What Was the Purpose?

“What would you do differently, to get a different outcome?” I repeated.

“I don’t know,” Susan replied. “They are just not a very creative team. I don’t know why I even try to get ideas from them.”

“Susan, what if I told you that your team is as creative as any team I have ever seen work together, and that you, as their manager, have to find a different way to get them to contribute?”

“I would say you were wrong.”

I nodded. “Yes, and if your team really was a creative team, what could you do differently?”

Susan realized I was not going to let this go, but she was still stumped in silence.

I continued. “When you gave the team a list of your ideas up front, before asking for their ideas, what were you communicating? Not with words, but with the list?”

“You mean I should not have given them my list?” Susan asked.

“What was your purpose in calling the meeting?”

“I wanted to get the team’s ideas,” she replied.

“To get ideas from the team, what could you have done differently?”

What Would You Do Differently?

“I don’t understand,” Susan complained. “My team just isn’t very creative, they never contribute ideas.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a problem meeting our output goals, some days we fall a little short, some days we fall short by a lot,” she started. “I called a meeting to get some ideas on how we could speed things up. To kickstart the meeting, I distributed a list of my ideas and then asked for ideas from the team.”

“And?”

“And, I got no response, zero, nothing. The team just sat there, avoiding eye contact, looking at the ceiling, doodling on my list. Someone said they liked my ideas. After two minutes I adjourned the meeting. The team was worthless.”

“Then what happened?”

“That’s the worst part. One of my ideas was to start on time, but when I called out half the team for being late to start, all I got was grumbling. That day, we had the worst level of productivity of the week.”

“So, if you had the meeting to do over again, what would you do differently?” I prompted.

Susan just shook her head. “I would have cancelled the meeting before it started,” she snapped.

“But, if you DID have the meeting, what would you do differently to get a different outcome?”

Who Makes the Hiring Decision

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about the Manager Once Removed (MOR) in the hiring process. Our company followed that advice, but now our Hiring Managers are stuck. It seems the MOR is now making the final pick without input from the Hiring Manager. The Hiring Manager is now using that as an excuse to blame a new team member, saying, “Well, I didn’t hire that person.”

Response:
To recap, the Manager Once Removed is the Hiring Manager’s manager.

Manager Once Removed (MOR)
————————–
Hiring Manager (HM)
————————–
Open Team Role

Each, the MOR and the HM have specific purpose and specific accountability in the process.

MOR Accountability
The accountability of the MOR is to improve the quality of the decision made by the HM. The MOR is ultimately accountable for the decision made by the HM. This does not mean the MOR makes the decision, but coaches the best decision from the HM.

The process starts early, when the HM states that a new team member needs to be added. It is the accountability of the MOR to question the need and ask the HM to put together a (business) case for the new hire. This decision may go back to the annual workforce plan that contemplated an increase in production volume, or it may be an emergency because a team member quit to go to a competitor.

With agreement that a new team member needs to be recruited, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure that a proper role description has been created. The HM, desperate for a new team member, may attempt to shortcut the process and use a substitute for the role description. The MOR must insist that a proper role description be written or an existing role description be updated. Note, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

With a proper role description, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure a proper set of interview questions be written, in both quantity and quality. A proper role description will contain several key result areas (KRAs) and sufficient questions in each key area should be documented. Again, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

A large part of the role of the MOR is in screening for the candidate pool. Unqualified candidates should be screened out, qualified candidates should be screened in. The end result should be a pool of qualified candidates. If the candidates in the pool are qualified for the role, the possibility for a mistake goes down.

In the end, it is the HM that must pick, with minimum veto authority for the final selection. The last thing I want to hear is, “I didn’t hire that person.”

Practice, Practice

“And, after all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” Travis chuckled. “I heard that in a seminar once. But maybe it’s true. After the training, some of the people worked the new way, but some didn’t. Over time, the whole process was abandoned. ”

“You know your program really didn’t have a chance. It was missing something critical,” I said.

“I know, you are going to say positive reinforcement, but we all talked it up and everyone got a certificate when the training was over,” Travis defended.

“That’s all very nice, but I am not talking about being nice. I am talking about being effective. In the training you demonstrated a new process. This new process required a new skill, a new behavior.

