Tag Archives: manager

Which Manager is Accountable?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
What is your feeling about a manager only managing one person?

Here is the scenario. We have a Product Manager accountable for new product development research and portfolio creation. Suggestion was to have a Marketing Services person, accountable for the creation of marketing collateral and advertising campaigns, report to the Product Manager. This Marketing Services person would be the only report that the Product Manager would be supervising.

My fear is that the Product Manager, also accountable for major business development activities centering on future business and product development, will be engaged in production type work involving market assessments and research for new product development. The Marketing Services role will be of little help in this work.

The Marketing Services person is accountable for today’s activities rather than future. In some ways it would seem distracting for the Product Manager to supervise the Marketing Services role.

Personally I think the Marketing Services role should report to the Marketing Manager, who is better suited. The Marketing Manager would then have seven direct reports. Better use of resources.

Response:
This is a classic example of organizational design, that contemplates whether the structure between the roles should be a managerial relationship or a cross-functional relationship.

There are some fundamental questions that must be answered first?

  • What is the level of work in each role described?
  • Which manager is accountable for the output (quantity, quality, within timeframe, using allocated resources) of the Marketing Services role? You describe who reports to who. Wrong question. We all report to lots of people. The central question is which manager is accountable?
  • Which manager is in the best position to bring value to the difficult problems and difficult decisions made by the Marketing Services role?
  • Is the work assigned to the Marketing Services role by the Product Manager full time or part time, and is the duration of that work forever, or in defined projects that start and stop?

The answers to these questions will help determine the appropriate structure. We will take them one at a time over the next few days.

The Problem Isn’t Your Boss

“You seem a bit frustrated,” I said.

“I am, I am,” Drew replied. “I think I do a pretty good job in my role as a supervisor. We have a complicated process with long lead items and seasonal demand. During season, we build to order. Off season, we build to stock. We have certain constraints in our process that slow us down and sometimes things stack up when we overproduce some of our sub-assemblies. All in all, I keep things together pretty well.”

“Then, why the frustration?”

“If I could spend the time analyzing the way the work flows through, look at some things that could be done at the same time, understand where the bottlenecks are, I think we could get more through the system.”

“So, why don’t you do that?”

Drew thought for a minute. “Every time I start flow-charting things out, I have to stop and take care of something gone wrong, something we are out of, a team member who didn’t show up for work. It’s always something.”

“What happens when something goes wrong?”

“I get yelled at. My boss tells me to stop thinking so hard and get back to work. The time I spend working on the system just increases my workload beyond what I can get done in a day,” Drew complained. “I am constantly reminded that my primary function is to make sure that orders ship. I just can’t convince my boss that if the company is to move forward, we need to spend time looking at the sequence of steps to make things run smoother.”

“If you keep getting dragged back into day to day problem solving, fighting the fires of the moment, what is the solution? Who else on your team could buffer some of those problems?”

“Nobody. I am the go-to guy. There isn’t anyone else, and there is only one of me.”

“So, the problem isn’t your boss, it’s you,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems. You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

Relationship for the MOR at S-V

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
For a system architect at S-III, you described the role of their manager at S-IV. What would be the role of the manager-once-removed at S-V?

S-V – Manager-once-removed (5-10 year objectives)
—————————-
S-IV – Manager (2-5 year objectives)
—————————-
S-III – System architect (1-2 year objectives)

Response:
The relationship between the manager at S-IV and the system architect at S-III is an accountability relationship. When they get together, they talk about the work, solving problems and making decisions. The manager at S-IV is accountable for the output of the S-III system architect.

The relationship between the manager-once-removed at S-V and the system architect at S-III is a mentoring relationship. When they get together, they talk about -

  • Challenge in the role
  • Work environment
  • Training interests
  • Long term career opportunities

The focus for the S-V manager-once-removed is on strategic objectives 5-10 years out, so the question is, how will this S-III system architect contribute to my strategic objectives over the next 5-10 years? Will this system architect become more capable over time and be able to assume an S-IV role over the next 5-10 years?

What’s the Work of a System Architect at S-III

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
So, yes, we have an individual technical contributor, a system architect role, at S-III, with no reports. Does this then mean the system architect fulfills “production” and that a Stratum IV role would be the supervisor and a Stratum V role would create the system? Or, would you say that the system architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Again, this question reveals a couple of important issues.

  • What is production work at S-III?
  • What is the role of the manager at S-IV and the manager-once-removed at S-V?

In some business models, especially B2B, the product or service delivered to the customer might easily be a system which requires S-III capability to create.

For example, a customer might require a software system to automate a large work process. This customer might contract with a company to accomplish the following work.

