Networks and Level of Work

In my last post, we started to look at the hallmarks of Agile through the lens of Levels of Work. We looked at North Star through three organizing documents, vision, mission and business model. Today, we move down the list.

  1. North star embodied across the organization.
  2. Network of empowered teams.
  3. Rapid decision making and learning cycles.
  4. Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  5. Next generation enabling technology.

Network of empowered teams
In a short post by Seth Godin, he chronicled the history of networks from crude computers, each requiring its own building, to those as big as refrigerators, then small enough to sit on a table, now carried in your pocket. Something else happened.

Godin says the first computers were good at two things, arithmetic and storing data. Then, computers got connected so they could share arithmetic and data. Godin described this as the computer meets the telephone, meets the fax machine, and the more people with fax machines, the more valuable the network. The third iteration included the disintermediation of both space and time. This was the death of geography. The current iteration, Godin calls the hive mind, the intersection of technology and agile networks (some of which may contain people).

The transparency afforded in current state technology distributes data and analysis to everyone who can understand it. Distance is dead. Real-time erases delay.

What impact does this have on decision making and problem solving? What decisions are now calculations (no longer a decision)? Who, in the organization, works on those problems and the new decisions we could not see before? How do we measure the size of those decisions? In the end, who is accountable for the output of those decisions?

Godin’s insight on the state of technology provides some clarity on our understanding of the state of the organization. Four issues, problem-solving, decision-making, accountability, authority. It depends on the Level of Work.

McKinsey and Agile

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You seem dig your heels in around hierarchy. Here is an article from McKinsey on agile organizations. McKinsey is a big company. I think they know what they are doing.

Response:
McKinsey is a big company and they know what they are doing, but with the absence of an understanding of levels of work. Here are their five trademarks. Today, we will work on the first.

  1. North star embodied across the organization.
  2. Network of empowered teams.
  3. Rapid decision making and learning cycles.
  4. Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  5. Next generation enabling technology.

North star embodied across the organization.
This is the strategy that the organization serves. The most important function of management is context setting. This is important at every level of work, to establish the cascading contexts aligned with the overall strategic objective. There are three primary organizing documents –

  • Vision statement
  • Mission statement
  • Business model

Vision Statements and Mission Statements
These two organizing documents set the initial context, but most are nonsense about “being the premiere provider” of something and “exceeding customer expectations.” These kinds of statements do NOT set context. They are vague and contribute to the ambiguity already present in the world.

The reason most Vision/Mission statements are vague is their attempt to position the company at some point in the future, five to ten years out (rightly so). At the five year mark, all of our tangible, concrete plans go out the window. The discussion shifts from known things to conceptual things. The problem is that most people do not think conceptually and those that do, don’t practice very often. Most feeble attempts all sound the same.

So McKinsey is correct. North Star is important. But, McKinsey and Agile do not have a corner on this market. Every company I know makes this attempt, they just don’t do it very well.

For another discussion on North Star, you might also check out Accelerate, by Suzanne Frindt. Of course, she calls it Yonder Star, instead of North Star. Same idea.

The Business Model
The business model is the first step in defining the organizational structure. The business model flows from identification of market segments, value proposition in each segment, resources required including people. Often, defining the business model provides guidance on the creation of the conceptual vision and mission statements. The most helpful resource I know is Business Model Generation. It is a very easy and explanatory method of creating your North Star documents.

Bringing Value as a Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You described one role of a manager is to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team, collectively and individually. Let’s say I buy that. How does a manager do that? How does a manager bring that value?

Response:
The role of the manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team. Easy to say, more difficult to do.

How does a manager bring that value?

I spend hundreds of hours each year coaching CEOs. You are not privileged to those 1-1 conversations, but can you imagine that I tell each of my clients how to run their business?

The answer is no, they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. So, how do I, or how does any manager bring value to that 1-1 conversation? When the level of work creeps up and there is uncertainty in decision making and problem solving, how does the manager bring value?

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.

If There Were No Managers?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talked about the Peter Principle, how at some point everyone in a hierarchy gets promoted to their level of incompetence. I see this as a problem with hierarchy. Get rid of the hierarchy and let people settle in roles where they feel comfortable.

Response:
One reason you think the problem is hierarchy, you think it exists to create a reporting protocol. Here’s the bad news. You think you are a manager so people can report to you. Not true.

You are a manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of your team, collectively and individually. If there were no managers, there would be no one with the accountability to bring that value.

I hear people rail against hierarchy with tomes about self directed work groups and holocracy. Hierarchy exists for a very specific reason. When the level of work creeps up, hierarchy provides the structure to create that value stream, where managers bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team.

Incompetence

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
When I read this article, I think about Timespan and you. I hope this quote is not accurate.

“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

Response:
Sadly, this is true. We tend to promote people to a level of incompetence, and then hope and pray. This understanding was popularized in a book by Lawrence J. Peter published in 1969, called the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is alive and well.

