Tag Archives: decision making

No Longer the Glow of the Project

“Management is not all I thought it was,” Miriam explained.

“How so?” I asked.

“I started in the marketing department, working on projects by myself. It was satisfying. I would finish a project and I could stand back and look at it. My friends could admire the project. The project had a glow and it was me.”

“That’s because you are a results oriented person and the results were close at hand and tangible. What it different, now?”

“Now, it is slower,” Miriam started. “As a manager, I don’t get to work directly, I work through other people. The results of the project are the results of the effort of my team. I don’t get the glow out of the project, the team gets the glow. What do I get?”

“And this is frustrating?” I prompted.

“Yes, most of my problems, now, are not project problems, they are people problems. I can get the people problems resolved, but the glow is elusive. It is hard to put my finger on the result.”

“So, in your brief experience as a manager, where is the glow?”

“Sometimes, the glow doesn’t take place right away, and it is subtle, in the background,” Miriam stopped. “The glow for a manager is in the development of the team, learning, tackling tough issues and moving to tougher issues. It’s a very indirect glow. I used to have passion for the output of the project, now, it’s a matter of placing value on the development of other people.”

“Congratulations, you have discovered the true role of a manager. You thought being a manager was so people could report to you. Management is about bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team.” -Tom

Discretionary Judgment

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about work as making decisions and solving problems. You talk about discretionary judgment. When I tell a team member about their role (in a role description), it seems more like a list of tasks that have to be completed. How do I talk about discretionary judgment in a role description?

Response:
Most role descriptions are as you describe, a disorganized list of tasks and activities. But, when we hire a team member, we are not paying for their tasks and activities, we are paying for their discretionary judgment. If we were just paying for task completion, we would hire robots. And, every role has decisions to make and problems to solve. Every role requires discretionary judgment.

A typical supervisor task is to post a work schedule for the team for the following week. But that is just the outcome. Here is the discretionary judgment part.

This task requires the supervisor to look ahead on a rolling 4-6 week basis, to anticipate changes due to team member vacations or other circumstances that will affect the team member’s attendance. And to look ahead on a rolling 4-6 week basis, to anticipate changes due to production fluctuations which may require a reduction in shift personnel or overtime. The supervisor will use discretionary judgment to create the schedule based on those circumstances.

Dead Horse

Byron was thinking back. “I think we have done what you suggested. Every year, in our annual business plan, we look at the cost structure in each of our project areas. And each year, we find one or two things that don’t quite measure up.”

“What was the last project that didn’t measure up,” I asked. “And what did you decide about it?”

Byron’s curiosity turned into a muffled laugh. “You’re right. Now that I think about it, the people involved, in the last project going south, negotiated more time and actually spent a ton of market research money to find out that there wasn’t as big a market as they thought. Their dwindling net profit went underwater the more they studied it.”

“And now?”

Byron shook his head. “They are still holding on to some hope that the market will turn around.”

“The answer is NOT, how can we make another research study? The answer is, how can we get out of this? Or, at least, how can we put a tourniquet on the bleeding?” -TF
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The failure to accomplish a goal does not prove that more efforts and resources are needed. The failure to accomplish a goal may indicate that efforts should be stopped and a different path should be taken.

Old Indian saying, “When the horse is dead, it is time to get off.” -Tom

This Business of Judgement

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
From Monday’s post A More Accurate Judgement of Capability, the question came – So how does one get into the judgement business?

Response:
Become a manager. Don’t give me politically correct rhetoric that we shouldn’t judge. Management is all about judgement. Work is making decisions and solving problems. Making decisions is all about judgement. Elliott called it discretionary judgement.

The Time Span of Discretion is the length of time (target completion time of a task) that a person has, in which to make judgements that move the task to completion (the goal). We make judgements about –

  • What is the goal?
  • What has to be done now?
  • What has to be done next?
  • Who, on the team, would be the most effective at completing this task or that task?
  • How effective was the team member, completing this task or that task?

Management is about making decisions. For better or worse, good judgement, poor judgement. -Tom Foster

What Do You Look for in a Candidate?

“We are hiring for a new supervisor. And this time, there is no one on the inside that we can promote. We have a good crew of technicians, but none is going to be able to do what we need them to do. We have to go outside,” Roger explained. “What do we need to look for in the person we want to hire?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, what kind of person should we look for? You know, someone who is self-motivated, dependable. Someone who can project confidence to the team. That’s important, you know. We need someone who is flexible, who can adapt to change. Someone who is a team player, you know, someone who is good with people.”

“That’s all interesting, but what is the work?”

“It’s a supervisor. Supervisory work,” Roger floated.

“So, what is the work of a supervisor, in your company, what is the work?”

Roger looked at me blankly.

“Look,” I said, interrupting his stare. “You seem to be focused on trying to climb inside the head of the candidate without any real definition of the work that has to be done. In this role, what are the decisions that have to be made? What are the problems that have to be solved? I am more interested in whether the candidate has made those kinds of decisions and solved those kinds of problems.” -Tom

Levels of Work and Appropriate Decision Making

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your workshop today, you asked two questions –

  • What have been your growing pains (as an organization)?
  • What has to change going forward?