  • Needs analysis
  • Workflow documentation
  • Automation system design
  • Software selection and procurement
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Workflow integration with the software
  • Role re-design to include software operation around the work process
  • Training of personnel
  • Testing of workflow for throughput
  • Evaluation of automated workflow related to the initial needs analysis

This is all clearly S-III system work and might easily take 12-24 months to accomplish. Remember, the goal is NOT to install an automated system, but to install an automated system that exceeds throughput of the original work process. The goal is to get the automated system up to a full working capacity.

Indeed, the production work is S-III system work, for the role of a system architect, with no direct reports.

Assuming the system architect has the capability to be effective at this level of work, it is likely that she will create her own progress metrics (making sure production gets done). In addition, she may also document the system for creating the system. So, much of the supervisory and managerial work related to the project might be accomplished by this same system architect.

But, every person performs at a higher level with a manager, so what is the role of the system architect’s manager (at S-IV). The function of a manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. The system architect can handle the routine decisions and problems, but might require help with the tough problems and decisions.

For example. The system architect might be able to automate this work process, but struggle with how this automated system might integrate with other systems in the customer’s company. It is one thing to automate manufacturing planning and procurement, stock and inventory of raw materials used in a manufacturing process, but how might that integrate with research and development? This is where the system architect’s manager might bring value.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the role of the system architect’s manager-once-removed.

What About in Individual Technical Contributor?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In the levels of work definition, from Elliott Jaques, you have highlighted that

  • Strata III – creates the system for production (typically a managerial role).
  • Strata II – makes sure production gets done (typically a supervisor role).
  • Strata I – production (typically a technician role).

Assuming one is working in a highly technical field, one might have a Systems Architect role at Stratum III, with no reports. Does this then mean that they fulfill ‘
“production” and that a Strata IV role would be the supervisor and a Strata V role creates the system? Or, would you say that the Systems Architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Thanks for the question. You have tipped off a number issues. The example I use most often in my Time Span workshop is a manufacturing or direct service model. These models are easy to understand, both in level of work and managerial relationships.

But there are hundreds (thousands) of business models that are not so straightforward in level of work. The calibration to determine level of work hinges on the length of the longest time span task in the role. As you suggest, in a technical industry, you may have “production” work at S-III, meaning the longest time span task would take longer than 12 months and shorter than 24 months to accomplish. This is quite typical in professional service firms (accounting, legal, financial advisory, engineering, architecture).

Your illustration also reveals the role of an individual technical contributor. An individual technical contributor is not necessarily a managerial role, but likely requires level of work at S-II, S-III or S-IV. Again, this is typical in technical business models.

If you have interest, I describe more details related to level of work, in the book Hiring Talent, for the following business models.

  • Managerial roles
  • Accounting roles
  • Engineering roles
  • Computer programming roles
  • Sales roles
  • Restaurant roles
  • Fleet service roles
  • Creative agency roles
  • Financial planning roles
  • Insurance agency roles
  • Construction trades roles
  • Legal firm roles
  • Public accounting roles
  • Medical roles
  • Educational institution roles (K-12)

Your question also asks about the nature of the managerial relationship for an individual technical contributor where the level of work is S-II, S-III or S-IV. I will save that for tomorrow.

Before the Team Can Get Better

“I am really disappointed in my team,” Carole began. “I really need to get them to step up their game.”

“Whenever I watch a team,” I replied, “to see how it is performing, I always end up watching the leader. Most times, the competency of the team reveals the competency of the leader.”

“Are you saying that the lack of performance of my team, is my fault?” Carole defended.

“No, I am saying, before the team can step up, it’s the leader who has to step up. Before the team can change, the leader has to change. The team you have right now, is the team you deserve. If you think your team should be more effective, you have to become more effective. Your team and their output is the product of your effectiveness as a manager.”

“Zappos just abolished bosses” – Baloney

“The latest management trend to sweep Silicon Valley requires CEOs to formally relinquish their authority and grants special protection for every employee to experiment with ideas. It’s called holacracy and big name tech leaders have jumped on the bandwagon,” proclaims Gregory Ferenstein in his post on Vox, July 11, 2014.

“Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh announced that he will transition his entire Las Vegas company — with a billion dollars of revenue and 1500 workers — to holacracy by the end of 2014.”

Holacracy is described as the latest management craze and it is just that – craziness. The problem with craziness is that a manager or CEO will read his article and naively follow a prescription that will cost hard dollars and create untold havoc. Following Ferenstein’s prescription could be fatal.

Holacracy is a weasel word. It attempts to use new (made up) terminology to mask a vague notion of contrived credibility.

