Tag Archives: organizational structure

The Danger of Missing Stratum III

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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Our company somehow always manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat, put the fire out that saves the refrigerator, crosses the finish line crawling through glass. But, we can never relax. Every major project is drama. Every major project is the one that will put our company over the top, but we never quite make it. We are always in a state of overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, our customers are very happy and return to us, project after project, but it is such a struggle. We never get to breathe, we never finish in stride.

Your company is operating at S-II (implement), in a market that requires S-III (system). If your organization is completing one project well, what does it get? Another project.

If your organization is completing two projects well, what does it get? A third project. How does it do the third project? The same way it does projects one and two. So, what does your organization get? Another project.

But, what if your organization got fifty projects? How would it do fifty projects? Certainly, not the same way it did projects one and two. Most S-II companies would kill to get 50 projects, not realizing that the 50 projects will kill them. What’s missing? S-III (system) capability.

S-III stands back from the 50 projects and sees the common pattern, extracts that pattern into a system. The system optimizes resources, reduces waste and minimizes effort. The company that wins the race is the one that goes the fastest with the least amount of effort.

S-III (system) brings consistency of output, it’s always the same. Consistency of output yields predictability of output, so we can codify our system. This predictability helps us understand the real cost, now predictable, so we can build in reasonable profit.

Whenever I hear about a profitability problem, I never look for what‘s causing the problem. I always look for a who. In this case, it is a who, with capability at Stratum III. -Tom

Breakdown in Communication is Only the Symptom

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You talk about how most problems are structural problems. I don’t get it. Our company has a communication problem. Because people don’t talk to each other, at the right time, balls get dropped. If we could just communicate better, things would go smoother.

You think you have a communication problem. And, you can have all the communication seminars you want, you will still have breakdowns in communication and balls will still get dropped.

You have a communication symptom of a structural problem. Structure is the defined accountability and authority in working relationships. You have a communication symptom because the working relationship between two people was never clearly defined.

As the manager, you know specific information should be communicated at a specific time, and you assume the two teammates will figure out what (needs to be communicated) and when. So, when that doesn’t happen, you think you have a communication problem. That is only the symptom.

The communication never happened, or didn’t happen at the right time, because, as the manager, you never required the information be passed on at a specific time. As the manager, you never defined the accountability in the working relationship, so the two teammates were left to twist in the wind.

You have a structural problem (defined accountability), with a communication symptom. Define the specific accountability and the communication symptom fixes itself.
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Twelve Months From Now

I repeated my question. “What things do you need to pay attention to, that will have an impact one year from now?”

“This company is pretty stable in what it does,” she replied. “We may replace a machine or our volume might go up or down. But what really changes, is the people. You never know what is going to happen with the people.” Melanie’s mind began to race like she had just discovered uranium.

“You’re right,” she continued. “The biggest thing that always changes, is the people.”

“And even if the people don’t change, the people change. Even if it’s still the same people, they are not the same people.”

Melanie’s discovery of uranium was shifting to panic. This new world that opened up just a few seconds ago, suddenly got very scary.

“So, I am responsible for knowing that, a year into the future?” she asked.

I nodded.

Watch for the release of our online program – Hiring Talent 2016, scheduled for Jan 15, 2016.

Being Busy

“You were promoted because your manager was promoted. I didn’t think you were ready to make the move from supervisor to manager, but the position was open and the COO was impatient. He is now having second thoughts when he looks at your turnover statistics.”

Melanie was quiet. Her voice, calm. “I didn’t know that. But you said two of my supervisors quit because they graduated night school and got better jobs. I can’t help that?”

“We found out in the exit interview. They had jobs lined up three months before they gave you notice. And you didn’t know.”

“But how was I supposed to know. We stay pretty busy around here,” she protested.

“Melanie, the job of being a manager is not about being busy. It’s not about scrambling to save the day. As a supervisor, you were effective at that. Now, it is killing your effectiveness as a manager. As a manager, your role is completely different.

“You said you could anticipate things, as a supervisor,” I continued. “You said you could see the future. I need you to see even further into the future. As a manager, I need you to think out 12 months.”

Melanie shifted, sat up, “But, who knows what is going to happen a year from now?”

“Indeed,” I said. “What things do you need to pay attention to that will have an impact one year from now?”

Watch for the release of our online program – Hiring Talent 2016, scheduled for Jan 15, 2016. Here are some responses to the program.

“Drilling down to get to the core of what candidates actually did and were responsible for was a big take away for me. Before this course, I would have moved to the next question without getting the answer I needed to make an informed decision as people do try to answer what you want to hear not with what they have demonstrated they are capable of.”

“There were two ideas that were the most helpful to me. One was taking the time to develop a set of interview questions for each role that focused on how the candidates meet the job requirements. The other idea that was helpful was the decision matrix, especially when considering a number of qualified candidates.”

“The biggest concept that is sticking with me is the importance of the interviewer controlling the interview so that they obtain the important, detailed information from each candidate regarding the candidate’s skills, capabilities and attitudes. It is so easy for the candidate to control the interview and “dazzle” the interviewer with made-up answers that are pleasing to the ear but not necessarily true. This program taught us not only that it is important to create specific questions that elicit the truth from candidates, but it taught us HOW to create those questions. It was extremely helpful that we created questions for an actual job that exists in our company because it made it easy to apply the concepts of the course to our own real situations at work.”

Transition From Supervisor to Manager

“Do you know why you were promoted from supervisor to manager last year?” I asked.

