Cross Department Committees

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Many times when there is an issue that affects more than one department in the company, we assign committees involving members from each department to solve them. While this seems nice from a cultural standpoint, it seems strange that we would ask people in an S-II or S-III role, to solve issues that span multiple departments, typically an S-IV function. I recently experienced this myself where I established a committee, set a clear direction (I thought), and checked in occasionally. The end result was I now had a group who had reached a consensus, but it was the wrong one! We are still able to move forward and correct it slowly, but it feels like we wasted effort. What’s the right answer to this? Be more involved? Assign another committee leader with level 4 capabilities? Provide better direction? Make a larger committee?

Response:
Quick review on general accountabilities at levels of work.

  • S-I – Production
  • S-II – Making sure production gets done, coordination and implementation.
  • S-III – System work, designing, creating, monitoring and improving a single serial system (critical path)
  • S-IV – Multi-system integration

So, your intuition is correct that, where multiple departments are involved with either output or impact, department integration is appropriate.

Your question – Be more involved? Assign someone with S-IV capability? Provide better direction?
Answer – Yes.

In any managerial role, with team members one level of work below, the manager cannot simply call the meeting and then not show up. Undirected, the team will make the decision or solve the problem at their level of context. Each level of work understands its decisions and problems from their level of context. That context is measured in timespan.

Problems or decisions involving multiple departments generally require looking at longer timespan outputs, more correctly, longer timespan throughputs. A single department is usually heads-down, internally focused on efficient output. Multiple department throughput typically looks at two things. Does the efficient output of one department provide the correct input for the next department as work moves sideways through the organization?

  • Does the output of marketing (leads) provide the correct input for sales?
  • Does the output of sales include all the data necessary agreements for proper project management?
  • Does the output of project management provide all the accurate data necessary for operations?
  • Does the output of operations provide all the necessary checkpoints for quality control?

Multiple department integration also requires a look at the output capacity of each department as they sit next to their neighbor department. Is is possible for sales to sell so many contracts that it outstrips the capacity of operations to produce? A lower timespan focus might say we just need to communicate better. A longer timespan focus (throughput) will realize that no communication solution will fix a capacity issue.

So, yes, the manager has to be more involved, include another team member at S-IV, provide better direction on the requirements of any solution. A larger committee might actually be counter-productive if it contains team members at the wrong level of the problem. I offer these same guidelines as those of a couple of days ago.

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the cause of the problem?
  • What are the alternative solutions?
  • What is the best solution?
  • How will we test the solution to make sure it solves the problem?

They Act Like Zombies

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Working with my team, trying to get them to solve a problem. But, I think my solution is better than anything they might come up with. And, I don’t have time to have a meeting, and besides, I don’t think my team wants to be creative. Sometimes they act like dolts. I can solve problems like this pretty easy. I have been in the business for six years. I have the experience. But when I tell them what to do, they’re like zombies from the Night of the Living Dead. Some of them walk around like they still don’t know what to do, even though I gave them the solution.

Response:
What are you training them to do? Are you training them to solve a problem as a team, or are you training them to act like “dolts.”

Whenever you solve a problem that the team should solve, you cripple the team from solving future problems. And, if your solution fails, who carries the burden?

As a manager, you have to figure out your purpose. If your purpose is simply to have a problem solved, then solve the problem. You don’t have to be a manager to solve the problem.

If your purpose is to train the team to solve a problem, then understand, you are now a manager, and everything you do sets a precedent for what comes after. Try this simple method of questions for the team.

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the cause of the problem?
  • What are the alternative solutions?
  • What is the best solution?
  • How will we test the solution to make sure it solves the problem?

Growing Pains

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
As the CEO, I am stretched a bit thin. I have 10 direct reports, with the prospect of adding two or three more as we continue to grow. I have 1-1s with each manager for 60-90 minutes twice a month, but it leaves little time to spend as CEO. I feel a bit like I am pulled into the weeds.