“Holacracy is management by committee with an emphasis on experimentation. The CEO formally relinquishes authority to a constitution and re-organizes everyone into decentralized teams that choose their own roles roles and goals,” explains Ferenstein. Think about this. What is delegation? Delegation is the assignment of accountability and authority to complete a task. Delegation shifts the accountability and authority to a “decentralized” team that chooses to complete the task (or not).

And believe me. If the “decentralized” team chooses not to complete the task and adopts a six hour lunch break, some manager will step in and say “Guys and gals, that is not what we had in mind.”

If you read this column regularly, you know I am a structure guy focused on the research of Elliott Jaques. This notion of giving a team direction (an objective) and providing them latitude (time span of discretion), within limits, to solve a problem is not a new notion. Holacracy is baloney (weasel word).

Ferenstein would argue with the words “within limits.” He would argue that Hsieh would set those limits free. That will not be the case. Hsieh will define those limits (discretionary authority). Holacracy obscures what is really happening using words without meaning.

“Advocates for holacracy argue that centralization of power suffocates innovation.” Here is the biggest problem with Ferenstein’s description – most managers, CEOs and writers about management DO NOT UNDERSTAND the purpose for hierarchy. They believe that management is all about centralization of power. Hierarchy has little to do with power. Hierarchy has everything to do with accountability and authority.

So, is Tony Hseih misguided in his actions and decisions related to his management structure? No. What IS MISGUIDED is the understanding of what he is doing and its description as holacracy. Over my next few posts, we will look closer at what Tony is doing and see that it is nothing new. And if Tony understood his decisions more clearly, in the context that I will describe, those decisions would be more effective in creating his image of an organization.

The purpose of an organization is not to broker power, but to get work done. I know that is what Tony wants to do. The question is, what does that structure look like? It ain’t holacracy.

How to Build a Team, Where to Start?

“So, Roger. I am not going to give you all ten projects,” I repeated. “Not yet. Before I do that, we have some growing to do. You handled three projects superbly, the fourth you began to be late and by the fifth project, things really began to slip. But, you have potential. Ten simultaneous projects will require a different approach from you.”

“You said I would have to build a team,” Roger replied.

“Yes, and building a team is more complex than building a checklist.”

“I think I can step back from all my projects and see the things about those projects that are identical, the things that are similar and the things that are different. That’s why my checklists are helpful. But building a team, I am not sure where to start,” Roger admitted.

“At the beginning, of course,” I smiled. “Let’s start with something you know how to do. You are good at making a list. I want you to make a list of everyone on your current team.”

“I can do that,” Roger agreed. “Any particular order?”

“Yes, you know that some of your team members are more capable than others. You know that, because you have worked with them, watched them make decisions and solve problems. I want you to put your team members in order, with the most capable at the top and the least capable at the bottom. When you have finished that list, let’s get together and you can tell me about each one.”

The Shift in Becoming a Manager

“What would you have to do differently to accomplish ten projects in the same time that you now run five projects? No overtime,” I challenged.

“One thing is for sure, I can’t keep it all in my head,” Roger mused. “You know, some projects, you can manage with sticky notes. When you gave me my third and fourth project, I had to start making lists. When you gave me my fifth project, I realized my lists had similarities and I created a template with all the possible elements. Given another project, I can start with my template rather than creating a list from scratch.”

“But if I give you ten simultaneous projects, what would you have to do differently?” I repeated.

Roger shook his head. “I can’t manage ten projects at the same time, even with my templates,” he concluded. “Something would always be falling through the cracks. I would need some help.”

I nodded in agreement. “Roger, we didn’t start working with you because you could manage a project, or two projects. To manage ten projects, you will need some help, you will need a team. The reason we want to assign you ten simultaneous projects is not so you can build a better template (though that is helpful), but so that you will build a team. This is a dramatic shift from being a supervisor, to becoming a manager. It’s a higher level of work.”

Burnout

“I am really proud of my team. We worked overtime to get that project finished. Whatever it takes. That’s my motto,” Roger said.

“Was the customer happy?” I asked.

“You bet. They were jumping for joy. They didn’t think we could pull it off,” he replied.

“I am glad the customer was happy. You also know you blew the budget on this project. I know the customer is happy, because we paid for their project to be completed. And we burned out the team in the process.”

“Yes,” Roger protested, “but we got it done. I am really proud of the team and how hard they worked.”

“And the next project on the schedule starts today. This is one with a good margin in it, but I don’t see your team working on it,” I observed.

“Well, no. They were here until midnight last night, so I told them we could start late today.”
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