Tag Archives: manager

Context is Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I believe you when you say that a key managerial component is setting context. How does culture fit in to context?

Response:
Context is culture, that is why it is so critical for managers to set context. Context is the culture in which we do our work.

Beliefs and Assumptions. Culture is the way that we see the world (Grodnitzky). Culture is the lens through which we see every element of our surroundings. Culture is what we believe to be true (whether it is or not). It is the collective consciousness in our workforce.

Connected Behaviors. Culture drives behavior (Grodnitzky). Lots of things influence behavior, but culture drives behavior. These behaviors are attached to the way that we see the world. Change the way we see the world and behavior changes. If, as a manager, you want to change behavior, you have to change the way you see the world. Change the context, behavior follows (Grodnitzky).

Tested Against Reality of Consequences. Every connected behavior is challenged by reality. Is the way we see the world aligned with the reality of consequences? No plan ever survives its train-wreck with reality. Everyone has a plan (the way they see the world) until they get punched in the face (Tyson). The reality of consequences tempers the way we see the world. As a manager, do not believe that you can get away with a bullshit culture.

Customs and Traditions. Those connected behaviors that survive the test against reality produce our customs, rituals, traditions. These routine ceremonies reinforce (for better or worse) our beliefs and assumptions about the way we see the world. Some behaviors are simply repeated often enough to become rituals. Some traditions are created to enshrine the belief. Either way, over time, make no mistake, these customs will have their day against the reality of consequences. Be careful what you enshrine.

Context is the environment in which we work. What does yours look like? -Tom
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Many thanks to my mentor Gustavo Grodnitzky Culture Trumps Everything.

How to Set Context With Your Team

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I hear you say that management is about setting context. I think I understand what that means, but I do NOT understand how to do it.

Response:
Culture is context. Setting context is the prime objective for every manager. Context is the environment in which work is done. Work is making decisions and solving problems. This is fundamental managerial work. Three moving parts –

  • Communicate the Vision. This is the future picture of a project, picture of a product in a package, the output from a service. This is what a clean carpet looks like.
  • Performance Standard. This is the what, by when. This is the objective in measurable terms. This is the goal – QQTR, quantity, quality, time (deadline or evaluation period), resources. The vision is full of excitement and enthusiasm, specifically defined by the performance standard.
  • Constraints. There are always constraints and guidelines. Budget is a constraint, access to resources is a constraint, time can be a constraint. These are the lines on the field. Safety issues are always a constraint. When the project is finished, you should go home with all your fingers and toes.

That’s it, then let the team loose to solve the problems and make the decisions within the context. Do not make this more complicated. It’s always about the fundamentals. -Tom

The Look-Ahead

“Then, how are we going to measure the size of the role?” I repeated. Joyce and I were discussing Phillip. Though he had been made manager, he was having difficulty with some of his new responsibilities.

“So, you are suggesting that we look at all the tasks on Phillip’s plate and assign a Time Span to them?” Joyce asked.

I nodded.

She began to brainstorm out loud, “If I look at his Key Result Areas, as Warehouse Manager, Phillip is responsible for:

  • Personnel
  • Receiving
  • Picking
  • Shipping
  • Warehouse Layout and Work Flow
  • Security
  • Equipment
  • Safety

“And which of those KRAs has the longest Time Span tasks?” I asked.

Joyce pulled out a sheet of paper to make some notes. “Receiving, picking and shipping are fairly short term things. The look-ahead is probably no more than a couple of weeks.

“But, both Personnel and Warehouse Layout and Work Flow, contain much longer Time Span tasks. We have a lot of seasonality to our product lines and we have to make decisions about inventory bin placement four or five months in advance. We really depend on a twelve month bin cycle that rotates stock both forward and backward depending on seasonality. Some tasks create a feedback loop to sales and purchasing about inventory turns, raw materials in stock, finished goods in stock. There is a lot to control, but it’s easy if you think out far enough into the future and plan.

“And that’s where Phillip messes up,” Joyce concluded. “He just doesn’t plan out far enough, so it’s always chaos.”

“So, if we were to measure Phillip’s capability in Personnel and Layout and Work Flow, he underperforms?” I confirmed.

It was Joyce’s turn to nod.

