Tag Archives: work

Magic and Fairy Dust, Notions and Potions

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

The best engineer on our team was recently promoted to VP-Engineering. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great engineer. But something is just not right. Relieved of his engineering duties, he seems to wander around, sticks his nose into a project without any background on its status. Since I was in your workshop last week, now, I understand that a VP (of anything) is an integration role. It is becoming clear that my boss made a mistake. This guy is not an integrator and we miss his contribution on the engineering team.

I don’t know the background, I don’t know your company and I don’t know what your boss had in mind when he made the promotion. Doesn’t matter. I hear these stories all the time. Here’s the problem.

Few companies take the time and effort to clearly define the role. Most companies promote without clarifying the work. Maybe your engineering team member has the right stuff to be a VP, but until we define the work, we have no clue.

Most hiring managers believe in magic and fairy dust when they make a hiring or promotion decision. Then, they are disappointed when the candidate doesn’t live up to the expectations that were never defined.

There is no magic. There is no fairy dust, just a little managerial elbow grease –

  • What is the purpose of the role? Why does it exist?
  • What are the key areas in the role? Key result areas (KRAs)?
  • In each key area, what are the tasks and activities?
  • In each key area, what is the output, goal, objective?
  • In each key area, what decisions have to be made? What problems have to be solved?
  • In each key area, what is the time span of the goal?
  • In each key area, what is the level of work?

This is the critical thinking that has to be done before you make the hire, before you make the promotion. The answers to these questions will lead you in the right direction. Without this data, there is no way to make a sound hiring or promotion decision.

But, no one wants to do the managerial work. They would rather rely on magic and fairy dust, notions and potions.

How to Interview for Passion for Work at S-II

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

How do you interview for interest and passion, value for the work at S-II?

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-II roles are coordinating, supervisory roles, using checklists, schedules and short meetings. The role could be project management, coordinating and first-line management. Longest time span goals and objectives would be short term, three months, six months, nine months, up to 12 months or one year. Learning would include documented experience, written procedures, articles, research, books and conversations with colleagues. Problem solving would include best practices, matching problems with proven (documented) solutions. Value-add to the organization is accuracy (quality), completeness and timeliness. It is the role at S-II to make sure production gets done, meets spec, totally finished and on deadline.

Managerial roles at S-II are accountable for the output of the team.

How does it feel to put a checklist together, and then hour by hour through the day, check things off as they are completed? What is the satisfaction, at the end of the day, to have a checkmark in every box? Some people get their daily juice from checklists. Some accountants get their daily juice from a bank reconciliation that balances to the penny. Interest and passion comes from work on which we place a high value. If we place a high value on the work, it is likely we will be interested and passionate about that work. Here are some questions about interest and passion for the work at S-II.

  • Tell me about a project you were accountable for, that had several steps in it that you had to coordinate and keep track of?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How was the project communicated to you by your manager?
  • Step me through how the project was organized, step by step?
  • How did you keep track of the steps?
  • How did you communicate the steps to the team?
  • At any point in the project, how could you tell the progress of the project?
  • During the project, did any of the steps change?
  • When steps in the project changed, how did you track the changes?/li>
  • When the project was totally completed, how did you communicate that to your manager?
  • When the project was totally completed, how did you communicate that to the team?
  • How were records about that project kept? stored? archived? or discarded?
  • Tell me about another project that had several steps in it that you had to coordinate and keep track of?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion for the Work at Stratum I (S-I) Level of Work

What is Work?

“Max, I know how you feel about your team’s attitude toward work. You believe they only show up for the paycheck. You believe, as a manager, you have to incentivise them above their normal pay, with a bonus or spiff to get them to pay attention, or otherwise engage in discretionary effort. Your belief is in line with many employee studies that say most are NOT engaged with their work. So, let’s not talk about your team. Let’s talk about you.”

“Alright, I’m game. But, understand that I am here for the money, too,” Max clarified.

“Yes, you are right, we do have to pay competitive. More importantly, we have to get money off the table. As long as people focus on money, or, because of their circumstance, have to focus on money, employee engagement will be fleeting, at best.”

“Okay, but understand that I am still here for the money.”

“Are you really? I could show you a number of ways that you could make a great deal more money than you are making right, now,” I teased.

“I am all ears,” Max replied.

“If you were willing to sell marijuana, which is now legal in some states, you would make more money than you are currently making.” I stopped to gauge his reaction to this unusual suggestion.

“Yeah, but.”

“But, what?” I interrupted. “You see, it’s not all about the money. People, even you, want work where you can make a contribution to something larger than you. You want work where you can bring your full capability, spread your wings AND receive fair compensation for that work. You want work where your contribution is recognized as important, work that does NOT need a carrot-or-stick for you to get on with that work.”

Max was quiet. He was thinking.

“Max, you are the manager of your team. You get to design that team, select that team and create the environment that team works in. As the manager, you DECIDE the culture of that team. What will be your foundation? Will it be built around spiffs, or accomplishment? I have never known a person to be more competent in their role because they were paid a bonus.”

The Reactor Doesn’t Melt Down and Nobody Dies

“I don’t know why my team is behaving this way,” Riley complained. “I know we drive our people hard, and I know we expect a lot from them, but they knew that when they signed up for the job. We are a very intense organization.”

“How are they behaving?” I wanted to know.

“You can see them dragging into a meeting. Smiles are few and far between. It’s like they need a vacation really bad. Bordering on burn-out. I know we expect them to be responsive on their smart-phones, even after hours, but we are in the service business. We don’t know when our customers are going to call, or some project is going to go sideways.”

“So, in addition to working a normal day-shift, they are on-call after hours?”

Riley nodded. “Yes, but they get on-call pay, even if nothing happens. And we rotate that, so it’s not like it’s every day.”

“So, what is causing the fatigue,” I asked.

“I don’t know. It’s just that we are intense. If we relax, details get missed. And, missed details can turn into real problems. We have to keep our guard up.”

“And, if you keep your guard up and no details are missed, what happens?”

Riley had to stop and think. “Nothing special. Things go smooth, no one panics, but it’s not like we win the Super Bowl.”

“When your team does a really good job, it’s nothing special. So, who appreciates it, when they do a really good job?”

“No one really,” Riley admitted. “A really good job just means that no one is upset, mostly the customer.”

“Kind of like running a nuclear power plant,” I said. “If we do our job well, everyone gets electricity, the reactor doesn’t melt down and nobody dies.”

Cross Functional Working Relationship – Auditor


“We have some contractual commitments still in force,” Javier explained. “While we may renegotiate some of these obligations, until then, we have to abide by the contract. In some cases, I enlisted people to review the way we shut down some of the routes and gates. If we are about to do something that will put us in default, they have the authority to delay or stop what we are doing?”

“So, are they prescribing things for people to do, as a project leader?” Catherine asked.

“No,” Javier replied. “They are there to observe and review, but they have the specific authority to delay or stop anything that jeopardizes the project.” Javier thought for a moment. “An auditor is like a safety director. The safety director doesn’t tell people what to do, or give people task assignments. But, if someone is engaged in an unsafe work practice, the safety director has the authority to delay or stop the unsafe work practice, even though they are not anyone’s manager.”

“Okay, I get it,” Catherine agreed.

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

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.

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)?

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?”