Category Archives: Time Span

Assessing Capability

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
It was a pleasure working with you last summer. I’ve been introducing the concept of Time Span to my colleagues and its been helping us lead tough HR conversations. Some were wondering if you had an assessment to help determine someone’s time span capacity.

Response:
This is a very popular question.  The answer is completely counter-intuitive.  Elliott’s caution was clear. Don’t go around judging people.  Do NOT play amateur psychologist.  You didn’t go to school for it, you don’t have a degree in it, your chances of being wrong are about 50/50, same as flipping a coin.

HOWEVER, most hiring managers are expert at the work.  Most hiring managers understand effective behavior and ineffective behavior.  Stick where you are an expert.  It’s all about the work.  I do not judge people, but, boy, do I judge the work.  By careful examination of the problem-solving and decision-making in a role, most hiring managers can easily pinpoint the level of work in the role.  If we can understand the level of work in the role, then the selection decision is easy.  “Is this person effective in the task assignments at this level of work, or not?”

Don’t play amateur psychologist, stick where you are an expert.  It’s all about the work.

Because They Can

“But, isn’t it important, for a manager, to understand the reasons people do what they do?” Bailey was on a roll with her very best stiff-arm.

“For a manager, there is only one reason people do what they do. And, this is essential for every manager.” I waited to make sure Bailey was listening. “The only reason people do what they do is because they CAN. The only measure of performance is performance.”

“Sounds a little redundant to me. Are you sure this isn’t just hyperbole?” Bailey was insistent, unconvinced.

“Simple to understand. You will never find a person doing something they do not have the capability to do. You can line up all the rewards, intrinsic motivation cooked up by industrial psychologists, if a person does not possess the capability, they will underperform. Underperform or engage in diversionary behavior.”

Double Edge of Knowing

Habits are routine, grooved behaviors based on what-we-know. What-we-know is always based on the past.

Habits are a two-edged sword. Habits help us understand the world quickly. What-we-know creates patterns we can use to solve problems efficiently using a minimum of brain power.

Habits can prevent us from clearly seeing the present. What-we-know may not be accurate or lead us to mistake reality as a previous pattern (with a mistake).

Habits are part of who we are and resistant to change, because they are based on what-we-know. Habits are more powerful than reality, because reality is always new. Knowing prevents learning.

Four Levels of Knowing

What-we-know is a mental configuration. The way we configure what-we-know extends along our timespan of intention.

Most ideas exist independent of each other. If our timespan of intention is short, it is a perfectly good way of organizing what-we-know. We can rely on what we see, hear, touch, smell. Life is relatively simple. We can choose this idea OR that idea. This is the world of trial and error.

But, we wake up one morning and see ideas that are connected together. Our timespan of intention extends further into the future. What we see, hear, touch and smell is organized by ideas that are connected. This is the world of best practices, connected to our most common problems.

But, we wake up one morning and see ideas that are caused by other ideas. There is not only a connected relationship, but a cause and effect relationship. Our timespan of intention extends even further. Best practices help to solve problems we have seen, but are useless to problems we have never solved. What-we-know comes from root-cause analysis, the basis for creating a single serial system, a series of ideas sitting in a sequence of cause and effect relationships (critical path).

But, we wake up one morning and what-we-know includes more than one system. We see multiple systems sitting side by side. Each internal system has its own constraints, but some of those constraints now sit outside the system. Each system has an output which becomes the input for its neighboring system. Defective output from one system wreaks havoc on its neighboring system. And some systems outstrip the capacity of neighboring systems, crippling overall throughput of the entire enterprise. If our timespan of intention extends this far, our problems exist in the hand-off between systems and in the output capacity of one system to the next. The organization of what-we-know comes from systems analysis.

We can only know (what-we-know) what we are capable of knowing.

Timespan of Intention

Jordan was quiet. “So, it’s just a matter of what you know and what you don’t know?” he asked.

I lifted my head, “It’s what you know, what you don’t know and what you need-to-know. What you know is based on what timeframe?”

“Only the past,” Jordan replied.

“And what you need-to-know is based on what timeframe?”

“It’s too late for the past, it must be now.”