“So, let’s look at his other tasks, determine the level of work and see if we come up with a pattern of his effectiveness.”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom

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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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom

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.

Next Class – Hiring Talent – April 18, 2016

We are gathering the next group for our online program Hiring Talent which kicks off April 18, 2016. As the economy recovers, your next hires are critical. This is not a time to be casual about the hiring process. Mistakes are too expensive and margins are too thin.

Purpose of this program – to train managers and HR specialists in the discipline of conducting more effective interviews in the context of a managed recruiting process.

Candidate Interview

How long is the program? We streamlined the program so that it can be completed in six weeks. We have also added a self-paced feature so participants can work through the program even faster.

How do people participate in the program? This is an online program conducted by Tom Foster. Participants will be responsible for online assignments and participate in online facilitated discussion groups with other participants. This online platform is highly interactive. Participants will interact with Tom Foster and other participants as they work through the program.

Who should participate? This program is designed for Stratum III and Stratum IV managers and HR managers who play active roles in the recruiting process for their organizations.

What is the cost? The program investment is $499 per participant. Vistage members receive a $100 credit, so $399.

When is the program scheduled? Pre-registration is now open. The program is scheduled to kick-off April 18, 2016 with Orientation.

How much time is required to participate in this program? Participants should reserve approximately 2 hours per week. This program is designed so participants can complete their assignments on their own schedule anytime during each week’s assignment period.

Pre-register now. No payment due at this time.

April 18, 2016

  • Orientation

Week One – Role Descriptions – It’s All About the Work

  • What we are up against
  • Specific challenges in the process
  • Problems in the process
  • Defining the overall process
  • Introduction to the Role Description
  • Organizing the Role Description
  • Defining Tasks
  • Defining Goals
  • Identifying the Level of Work

Week Two

  • Publish and discuss Role Descriptions

Week Three – Interviewing for Future Behavior

  • Creating effective interview questions
  • General characteristics of effective questions
  • How to develop effective questions
  • How to interview for attitudes and non-behavioral elements
  • How to interview for Time Span
  • Assignment – Create a bank of interview questions for the specific role description

Week Four

  • Publish and discuss bank of interview questions

Week Five – Conducting the Interview

  • Organizing the interview process
  • Taking Notes during the process
  • Telephone Screening
  • Conducting the telephone interview
  • Conducting the face-to-face interview
  • Working with an interview team
  • Compiling the interview data into a Decision Matrix
  • Background Checks, Reference Checks
  • Behavioral Assessments
  • Drug Testing
  • Assignment – Conduct a face-to-face interview

Week Six

  • Publish and discuss results of interview process

Pre-registration is now open for this program. No payment is due at this time. See you online. -Tom

Don’t Be the Critical Parent

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
I’m a new manager for a staff of about 65 people. It seems that my predecessor was not a good manager. I was left with people misinformed about company and regulatory policies. Anytime I point out something being done incorrectly, I end up being the bad guy. I’ve tried to be nice, explain my reasoning and show proof, but it doesn’t work. They just keep saying the previous manager didn’t tell them. One staff member even called another department to complain. How can I get them to listen and comply with rules and regulatory policies we have to follow? Should I start writing people up or just keep explaining myself?

Response:
One thing I learned a long time ago, no one listens to me. It doesn’t matter how brilliant I am. It doesn’t matter how I nail the solution to the problem, I get no respect. It’s the Rodney effect.

Why should they listen to you? Whatever you have to say, means a change for them. And it doesn’t matter if you are right.

There is one person, however, they will listen to. If you can figure out who that person is, and get that person to dispense the helpful advice, you will make some headway.

I have found the only person from whom people will take negative criticism is themselves. The advice has to come from them.

Here is how I would start. Observe the kinds of things that people are doing outside of guidelines and policies, take some notes and build a list. Then call a meeting to discuss how we could make improvements in various areas. Describe one difficulty or problem or one process in which we would like a different result. Divide the team into smaller groups of 2-3 to brainstorm ideas to get the best ideas, then invite team members to take the new actions and try them out.

I would conduct these five minute meetings 2-3 times per week, looking at all kinds of ways to make improvements. Pretty soon, they will see new ideas you never thought of. And you don’t have to be the critical parent.

