Category Archives: Timespan

Fulfillment or Frustration

“But, if I have discussions about career path with James’ team members, wouldn’t that undercut James’ authority with his team. Won’t it appear that I am going around his back?” Brendon was concerned.

“You might think that,” I replied. “On the other hand, if you set the context properly for the conversation, it is a reasonable explanation, that you are curious, and interested in them, as a person. While there is a well defined working relationship between the team member and James, there is an appropriate conversation, an appropriate relationship between the team member and you, as the manager-once-removed. It is not your purpose to coach them on productivity in their current role, but you want to talk about the future, their aspirations, their interests, their curiosities, their future role in the company. It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion that demonstrates the care of the company in the career paths of their team members. People feel fulfilled when they can see their future and opportunities to pursue it, and, they feel frustrated when they do not.”

Who Has the Larger Picture?

“I think we may have a problem with James,” Brendon started. “Turnover in his department.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, he says team members are quitting the company because of pay. We’ve had a competitive pay program that has worked for several years, with reasonable increases, but some of the numbers James is claiming don’t seem reasonable for the people he is losing.”

“So, you think the problem is with James?”

“It’s his department,” Brendon shrugged.

“Does James have the authority to offer pay increases beyond the thresholds in your comp program?”

“Well, no. But, whenever I hear it’s about the money, money is only part of it. I think it’s that some of our project managers just don’t see the longer term picture here that they are promised somewhere else. Pay may be part of it, but it’s their longer term career path.”

“And, you think James should be talking to his team about their longer term career path?” I prodded.

“Look, I know James has a lot on his plate. He’s in charge of all of our projects, they’re complicated with lots of moving parts, but he also has to pay attention to his team,” Brendon shook his head.

“So, James is in charge of complicated projects, coaching his team for faster throughput, maintaining quality standards, AND you want him to be a mentor?” I smiled. “What if you went to James’ team members, occasionally, and you talked to them about their career, challenge in the work, and what their professional life might look like in the future? With James’ full knowledge about that conversation?”

“Isn’t that James’ job?” Brendon questioned.

“Sounds like James has plenty on his plate dealing with what’s going on today, this week and this month. Besides you have a better perspective on the larger picture of the company, the larger picture of role opportunities, where lateral moves make sense, where promotion makes sense. On these longer timespan issues, I think you are in a better position to have that discussion. In a very real sense, as James’ manager, for James’ team, you are the manager-once-removed.”

The Decisions of a Salesperson

“You’ve described the work of a salesperson as probing and connecting. Probing for the customer’s pain and connecting it to our product or service?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “So, a sale that requires more than order taking likely requires a higher level of complexity?”

Marlena nodded. “We used to think we could hire anyone, give them a list of features and benefits to recite to the customer and that would be sufficient.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, sometimes they would get lucky, but our hit ratio was less than stellar,” Marlena explained. “We finally stumbled on a salesperson that was closing ninety percent. Her process was simple. In a screening phone call, she identified the customer’s pain.”

“Let me stop you there,” I interrupted. “At that point, what was the decision?”

Marlena paused. “More than one decision. Was the customer’s pain something we could solve? Was the pain strong enough to prompt the customer to take action? Would the customer see enough value in our solution to pay the price we needed to make it a win-win?”

“So, when I ask you the question, what’s the work of a salesperson, what are the problems to be solved and what are the decisions to be made, you now have a much clearer idea?”

The Work of a Salesperson

Marlena was a bit puzzled. “If most of what a salesperson does, can be better done by someone else, then what do we need salespeople for?”

“There is still one small sliver of specialized work that is best done by a person in a sales role,” I replied. “Prior to the customer signing a contract, what does a salesperson do that marketing does not do?”

“They talk to the customer. I mean, marketing talks to the customer through websites, literature and other marketing messages, but it is generally one-way,” Marlena observed.

“So, it is the two-way talking that the salesperson does,” I picked up. “And what does that two-way talk sound like?”

“The salesperson, our salesperson, asks questions,” she answered.

“Asks questions for the purpose of what?” I prodded.

“To find out where the pain is. Like a needs assessment. Where does it hurt?”

“But, marketing could ask that same question?”

“But, our salesperson takes that data, that pain, and connects it to our product or service. If that connection is meaningful, there is high likelihood of a contract.”

“So, what is the work of a salesperson?” I asked again. “What are the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made?”

“It’s the probing and connecting,” Marlena replied.

“Does it matter if the salesperson is an extrovert or an introvert,” I smiled.

“Well, they have to be able to carry a reasonable conversation, but our customers really don’t want a new friend, they have a problem and they want us to solve it.”

Organizational Harmony

“Organizational harmony starts with getting the right number of managerial layers,” Pablo continued. “Missteps in the number of layers seeds the ground for trouble later.”

“What about the people?” I asked. “When I talk to other CEOs, the biggest source of trouble is with the people.”