It occurred to me, the reason our company is stuck, is that decision making always gets pushed to the CEO. In our executive team meeting, whenever there is a decision to be made, even seemingly routine decisions, I see heads go down, deference to the CEO. We all wait, unable to make a move until she speaks.

Response:
Dependency is the collusion required to institutionalize parenting and patriarchy. It’s a two-way street. Given the opportunity for the CEO to play God, it is very difficult to resist. Allowing someone else (the CEO) to make the decision lets the executive management team off the hook of accountability. It is a perfect collusion.

Allowed to persist, the executive management team is crippled from making ANY decision, especially those they should be making. When all decision making streams through the desk of the CEO, speed slows down and accountability is concentrated.

When you understand levels of work, you are suddenly able to determine what decisions are appropriately delegated and who to delegate them to. There is appropriate decision making at every level of work.

When the decision emerges in the executive management team, ask these two questions –

  • What is the appropriate level of work to make this decision?
  • Who, at that level of work, will be accountable for the consequences of that decision?

-Tom

How to Bring Value to Decision Making

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted to a new role in my company, as an S-III manager. Every working relationship is now different. All these years, I avoided my manager because the only feedback I got was criticism, my task assignments seemed like barked orders. The less we talked, the better we got along, at least from my perspective.

As time went by, my manager moved on and I was tapped to take his place. So, now, I have a new manager. In your workshop, you said it is the role of every manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of each team member. While this is certainly advice for me as I work with my new team, I am more curious how I might kickstart things with my new manager. I refuse to stand by the same dysfunction I had with my old manager. How can I get the most out of the working relationship with my new manager?

Response:
First, congratulations on your promotion. I can see from your question why your company selected you. I assume your new manager is in a role at S-IV.

  • Clarify expectations
  • Organize expectations
  • Define the output
  • Schedule a recurring meeting
  • Set the agenda
  • Don’t skip the meeting

Clarify expectations
The central document to clarify expectations is a role description. The tendency is to assume understanding without a written agreement. Write it down.

Organize expectations
In your new role, you will be accountable for a range of outputs. An S-III role is a big role. You will have a long list of tasks and activities. Some of the things you do will go together, but some things will be separate and distinct from the other tasks and activities. All are important, none can be overlooked. Find the things that go together and collect them (in the role description) into a Key Area, a Key Result Area (KRA). Go back to your list and find the next things that go together, separate and distinct from the other tasks and activities. Collect them (in the role description) into another KRA. By the time you finish this exercise, you should have defined approximately 6-8 KRAs.

Define the output
In each KRA, based on the tasks and activities, define the output. What is the accountability in each KRA? Each Key Area must have at least one, no more than three defined outputs.

Schedule a recurring meeting
Schedule a recurring meeting with your manager, two hours, once per month. This meeting is just the two of you, 1-1. This is not a casual meeting, but a formal meeting with a start time and an end time. You set the agenda.

Set the agenda
Your agenda will follow the Key Result Areas (KRAs) you defined. Your role description will give you a general idea of the tasks and activities, as well as the defined output in each KRA. Your agenda will identify the specific actions and short term goals for the next thirty days. In the meeting, as you describe your intentions to your manager, you will make notes and commitments.

Don’t skip the meeting

There will always be something that seems more important at the appointed time of your meeting, but it’s not. The event that gets in the way of your meeting will be more urgent, but never more important.

This is the meeting where your manager will bring value to your decision making and problem solving. -Tom

The Futility of Planning

“Planning in this day and age is futile,” Reggie complained. “The world changes so fast in these times, with technology, what is the point of thinking five years into the future?”

“Indeed,” I replied. “Do you think technology will be different five years from now?”

“Absolutely. So what’s the point thinking about decisions five years from now?” Reggie continued his protest.

“So, you think a decision made today might be wrong, five years from now?”

“Of course. Things change.”

“What kind of things?” I prompted.

“Technology drives all kinds of change, in the way we communicate, the speed of information, the precision of measurement. It changes our methods, our systems, our reach, our scope.”

“So, if we don’t think about those things in the future, we might make the wrong decision today?”

Reggie stopped. His head turned around. “You’re right. Planning is not about making a decision five years from now. Planning is about making a decision today.”

Just Promoted, No Respect

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted to the supervisory position on a crew I worked with for the past 2 years. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time gaining the trust and respect of my co-workers as well as other supervisors and managers. It seems to be difficult for some to grasp the fact that I have been entrusted with the responsibility for this team. It might be the fact that I have not had a great deal of time in the position, as of yet, so hopefully it may get better with time and my ability to be patient. But if there is any bit of advice and/or support that you may be able to provide, I am all ears.

Response:
It is always tough to become a new supervisor, to an existing peer group or a new group. A new supervisor always means change. And most people don’t like change, at least they don’t like the unknown parts of change.

Respect comes, not from the authority of the position, or the experience of the supervisor. Respect comes from bringing value to the work and thinking of the individuals on the team.

Team members always seek out the person in the company that brings value to their decision making and problem solving. If it happens to be their supervisor, that’s great. All too often, it’s not.

Think about it. We all work for two bosses. We work for the boss who is assigned to us, and we work for the boss we seek out. The boss we seek out is the one who brings value to our work, our thinking and our lives.

So, if you are the new supervisor, that’s the boss you need to be.

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.”