Tag Archives: time span

Gain More Control

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You say, your challenge, as a manager, is to work less and gain more control. Easy to say. Hard to do.

Response:
Management is a mindset. Levels of work help us understand that management is not about working more, or working harder, it is about working differently. Delegation is all about working differently.

In every role, there is a level of problem solving and a level of decision making. When Marshall Goldsmith says “What got you here, won’t get you there,” he is talking about a different level of work.

When Albert Einstein says “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” he is talking about a different level of work.

Elliott Jaques‘ research on levels of work makes this management advice concrete. Intuitively, we understand levels of work, but only when Jaques defined levels of work related to time span, did we get some useful direct insight.

The time span of the goal defines the level of work. In a technician’s world, goals range from a day to three months. In your role as a supervisor, or first line manager, your longest time span objectives range from 3-12 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

In your role as a manager, your longest time span objectives range from 12-24 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

What is left? It is those longer time span tasks that make up your role as a manager. It is only when you have effectively delegated shorter time span task assignments that you will get more throughput and more control over the quality of the output. -Tom

Level of Work – Time Span Objectives
S-I – 1 day to 3 months
S-II – 3 months to 12 months
S-III – 12-24 months
S-IV – 2-5 years

Time Span of Express

Analogies can be useful teachers. Seth Godin published this about Express and Local trains, which creates a perfect analogy to understand time span.

Express trains run less often, make fewer stops, and if they’re going where you’re going, get you there faster.
The local train is, of course, the opposite.
Some people hop on the first train that comes. A local in the hand is worth the extra time, they say, because you’re never quite sure when the express is going to get there.
On the other hand, there’s a cost to investing in the thing that pays off in the long run.
Now that you see that, you’re probably going to notice it in 100 areas of your life.

One of those hundred areas is time span.

Local trains (short time span) require very little thought, not much of a plan. The train (bus) picks a route and stops every place (enough) people want to stop. It uses the same track day after day.

Express trains (longer time span) requires more thought and much more planning.

  • Which routes would benefit from express?
  • What is the threshold criteria for an express?
  • Which stops to skip? Which are served by a local?
  • Which tracks to use? Which tracks to skip?
  • How to evaluate the effectiveness of an express?
  • What if something changes and the express is no longer effective? How do we know?

Think about your projects, your customer service, your web portals, product delivery, warranty programs, quality programs, research and development. What is your express train? What is your local?

Anything That Can Go Wrong

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am still struggling with the concept of time span. You say that time span indicates complexity. How?

Response:
Don’t overthink this fundamental concept. Life is about uncertainty. It is like the weather and the stock market. There is always uncertainty.

Combine this level of uncertainty with our intentions (goal directed behavior) and you observe the consternation of the ages. This is not a matter of going with the flow, but trying to get something done, achieve a goal, create an accomplishment. Elliott describes this as the “time span of intention.”

In spite of our best intentions, the longer it takes to achieve the goal, the more time life has to be unpredictable. The shorter time it takes to achieve the goal, the less time life has to happen, the less opportunity for some circumstance to come in sideways and blow everything up.

Time span is about contingencies. Time span becomes a calibration tool that allows us to precisely measure the impact of uncertainty in our best laid plans.

Step back and remember Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. How long do we give Murphy to play?

Too Hot? Too Cold? Just Right?

“So, how do we measure Hector?” Eduardo asked. “I’m all ears. I understand how to measure the time span of the tasks that Hector is responsible for. And, the longest task is three months. But, how do we measure Hector?”

“It is really very simple. You now know the time span of the longest task in the role that Hector plays. Here is the question.

“Does Hector, in your judgment as his manager, have the capability to perform the tasks in his role as freight supervisor? Or does he fall short in his capability to perform those tasks? Or does he have the capability to perform tasks with a longer time span?

“It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Is the porridge too hot? Too cold? Or is it just right?”

Eduardo squinted, “That’s it? Too hot, too cold or just right?”

I nodded, “Which is it?”

“Well, Hector does most of the job okay, but when it comes to the more complicated stuff, he falls short.”

“So, to recap your judgment, as his manager, Hector falls short?” I repeated.

