Tag Archives: manager

How to Predict a Departure

“Who is responsible for the team?” I asked. “Who is responsible for the performance of the team, and all the things that affect performance?”

Melanie looked around her office, as if someone was going to appear.

I continued. “If it’s not you, as the department manager, if it’s not you, then who?”

Melanie’s eyes stopped skirting the room. No hero appeared. She floated her excuse, “But how am I responsible that one of my team members quit?”

“That’s a very good question. How are you, as the manager, responsible that one of your team members quit?”

“What, am I supposed to be clairvoyant?” Melanie snapped.

“That would be helpful,” I nodded. “But let’s say you don’t have supernatural powers. How could you, as the manager, know enough about your team, to have predicted this departure?”

Who Sets the Context of Work?

“But, you are still here. What’s in it for you? What keeps you here?” I asked.

Riley had to think. Turnover on his team was high. Morale was in the dumps. He described his team as lifeless. “I guess I just don’t feel the same way they do. I know the work is hard. I know we have to pay attention. I know the work doesn’t stop at 5 o’clock. But for some reason, for me, it’s important to be here.”

“Why do you think it’s important for you and not so important for your team? At the end of the day, you are all working on the same projects.”

“Well, my manager and I talk about the work,” he explained. “We talk about the results of the what we do, as a company. I feel that I make a contribution, as a manager. What I do is important. In spite of how hard it is, it’s important.”

“You feel that way, because you and your manager talk about the work, the importance of the work? Have you ever talked about the work with your team?” I asked.

“Yeah, but, it’s different with them. I mean, they don’t get the whole picture. They don’t seem to understand it the same way that I do. For them, it’s just a job.”

“So, the context of their work, is that it’s just a job? Who is accountable for creating that context?”

Slow Way to Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag – on Quickest Way to Change the Culture.

Okay, I got what I wanted about hiring new people who are more into process than firefighting. But how do you change the current team, whose culture has been more about firefighting than process.

Changing culture is a long term journey. It requires patience, persistence and paying attention. Same scenario for maintaining the culture you want.

Behavior – it’s all about behavior. We can put teamwork posters on the wall, but that doesn’t mean a thing. Culture is about behavior, not posters. Culture is that set of unwritten rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together.

It starts in the debrief, the post-mortem, the project review. That’s why you have to pay attention. You have to pay attention to behavior IN alignment and behavior NOT IN alignment. When you see it, you have to call it.

I like to use a group setting after a project, because I want lots of people talking, not just me. In fact, I just want to ask questions. Let’s stick to process vs firefighting, here are my questions.

  • When we attack a problem, using a process (checklist, model, protocol, step sequence) what are the major benefits in the result? [Your group or team should be able to come up with a dozen or so benefits.]
  • If those are the major benefits, what stops us from using that process? [Your team should be able to come up with a dozen excuses not to use the process.]
  • So, let’s look at the process. [You do have a process, don’t you, because if you don’t have a process, you may have to go back to firefighting.]
  • In what way can we stick to the process next time to get the results we want? [Here is where I go back to the excuses to reveal them for the head-trash they are.]

And I use this de-brief often, just asking the questions. BTW, this is a simple gap analysis.

  • What do we want?
  • Where are we now?
  • What’s in the gap, keeping us from getting what we want?

Rinse, repeat. Often. Slowly, the group will turn. Patience, persistence and paying attention.

Saving Face in a Reassigned Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just read through a couple of your more recent blog posts. Specifically, the one titled “Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign” caught my attention. So what’s the answer to Cheryl’s dilemma? If we need to reassign someone to a new role, because they are better suited in another necessary role how do we allow them to save face. “Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

People change roles all the time. Titles are switched, departments re-organized. First, understand that reality always wins. Don’t try to blow smoke.

Here is the reality. The company needs everyone to be in a role where they can be most effective. The company has a necessary role. (You would never put Harold in an unnecessary role). The company thinks Harold is better suited for the new role than the role he is in now.

First, how do you know Harold is better suited? Hint – you don’t know.

How do you, as a manager, find out if someone is suited for a new role they are not currently doing? The answer is ALWAYS — give them project work. Give them a project that contains time span task assignments similar or identical to the work in the new role.

If they are successful, it is a simple transition from project work to a new role. The announcement is easy, based on the successful project.

The Danger of Healthy Competition

“It was worse than I thought,” Reggie stated flatly. “What I didn’t realize when I opened up this little fracas, was that the competition started long ago. I nosed around some of my sources. It’s been a dysfunctional fight for the past six months, with not only my three internal candidates, but two others. They are all spread across three departments, so I never saw it.”

“What’s been going on?” I asked.

“Mostly, it’s the subtle non-cooperation of one department with another. Convenient delays, rough hand-offs, missing information. Nothing malicious or brazen, but I have five people working against each other, working against the company.”

“Who’s the culprit?”

Reggie’s demeanor changed. He sat straight up in his chair. The nerve was struck. Chin down, looking over his glasses, furrowed brow, he finally spoke. “I’m the culprit. I tried to create a little healthy competition, but what I created was an environment where individual agendas were more important that teamwork. I created intense internal focus within each department, when I need cooperation between departments.”

“How do we fix it?”

