Category Archives: Accountability

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?

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.”

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.

Who Will Be Accountable?

We sat around the table discussing the new team member scheduled to show up for work the next morning.

“Who’s she going to report to?” came the question from Raphael.

“What do you mean report to?” I asked.

“Well, the new person has to report to someone,” Raphael replied.

“When, you say report, you mean report for duty? If that is the case, she can report to reception and reception can properly note the new team member has reported (for duty).”

“No, I mean the new person has to have a manager to report to,” Raphael pushed back.

“So, you think you are a manager so people can report to you?” I pressed.

“I suppose so, that’s what managers do, have people report to them.”

“Let me ask a question. Who around this table will be accountable for the output of this new team member?”

“Accountable, what’s accountability got to do with it?” Raphael looked slightly annoyed.

“If a ship runs aground at night, because the night watchman falls asleep, who do we fire?” I asked.

Raphael had to stop, briefly, “Well, we fire the captain.”

“Oh, really,” I smiled. “Why?”

“Why? The captain is accountable for whatever happens on the ship,” Raphael knew the answer, but did not like the direction of the conversation.

“So, if the manager is accountable for the output of the team, the question is not who this new team member will report to, but which manager around this table will be accountable for this new team member’s output.”

Effective Or Not?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was fortunate enough to attend one of your in-person sessions. I have a specific supervisor not able to effectively complete some parts in her role description, so we followed your assessment exercise. She and I had pretty similar views and she saw that the higher levels of work was where she was struggling. She has asked for 60 days to make some improvements. In your experience have you found that improvements are possible, and that people are able to stretch to perform higher level functions?

Response:
First, I congratulate you on taking the time to have this difficult conversation with your team member. A sixty day period is certainly a reasonable request, however, it’s not hands-off. I would recommend a weekly thirty-minute coaching session between the two of you. You have already identified the areas of struggle, that’s your agenda (written agenda). Pick a Friday or a Monday.

Specifically, your discussion should revolve around the work. I define work as problem solving and decision making. Your questions should be “what decisions were a challenge this week?” and “what problems were a challenge this week?” Pay close attention to how your team member responds.

Your question is centered around the issue of capability. Is your team member capable of making the decisions and solving the problems embedded in the work? Your discussions about the struggle will give you clarity. Over a six-week period, you should have six clear data points that will reveal a pattern. Then the decision is pretty simple – effective? or not?

Practiced, Grooved Behavior

“But, I thought my team was competent. They have worked under this kind of pressure, solved these kinds of problems before,” Marion reported.

“So, what do you think is the problem?” I asked.

“I know we spent a lot of time working from home over the past couple of months. And, now we are back in the office most of the time. Things are different. People stick to their cubicles, practice social distance. It’s like Men-in-Black erased the memories of how well they used to work together.”

“What’s missing now, that was there before?”

“They seem out of practice. It’s not like they are screwing everything up, but they used to be tight. Now, every hiccup creates a little team stumble.”

“Marion, you say they are out of practice. What have they been practicing?”

She chuckled. “They have practiced being apart, practiced being disconnected, working alone, not talking to each other.”

“We are always in practice,” I said. “Just sometimes we practice stuff that’s counter-productive to where we want to go. We get good at what we practice. If we practice being lazy, we get good at being lazy. If we practice enough, it becomes a habit. Don’t practice things you don’t want to get good at.”

Pretending

“I’ve tried everything I know to get Perry to improve,” Susan lamented.

“Everything?” I asked.

“I really like Perry, I just wish he could be more effective,” she said, ignoring my question. “In fact, everybody likes Perry. But, at the same time, he constantly disappoints.”

“When he disappoints, what is the impact that has on the project? What is the impact it has on the team?”

Susan nodded. “Yep, everyone takes a beat, they sigh, they cover up. The project comes in late, but nobody wants to complain about Perry.”

“And, what if you do nothing to intervene. What will happen in a week, another month, a year?”

“People will put up with him for a while longer, but in a month, it might impact morale. In a year, I could lose someone else on the team, someone tired of covering for Perry.”

“What’s stopping you from doing something now?”

“Hope,” Susan explained, thinking I would agree that there was some hope for Perry.

“Susan. What are you pretending not to know?”