“But, I knew that already,” Eduardo complained.

“Yes, you did, but you did not have a way to measure what you already knew. Now, you know that Hector falls short in capability at three months. If you define the time span of the shorter tasks he completes, you will have a very precise measure of his capability.”

Eduardo was quiet, then spoke. “Hector handles the one month stuff well. But falls short on the three month stuff. Hector’s time span is on the up side of one month, but the short side of three months.”

“So, now, is the question. How is this helpful to you as his manager?”

What’s the Level of Work?

“Where do we start?” Eduardo asked.

“Where do you think we should start?” I replied.

“We are trying to measure Hector’s capability. Is he big enough for the role. That’s the goal of this session,” Eduardo established.

“So, what unit of measure have we talked about when it comes to defining the tasks involved in his job?”

“We talked about time span,” he said.

“And, what was the measure of the longest task in Hector’s job?”

“We said, one month. Hector is in charge of shipping, but it’s more than just getting freight out the door. He is responsible for proper crating, working with vendors to select the proper crating materials, collecting information about product damage in transit. It is really a big job. Some of the problems that have to be solved involve testing in-house, you know, crash testing and then field testing.

“So, I don’t think one month is accurate. I think, to be successful, the longest task is three months. It takes that long to solve some of the material damage issues in that department,” Eduardo concluded.

“Okay, three months is the longest task required. To be successful running the shipping area requires the ability to work three months into the future, without direction, using his own discretionary judgment?”

Eduardo nodded, “Yes, I need Hector to carry the ball the whole way. I may check up on him more frequently to see if he still has the ball, but I need him to supervise the resolution to some of these issues without me. If I really have to get involved, then Hector is not doing the necessary work.”

“So, success in the job requires a time span of three months?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“That is step one. Firmly establishing the time span of the longest task, establishing the required time span for the role.

“Are you ready for step two? The next part is to measure Hector.”

What Does It Take to Be President

I usually don’t talk about levels of work above S-VI, but today is inauguration day. A new president takes the oath of office and for the next four years, plays a role, making decisions and solving problems.

Levels of work were first explained to me in 2001. My teacher was Jerry Harvey, a colleague of Elliott’s. On this day, I imagine, Jerry is on some heavenly golf course, trying to make a side bet with Elliott about how things will turn out.

Jerry described the role of President of the United States (POTUS) as a Stratum VII role. We are talking about the role, not the person. Decisions made at this level of work will have 20-50 year impact, both good decisions and bad decisions.

The goals and objectives at this level of work have target completion times 20-50 years into the future. As Jerry put it, this is not a short game. Can you imagine putting the wheels in motion, to set out on a journey, the fruits of which we will not see for 20-50 years. And, yet the public expects the problems to be solved in the first 100 days.

The state of thinking required to be effective at S-VII is Serial (Conceptual). See the iterative chart below.

States of Thinking

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)
  • S-V (5 years to 10 years) Declarative (Conceptual)
  • S-VI (10 years to 20 years) Cumulative (Conceptual)
  • S-VII (20 years to 50 years) Serial (Conceptual)

Jerry described Bill Clinton as effective at S-VI for his first six years in office, effective at S-VII only during the last two years of his term. He joked about the year 2000 election, both Gore and Bush at S-V. That’s why we couldn’t tell the difference and the election ended in a stalemate, had to be decided by the Supreme Court.

I do not judge a person’s capability. I only judge the role. What is the work? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Then, my question is simple, was the person effective? or not?

What is the level of work in your role? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Are you effective in your role? -Tom Foster

Time Span of Intention

This week, I shared a planning document (you can download it below), with the headline, “What is your intention?”

Elliott closed his last book with this notion of intention, in a drawing he described as, the most important illustration of his book, the Axis of Intention.

Planning is simply the documentation of your intention.

We have two dimensions of time, the past and the future, separated by the nanosecond of the present. Events that occur are measurable by a stopwatch. The melting point (time to melt) of a metal at a given temperature is predictable, can be scientifically documented. It is known, concrete, tangible.

In life, the Axis of Achievement (the past) is overlaid by the Axis of Intention (the future). What is your intention? What is the time span of your intention?

