor tasks, but you already know he is struggling with those tasks.”

“Yes, but, if we are going to have the team report to Justin..” Sydney stopped. “So, I took my lead technician and tried to make him a supervisor, even though we already have a supervisor. It looked good on paper.”

“Actually, it didn’t look good on paper. You have 112 employees and twelve layers,” I observed.

“I know, I said 112,” Sydney explained. “Now it’s 110, two people quit this morning.”