Category Archives: Time Span

Looking for Land

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I gotta tell you that these comments are tone deaf to the situation we are currently in. I am a CEO and focused on survival. I do not know if there will be demand for our services in 1 month or 6 months from now.

Now is the time to lead through the crisis not dream or imagine what life will be like 5 years from now.

If I were to think 5 years down the road it would be like the captain of the ship on the flag pole looking for land while the boat was on fire. It would be best for the captain to get down and lead the team in extinguishing the fire.

Response:
I talk to CEOs every day. I wonder if some will make it, some will not, some are already out of business.

Many states have opened up (with restrictions), but just because regulation has relaxed doesn’t mean the market has returned. I assume most who qualified, applied for PPP and already made work-force decisions. You are likely monitoring sales like a start-up.

If you stand back and look at your competitors, what are the characteristics of those that will be alive in 2021? What did they focus on in the past 60 days? What will they focus on in the next 90 days? What will they focus on, rounding out the year into next?

Overestimate and Underestimate

I don’t know for certain what will happen tomorrow, but I have a pretty good idea. I can even forecast the number of COVID-19 deaths that will occur tomorrow, within a reasonable margin of error. But, tomorrow is not where the game is played.

For the most part, we can anticipate what life will be like in three months time.

“People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years.” – J. C. R. Licklider, Libraries of the Future, 1965.

It is important to make sure your teams are assembled and safe to do the work tomorrow, but the real chore for the CEO is to imagine life (markets, regulations, labor, technology) in five years time.

In four years, your five year plan will be your one year plan.

Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Yesterday, someone asked me, as we move from shelter-in-place to a re-open of the economy, what should a CEO think about? Of course, there is work to be done, and we will bring people back to do that work, but what should the CEO think about?

  • What does my market environment look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time? This includes market demand, regulations, capital requirements, availability of labor and technology.
  • What should my company look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time?
  • What are the internal functions necessary to support my product or service in that market demand?
  • Inside each function, what is the level of decision making and problem solving?
  • What roles do I need to make those decisions and solve those problems?
  • Do I have people on my team who can effectively play those roles?

There are two concepts embedded in these questions.
Necessity
Levels of work (levels of decision making, levels of problem solving)

Necessity
If your company considered the purchase of a $100,000 machine, and it was NOT necessary, would you buy it? That same decision has to be made about the roles inside the company. Now, is an opportunity to examine your organizational design and ask, is this necessary?

Levels of Work
Most CEOs do not think about the work necessary to make the product or provide the service. Understanding the level of decision making and the level of problem solving are specific clues to the talent you need. Now, is an opportunity to examine the levels of work and ask, do I have the people on my team who can effectively make those decisions and solve those problems.

Did COVID-19 Break Your Business (Model)

The most strategic decision you make is “What business are we in?”

Before you answer that question, there are two other questions –
Is there a market for that business?
Is the market big enough to sustain that business?

COVID-19 wants to break your business (model)
Is your business considered an essential business?

What else changed about your business model (forever)? Most of these issues are fixable, but you have to adapt.

  • Channels you use to market to customers. What are your customers currently paying attention to? What are your customers rejecting related to marketing messages?
  • Customer interface. Is the face-to-face interface currently not possible? If face-to-face is necessary, does that interrupt your business model? For you to succeed, what has to change?
  • Texture of the customer relationship. Is the relationship transactional? Are you a trusted advisor (thought leader)? Are you customer intimate? How does your business model create that relationship? Has COVID-19 interrupted that relationship? How will you adapt?
  • Value promise. What is your value promise? Has COVID-19 interrupted the way you deliver that promise? How will you adapt?
  • Price. As you adapt your ability to deliver that value promise, does it impact the price your customer is willing to pay for that value promise? Will you adapt your price? Will you find another way to maintain your price structure related to your value promise?
  • Resources. What resources do you need to fulfill your value promise? Are those resources still available in the volume you require? Has the price point changed for those resources? Do you have to bring some of those resources in-house? Are there internal capabilities that need to be out-sourced?

Has COVID-19 interrupted your business model? Is this only temporary or is this forever? Can you adapt in the short-term? Might you have to adapt in the long-term? How will you re-think your business model?

These permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, 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.

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.