Category Archives: Accountability

Structure and Creativity

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Enjoyed your presentation yesterday, have a question. In your model, whose job is it to balance structure and innovation? (or structure that permits innovation?) How is this implemented? Is it a time span issue vs. a creativity/mindset issue? I worry about calcification and lean against structure which prevents innovation.

Response:
Thank you very much for your questions. Remember, yesterday, we only scratched the surface of Elliott’s research. You have many questions (not just one).

Let me first talk generally about structure and creativity. You are fearful that structure will stifle creativity, when in fact, Elliott believed quite the opposite.

Specifically, organizational structure looks rigid on a chart, with its neat boxes and circles and arrows that point the way. Off the paper, organizational structure is simply the way we define working relationships. And, there are two types.

On a chart, we see managerial relationships in a vertical fashion, and we have an intuitive sense how that works. In a moment, I will attempt to shift your intuitive sense in a way that opens up the creativity you cherish (all organizations cherish). But, before that, the other type of working relationship is horizontal. People have to (required behavior) work with each other, but they are not each other’s manager. On a chart we typically represent these with a horizontal dotted line. It’s the dotted line that gets us in trouble. Again, we have an intuitive sense of this horizontal working relationship (cross-functional), but we rarely define it with any more clarity than the dots in the line that connect.

What is missing are two A words. Accountability and authority. In a managerial relationship, we get the authority part, but fail to understand the accountability part. A client of mine, Mike, owned a carpet cleaning business. Every once in a while, thankfully not very often, a technician would ruin a customer’s carpet. Who did Mike want to choke up against the wall? The technician, of course.

You see, Elliott assumed that technician showed up for work that day with the full intention to do their best. And it is the manager Elliott held accountable for the output of that technician. The manager hired the technician, trained the technician, provided the tools, the truck, selected the project and created the working environment for the technician. The manager controlled all the variables around the technician, it is the manager that Elliott held accountable for the output of the technician.

In this vertical managerial relationship, we get the authority part, without understanding the accountability that goes with it. Only when the manager understands the accountability-for-output is placed on them, that the shift takes place. Elliott was very specific, he called this an MAH (Management Accountability Hierarchy). The org chart is no longer an org chart, it is an accountability chart. And, that chart now illustrates who is accountable. This small shift changes everything we understand about management.

We casually call them reporting relationships, when reporting doesn’t have much to do with it. It is an accountability relationship where the manager is accountable for the output of the team member.

It’s all about context. It is incumbent on the manager to create the context. Remember, Elliott assumed the technician showed up for work that day with the full intention to do their best. It is incumbent on the manager to create the context in which each team member can do their best. It is in the creation of that context, that creativity flourishes. I know you have more questions, but, enough for today.

Blame Game

It is important to understand the problem. Even more important to understand the cause of the problem.

Many people confuse the cause of the problem with blame. Blame, no matter how well placed, rarely gets you closer to the solution, even creates distraction that prevents forward steps.

In what way can we fix (mitigate, prevent) the problem is a more useful question.

Clumsy at First

Last week, I published the following excerpt –

Those permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, just not the same, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

Now, a list of questions, from which I would like to get your response.

  • In your business, what have you learned over the past month, that you did not know before?
  • In your business, what changes have you made out of necessity?
  • In the changes that you have made, what might become permanent?
  • How are you practicing those new things, to become competent in those new things?
  • In your business, what is likely never to return?

Post your comments, I am curious. -Tom

Value of Advice

Rory would not be deterred. “But, I am young, and, you are experienced. I have listened to you before and your advice has been helpful.”

“I am flattered,” I replied. “But, better to clarify your own understanding of the problem than to take my word for it. My advice is worth no more than you are able to make of it.”

Stuck in a Dilemma

“I am stuck in a dilemma,” Rory explained. “It’s a quandary, so I have come for your advice.”

“And, you think I can help you?” I replied.

“You always have before.”

“I think you are mistaken. I can help you clarify your thinking, but as for my advice, it is only good for me. I can only tell you what I know based on my experience. What you need to know will be based on your experience. I can help you understand your experience, but, your problem, your dilemma will still be yours.”