“Yes, people populate the layers, but if we do not first understand the layers, the structure we need, the level of work (problem solving and decision making) inside that structure, we will never pursue and hire the right people. The structure you define is the context in which people work. Context determines how people will behave (and perform). If you want to change behavior, don’t try to change the people, change the context, behavior follows. Level of work is context.”

Accurate Measure of Capability

“To do otherwise, to create an org structure, working relationships based on something besides timespan, creates dysfunction within an organization?” I asked.

“One doesn’t have to work in a company for very long to have the following experience,” Pablo explained. “As a team member, have you ever had a manager who micro-managed your every step, who was always breathing down your neck?”

I nodded, “Yes.”

“And what did you think of that working relationship?” Pablo wanted to know.

“At first, mildly annoying, frustrating, then intolerable. A personality quirk,” I surmised.

“Rarely,” Pablo chuckled. “At your level-of-work, you were vested with an undefined timespan of discretion, decision making? Am I right?”

Another affirmative, “Yes.”

“And, because your authority to make a decision was not defined, your manager presumed to make your decisions for you. A micro-manager. In fact, and this goes all the way to the CEO, your manager did not trust you to make the decisions appropriate for your role, appropriate for your level-of-work.”

“And, accordingly, my manager was accountable for my output, so was accountable for my decisions, hence the distrust of my decisions,” I flatly stated.

“Without timespan,” Pablo said, “your manager had no defined criteria related to decision making appropriate to your role, appropriate to your level of work. But, with timespan, your manager has a very clear understanding of decision making appropriate to your level of work. With this understanding, those decisions delegated to you and those decisions reserved for your manager become clear. Your experience was not a personality quirk, it was ambiguity related to decision making and problem solving.”

“But, what if my manager still didn’t trust me to make the right decision,” I countered. “After all, my manager is accountable for my output.”

“That’s where timespan changes the game. Instead of an ambiguous level of distrust, your manager now has a clear idea of the authority required to be effective in your role.”

“Okay, my manager has a clear idea of the authority required, but still distrusts me.”

“Then, how did you end up in the role in the first place?” Pablo asked. “If your manager is accountable for your output, and knows precisely the timespan of discretion, it is incumbent on your manager to hire a person who has the capability, necessary experience and skill to make those decisions. Timespan becomes an accurate measure of decision making.”

Accurate Measure of a Decision

“So you are suggesting that managerial layers in an organization rests on the two ideas of accountability and authority?” I restated as a question.

“I am not suggesting,” Pablo replied. “To do otherwise creates the organizational dysfunction we so often see.”

“And you are connecting timespan to those two ideas, accountability and authority?”

“Timespan is like the discovery of the thermometer. Our ability to accurately measure temperature led to the precision of melting points, the beginning of chemistry, as a science. Timespan is the beginning of management, as a science. Our ability to accurately measure accountability and authority provides us a precise method of organizing structure.”

“Structure being, the way we define the working relationships between people?” I added.

Pablo looked at me carefully, then clarified. “Structure being the way we define accountability and authority, the working relationships between roles. Timespan works to define those two things.

  • A supervisor (S-II) is accountable for the output of the team for timespans ranging from one day to three months, with the longest authority for decision making at 12 months.
  • A manager (S-III) is accountable for the output of the supervisory team for timespans up to 12 months, with the longest authority for decision making at 24 months or two years.
  • An executive manager (S-IV) is accountable for the output of the managerial team for timespans up to 2 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 5 years.
  • The CEO (S-V) of a single business unit is accountable for the output of the executive management team up to 5 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 10 years.

“Ten years?” I wondered.

“Unless it is a larger organization,” Pablo continued.

  • The CEO (S-VI) of a multiple business unit (holding) company is accountable for the output of the single business unit CEO up to ten years, with the longest authority for decision making at 20 years.

“And?” I nodded.

Pablo smiled. “You’re playing in the major league, my friend?”

  • The CEO (S-VII) of a multiple business unit conglomerate is accountable for the output of the holding company CEO up to 20 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 50 years.

“And, what kind of company might that be?” I wanted to know.

“Those would be the largest of global companies, Apple, Halliburton, Microsoft and government entities, US, China, Russia.” Pablo sighed. “Those are the organizations whose decisions will impact lives for the next 50 years, maybe more.”

Like a Horse and Carriage

“We have to put leadership back in the hands of CEOs and their managers,” Pablo said. “Relying on control systems to manage our companies misleads us into the false sense that we actually have control.”

“You mean we don’t,” I stopped. “You mean we don’t have control?”

“Not over the things that really matter,” Pablo replied. “We don’t have control over our markets. We don’t have control over social trends, stock prices, pilot error. We only have the illusion of control. When we run our companies solely by its Key Performance Indicators, we remove discretionary judgement in the face of uncontrollable things. We have to put leadership back in the hands of CEOs and their managers.”