“First, we have to start with the culprit,” Reggie shrugged. “And that would be me.”

Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign

“But he has been doing a terrible job, as a Manager,” Cheryl observed.

“So, do you want him out of the company? Should he be gone?” I asked.

Cheryl shook her head. “No, Harold has too much knowledge, he knows everything about everything, he is just in the wrong position for our company. What he is doing now, works against us. But he could be so valuable in a different role.”

“Right now, you have Harold in the role as a Senior Manager, which you say is the wrong place for him. But you don’t want to fire him, just reassign him. How do you think that will work, in Harold’s eyes?”

“He’s not going to like it,” Cheryl replied, still shaking her head. “He might quit and we really do need his technical knowledge. I am afraid he is going to be embarrassed in front of his peers, in front of his direct reports. This move is going to be very touch and go.”

“So, what is the one thing you have to do, to make this move successful?” I pressed.

“Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

Learning From Mistakes

A good bit of the morning had passed when I met Kim in the coffee room.

“Okay, I came up with a list,” she said. “It’s not a long list, but I was able to think about some specific things that were helpful to me when I was a supervisor. It’s funny. At the time, I didn’t realize how helpful it was, but now, I can see it clearly.”

“So, what’s the biggest thing on the list?”

“We were under some pressure to get a big order pulled for shipping. I was supervising the crew. Things were hectic. I commandeered a forklift that had been pulled out of service. One of the buckles on its safety harness was being repaired. I was thinking, how stupid, not to use a forklift for a few minutes just because it didn’t have a safety harness.

“Big mistake. I told one of my crew to use it anyway, just to move some product about ten feet over in the staging area. That part was okay, but when I wasn’t looking, the crew member took the forklift over and started moving other stuff. He figured it was okay to use the machine, since I said so. He was turning a corner and ran over something, his load shifted and he came right out of the machine.

“I was lucky. No one was hurt, nothing got damaged. In fact, everyone that was there, thought it was funny. Well, except for my manager. I thought I was going to get fired. It was a stupid thing I did.”

“So, what did your manager do?”

“He never yelled at me. I remember, he just came into my office that afternoon. He said one word, ‘Lucky!’ Then, he put some safety books on my desk, said he would be very interested to attend my safety meetings for the next three months.”

“So, tell me, how did that bring value to your thinking and your work?”

Just Promoted, No Respect

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

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.

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.

Who Will Happen?

“Who will our company leaders be in twenty years?” I asked. “Who will our company leaders be in five years?”

There were puzzled faces around the room. “Well, it’s going to be whoever steps up,” said a voice from the back of the room.

“What if that person is not currently employed here, and you have to promote someone without the capability to be effective in those roles?”

“I guess we will have to go to the outside and recruit,” came another voice.

“And, when will you know you need to do that?” I pressed.

“Maybe, we should get a committee together in a couple of years to look into our succession planning,” said someone from the front.

“Not good enough,” I nodded. “I want to see a personnel plan from every manager, every year. A rolling plan one year out, three years out and five years out. Do we need new roles on the team, do we need to take some roles away? Which personnel are operating effectively, who needs a new challenge, who needs to be liberated to industry? What roles will be replaced by technology? What growth or contraction do we expect?

“You see, succession happens all over the organization. It’s not just top leadership. Your technicians become team leaders, your team leaders become supervisors, your supervisors become managers, your managers become executive managers. Succession happens at each level of work over time.

“Planning for what will happen is not nearly as important as planning for who will happen.”

What If There is a Hiccup on the Project?

“I just want to be clear on this,” Roger said. “For my project, I initially asked for five hours of accounting support from your department. It turns out I needed ten hours, but you are giving me three hours from Nancy and three hours of data entry. That’s only six hours.”

Javier smiled again. “Yes, Nancy collected all the data about your project, transaction volume, your reporting requirements on the project, integration with our job-cost accounting system. With that information, I am comfortable that we can get your project accounting done in six hours a week, and Nancy will be there to make sure it is on time and accurate. You are getting a service from my department.”

“What if there is a hiccup on the project, something changes. Do I always have to go through you to communicate with Nancy? Seems like a lot of bureaucracy?” Roger challenged.

“No, you don’t have to go through me. My role is to provide you the service. I created a system for the accounting work to be done.

  • Nancy codes the transactions
  • Data entry enters the transactions into our accounting software
  • Nancy reconciles the data entry, proofs and publishes your report

So, the system is in place. Within that system, as the project leader, you have prescribing authority to directly assign tasks to both Nancy and data entry. You are right. There will be a hiccup, you can make adjustments directly. If you call a meeting with the two of them, they are obligated to attend the meeting and participate with their best efforts. As long as the system works for you, I don’t have to be involved.”

“So, what if your system breaks down? Who do I talk to, then?” Roger was still a bit defensive, not sure he trusted the system.

“Actually, I will know before you will. Nancy is acting as my monitor. If something changes, she will let me know and I will examine the system in case we need to make more adjustments.”

Cross-functional working relationships

  • Service giving-Service getting – a project or department receives a service from another function or department
  • Prescribing authority – directly makes task assignments within the system
  • Monitor authority – monitors a defined system and reports anomalies to manager