Discretionary Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You indicate the reason people do what they do is because they can. How does if-they-can relate to competence? And, if someone can-do, has the competence to-do, then how do we get them to do it? I am always looking for discretionary behavior.

Response:
Lot’s of questions embedded here. The first cause of underperformance is the lack of competence to perform. The accountability for this goes to the manager. It is the manager that determines the capability and skills required for the role. The manager is accountable for selecting the team member for the role based on their possession of that capability and skills. If the team member does not possess the requisite capability and skills, then that is poor selection on the part of the manager. This has nothing to do with discretionary behavior, this has only to do with competence.

If someone has the competence to perform, the only way for a manager to influence effective behavior is to make it necessary. The reason we don’t get the performance we want, and need, is because we do not make it necessary. If a person has the requisite skills and capability (competence) and the performance has been made necessary, then the only reason for underperformance is a matter of discretion. We can only assume underperformance occurs, is because underperformance was chosen.

The conditions for performance require –

  • Competence
  • Necessity

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For a more thorough discussion, please read Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing by Lee Thayer

It’s a Test

“I don’t want to go through the same experience I had with John, promoting someone to a role only to find them flailing about,” Marissa said.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I asked.

“There is a person in another department, I don’t know him, but his manager says he is ready for promotion,” Marissa thought out loud.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I repeated.

“I am certainly not going to trust the situation when I don’t even know this guy. I will, at least, interview him.”

“In addition to the interview, because this is an internal candidate, what else do you have the opportunity to do? How will you test him before you get wrapped around the axle?”

Marissa nodded. She knew the answer. “Project work. Task assignments with the same elements in the new role. I had a failed promotion and a chocolate mess. A failed project is only a failed project, and I can manage the risk in a project.”

Relieved

“I spoke with John, he is going back to be a team leader,” Marissa explained. “He was relieved, said he never wanted the promotion to supervisor in the first place. He thought he was going to get fired in his new role.”

“And, what did you do about his compensation?” I asked.

“I took your advice. I am the one who made the mistake. He was already at the highest technician rate before his promotion, so there was only $1 an hour difference. I kept his pay at the supervisor rate. He shouldn’t have to pay for my mistake.”

“Most importantly, you are on the hook for finding a new supervisor, what are you going to do differently?”

What Are You Going to Do?

“Well, I promoted him,” Marissa replied. “His former supervisor got promoted to another department, and, so, for three weeks, I had to cover. I promoted John because he was the best on the team, and, everybody liked him.”

“So, you assumed that because he was a standout performer doing one thing, that he would be a standout performer doing something else?” I asked.

“I assumed it would take a couple of weeks to get the hang of it, but it’s been a month and he is still a lost puppy.”

“So, what are you going to do? Now, that you understand the problem more clearly.”

“I don’t want to fire the guy, he’s been with us for six years. But, I don’t know if his ego would allow him to take a demotion?”

“You are in quite a pickle, aren’t you? Are you better off with him, or better off without him?”

“I would hate to lose him. I would be better off with him, but only in the right role.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

Not a Matter of Skill

“I don’t understand why John doesn’t do better,” Marissa complained. “I constantly have to give him critical feedback, and I know he doesn’t like it, I can see it in his face. If he would only pay attention to the problems right in front of him, I wouldn’t have to correct him.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“Well, he got promoted to be a supervisor because he was a great team leader, best machine operator we have. All he has to do now, is make out the work schedule for the department, order materials and supplies, schedule preventive maintenance on the machines, keep overtime in check, how hard could it be?”

“What do you think the problem is? Where does he struggle?”

“He struggles with all of it,” Marissa replied. “And his attitude is in the dumper, he mopes around all day because he thinks I yelled at him for doing such a crappy job.”

“What does he do well?”

“That’s part of the problem. We had a machine go down yesterday and he spent the entire afternoon tearing it apart and putting it back together. All the while, we don’t have next week’s schedule and we are almost out of materials. I had to put in a rush order so we can keep production online next week.”

“So, who promoted him?”