Tag Archives: management

The Numbers Are In

“The numbers are in,” Arnie exclaimed. “We made budget. Took a lot of hard work, but in the end, we got the result we wanted.”

“I’m impressed,” I replied. “And how many body bags in the wake?”

Arnie looked puzzled, then he understood. He had hoped I wouldn’t notice, or at least, wouldn’t bring it up. “Well, there are those on the team, I mean, that were on the team, that just weren’t committed. Sometimes, you have to weed the garden.”

“So, you will accept some casualties along the way?” I prodded.

“In every battle, there are casualties,” Arnie suggested.

“Yes, and this isn’t a battle. This is a company, with work to do, under client pressure, with regulatory constraints and margin requirements. Why all the body bags?”

Luck? or Variability

“Okay, we got together and hammered out what we think we are facing, as an organization, moving forward,” Vicki explained. “We wrote it all down on eight flip chart pages. We used your chart on Growing Pains. We think we have moved through the first two stages. We have a sustainable sales volume and we have documented our methods and processes, our best practices. But you were right, our problem is our profitability.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We get most of the way through a project, everything is right on track, then, it all goes out the window. Things happen. We get to the end of the project, and boom, our labor budget lands 40 percent over. Lucky, our buyout was 10 percent under, but we still lose 30 points on the job.”

“How often does this happen?”

Vicki squinted, looking for the answer. “Seven out of eight projects in the past three months,” she grimaced. “And the one project on target was a fluke, dumb luck. There was a problem on the job covered by a bond from another contractor. We got through by the skin of our teeth.”

“You realize, you have used the word ‘luck’ twice in the past 15 seconds?”

Burning Platforms

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I attended your Time Span workshop. So now I am curious, this clearly resonated. But where do we start?

Why? at the beginning, of course.

There are a number of simple things you can do, as a manager. But, I think, first, is to determine why you would do them. In the workshop, we started with an organizational analysis, to surface the challenges your company has faced, getting to where it is today. And then, to look forward, to understand what changes you will face taking your company to the next level.

In most cases, those challenges are predictable, depending on what stage your organization is moving through. But you have to write them down, with some detail.

This is where I start.

What are the burning platforms, the hot spots? Where do things seem to be stuck? What has to change? Where are the growing pains?

Only when you identify these changes, only when you identify the pain, will you understand the necessity of the solution. This is where I start.

This starting place is obvious, you and your management team already know this pain. You have likely discussed it, in meetings and in the hallway. So, write it down. Fishbone out the details. Don’t try to solve the pain, yet. Just document it.

Slow down.

Don’t jump to conclusions about solutions, because you, now, have this new lens, this new framework to look at these challenges. Before the workshop, you thought you had a personality conflict or a breakdown in communication. Most often, those turn out to be a misalignment in organizational structure.

Reframe your challenges, now, in the light of Time Span. This is where I start.

Leader or Manager? Argument Continues

From the Ask Tom mailbag – from a new subscriber in Brazil.

Your blog is fantastic! I´d like to know, what´s your opinion about the difference between managers and leaders?

I usually avoid this discussion. It’s an important question, but usually draws all kinds of fire that is counter-productive. Let’s see if I can make a go of it without getting my underwear wrapped around the axle.

A manager is a role, an organizational role, with specific authority and accountability. A manager is that person, in the organization, who is held accountable for the output of other people. It is a very specific role in an organization designed to accomplish work.

Leadership is a necessary trait of an effective manager.

We often, in casual conversation refer to leadership roles, but in that sense, it carries only vague (generic) accountability and authority. And leadership, as a trait, may be found in other roles outside the role of a manager. In addition to managerial leadership, there is also political leadership, parental leadership, spiritual leadership, scientific leadership, academic leadership. These are all roles in groups organized for purposes other than work.

So, a manager is a very specific role, with defined accountability and authority, in an organization whose purpose is work. Leadership is a necessary trait.

Referring to a leadership role, a leader has undefined accountability and authority and may exist in many types of groups, organized for different purposes.

It’s Just a Dotted Line on the Org Chart

It’s been a whirlwind of a week. I would like to welcome our new subscribers from workshops in Minneapolis, Des Moines and Austin.

“What do you mean, she doesn’t know she is accountable? It’s very clear to me,” Megan complained. “She has a very clear dotted line to that area of responsibility. I know it’s not her highest priority, but still, she is responsible.”

“So, there is a conflict in her priorities?” I asked.

“Not a conflict, really, she has to get it all done. Just because it’s a dotted line doesn’t mean she can ignore it. Besides, at the bottom of her job description, it says, -and all other duties assigned.- That should cover it.”

“As her manager, what do you observe about the way she handles the conflict in her priorities?” I pressed.

Megan thought. “I think it’s an attitude problem. It’s almost as if she doesn’t care about one part of her job.”

“I thought it was just a dotted line?” I smiled.

Megan stopped cold. “You think the problem is the dotted line?”

“Dotted lines create ambiguity. Ambiguity kills accountability. What do you think?”

You Can’t Interview for Attitude

“I get it,” Sara smiled. “I know, for someone to be a high performer, they have to value the work in the role. If they don’t place a high value on the work, it isn’t likely they will do a good job.”

“Not in the long run,” I confirmed. “In the short term, you can always bribe people with pizza, but once the pizza’s gone, you’re done.” (This is known as a diagnostic assessment.)

“I’m with you,” Sara nodded. “But how do you interview for values. I am afraid if I ask the question, straight up, I am going to get a textbook answer. The candidate is just going to agree with me.”

“Sara, when you are observing your team, watching them work, can you see their values?”

Sara stopped. “I think so, I mean, I can see enthusiasm. I can tell when someone is happy.”

“How can you tell?”

“I can just watch them,” she replied. “I can see it in their behavior.”

“Exactly. You cannot see a person’s values, you can only see their behavior. And that is what you interview for, their behavior. As a manager, just ask this question – How does a person with (this value) behave?”

Sara’s eyes narrowed. I continued.

“Let’s say that you have an accounting position and that accuracy, specifically with numbers is an important value.”

“You can’t ask them if they think accuracy is important. Of course, they will say – yes.”

I nodded. “As a manager, ask yourself this question. How does a person behave if they value accuracy in their work.”

“I know that one,” Sara jumped in. “I once asked our bookkeeper how she always balanced to the penny. She told me she always added things twice. People who value accuracy in their work always add things twice.”

“So, what question would you ask?” I pressed.

“Tell me about a time when accuracy was very important. How did you make sure you balanced to the penny?”
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