“Because, I was the best darn supervisor the company had,” Melanie replied.

“And, being the best supervisor, what did you do that none of the other supervisors were able to do?”

“Oh, that was easy. I could see the future. I could tell when something was going to get screwed up, weeks ahead of time, and I could adjust the schedule to make sure we stayed productive. You know, if you reject some raw material because it’s out of spec, that means you have to shift some stuff around.”

“Yes, you were one of the best schedulers around.”

“What do you mean, were?” quizzed Melanie. “I still am.”

“Not exactly. Do you know why you were promoted from supervisor to manager last year?”

The Clarity of Accountability

“it’s funny,” Byron thought out loud. “You always ask me, as the manager, about my contribution to the problem. Immediately, I always think – Who? Me? I didn’t contribute to the problem.”

“And, what have you discovered when you deny accountability?” I asked.

“I just have to stop. I have always confronted my team with blame-colored glasses. When I realize that I am the one accountable for the output of my team, everything changes. When I realize that I am accountable for the output of the team, I take ownership. Ownership is a powerful stimulant for caring about my team. Constructive coaching automatically follows, not because I have to, but, because I am accountable.”

“And your team?”

“They change too. They are no longer on the receiving end of blame, but are now, part of a team, supporting me, as their manager,” Byron nodded.

“And did that change happen because you circled the team to sing a song?”

“No, it happened because we got clear about accountability.”

But, We Have an Org Chart

“But, everyone understands the structure. Everyone knows who they report to. I mean, we have an org chart,” Andre protested.

“And, I said – clear recognition of individual team members, each with individual accountability in clearly defined working relationships. That’s different and rarely exists. Tell me how things work around here,” I asked.

“The managers tell everybody what to do and then correct their mistakes,” Andre looked puzzled at his own response.

“Exactly, in what you just described, which is typical for most organizations, I have no clue who is accountable for the work output. I have no idea of the work of the manager. And, I have no idea how people work together when neither is each other’s manager. In the absence of clarity, people make things up, on their own and that is why you see petty bickering, overt passive-aggressive behavior, borrowed staplers not returned, people eating other people’s lunch (metaphorically). That is why you see bright ideas, ignored or made fun of. Project assignments are hoarded and protected. Promotions are based on favoritism.” I stopped. Andre’s eye were wide open.

“How long have you been watching us?” he asked.

“I think I have been here the better part of ten minutes,” I replied.

The Feeling of Family

“So, you want your team to feel like a family, at least an extended family?” I asked.

Andre was thoughtful. “You have heard the expression, familiarity breeds contempt? That is the behavior I see. Petty grievances. Subtle discord. You would think that, as a family, they would get along better and, in turn, be more productive. I want them to work together, collaborate, support each other, you know, real teamwork.”

“All, noble ideas. But, could there be a paradox? Could it be, that effective group collaboration, teamwork, does not stem from a feeling of family, but rather a clear recognition of individual team members, each with individual accountability in clearly defined working relationships? Could it be structure that creates the feeling, not the feeling that creates the structure?”

If I Only Had People Who Were Smarter

“We have plenty of people to do the work,” Max explained. “I have written all the steps for them to follow, a nice flow chart as a visual on the cover of the binder. As the projects move through, I have Gant charts to help me understand the status, so I can explain to the customer.”

“It all sounds very organized. So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“The problem is, the production team doesn’t follow the work instructions. I walked by a work cell yesterday and the work was clearly being done out of sequence. I suddenly knew why we were having QC problems on some of the output.”

“And?” I pressed.

“I asked them why they were doing it that way, when we had just completed a training program on the correct sequence. Do you believe this? They told me the training program was wrong, that they had been doing it their way for a long time and they didn’t see the need to change. Besides, it was easier to do it their way.”

“And they had just been through training?” I wanted to know.

“Well, yes, it wasn’t like a class. I spent ten minutes with the four of them. It was really common sense. I don’t see why they didn’t get it. If I had smarter production people, they would have figured it out on their own,” Max was clearly frustrated.

“You see something they don’t see?”

“Yes. And how.”

“Did you ever think, you see something they cannot see?”

Is Your Infrastructure Ready to Grow?

“You want to grow bigger? What do you need to focus on? Because I don’t think you are ready.” I asked.

The group looked at each other, not sure, maybe some ideas rattling around in their heads, but no one wanted to speak first.

“Before you think about getting bigger,” I continued, “what is your biggest challenge, right now? Look, you called me in here. You all look tired, worn out. You have been working way past 5p every day. And now, you have an opportunity to take a risk, which will grow your company 30 percent over the next 12 months. What is your biggest challenge, right now? What has to get fixed before you even think about taking this next risk?”

“We feel like we are fighting too many fires, right now,” Marcus explained. “And this new project will fail, if we don’t get some of these fires under control.”

“Why are these fires happening?”

“Our team members run into problems they are not capable of solving. We tried to empower them, but that still doesn’t mean they have the capability to make the right decisions. So we are down in the trenches with them, helping to put out the fire.”

“Is it possible, that you don’t have a clear understanding of the level of work in those roles? And that you have placed people in those roles who do NOT have the capability to solve the problems and make the decisions that go with the role?”

“Isn’t that what I just said?” Marcus replied.

“You described the people you placed in the role, but the root cause of the underperformance is that you, as the manager, don’t clearly understand the level of work in those roles. The biggest mistake most organizations make is underestimating the level of work in the role. Without identifying the level of work in the role, most organizations hire someone without the necessary capability. And then wonder why the fires begin to flare.”