“Travis, I can show you how to throw a ball, but if you want to get good at it what do you have to do?”

Travis looked puzzled, “Practice?” he said.

I nodded. “Very special practice.”

The Big Difference Between Training and Coaching

Tyler finally had a question. “So, have we been wasting out time training our people?”

“Training is not a waste of time, it is how you train that determines its effectiveness.” Tyler squirmed. His company spent thousands of dollars on management training the prior year.

“Tyler, let’s take a fun example. Ever play video games?” Tyler nodded and flashed a huge grin. “How did you learn to play that game? Did it come with an instruction manual? Did you go to the bookstore and buy the Insider’s Guide to the game?”

“No way, I just sat down and started playing it.”

“And what is your competence level?”

“Well, I am at a level 40, now, but over the weekend, I think I can get my character to level 50. That’s as high as I can go with the character in this clan.”

“So, you are telling me that you became an expert. Did you become an expert because their instruction manual was so well written? Did the quality of the Insider’s Guide (that you never bought at the bookstore) have a significant impact on your learning this new behavior?”

“No, I just played the game. My character got killed a few times, but I learned how to navigate around the danger zones. I learned how to engage other characters in battle. I learned out to accumulate powers. Every time I did something right, I got points. Every time I did something stupid, I lost points. My points accumulated, my character got stronger, I leveled up. All around the screen are status panels that give me constant real time feedback on where I am in the game and how I am doing.”

“And you did all this without reading the instructions or attending a training class?” I asked. Tyler nodded yes again. “Tyler, you learned to play the game at an expert level because the game was designed to positively reinforce desired behavior. This positive reinforcement was meticulous and frequent. There were established goals and measurement systems to track progress and status.

“Next week, we will get back together and talk more about training.”

Before or After?

Tyler’s curiosity had moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced gets repeated,” I said. We had been talking about positive reinforcement and its impact on behavior. “That’s why measurement and feedback loops are so important.

“Here is the insight,” I continued. “Most managers focus their time before the behavior. Most managers provide training and give lectures on the way things should be done and then wonder why they don’t get the desired behavior. Most managers think their biggest influence on behavior occurs before the behavior.

Let’s meet, let’s plan, let’s discuss, let’s show.

“All of this occurs before the behavior and has minimal impact.

“The payoff, the big influence is after the desired behavior occurs. That’s when to pay the most attention. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Hmmm. Just an Attaboy

Tyler was curious. “Let’s say I buy this positive reinforcement thing. Exactly how do I do that? I mean, do I just walk around all day giving attaboys?”

“Is an attaboy meaningful?” I replied.

“Well, not really. It’s not a real attention grabber.” Tyler flashed a hint of a smirk.

“Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be earth shattering to be effective. But it does have to be meaningful to the individual to have the behavior repeated.”

“So, give me an example.”

“Have you ever watched a teenager completely absorbed in a video game, relentlessly pushing buttons.” Tyler’s brow furrowed but he was still listening. “Now, you would think that, for a bright young gamer, repetitively pushing buttons for three or four hours at a stretch would become hopelessly boring. Yet, every time a button is pushed, something on the screen glows or a bell dings, or a spaceship blows up. In a video game, so much positive reinforcement occurs, the gamer can become addicted.” Tyler’s curiosity moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced, gets repeated.”

Is it a Personality Conflict?

“You would think at their age, they would know better,” Phil complained.

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“The sales manager calls a meeting with the marketing manager, and the marketing manager refuses to attend. I ask why? And, all I get is how the sales manager is pushy, always with opinions about the way sales runs and it’s not even his department.”

“So, what is the sales manager to do?” I prompted.

“It’s annual budget time, and I told the two of them to get together,” Phil continued. “I need sales and marketing to coordinate. What I get is a big, fat personality conflict.”

“What would you say, if I told you, I didn’t think you had a personality conflict,” I replied. “But, rather an accountability and authority issue?”

“What do you mean?” Phil looked skeptical.

“Do each of them have an accountability to publish an annual budget coordinated with the other?”

“Yes,” Phil nodded.

“Is coordination something you would like, or is it a requirement?”

