Category Archives: Accountability

Timespan of Intention

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Sometimes, I question my assessment of a team member’s capability. At times, I am delightfully surprised, other times, disappointed.

Timespan assessment of capability is a manager’s judgement. There are clues, but most of the time, managers look in the wrong places. Here is the text from my slide defining Timespan.
Timespan is the length of time a person can effectively work into the future, without direction, using their own discretionary judgement, to achieve a specific goal.

Effectiveness is not a metric, it’s a judgement. Often, goals are stated to allow for some measurement at the end of the day. The problem with the metric, it does not take into account the unanticipated obstacles that get in the way. A sales metric of 100 units does not take into account the stiff competition from a company with superior technology, economic contraction in the marketplace or a new government regulation the influences a reluctant market. Often a successful sale has more to do with the company’s reputation in the market, than the direct effort of a salesperson. The goal (metric) is one important data point in the judgement of effectiveness, but it is not the only data point.

Self-initiated action. Part of effectiveness is to determine, who is doing the problem solving and decision making? Most people can follow a system, but it takes a higher level of capability to create the system.

Discretion is decision making. A decision is not a calculation, it is a judgement. If decisions were calculations, then computers could make all decisions. Many human based decisions are now better calculated with computers (AI), because computers can detect data faster, with more precision. But, a decision is a judgement, a judgement in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity. The longer the timespan of the decision, the more uncertainty exists.

All action is goal directed. Timespan of discretion relates to the decisions that must be made in the pursuit of the goal. Timespan of intention is related to the direction of that behavior. Elliott Jaques was quite interested in that fifth dimension of human behavior, the timespan of intention. All behavior is goal directed behavior.

The Anabolic Window

The meeting was almost over. Butts in chairs began to shift toward the door.

“Take this 3×5 index card and write your name on it. Below that, write down the one thing you are going to do in the next week based on what we talked about, today.” The puzzled faces gave way to ideas for action and the writing began. Forty-five seconds later, we started around the table, each in turn, in front of the group, making a public commitment.

At the end of each meeting, there is an anabolic window that most managers never take advantage of. This window is a short period of time in which growth occurs. Ten minutes later, the window is gone.

Public commitment to action. Your team was engaged the past twenty minutes in a meeting about improving the work-flow process. At the end of the meeting, you could adjourn and lose the window, or you could stop and ask for a public commitment to action. It could be the most powerful three minutes of the meeting.

Oh, bring your 3×5 card to the meeting next Monday. We want to know how you did.

Wasn’t My Fault (Was It?)

Eight managers and a senior VP sit around the table, this table of Eager Beavers, Vacationers and Hostages. What will prevent them from participating? What will drive them to contribute with enthusiasm?

“Houston, we have a problem!!” booms the senior VP. Enter FEAR stage right. The VP just raised the spectre of fear. Here’s the question, “Does the way you state the problem have anything to do with the way people approach the solution?”

I could see the Face of Fear as I looked around the room. The silent responses were predictable. The darting eyes spoke volumes. Beneath the whisper level, emotions pounded.

  • It wasn’t my fault, (was it?)
  • It couldn’t have been my fault, (could it?)
  • It was supposed to happen that way, (wasn’t it?)
  • Since it wasn’t my fault, it must have been Tim’s fault (right?)
  • I didn’t approve that, (did I?)

Multiply those responses by the eight managers and then calculate what has been accomplished so far. What headway has been made toward solving the problem in Houston? Worse yet, if no headway has been made, what direction is everyone looking?

Does the way you state the problem have anything to do with the way people approach the solution? The mindset around the table is looking for blame, a scapegoat, something, anything to deflect responsibility for the problem in Houston. Everyone is checking out, the quicker the better, last one standing holds the bag. Disengage, no eye contact, pass the buck, Chuck.

As the Manager, you don’t know who has the idea that is going to save the day. You cannot afford to have a single person disengage from the meeting. You need full engagement from everyone in the room for the entire meeting. One idea, one phrase, one twisted word may trigger the solution.

Does the way you state the problem have anything to do with the way people approach the solution? Take the problem and create a positive question that points toward the solution.

IWWCW. In what way can we increase sales in our Houston territory? Take the problem and create a positive question that points toward the solution. Now, look around the room. You will find positive engagement. It is impossible not to. (Sorry, for the double negative.)

A bit of science. The human mind cannot “not answer” a question. (Another double negative.) The way the human brain is wired, when presented with a question, it is impossible for the mind to do anything other than search for the answer. If you want to engage the mind, ask it a question. If you want to engage a team, ask them a question. If you want to engage a team to solve a problem, state the problem as a postive question that points toward the solution. In what way can we…?

Company Growth, Personal Growth

“I know I need to delegate more,” Hannah shook her head side to side. “But, I am often disappointed when I give someone a task and they don’t complete it to my standards. It’s just easier to do it myself.”

“Okay, I will agree that you can complete the work better than anyone else on your team,” I replied. “As the manager, if you have to complete all the work, how much work can you do in an 8-hour day?”

“I know where you are going with this,” she said. “If I do all the work, our output capacity is limited to how much I can personally get done. Not to mention, everyone else will be standing around all day.”

“There is more to it than a capacity issue, output for a day,” I nodded. “It’s output capacity, forever. If all you produce is what you can personally produce in a day, the company will never grow. More importantly, you will never grow.”

Meaningful Feedback

Morgan was perplexed, “Okay, so if I set the form aside. And if I buy into the conversation-is-the-relationship, where do I start?”

“Morgan, let’s go back to purpose. What is the purpose of the performance review in the first place?” I asked.

Morgan held his head in both hands, thinking. So many misconceptions abound on the purpose of a performance review that he was temporarily paralyzed. Finally, he spoke. “The performance review should provide feedback to the team member on their performance.” He stopped, still confused. “But isn’t that what we have been doing all along?”