The solution to this dilemma is easy. From now on, no one in your organization gets a promotion. They earn promotions (or even lateral moves) by demonstrating competence in the task assignments contained in the new role. You test people with project work. And, in that project, you must embed decision making and problem at that next higher level. The same goes for a lateral move where there is a new skill set.

Counter-Intuitive Response

In the sport of snow skiing, control is achieved by counter-intuitive thinking. As speed increases, and the skier becomes “out of control,” conventional thinking causes the skier to lean backwards. This disastrous response moves the front edges of the skis off of the snow creating less control and increasing speed. The counter-intuitive response is to shift the body-weight forward, creating leverage on the front edges of the skis, giving the skier the ability to turn out of the fall line, resulting in skier control and a decrease of speed.

I see many managers attempt to gain “control” of their teams using force, command and control, threat of firing. Those of us with children know the futility of these efforts. The counter intuitive response is to ask questions instead of telling, to ask for commitment instead of demanding. It takes more time, requires more patience and has a longer lasting impact. Sometimes it even works with children.

Avoid the Hazard

The paceline moved north, into a headwind, pulling 18mph. “Walker up!” The shout came from the lead cyclist on the nose. He pulled his right hand off the handlebars, arm straight out, pointing to the pedestrian in the bike lane. A second later, his right hand dropped, waved the pace line left, out of the bike lane into the active traffic lane. Though the group may not have seen the walker, each cyclist in the line knew about the hazard and knew to follow the lead bike into the active traffic lane to avoid it.

Intentional, agreed-upon communication. It was simple, efficient and effective. As the paceline continued north, there were other hazards to avoid, potholes, a tree branch in the road, narrowing traffic lanes, overtaking cars. Through a series of hand signals and audible shouts, the group made its way safely through urban traffic.

How does your team communicate in its daily routine? Do they have simple, efficient protocols to warn of impending hazards, delays, material shortages? Do they have agreed-upon signals to provide each other with feedback?

Chances are good that prior to a delay, prior to a material shortage, prior to a change in schedule, somebody knew. Someone could have warned the group and the group could have acted according to an agreed-upon protocol.

Get your team together and play the “what if” game. Find out what problems occur often and how they are best solved. Then create the “signal.”

“Walker up!”
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We are putting the finishing touches on Hiring Talent 2019. Pre-registration is now open.

Shell Game for Amateurs

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about time-leverage. You talk about working one hour to gain two hours productivity. How does that work?

Response:
No manager can afford to work very long at a time ratio of 1:1. Working one hour to gain one hour’s productivity is a shell game for amateurs. Even working managers have to devote a significant focus to time-leveraged activities. How do you work for one hour and gain two hour’s productivity, or work one hour and gain five hours productivity?

The central element of leverage is delegation. Take project that would take you five hours to complete. Call a 20-minute meeting with three of your team members. In the meeting, you describe your vision for project completion and the performance standards for project completion (including quality and time frame). The rest of the twenty minutes is a discussion of the action steps , resources and who will be responsible for what. The three team members each take a portion of the project, two 10-minute follow-up meetings are scheduled and off we go. As the manager, you end end up with one-hour of meetings, your team members work the five hours of the project. You work for one hour, you get five hours of productivity. (1:5)

Here’s is the challenge, what does (1:10) look like? I consistently work with executives whose goal is (1:100), that is one hour’s work to produce one-hundred hours of productivity. How about you, what is your ratio?
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Hiring Talent 2019 (our interactive hiring program) is scheduled for release, Mon, Jan 7, 2019.

The Land of Dangerfield

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question
I don’t know how to gain their respect. Sometime in the meeting, it’s as if they are not even listening to me. They nod and agree, promise to follow through. The next day, they are back to the same non-productive behavior. They don’t even respect the meeting. They show up late, sometimes not at all. Where are their priorities?

Response
Rodney lives on in the lives of many managers. Expecting respect, demanding respect didn’t work for Mr. Dangerfield and doesn’t work for most managers.

You will never gain respect until you, as their manager, bring value to their problem solving and decision making.

Stop thinking about yourself, start thinking about your team. If you, as a manager, want to bring value to the thinking and work of your team members, start by asking questions. Through questions, you can help them clarify, explore, challenge, plan and follow-up.

In my years in the classroom, I found that no one really listens to me, anyway. So, I stopped lecturing and started asking questions. Something happened. My students started to learn from themselves.

Start. Start asking questions that bring value to the problem solving and decision making of your team. Rodney will rest in peace.

Oh, if you are not getting the response you want, you are asking the wrong question. Happy New Year!
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Hiring Talent 2019 (our interactive hiring program) is scheduled for release, Mon, Jan 7, 2019.

Happy Holidays

The year is winding down. I am tucked away in a snow bunker somewhere in Utah. Management Blog will return January 3, 2019, in its 15th year of publication. For now, a reprise of our Christmas Holiday greeting originally published December 2005.
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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 mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.