“It’s something I would like, but I don’t want to be pushy. They should be able to figure it out,” Phil defended.

“And, if they don’t coordinate, then they miss the accountability?”

“Well, yes,” Phil looked puzzled.

“I don’t think you have a personality conflict, I think you have an accountability and authority issue.”

Take Your Company to the Next Level – Statutory Platform

It is not unusual for a company to make political contributions or hire a lobbyist to engage in political influence. In the US, it is illegal to pay a public official for political favors, but, perfectly legal to pay a registered lobbyist to exact political pressure on a public official. A company may decide NOT to play at this level, but the platform exists.

  • S-VI – Statutory platform, where statutes and regulations specifically dictate competitive advantage.
  • S-V – Industry platform, where our enterprise competes using industry standard practices.
  • S-IV – Market platform, where our multiple systems integrate with market systems.
  • S-III – Single serial system platform, where we see the introduction of warranties as a competitive edge.
  • S-II – Process implementation platform (of someone else’s system, like a franchisee).
  • S-I – Product or service platform, where it’s all about the product.

It is one thing to follow an industry standard, an industry guideline. It is quite another to follow a standard dictated by statute.

The Wright Amendment (introduced by Rep Jim Wright in 1979) was a United States federal law that governed traffic at Dallas Love Field, an airport in Dallas, Texas, to protect Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) from competition. The amendment prohibited carriers from operating full-size airliners between Love Field and destinations beyond Texas and its four neighboring states. Further amendments in 1997 and 2005 added new states and relaxed aircraft rules for long-range service. The law was partially repealed in 2006 and then fully repealed in 2014. -Wikipedia

Which airline had a hub at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)? And, which airline was headquartered at Dallas Love Field (DAL)? If you guessed American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, you would be correct. Southwest Airlines, as a strategy, enjoyed the exclusivity of Dallas Love Field, but they were prohibited, by statute, from specific operations, landings and take-offs from 1979 to 2014. My math says 35 years, they were effectively blocked.

Most modern cars run well on unleaded gasoline, not so well on ethanol. Marine operators are allowed to sell a non-ethanol variant of gasoline because if ethanol fuel sits too long in an engine, it “rots the hell out of the seals.” Why are we now required to purchase unleaded gasoline with an ethanol additive? Who are the players? It is one thing to follow an industry standard, quite another to follow a standard dictated by statute. Archer-Daniels Midland is defending an anti-trust suit for market manipulation.

Statutes like this do not spring up in a two week time period. Timespan at S-VI ranges from 10-20 years. This is not a short term play. A company may not adopt this strategic platform, but may suffer the consequences from their competitors. If you are not sure what platform you are playing on, look at your competitors.

Take Your Company to the Next Level – Industry Platform

As the organization becomes larger, it grows more complex and requires a higher level of organizational capability to compete.

  • S-V – Industry platform, where our enterprise competes using industry standard practices.
  • S-IV – Market platform, where our multiple systems integrate with market systems.
  • S-III – Single serial system platform, where we see the introduction of warranties as a competitive edge.
  • S-II – Process implementation platform (of someone else’s system, like a franchisee).
  • S-I – Product or service platform, where it’s all about the product.

At S-V, Industry platform, the organization is now competing with other companies who ALL have become market responsive. How to win? Move to the Industry platform.

I always encourage my clients to join trade associations where we witness the first informal barriers to entry. Once a part of a trade association, I encourage them to become a member of the association board or an officer. Is it such a stretch to imagine that, to be a part of the association, its members should adhere to certain guidelines? The association board might well propose those guidelines, similar to specific standards created by my clients. Competitors may be market responsive, but to be a player, they must adopt and maintain performance standards equal to those of my client. Here is where we see the insistence on ISO standards or other continuous improvement platforms.

Companies at this level, because of their size, often find it difficult to adapt, hence, the barrier to entry. Tied to timespan, for a company to effectively compete at this level often requires more than five years of planning and foresight. Companies struggle to let go of processes and systems that served them well, to adopt a new level of standards that initially add to overhead with revenue opportunities that take years to build.

But if the spec says, ISO, an entire swath of companies may not compete.