Tag Archives: work

Can He Do the Work?

“The profile on this candidate is outstanding,” Rory explained. “It will take a special person to fill this role, and by golly, I think we have found the right person.”

“The profile is outstanding compared to what?” I asked.

Rory looked askance. “What do you mean?”

“It’s nice that he has a personality, but can this candidate do the work?” I pressed.

“Well, the profile says he is suited for this kind of work. Besides, everyone on the hiring team has interviewed him and they really like him,” Rory defended.

“It’s nice that he is a likeable person, but can this candidate do the work?”

“His resume attracted our attention. It says that he has experience in our field and he answered all of our technical questions. He really speaks our language.”

I let Rory squirm for a minute. He had already made his decision, and was waiting to see if I would support it. Without asking any hard questions. “Rory, this role is for a VP of Operations. It’s nice that he understands the technology, but can this candidate do the work of an Ops VP?”

“I don’t know where you are going with this?” Rory shook his head. “I was hoping you would get on board with this guy.”

“It doesn’t matter whether I get on board. Can he do the work? It’s a big role, integrating your sales, your sales forecast with production. You have six month lead time raw materials, tooling that changes, building to stock, assembling to order, staging, logistics. This guy will be coordinating teams of people in meetings, resolving communication paths, working on bottlenecks, manicuring system constraints. It’s nice that he understands the technical mechanics of your product, but can he do the work of an Ops VP?”

Designed Around the Work

“I know you want me to be the nice guy,” Jim Dunbar pushed back, “that I would have a better organization if I wasn’t so hard on people, but at the end of the day, we have to get some work done around here.”

It stings against political correctness, but if you consider, for a moment, that statement is true, what changes?

What if, it is all about the work? What if the purpose of your organization is to actually get some work done, solve a problem, execute a solution? It’s not for every organization, only those with the intended purpose to get work done, complete a task, achieve a goal.

Some organizations are designed around other intentions, religious organizations, political organizations, educational organizations, collegial organizations, all with purpose, all with goals.

What if the purpose of your organization was to get some work done? What if your organization was designed around the work?

No Voodoo, No Amateur Psychology

“What is the Time Span capability required in my sales people?” Dennis asked.

“Sucker-punch question that will lead you down the wrong path,” I replied.

“Not sure I understand?” Dennis quizzed.

“Define the Level of Work, then ask if your salespeople are effective at that work.

“Not sure I understand the difference. Don’t we get to the same place?” Dennis pressed.

“I don’t think so,” I surmised. “Trying to determine the Time Span capability in a person prompts us to play amateur psychologist.”

Dennis mulled over the thought, so I continued.

“Identifying the Level of Work in the role is the work of a manager. Evaluating the effectiveness of the person we have assigned to this role is the work of a manager. There is no voodoo, no amateur psychology.”

A Plan is Not a Goal

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Background (Tom):
So, now we are left to think about your target completion time. If you truly believe that Stratum IV capability is required for success in this project, then I must assume the real “by when” of this goal is longer than you have stated. We need more data to see more clearly. Give us some more clues.

More Clues (Reader):
I have tried to tackle the clues, below, as a task assignment using CPQQRT (Context, Purpose, Quantity, Quality, Resources, Time) hopefully alluding to the longer term focus.

  • Task: Develop a comprehensive plan to ensure the pool of labour we draw our staff from continues to provide the capability we need.
  • Context: Our current labour pool is shrinking. Baby boomers are retiring, competitors using the same labour pool, increased community expectations around diversity hires.
  • Purpose: Without the labour, our operations will grind to a halt, or become nonviable due to increasing labour costs.
  • Quality/Quantity: A comprehensive plan – ie One that contains clear actions across a timeline extending out a further 12 months. This needs to also tie into our 5 year plan + take into account the expected changes in our industry and society over the next decade. I expect the plan to include the development of the labour pool through schools, universities and other external means, which by implication requires connecting with people in those institutions as well as various government departments. I would also expect you to conduct some external research into best-practice, population economics, intended changes in legislation.
  • Resources: You personally develop the plan and you make decisions on what to include/exclude. You may make use of a researcher/assistant to gather and interpret data as necessary. You have full access to anyone in the business, especially the senior leadership team.
  • Timeline: The plan is due by end Feb 2013. You will be expected to present it to the Executive Leadership Team and handle any questions from that team.