Response:
Your company is too big to be little and too little to be big. Your company is in No Man’s Land. You have enough resources (budget) to make the hires necessary to relieve a bit of pressure, but these are critical hires, you don’t want to make a mistake, so you continue stretching. There is only one way out.

You have to build the infrastructure of your executive management team. You cannot work longer hours. You cannot work harder. You can only spread the burden.

This is a dilemma first faced by every entrepreneur startup, where the Founder makes all the decisions and solves all the problems. As the organization matures, what happens when all decision making continues with the Founder? What happens when all problem solving continues with the Founder? The speed of decision-making, the speed of problem solving slows down, sometimes stops.

You managed to get out of startup, but your inclinations continue. Others, I am sure, have told you that you have to let go. No.

You have to delegate. This is not a task assignment. What you have to delegate is decision making and problem solving. The most important thing you can do, as CEO, right now, is to build the infrastructure of your executive management team. If you cannot do this, you will end up with 13-15 direct reports and you will still wonder why you are stretched so thin.

Where to Start?

Jean was upset. After two weeks of interviewing, the committee finally made an offer to a candidate for an open position. “I called her up and she laughed, said she took another position last week. So, we went to our second candidate, same thing. Our third candidate was missing two essential qualifications, but the committee didn’t want to start the process over. I just made the offer, but I am skeptical. I just hope it works out.”

“Well, hope is a strategy,” I replied. “Why did it take so long to make a decision on your first two candidates? You interviewed them almost two weeks ago.”

“Whenever the committee got together, we would argue about what was important for the position. Our meetings were more confusing than helpful.”

“The job description, wasn’t that helpful?”

Jean nodded. “It’s funny, we didn’t actually write one until this past weekend. It was only when we did, that the committee was able to agree on the qualifications and make a decision. It was just too late.”

Jean stared at the table, shook his head and smiled. “That’s where we should have started.”

It’s Personal

Carly met me in the conference room that overlooked the plant floor. She was a new supervisor running a parallel line to another crew. On the job for three weeks, she had been having difficulty with her crew’s productivity next to the other crew.

“It’s amazing to me,” she said. “We start ten minutes earlier than the other line. In fact, they just stand around talking for the first ten minutes of their shift. But, within half an hour, they catch up and then hammer us the rest of the day.”

“Interesting,” I said. “Let’s get Jarrod up here and find out what he is doing differently.”

As Jarrod joined us, he talked about a number of things, but he saved the best for last. “One thing, I know you have overlooked, is our team huddle at the beginning of the shift. It is our team check-in. I have found the most important obstacle to productivity on a line like this is the personal stuff that’s going on. It has nothing to do with work, but has a bigger impact than anything else. It makes a difference in hustle, covering someone’s back, taking an extra measure for safety. That daily check-in helps my team to work together. It’s only five minutes, but makes all the difference.”

What Did You Train Them To Do?

“But, my team never comes up with any constructive ideas to solve the problem,” Edward explained. “I ask them to think about the problem at hand and they just sit there, waiting.”

“How long has this been going on?” I asked.

“Not long after I arrived at this company. As the incoming CEO, I was briefed about this executive team. I was told they were bright, action oriented, made solid decisions. But, that’s not what I see. I wouldn’t call them dolts, they would never have gotten this far, but day to day, I feel like the quarterback who has to constantly scramble.”

“How have you contributed to the problem, meaning, how have you contributed to the team’s lack of constructive solutions to problems?”

“Now, don’t think you are going to pin this on me. I didn’t hire these people, they were here when I arrived. I am the same person I have always been,” Edward was firm.

“I want to take your description at face value, that at some point this executive team was bright, action oriented and made solid decisions. If they were once that way, what changed?”

“You are still looking squarely at me,” Edward replied.

“You’re the only one in the room,” I waited. “Think back to your early interactions with this team, tell me what happened in the first couple of meetings.”

“Well, the first couple of meetings, I was just sizing them up, seeing who was strong, who was weak, and where we could make improvements. I call it diagnostic work.”

“And, what was your diagnosis?”