I get pushback on planning.

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

We don’t have time to plan. Then what is the time span of your intention, that you don’t have time to consider your intention?
Actual results never meet the plan. Of course not, but actual results are shaped by the axis of your intention.
We might be held accountable for what we said. Accountability is output. Accountability is the reconciliation between these two dimensions of time –
The past, axis of achievement.
The future, axis of intention.

The linchpin is this understanding of time span. What is the time span of your intention? That is what will shape your world. -Tom

You can download the planning document here. 2017 Planning Template

The Value of One Year into the Future

“Why is it important for a Manager to think one year into the future?” I asked.

Melanie had finally opened her mind to discovery. “If I had been thinking out a year, I could have had conversations with my supervisors a long time before they quit. I would have known what changes to make to keep them challenged. I didn’t think they would be interested in learning new things and stepping into more difficult projects.”

“So, if I asked you, as a Manager, to take a single piece of paper and chart out your team members, think about their capabilities and interests, and develop a one year plan for each one, could you do it?”

“Well, yes, but I would probably have to talk to each person, to make sure I was on target, it’s going to take some time,” Melanie replied.

“So, what do you have to do that is more important?” -Tom

Why Do Team Members Fail? A Managers Dilemma

  • I was careful in the interview, still picked the wrong person.
    I think I was careful in the interview process, selecting the right candidate. I was wrong. Wasted several weeks interviewing and several weeks finding out I hired the wrong person. Now, I have to start over at square one.
  • Promoted top performer to manager. Now failing.
    She was with the company for 12 years, top performer, everyone liked her. We promoted her to a game-breaker position and, now, she is failing, like a deer in the headlights. She is demoralized, embarrassed and wants to leave the company.
  • Senior Project Manager blows the deadline, again.
    He had a good plan in the meeting, schedule looked solid, but it’s Friday and I have to call the customer to explain that the project will be late. There is no reason for the delay, just an excuse.
  • At that pay level, shouldn’t have to hold their hand.
    I know the problem is tricky to solve, but if I have to answer one more question, I might as well do it myself.
  • If I told them once, told them a thousand times.
    The work instructions were clear. We reviewed them in the meeting. Everyone said they understood. There were no questions. We had more defects this week than last.
  • Sent him to manager training, same person came back.
    Our high hopes for this young manager are dashed. Showed such promise. Or did he?

Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
presented by Tom Foster

October 6, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, FL

What this program covers – this is not re-packaged Leadership 101. Unless you have seen Tom, you have never seen this before.

  • Most who want to take their company to the next level don’t know what the next level is, nor the team required to get them there. Find out the difference between infancy, go-go, adolescence, prime and stable.
  • Unlock and understand the secret behind the Peter Principle, promoting someone to their level of incompetence, and how to test before the mistake is made.
  • Most companies underestimate what is really required for success in a role. Learn the Four Absolutes that must be in your hiring process.

Every CEO, executive and manager struggles with the hidden key to performance, revealed in this fascinating program.

October 6, 2016
8:00a – 12:00 noon

Program starts at 8:30a sharp
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
4725 North Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale FL 33308

Reserve Now $200
Vistage/TEC Members and their Guests, ONLY $99

Seating is limited
PLUS – each participant receives a complimentary copy of Tom’s latest book –
Outbound Air
Levels of Work in Organizational Structure

Register by credit card or PayPal –
Reserve my seat – Registration link – $200 per person
I am a Vistage/TEC member or Guest- Only $99 per person

About Tom
Tom Foster is the author of two books on this subject –

  • Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure
  • Hiring Talent – Levels of Work in the Behavioral Interview

Tom travels North America working with CEOs on what happens when companies get bigger, from a dozen employees to a hundred, five hundred, to a thousand plus. Since 2004, he has delivered this workshop to more than 450 groups, more than 6,000 executives.

In Broward County, Florida, Tom runs multiple executive peer groups, where, since 1995, he has delivered more than 14,000 hours as an executive coach to CEOs. His client base is diverse, from retail to distribution, manufacturing, construction, education, software, professional and industrial services. Tom is an expert on business models, organizational structure and hiring.

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.”
____
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