Keep Them or Transition Them Out

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In an attempt to retain their highest producers, a call center instituted an incentive plan that highly favored a group of seven. These “Magnificent Seven,” as the partners called them, did produce a high percentage of the revenues. But they were also highly dysfunctional as a group as each one was high maintenance with lots of personal baggage in his/her own right. While the reward system worked to retain these seven, the churn rate for the remaining 23 seats was over 400%. In effect, the incentives to retain seven people came at the expense of morale, work environment, job satisfaction and even the bottom line. The cost of continuously replacing the 23 employees far exceeded the benefit of retaining the seven. Your thoughts?

Response:
So, if I was a direct manager and needed high volume sales for only the next three months, I would go the M-7 every time. But, that is not the way most organizations work. Most organizations need sustained revenue over years and decades. Most organizations need a sustainable system of sales which contemplates sales methodology, recruiting, orientation, portfolio growth, levels of work, promotion and retirement. This goes back to time span.

Three months time span – Magnificent Seven
Ten year time span – Not the Magnificent Seven

What to Delegate, What to Self-Perform?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Here is what I have noticed about levels of work. When a leader works at a lower (incorrect) level, he/she actually destroys value in the people on the team. The team becomes frustrated and honestly sometimes, lazy, because the boss will come in and do the work anyway.

Response:
Most managers have difficulty delegating because they don’t understand the level of work in the task. Identifying level of work tells the manager specifically what tasks can effectively be delegated and what tasks must be self-performed. In the delegation, level of work tells the manager what decisions, authority and accountability can reasonably be expected. This understanding allows managers to engage in higher levels of system design, planning and problem prevention.

How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of a Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
First of all thank you for your help with understanding Elliott Jaques methodology. I am interested in applying it in one of the banks where I’m working currently.

Could you please advise a practical tool of installing a simple and reliable system of performance appraisal based upon the principle that it is the direct manager who is accountable for the results of his/her subordinates?

There is a good example in Social Power & the CEO of how to arrange personal effectiveness evaluation system of rank and file staff. However it does not say anything about how to evaluate managers.

Response:
The distinguishing factor between most performance appraisals and Jaques personal effectiveness appraisal is that it requires the manager to use judgement in considering all the factors surrounding a team member’s effectiveness. This requires the manager to look at ALL the variables surrounding output, only one of which is the team member’s performance.

Jaques uses the example of concrete pouring. In some companies, a performance appraisal considers only the output, how many yards of concrete were poured during an 8-hour shift. Irrespective of how direct labor shows up to work on time, uses their best effort to locate the truck properly and guide the concrete into the forms, the actual output may have more to do with the moisture content of the mix in the truck. Sometimes, travel time between the mixing plant and the pour site delivers a HOT batch, where the chemical setting up is already occurring before the truck even arrives at the site. Or the moisture content of the sand/rock mix may be too high and creates a slurry mix. All of these variables will have an impact on output in spite of the best efforts of the pouring crew.

A personal effectiveness appraisal requires the manager to take all those factors into account when asking the simple questions – Is the team member as effective as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half? And in that half, top, middle or bottom?

Now, how to translate that to managerial roles? It’s the same.

The problem with managerial roles, is that we seldom define the work. What is the WORK of a manager?

Most managers receive no guidance related to the WORK of a manager. That is why the role description is so critical. But, most role descriptions are poorly organized, a list of non-sequitur tasks that provide no guidance to priority or objective.

An effective role description takes that list and groups the tasks that go together and separates the tasks that don’t go together. The tasks are now grouped into key areas (Key Result Areas – KRAs). The effective role description now clearly defines the output (goal, objective, accountability) in each KRA. The process is no different for a managerial role, but the KRAs are different and include a different level of work. Here are some typical managerial KRAs found in most managerial roles.

  • Team selection
  • Production system
  • Team training
  • Output planning
  • Quality control
  • Resource coordination (equipment, materials, tools)
  • Capital equipment budgets
  • Workforce planning

An effective role description will describe the required tasks/activities and state the accountability (output, goal, objective).

With this role description, in each KRA –
Is the manager as effective as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half? And in that half, top, middle or bottom?

If you would like to receive by email, a template that organizes this review, just Ask Tom. A detailed discussion of KRAs in the role description can be found in Hiring Talent.