Category Archives: Levels of Work

Under the Rug

“I had such high hopes for her,” Mark explained. “We watched her, promoted her to our executive management team, encouraged her. And, she is failing. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to dampen her spirits if there is anything we can do to save her.”

“Have you talked to her directly, about her underperformance?” I asked.

“Well, we have been kind of waiting until the end of the first quarter, keeping our fingers crossed.”

“Have you tried to bring her underperformance out into the open?”

Mark shook his head. “No, in fact, I asked everyone NOT talk about it in our weekly management meeting. I don’t want to discourage her. Do you know how difficult it is to find someone of her caliber?”

“Just to be clear,” I replied. “Now, that you have moved from a state of denial, you are still willing to hide the problem, not discuss it or actively look the other way?”

Mark tried to speak, but he knew how any response would sound.

Source of Laziness

“I know you can tell that I’m upset,” Justin admitted. “It’s just that I am flabbergasted with my team.”

“You are right,” I replied. “Easy to tell you’re a bit off-center. Details?”

“They think they can get together and vote on policy all by themselves. They decided on a quality standard different than what we promised the customer. They decided our quality standards are too strict.”

“And?”

“So, now, our customer is our quality control department, not a good thing,” Justin shook his head. “I think they’re just a bunch of lazy guys trying to get away with sub-standard work. It’s a lousy personality trait that has infected the whole team.”

“So, you really think it’s personality, that they all have the same personality traits?” I asked.

Justin stopped. “I knew you were going to side with the team. You’re right, it is an overgeneralization that they all have the same personality.”

“And, you think personality has the ultimate impact on the way a person behaves?”

“If I were a psychologist, I would say yes.”

“But you’re not a psychologist, you are a manager. Think. If it is not personality, what could influence an entire team of people to act the same way?”

“I guess, because they all believe the same thing is true about the work,” Justin was searching for that factor common to the team.

“What is the same about the team, is that they all work in the same environment, an environment that you created, as the manager. If you want to change behavior, change the context.”

A Goal Sits Inside

We think success is in reaching our goals, that our goals will change us and the world around us. Deconstructing the every-year process of setting goals, we may find something more important.

What is the context in which your goals reside?

It’s not the goal that changes you, it’s the context. Context is the crucible which holds the shape of you and your success. A crucible with a defect may lead your goal astray, or allow you to accept a goal that will lead you astray. Think long about the context in which you live. Change the context, behavior follows.

For an individual, context is mindset. For an organization, context is culture.

Management Work

Ruben was stumped. “You are right. Just because we give Edmund a new title, doesn’t mean he is going to change his ways.”

“Edmund will always be Edmund, and we have to redefine his role. It’s not a matter of giving him new rules not to do this or not to do that. You have already tried that in his role as supervisor. As Lead Technician, what will be his new goals? How will you re-direct him?”

“It sounds obvious,” Ruben replied. “It starts with his job description.”

I nodded affirmative. “This is critical fundamental stuff. It’s the stuff you ignore because it sounds so simple. It’s the stuff you ignore that gets you in trouble. Stuff like goals and objectives, performance standards and holding people to account for performance.”

“I think I have a job description around here that might work,” Ruben hoped.

“Why don’t you start from scratch. As the manager, you have time span goals of approximately one year. Your annual plan has stuff in it that you are held accountable to deliver this year, and next year. If you had a supervisor, which Edmund isn’t, you would drive some of those goals down to that level, in time span appropriate chunks. For the time being, you are going to have to step into that role, review those supervisor outputs and determine the time span appropriate chunks (goals) for your new Lead Technician.”

Ruben was quiet.

“Look, do you want to lose Edmund?” I asked.

“No way,” Ruben replied. “He’s a great technician.”

“Then you have some management work to do.”

Cannot Continue This Way

“Our system creates predictability,” Ruben explained. “It creates predictability without stress. It allows us to do our maintenance at the best times, allows us to properly inspect our raw materials, test our setups accurately. Everything runs.”

“What are you going to do with Edmund?” I asked.

“He should never have been promoted to supervisor. He is a great technician, a great operator, our go-to guy. We don’t want to lose Edmund, but he cannot continue as supervisor.”

“What are you going to do with Edmund?” I repeated.

“I am going to assign him to a new role called Lead Technician. He won’t like it, and, right now, I run the risk of losing him. The job market is too fertile, lots of other companies would like to have Edmund.”

“How are you going to keep him from screwing things up, just because he has a new title? And how are you going to keep him.”

Effectiveness

“So, in your mind, Edmund is not a hero?” I prodded.

Ruben shook his head. “No, and what’s maddening is that Edmund, as a supervisor, keeps describing his behavior as results oriented. It’s all about the results, he says. So, maybe he delivers, but there are body bags all over the place.”

“So, notwithstanding the results, how would you describe his effectiveness, as a supervisor? Thumbs up? Or thumbs down?”

Ruben laughed. “You know, that’s it. Effectiveness. If I can judge his effectiveness, it’s thumbs down. A supervisor is not effective when he ignores the metrics, skips steps in the process, then works overtime to save the day when the system breaks down.”

Underpinnings of Theory

“I have to tell you,” I started. “I have a high bias for action. Theory is okay, but for me, I am more interested in real world application, the theory, not so much.”

Pablo gave me a short grimace. “Unfortunate,” he said. “I know you young people are short on attention, you look for excitement in the world. Often, the underpinnings of theory escape you.”

“It’s not that,” I defended. “I just lean toward doing something.”