“You are correct. What do you need-to-know to help you understand the present? How does that understanding help you in the future? And, not the future of what will inevitably be, but, the future of your intentions? There are two timelines of the future, one is based on elapsed time, the other based on your intentions.”

What You Need to Know

“Unbelievable,” Jordan shook his head. “We thought we had it nailed. We knew what the problem was, had a great solution. We were so confident this project was ours for the taking.”

“And?” I asked.

“What we didn’t know was our competitor had a relationship with their corporate attorney, who whispered in the ear of the CFO, who controlled the budget for the project.”

“So, what did you learn?”

“Sometimes, what we know about the problem and the solution to the problem isn’t what we need to know about how the decision will be made.”

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Hiring Talent – 2020 was released on Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.

Which Hat Do You Wear?

Hiring Talent – 2020 will release today, Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to pre-register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.
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I am a bit overwhelmed with the quality of responses to the dilemma posted by Exhausted this past Friday. There are some very thoughtful suggestions at both ends of the spectrum.

Recap:
Exhausted is faced with a decision about a team member who is resistant to his management of her work behavior.

My response:
As I listened to your description of events, I only heard about your efforts and your failure to manage this person to your way of thinking and behavior.

People don’t want to be managed. You can manage a process, you can manage a machine, but you cannot manage a person. Which is kind of weird, because we think that is what managers are supposed to do.

You are wearing the hat of the critical parent, she is wearing the hat of the petulant child. Your goal is to move the conversation to adult-adult.

You see, the only way to manage people as a critical parent is with pressure tactics, control systems, threats of punishment, verbal and written warnings. You have tried all of these and you are left with a poor attitude and a resistant direct report (petulant child).

If you take off your critical parent hat, what are the new tools you have to build trust and gain commitment. People will sign-on to a world that they help to construct.

  • Alignment. Ask questions about personal goals and organizational goals to find the common ground. These are discussions about purpose.
  • Challenge. Ask questions about the work, related to decision making and problem solving. Uncover areas for skill development, difficulty and competence.
  • Managerial relationship. The reason people stay with or leave companies is, most often, dependent on the relationship with their manager.

Here is the bad news. For the past four months, you have managed this person into a state of resistance. You may have ruined her. And you may not have the patience or the time to repair the damage. And the damage may not be repairable.

By all appearances, this person may be headed for an inevitable separation. And separations happen. You will then get a chance with a new person. You will get a second chance. Take a look at your hat, make sure you are wearing the right one. Whenever I hear about this kind of situation, all crumbs lead back to the manager. That would be you.

Merry Christmas

Originally published December 23, 2005.

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch and the lights went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

We hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Management Skills Blog will return on January 6, 2020. We will be checking email over the holidays, so if you need us, you know how to get us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Four Power Questions Before the Interview

It’s all about the work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

  • How to know what you are looking for?
  • How to transform that vague picture into specific deliverables?
  • How to communicate that picture and deliverables to the hiring team, to make sure you are right?

I will know it when I see it, sets up the hiring manager for failure. Success is based on luck.

Work is a funny notion. Many managers focus on getting in touch with candidates, all warm and fuzzy. Not my purpose. Instead, get in touch with reality. The purpose of hiring is to get some work done.

Work is making decisions and solving problems. Few hiring managers think about the problems that have to be solved and the decisions that have to be made in a team member’s role. That is where it starts. The hiring manager is looking for someone to make specific decisions and solve specific problems. Until we figure that out, we will never hire the right person.

Here are the power questions to answer before you get into the interview room –

  • In this key area, what decisions have to be made?
  • What is the time frame for those decisions?
  • In this key area, what problems have to be solved?
  • What is the time frame for those solutions?

Trust is a Choice

Based on truth, trust is a choice. Trust does not happen. Trust is not a feeling, it is a decision.

Trust cannot exist in a circumstance of deception or ambiguity. The choice of trust is always tested by the consequences of reality.

Trust can be broken. Attempts can be made to repair a broken trust, but its repair can only be chosen.

I can engage to earn your trust, but only you can choose to trust me.
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Taking a break for the US Thanksgiving holiday. See you back here Monday, Dec 2, 2019. -Tom