“There must have been a reason I was hired in to take over from the outgoing CEO. This team was okay, but needed some firmer guidance and direction.”

“And, if you see those first few meeting as a training session, led by you, what were you training them to do?” I wanted to know.

“They needed to look more clearly at their mistakes and listen to me, to help guide them to make better decisions.”

“And, isn’t that what you have now trained them to do?”

They Don’t Want to Listen

“But, what if my team just doesn’t want to listen to me?” Susan protested.

“And, how does that make you, as the manager, less responsible for the communication?” I asked.

“Yeah, but, if they don’t want to listen, how can I make them listen?”

“Indeed, how can you make them listen?”

Susan stopped, this wasn’t going anywhere. “I can’t make them listen. If they don’t want to listen, I have to figure out how to get them to want to listen.”

“That’s a start. Remember, as the manager, you are 100 percent responsible for the communication. So, how do you get them to listen in the first place?”

“Well, I guess I have to talk about things they are interested in. I have to get their attention.”

“And since you are 100 percent responsible for the communication, that is exactly where you should start. Speak in terms of the other person’s interests.”

Speed of Necessity

What’s changed? In your market, in your industry, in your company, in your team, with yourself?

COVID accelerated many things that were already in play. This acceleration was not brought about because COVID released us to do new things, but because COVID constrained us. Our response to new constraints quickly moved us to change. Change is not fun, most immediately has a negative impact on profit, so why do we do it?

We change because it is necessary, the mother of invention. Human beings have always adapted. Just, not so rapidly as now.

There is a software programming methodology called agile, successfully adapted to other work scenarios. Agile, typically organized in two week sprint intervals, doesn’t mean we work really hard to get everything finished in two weeks. Code written, tested, de-bugged, tested, de-bugged, published.

Agile means every two weeks, we stop. We take inventory, where we have come, progress made, but most importantly, to take inventory of what has changed. What has changed in your market, in your industry, in your company, in your team, with yourself?

And, to take inventory to remind us of purpose. The easy questions ask whether our activity, our work, moved us toward our purpose, or away from our purpose. The harder questions ask if our purpose is still valid in the midst of change.

Hard to Get Good People (These Days)

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
I am just not getting quality candidates from our referral agency. I have two positions I need to fill. I call and explain what kind of person we need, but they take two weeks to get back to me. And the people they send are just not qualified.

Response:
My first question, how do you source candidates other than a referral agency?

Most of the time, the response I get is, we really don’t have time. We’re just so busy around here. It’s really hard to get good people these days.

Here is my observation. You are not seeing quality candidates because you are not focusing your efforts. If your referral agency is not doing the job, then your company has to take responsibility and source your own candidates. You need to be actively recruiting and networking all the time. You are in the business. You should have a better network than the referral agency. You don’t, because you see recruiting as a distraction. Your expense last year for head hunters was $45,000. And what do you have to show for it. Three positions filled, but two didn’t work out, so you are waiting for the replacement guarantee.

If your company is having difficulty sourcing candidates, what are you doing about it? What ideas have you used to get more and better people into the interview room?

What Do You Do Well?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I have a performance review with a top performer on my team. In addition to reviewing his past 3 months results, I am trying to prepare some discussion topics that are geared towards 1) further developing his strengths and 2) finding ways to challenge him so he does not get bored.

Response:

I think you just defined the discussion topics.

Developing strengths can usually be identified with the following questions.

  • What is it that you believe you do well?
  • If I was standing as an observer, what would I see in you as a strength?
  • How do you gain the greatest leverage from your strengths?
  • How do you nurture your strengths?
  • How can I, as your manager, nurture those strengths?

Finding ways to challenge the team member is most easily done through delegation. Most people believe delegation is a time management tool, but it is also your most powerful people-development tool. Ask these questions.

  • Looking forward, what responsibility would challenge and test your abilities?
  • If we were to assign that responsibility to you, what safeguards could we put in place to make it a learning experience rather than a trial by fire?

When you think about retaining your top performers, these are the most important conversations.