“I am sure that is what you believe, but every action you take, indeed, all of your behavior is based on your perception of the world, what is going on around you. Understand, that perception is always a frame of some sort. There are things within your field of vision, and things outside your field of vision. Sometimes, to change your frame, all you have to do is turn your head.”

“I get that,” I nodded. “I’m a visual person.”

“Most of your frames,” Pablo turned his head to see me sideways, “are not visual frames, but mental frames. Your mental frames are based on assumptions, beliefs, the way you see the world. Most of your frames are based on some theory. And, if your theory is not intentional, studied, tested, then your behavior may be (mis)guided by a theory of which you are not aware.”

Matching the Work

“I’m a structure guy,” Pablo said. “When you think about effective managerial leadership, I think the focus is on the structure.”

“It’s not on charisma, likeability, luck?” I asked, knowing the answer.

Pablo gave me a knowing smile. “The first key area for any manager, is to design and build the team. Individual achievement is a myth. If you want to create something great, it takes a team, a collection of teams, organized to get work done.”

“Before I do anything else, I have to build the team?” I wanted to know.

“Before you build the team, you have to design it,” Pablo continued. “That’s where most companies make their first missteps. As time goes by, there is too much to do, always work left over. Someone has a brilliant idea, let’s hire some more people. And, they do this without any thought of the overall design of the team to get work done.”

“So, first I have to think about the work?”

“And, not just task assignments, we have to figure out what problems must be solved and what decisions have to be made. With that, then we have to determine the level of problem solving and the level of decision required on the team, to make sure when we start to match up the people, we can select the right ones.”

Because We Said So

“Just to be clear,” Sarah wanted to know, “if communication is the symptom, but accountability and authority is the cause, what’s the fix?”

“You already told me that your communication seminar did not make any improvement. Is your answer embedded in your question?” I asked.

“We have to fix accountability and authority?” she angled her head to the side. This was not a rhetorical question.

“Let’s take the easy example,” I replied. “Two people who have to work together, but, neither is each other’s manager. Let’s take your Marketing Director and your Sales Director. In that working relationship, what is the accountability and what is the authority?”

“Well,” Sarah started. “They are not each other’s manager, so there is no accountability and no authority. They are professionals, they should each know what they are supposed to do.”

“Oh, really,” I nodded. “Would it be a good idea for marketing to coordinate with sales and for sales to coordinate with marketing?”

“Yes, I suppose,” Sarah concluded.

“If they are supposed to coordinate, but they don’t, what kind of problems emerge? And, does that look like a communication problem?”

“Yes, that is what we were trying to fix in the communication seminar,” Sarah smiled.

“But, it didn’t get fixed, because it wasn’t a communication problem, that was only the symptom. What you had was an accountability and authority issue. If it would be a good idea for them to coordinate, if the Marketing Director calls a meeting with the Sales Director, is the Sales Director accountable to attend?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Sarah winced.

“You are not sure because you did not define their coordinating relationship. By virtue of the fact that the two are in a coordinating relationship, if one calls a meeting, the other is required to attend. Of course, they have to mutually schedule the meeting, but they are required to attend. Why are they required to attend?”

“I am still not sure,” Sarah winced twice.

“Because we said so,” I stated flatly. “By virtue of their coordinating relationship, they are required to attend. Further, they are required to do what?”

“Coordinate?” Sarah was catching on.

“Exactly,” I said. “Now that we have specifically defined the accountability in their relationship, do we have a communication problem?”

A Matter of Judgement

“You said the manager-once-removed is in the best position to engage the team member as a mentor,” Brendon asked. “You said the MOR has a realistic assessment of the team member’s performance. I know the MOR has access to the KPIs for the team member, but so do a lot of other people. Why the MOR?”

“KPIs are actually a lousy indicator of performance,” I replied. “The direct manager and the MOR, in their monthly 1-1 coaching discussion should do a 60-second team member review. If there are ten people on the team, that’s 10 minutes.”

“But, how could you review individual KPIs in 60 seconds?” Brendon wanted to know.

“I wouldn’t use KPIs. KPIs are important, to examine throughput of a system, but results, overall, are not in the control of a team member, or an indication of an individual’s performance. I know you subscribe to results-based-performance, but any factors you choose to follow cannot be relied upon in any sustained fashion. At best they will only be a clue, at worst, those factors may mislead.”

“But, we use objective numbers,” Brendon protested. “We manage by measurement.”

“Just because you use a number, does not make it objective. What if you are measuring the wrong thing? You cannot translate a living system into separate discrete factors. You have to account for the whole system, assessment is still a judgement. It is a judgement made by both the direct manager and the MOR.”

“Then how do we make that assessment?” Brendon was curious.

“A series of very simple questions,” I said.

  • Is the team member operating satisfactorily within the level of work?
  • Is the team member operating in the top half or the bottom half of the level?
  • And, in that half, top, middle or bottom?

It is a simple way to state effectiveness. Every manager can answer those questions.

“And if the response is not satisfactory, the diagnosis follows one of these four absolutes –

  • Is it a matter of capability?
  • Is it a matter of skill (that could be improved by training, education or experience?)
  • Is it a matter of interest or passion for the work, does the team member place a high value on the work?
  • Is it a matter of required behavior? Is there a violation of contracted behavior? Is there a habit that does not support a required behavior? Is there a violation of our accepted culture (required behaviors)?

“Make the assessment, then diagnose. At best, KPIs are only a clue. Personal effectiveness is a managerial judgement.”