“By doing what?” I asked.

“By taking advantage of decision making and judgement at all managerial levels. The future is uncertain, ambiguous. Decisions made in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity are not calculated algorithms. If they were, we could let computers rule the world.

“We are back to two words,” Pablo continued, “accountability and authority.”

“Those are the two defined elements in structure,” I connected.

“Only when we vest decision making authority in the role of the CEO and the roles of managers, do we take advantage of their capability to do so. And only when we do that, can we truly hold them accountable for the results (output) of their teams.”

“I’m going to push back,” I countered. “I think most CEOs assume decision making authority at the highest level.”

“Some do,” Pablo agreed. “But, many run the company by the numbers, or offload accountability to their executive team, attempting to engage in democratic decision making. Then, wonder why the direction of the company goes off balance. We typically place accountability one level-of-work too low in the organization. Accountability and authority go together, you can’t have one without the other.

“Except in government,” Pablo smiled. “I always find it amusing, a government oversight committee, thinks it has all the authority without any accountability. If you have the authority, you have to have the accountability that goes with it.”

Structural Quagmire That Starts at the Top

“Let me push back,” I said. “I assume that CEOs do have a firm grasp on the managerial relationships inside their company.”

“And, you would be missing the critical overlay that timespan brings to the overall structure,” Pablo explained. “With timespan as the overlay, the CEO will discover that not all people on the executive team have defined roles at S-IV (Multi-system Integration). Most CEOs have too many direct reports, or if I can more accurately describe – the CEO is the direct manager of too many people.”

“I have seen that,” I replied.

“Or, over time, team members with solid S-III (Single System) capability are promoted to S-IV (Multi-system Integration) roles where they struggle. This over-promotion (Peter Principle) causes the CEO to be dragged into system integration issues. Problem solving and decision making has no systemic or disciplined structure. There is no generally understood order, titles become jumbled and subject to individual interpretation. But, here is the real problem. The CEO gets the feeling that the CEO role is to be the glue that holds this house of straw together.”

“I have seen that as well.”

“And, if there is underperformance, the CEO believes it to be a fault of the team member, when it is really a problem of structure. There is a design problem that is covered over by the CEO in heroic attempts to make people smarter. And if there is continued underperformance, then the team becomes the culprit. Finger pointing surfaces down into middle management, and the band plays on.”

The Rare Grasp on Structure

“I get it,” I said. “Timespan helps us sort out the complexity of problems at hand with the selection of the right person to solve that problem. You say that timespan touches everything a manager does?”

“Let’s start at the top with the CEO,” Pablo replied. “I rarely meet a CEO who has a firm grasp on the structure of their organization. And, by structure, I mean, the way we define the working relationships between people. Not only is it important to define the accountability inside a single role, it is also critical to define the way those roles work together.”

“I’m listening.”

“There are two types of working relationships, vertical and horizontal,” Pablo continued. “Vertical relationships, we understand more easily. Those are (vertical) managerial relationships. Every technician understands they have a supervisor, every supervisor understands they have a manager. If the organization is large enough, every manager understands they have an executive manager. Somewhere, hovering at the top is the CEO.”

“This is the CEO who rarely has a firm grasp on the structure?” I asked.

“Precisely,” Pablo smiled. “Most people get promoted in an organization because someone left the company, leaving a hole in the org chart. Or someone appears qualified for a promotion, requests a promotion, but there is no hole on the org chart, so we create a new role, with a new title. Or someone needs (deserves) a raise, but we cannot justify the increase in compensation without assigning a new title with a new role. Or someone needs leadership experience, so we make them a manager and assign a single person for them to manage. There are all kinds of wonky reasons that org charts get bloodied up.”

“We were talking about timespan?” I reminded.

“And, those bloodied org charts make no sense, they are bloated, accountability is vague, performance excuses abound. So we have communication seminars and do personality testing, AND nothing changes. That’s because we don’t have a communication problem, we have a structural problem. Timespan creates the only framework where we can accurately define two things, accountability and authority.”

“Accountability and authority for what?”

“To make decisions and solve problems. Work is making decisions and solving problems. It’s all about the work. When we can measure the decision (with timespan) and measure the problem (with timespan), we can now structure the organization around something that makes sense. Supervisors have a larger (longer timespan) context than technicians. Managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than supervisors. Executive managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than managers. It’s all about the work, all based on goals and objectives.”

“And, CEOs rarely have a firm grasp on their structure?” I repeated.

“Understanding timespan, the CEO can overlay levels of work onto the org chart, and discrepancies leap off the page. The burning platforms inside the org chart now reveal themselves, not as communication breakdowns or personality conflicts, but as structural problems, where we have not accurately identified the complexity of problems at that level of work, or mismatched a team member to make those decisions or solve those problems.”