“Let me change a couple of words in your definition,” I replied. “The performance review should provide meaningful feedback to the team member for the purpose of improving their performance. The feedback has to be meaningful and for the purpose of changing their current behavior to more effective behavior.”

Most current performance appraisal systems provide feedback that is not meaningful and do very little to change behavior.

Team Member Never Wins

Morgan was hanging with me. He had never considered the conversation-as-relationship in the dynamics between the team member and the manager. We had been working on his performance review process.

“Morgan, it’s not the form from the office supply store. It is the conversation. In fact, think about the form. The form actually works against the conversation. It summarizes the complexities of human behavior into numbers.”

Morgan mounted a defense. “That’s why we have the person rate themselves first and then the manager. That way, if they disagree, the two have something to talk about.”

“Morgan, it is a game of tit for tat. A game. What happens when the manager wins the game?”

“Well, the lower the score, the easier it is to justify a lower adjustment to compensation.”

“And if the team member wins the game?”

Morgan stoppped. At first he wasn’t sure. Finally, he replied, “The team member never wins the game. It’s not how it’s played.”

So, in the long run, what impact does this process have on performance. Is there a better conversation that should be happening between the team member and the manager?

Connecting Performance and Retention

Morgan was finally thinking about purpose. What was the purpose of the performance review in the first place? What was the performance review supposed to accomplish?

“Morgan, what is the most critical factor for both team member performance and team member retention?”

At this point, Morgan was gun-shy, he hesitated to respond.

“Let me ask this differently,” I continued. “What is the most critical relationship for both team member performance and team member retention?”

Morgan’s face relaxed. “That’s easy. It’s the relationship between the team member and the manager.”

“Good, now let’s build on that. How important is the conversation between the team member and the manager?”

“Pretty important, I guess,” said Morgan, going tentative on me again.

“Here is why it’s important. The relationship between the team member and the manager is the critical factor for both performance and retention. And the conversation is the relationship.”

What kinds of conversations are happening between your team members and your managers?
Conversation is the relationship described in The Heart Aroused by David Whyte.

What is a 2?

Morgan handed me a stack of the files which contained copies of previous performance reviews.

“I see here that you are using a 1-5 Likert scale with 1 = poor and 5 = exceeds expectations.” Morgan nodded. I continued, “Scanning down the list, I see that you have tons of 3s and only an occasional 2 or a 4, never a 1 or a 5.”

“That’s easy to understand,” said Morgan. “We don’t have to explain a score of 3. If we rate a 2 or a 4, we have to provide a written explanation. And even if someone deserves a 5, we never give it, because then they might ask for a raise.”

“And, tell me again, what is the purpose of this review?”

“Well, our HR person says that if we have to fire someone, we need to have a bunch of 1s and 2s in the file. Something about avoiding wrongful termination.”

“Morgan, have you ever been up against a plaintiff attorney in court?”

“Not really,” Morgan replied.

“Morgan, have you ever had to explain to an attorney exactly what a 2 means?”

“Not really.”

“Morgan, with all due respect, this little form is not going to get you very far in a wrongful termination suit. There has to be a better purpose for this performance review process.”

Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom and responsibility are linked.  Problems occur when they are decoupled.

In a strict rules-based environment, where all behavior is dictated and abnormal behavior punished, there is little need for individual responsibility. The rule-maker assumes the responsibility and the individual suffers the consequences, for better or worse.

With freedom comes responsibility. Where there are no rules, behavior becomes the responsibility of the individual.

In an effort to enforce attendance at work, organizations (in the US) introduced limits to sick days and vacation days. The individual no longer had responsibility in that matter, and freedom only within the limits of the policy.

Some organizations adopted policies of unlimited vacation days, sick days, personal time off days, shifting the entire responsibility of attendance to the individual. This works only if the individual assumes that responsibility and behaves accordingly. Problems occur when, given that freedom, individuals do not respond to that responsibility.

Freedom and responsibility are linked.

Expand that coupling to working from home, flex time and larger issues. Expand that coupling to social institutions and governments. Freedom can only exist in an environment of individual responsibility. It is in the absence of individual responsibility that freedom becomes limited, by rules, and authoritarian institutions. Happy Independence Day.

Work Moves Sideways – Release and Pace

“It happened again,” Peter grimaced. “We just got a large order with a tight deadline. We went to expedite the order and turns out there are projects stuck in the middle of our system.”

“What do you mean stuck?” I asked.

“I mean stuck,” Peter replied. “We run a just-in-time shop. We don’t order materials until we have a project, and some of those materials have lead times, so we have a bit of coordination to do. If we have a material with a three day lead time that we can’t schedule that project for tomorrow.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“Supply chain. We know we will have the material in three days, so we release the project to the floor so when it’s time for those materials, the materials are there. Until they’re not. We found out that material is out of stock from our supplier with a three week lead time, not three days. But the project is already on the floor. Without the material, the project is stuck. And, it’s big and heavy, stuck in a staging area waiting on material. We can’t move around it, we can’t move over it. It’s stuck. Now, we have a highly profitable project, lots of gross margin that we can’t start because the other project is stuck on the floor, for the next three weeks.”

“How often does this happen?” I wanted to know.

“With supply chain the way it is, more and more,” Peter shook his head.

“What have you learned so far, about what to do and what not to do?”

“Well, for one thing, never release a project to production until we have all the materials in hand. That will keep things from getting stuck. Also, a couple of workstations are very quick and sometimes get ahead of themselves, pushing out too many assemblies, stacking them in the way. The guys in that work cell are so proud of their output, they don’t see they create a problem. I think we may have to idle that process during portions of the day so things don’t stack up. Weird that I would have to tell that team not to work so hard.”