Category Archives: Accountability

Who Will Solve the Problem?

Karyn was in the conference room when I arrived. We only had ten minutes to talk, so right to the point.

“What have you decided that you would say?” I asked. Last Saturday, there was a shouting match that ended poorly. Karyn did not want a repeat performance. At the same time, she wanted the team member to live up to her schedule and complete the work assigned. I suggested that Karyn prepare a conversation that was both sensitive and straight.

“First, the conversation will be early in the shift. I will ask to see her in the conference room, because it is both private and neutral. I am going to start with a twenty second speech and then I plan to listen and ask questions.” Karyn stopped.

“So, what does it sound like?” I prompted.

“First I will apologize.

I am sorry the conversation got out of hand last Saturday. We are both adults and I know better. When I got angry, I should have just called a time-out so we could talk with clearer heads.

It’s obvious to me that something is going on outside of work that is very important to you. It is important enough for you to break the schedule even if your work is not completed. If we could talk about this priority, perhaps we could arrive at some solution. I might be able to help if you could talk me through it.

“Then, I plan to shut up and listen,” Karyn explained.

“So, after you listen, are you going to solve her problem?” I was curious.

“Absolutely not, if there is one thing I have learned, is that I can listen, but she will have to solve her own problem. In fact, she will have to do the hard work of thinking it through. All I can do is give her a platform to solve the problem rather than fight it.”

Escalating Emotions

“I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but I guess things just escalated.” Karyn described this latest blowup with one of her team members. “I am only her supervisor on the weekend, so I feel a little helpless. Her weekday supervisor lets her get away with leaving early. I talked to Rick about it. He just doesn’t want to confront her.”

“And when you stopped her from leaving early, the conversation turned grisly and she left anyway?”

Karyn nodded her head slowly. “And next Saturday, I don’t know what to do or say. I can’t just pretend nothing happened?”

“Oh, you could. Hope is a strategy. You could hope she doesn’t blow up again. You could hope she doesn’t leave early again. You could hope she gets all of her work done. But if hope doesn’t work, what are you going to say and when are you going to say it?”

Karyn scrunched her face, “I don’t want to wait until she tries to walk out the door again. Then it will be Groundhog Day all over again.”

“So, when would be a better time to talk to her?”

“I think early in the day, perhaps at the very beginning.”

“Good, then there won’t be the drama of her trying to leave at that moment. Now, what are you going to say?” Karyn struggled with the question. No response.

“Karyn, I want you think about this. You cannot stumble into this conversation. You have to be prepared. Think about this and we will talk again. Think along these lines. I want you to be both straight AND sensitive. What will you say?”

Service System Capacity

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Related to Integration is a Fancy Word. The illustrative example described an imbalance of systems in a manufacturing model, where there is a build-up of finished goods inventory (unsold).

Question:
Can you provide an example of an anemic sales function in a service industry. What would you get instead of an inflated inventory?

Response:
Thanks for the question. In a service industry, say you have 20 trucks, 20 technicians, optimized to average three service calls per day. The daily average capacity is 60 calls.

If sales only sells 55 average daily calls, you have excess unsold capacity of 5 service calls. You may not even notice. If the average drops to 50, you may begin to notice, and so do your service technicians. How long does it take a service technician to complete two assigned service calls vs three assigned service calls? The answer is 8 hours, no matter which. Parkinson’s law – work expands to the time allotted.

This is functional integration work, to monitor the capacity of each function, to make sure the impact of one function doesn’t outstrip or adversely impact the capacity of its neighboring functions.

In this service example, the math is pretty easy, 20 technicians x 3 calls = 60. Sometimes the service work has more subtle variations where the math is not so clean. That’s why system capacity makes for fascinating study.

Critical for Growth

Nicole was still stymied over our discussion about the role of the supervisor. “But if I am not actively working on the line with everyone else, I don’t feel like I accomplished anything at the end of the day.”

“Nicole, let’s talk about the value-add of the supervisor. While your team members do the production work, your job is to make sure production gets done. The value you bring to the party, as the supervisor, is that the work is complete, at the target volume, at the defined quality standard and on time. To make that happen, your job is to schedule the appropriate materials, schedule the appropriate team members and make sure the right machines are available. Your value-add is consistency, thoroughness (no gaps) and completeness (the job gets finished).

“The Mom and Pop operation, just starting out, doesn’t have to worry about that stuff. They just have to finish today’s job for today’s customer. As organizations grow, as volume increases and there are more customers than you can count with fingers and toes, these are the issues that make or break a company. Is the right volume of product (or service) produced, of consistent quality, on time? Successful supervisors are responsible for taking the organization to that next level. It is a different sense of accomplishment, yet critical for the company to grow.”

Make Improvement Easy

Nicole had the numbers posted. She was still working side by side with the team, helping on the line, but at least the numbers were posted.

“But, we didn’t make our goal,” Nicole shook her head. “That’s why I was afraid to write the numbers on the white board, before.”

I ignored her body language. “Nicole, I want you to add another number to the board. I want you to post yesterday’s numbers next to the goal numbers. For right now, I just want you to focus your team on improvement over yesterday.”