Question:
Is the capability required to complete this task assignment S-II, indicated by the six month Time Span of the Target Completion Time? Or is the capability required higher than S-II indicated by the likely State of Thinking (Declarative, Cumulative, Serial or Parallel)?

Response:
As I read your narrative, it becomes clear that this is a writing assignment to produce a written document. It appears that actual execution is NOT part of this task. But what is the goal?

If the goal is to simply write a document, collecting all these elements together into a coherent narrative, then I lean toward S-II, Cumulative processing. But I don’t think that’s the goal. A plan is not a goal. A plan is a tool, the design phase of a longer task assignment, and will require a higher level of capability.

The goal is actually to execute the work designed in this document, to create a labor (American spelling) pool in the face of shifting labor pool obstacles. I believe the document is the work design step in a much longer task assignment.

Given the challenges faced, what is a reasonable amount of time you (as the manager) would give someone to create this stable, predictable and available labor pool? You already stated that “clear actions extending out further than 12 months, expected changes in our industry and society over the next decade” would be a required element of this design. I suspect that a reasonable amount of time is 2-5 years plus, easily extending this task assignment to S-IV Parallel processing.

An example. In South Florida, we are seeing a modest and slow recovery in the commercial construction sector. And we are hiring. However, our pool of unskilled labor disappeared during the recession. Many returned to their home countries, others found work in other sectors. Available workers do not possess the skills required to complete the available work.

This is a tough problem, even beyond the scope of a single company. Contractor associations and trade groups are attempting to grapple with the same issues you describe. This will be a long term challenge, not solved within two years. It will require the development of skills training programs, recruiting unskilled workers into those training programs, creating conditions for workers to return from foreign countries. This is clearly a 2-5 year problem, will require a minimum of S-IV Parallel processing.

What is Work?

“What’s the Level of Work?” I asked.

Arianne puzzled her face. “We’re looking at two roles. One is a finish carpenter and the other is a machine operator. The carpenter is finishing wood products within one sixteenth of an inch. The machine operator is working to tolerances of four decimal places. I would say the machine operator role is a higher level of work, it’s more precise.”

“Is it a higher level?” I insisted.

Arianne paused, “I guess I am just thinking out loud. I don’t know.”

“As a manager, working with a team member, after you have provided work instructions, what is the most valuable thing to talk about?”

“Working through things that aren’t in the instructions,” Arianne was quick to respond. “Talking about the problems that might occur, and the decisions that might pop up.”

“And that’s how I measure the Level of Work. What are the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made? These require judgment on the part of the team member, and that’s where the complexity of the work is revealed. The machine operator may be working to four decimal places, but the machine is making the cuts according to a computer program. The finish carpenter, working to one-sixteenth of an inch is taking manual measurements and constantly using judgment. The likelihood of field adjustments and variance in materials is high.

“Working with my team, the most important discussion is -what decisions do you have to make in the course of your work. What problems do you have to solve?”

Group Accountability?

“At first, this group dynamics stuff looked interesting, you know, everyone together under a team incentive bonus. It sounded exciting in the seminar, but in real life, this is painful,” Naomi explained. “The worst part, is we’re not getting any work done.”

“So, who is accountable?” I asked.

“I think everyone has to take a small part of the responsibility for the team not cooperating,” Naomi replied.

“No, I don’t mean who is responsible for the mess. I mean, who is accountable for the goal?” I insisted.

“The goal? We’re not even talking about the goal. We are just talking about cooperating better together, as a team.”

“Perhaps, that’s the problem,” I suggested. “You are spending so much time trying to cooperate as a group, that you forgot, we are trying to get some work done around here.

“Is it possible,” I continued, “that you have been misdirected to think more about shared fate and group dynamics than you have about your team. A team is not a group. A group may be bound together by shared fate, but a team is bound together by a goal. Stop thinking about group dynamics and start thinking about the goal. That’s why we are here in the first place.”

Leader or Manager? Argument Continues

From the Ask Tom mailbag – from a new subscriber in Brazil.