“Well, that should be easy,” snorted Nicole.

“That’s the point. Make improvement easy. Then focus on it.”

The Weeds Part of “In the Weeds”

Nicole was complaining. Her department was behind. She worked 10-12 hours per day and could never seem to get ahead. She thought her boss should appreciate her efforts and hard work, but instead, she got quite the opposite. He was disappointed in her performance and intended to follow-up on her numbers every two weeks instead of once a month.

“What am I supposed to do?” she said. “I get here an hour early and leave an hour after my team has gone home. It seems, they always pull me into the weeds. I just can’t get anything done.”

“Tell me about the weeds part. How does your team drag you into the weeds?”

“They always need help. I try to work alongside them for most of the day, but then I cannot get my stuff done.”

“Then, stop!” I said. “You are the supervisor. You are there to make sure the work gets done, NOT to work alongside your team. If they have a problem, help them through it, but then get back to your responsibilities. You are supposed to do production counts three times during your shift so you can know if you are ahead or behind. That’s your job. Your team is not meeting its daily production and they don’t even know it.”

Capability Plus Skill Set

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How does someone make the leap from technician to manager? I see it all the time in IT work, and I think it’s why there are so many bad managers out there. Isn’t this the Peter Principle, where people are promoted to their level of incompetence?

Response:
It’s more than a leap. It is a completely different skill set. The technician is an expert in a technical skill. The technician does the production work.

One level of work above is the supervisor. The supervisor does NOT do the production work. The supervisor makes sure the production work gets done; completely, accurately, no missing segments and on time. The tools of the supervisor are checklists and schedules. This is not a subtle concept and most companies don’t get it.

The role of the supervisor is coordination. Success requires two things. First, the person has the capability to make longer timespan decisions and solve more complex problems. Second is the development of a new skill set related to schedule making, checklist making and meetings. The failure is most supervisors are promoted to a role where they are expected to use a skill set they have not developed and the company is not prepared to train.

The Game Changes Over Time

Howard didn’t like the list. The top three tasks I asked him to delegate were three that he enjoyed the most. He defended, saying these tasks kept his technical skills sharp, kept him in the game.

“Look, Howard, you are a Manager. You are now the coach who cannot step on to the field without getting a penalty flag. Five years ago, it was important for you to keep your skills sharp, to be the expert, to be faster. Your role has changed. The most important thing you can do now is to develop your team, make them faster, sharper. They are your new technical experts. Five years ago, it was important for you to be successful. Now, it is important for you to make your team members successful. If you fail at that, you fail as a Manager.”

One Crab in the Basket

“All my team wants to do is complain. I know things aren’t perfect, but we still have to get the work done. They shoot down every idea I have,” Chet shook his head.

“Have you ever been crabbing?” I asked. “Crabbing, you know, where you trap crabs, pull them out of the water and throw them into a basket?”

Chet looked at me a bit sideways. “What’s that got to do with my team?”

“Here’s the thing, Chet. If you only have one crab in the basket, you have to really pay attention, because the crab will crawl out of that basket lickety-split. The trick is to catch more crabs quickly. With a bunch of crabs, when one starts to crawl out, the other crabs attach to the legs and pull him back into the basket. You would think they would all try to crawl out, but that’s not what happens. Sometimes, teams are the same way.

“Before you describe a possible solution, go around the table and have each team member describe the major benefits if we are successful at solving the problem. If you can get them to focus on the benefits, they are less likely to focus on the crab (you) trying to crawl out of the basket.”

Never Run a Press Before

Cindy’s assignment was simple. As a successful supervisor in another division, she was transferred to a line unit that was having trouble keeping up. After her first meeting, she wasn’t so sure she was up to the task.

From the back of the room, “So, tell us about your background. Have you ever run one of these presses before?”

She admitted that she had not. “So, how do you expect to be our supervisor when you don’t know the first thing about how we do the job?” She had never been challenged so directly. Worse, it was a perfectly valid question.

Now Cindy was in my office. “Here is the central issue,” I asked, “how can you bring value to their problem solving and decision making?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know how to run the press, but does that really matter? How do you bring value to their problem solving and decision making? How do they know when they are doing a good job? How do they know when they are doing a poor job?”

“Funny, I know the ops manager was complaining that they did not meet the production quota last month. But those numbers were never broken down on a daily basis so the line never had a clue whether they were ahead or behind. The last two days of the month, somebody came out and yelled at them to pick up the pace, but it was too little, too late.”

“So, you can bring value to the work by giving the floor feedback on daily production runs, perhaps accelerating things a bit, but avoiding a hysterical crunch at the end of the month.”

One month later, Cindy’s crew was ahead by 150 units, yet had worked no overtime, even taken the press down for a half day of preventive maintenance. Every morning, Cindy had a two minute huddle meeting and posted the day’s production goal. At ten and two she posted updates with a final count at 3:30 when the line shut down. Though she had never touched the press, she was bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of her production crew. The skills to be a successful supervisor are quite different than the technical skills of the crew.