Question:
Your blog is fantastic! I´d like to know, what´s your opinion about the difference between managers and leaders?

Response:
I usually avoid this discussion. It’s an important question, but usually draws all kinds of fire that is counter-productive. Let’s see if I can make a go of it without getting my underwear wrapped around the axle.

A manager is a role, an organizational role, with specific authority and accountability. A manager is that person, in the organization, who is held accountable for the output of other people. It is a very specific role in an organization designed to accomplish work.

Leadership is a necessary trait of an effective manager.

We often, in casual conversation refer to leadership roles, but in that sense, it carries only vague (generic) accountability and authority. And leadership, as a trait, may be found in other roles outside the role of a manager. In addition to managerial leadership, there is also political leadership, parental leadership, spiritual leadership, scientific leadership, academic leadership. These are all roles in groups organized for purposes other than work.

So, a manager is a very specific role, with defined accountability and authority, in an organization whose purpose is work. Leadership is a necessary trait.

Referring to a leadership role, a leader has undefined accountability and authority and may exist in many types of groups, organized for different purposes.

Accounting – What’s the Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We are working on the structure of our accounting department. We have a comprehensive list (spreadsheet) of ALL the tasks that need to be completed from daily transactions, to weekly flash reports, to monthly financial statements, to quarterly reports and annual compilation activities. But all this work keys around, seems to be performed by one individual, the accounting manager. We have two additional people in that department, but we need help figuring how to distribute the work to the right person.

Response:
This is an accounting department, but the same principle applies, no matter the discipline. The futile approach would ask “Can this person do this and can that person do that?” The result would be a helter-skelter mish-mash of who would be accountable for what. It might help, but you would remain in a state of disorganization. Especially where you have a spreadsheet of tasks, enough to go around for three people in your accounting department, you need a systematic way of figuring this out. This is not complicated.

You say you have a spreadsheet. As comb through the list of tasks, the central question is to identify the Level of Work. Add a column in your spreadsheet that identifies the Level of Work (LOW) for each task. Your Accounting Manager needs to self perform those tasks at S-III and delegate S-II and S-I tasks.

S-I – Clerical, transactional input from coded paperwork, proofing batch transactions for accuracy, printing reports and schedules. This would include A/P and A/R data entry, timesheet entry, including job cost transaction input for labor and materials. Matching paperwork from work orders and POs to invoices received from vendors. Collecting, sorting and filing required paperwork to support higher level decisions related to disbursements or billing activities. [Scope of task assignments range from (1) day to (1) week to (1) month with no task assignments longer than (3) months].

S-II – Coding paperwork (making decisions) for transactional input, coding job costs of materials and labor including split allocations according to formula or system criteria created by manager. Reconciliation of accounts to workpapers. Second level review of transaction input from S-I activities. Compilation activities of reports and schedules required for routine reports for accuracy, completeness according to a publishing schedule created by manager. [Scope of longest task assignments range from (3) months to (12) months].

S-III – Creation of systems for all accounting functions, including documentation of steps, checks and balances, reconciliation points, review steps, identification of thresholds, risk assessment, and operating parameters. Third level review (signature) of transaction schedules for execution of disbursements (cash), movement of cash and cash management. Forecasting and budgeting. Cross-functional work with departments and divisions to support the financial analysis required for operational decisions (bid profitability, bid qualifying, project budgets, work-in-process, milestone completions, payment apps, collections). [Scope of longest task assignment range from (12) to (24) months].

You can flesh these guidelines out to assist in identifying the Level of Work in each line of your spreadsheet. Once the Level of Work is defined, it is easy to determine what tasks the Accounting Manager must self-perform and what tasks can (should) be delegated to appropriate team members.

In Conflict with an Official Rule?

“Why is culture important?” I asked.

“It’s the way things are,” Ryan explained. “It’s that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior, that determines the way we work together.”

“And why is it important?” I repeated.

“Every company has a culture, whether they like or not. It’s an undercurrent, sometimes silent, sometimes outspoken.”

“And if there is an official rule that is in conflict with a cultural (unwritten) rule, which wins?”

“Culture always wins. For better or worse, culture always wins.”