Ever Since the Promotion

“I am not sure where the problem is,” Gerald said. “He has been with the company for eight years, so he knows the ropes, how things are done, what the culture is. But ever since we promoted him four months ago, he has been different.”

“In what way,” I replied.

“Well, he seems dedicated enough, shows up early, stays late, though, during the day, I can’t seem to find him.”

“What about his performance. How effective do you think he is, based on what you expect from his position?”

“That’s the thing,” Gerald sighed. “I don’t think he is effective, but you can’t ever pin him down to find out what the problem is. His department never delivers on time, and when they finally do, it’s incomplete. They always have to scramble to finish the job.”

“What problems does that create?”

“Morale, for one. His team’s enthusiasm is pretty low. They complain about having to do the same job twice, or get halfway through something and have to stop, tear it down and start over on another ‘more important’ project.”

“And?”

“And, it’s having an impact on customers. Some of the phone calls are getting all the way up to me. When they get to me, something is wrong.”

“So, what do you think is happening?”

Nailing Jello

Gerald was getting impatient, up and down from his chair, pacing the floor. “But that’s the way we work. Management by Objectives.”

“I can see that,” I responded, nodding. “You gave him six months to hit his objectives, but you can already see that his behavior, as a Manager, is not effective?”

“Well, yes. And even trying to pin him down on his objectives. He’s just slippery. We are trying to measure the benchmarks and we can’t get the information. He has a production report that is due every Friday, but I never get it on time. And then, when I do get it, there is something screwy with the numbers, like a formula is wrong, or the columns don’t foot with each other. So I ask him to fix it and it’s another week before I see him again. Meanwhile, another Friday report is due and late again.”

“So, he can’t succeed based on his effectiveness, but he can succeed based on his ability to manage the data that you don’t receive about his performance?”

Who Listens to Whom?

“If you don’t think I should have given the team my list of ideas before asking for their ideas, why didn’t you just say so?” Susan curtly asked.

“Would you have listened to me?” I replied. “Does your team listen to you?”

“Apparently, my team does NOT listen to me,” Susan stopped. “My team doesn’t listen to me, and I don’t listen to you. Nobody’s listening.”

“If your team is not listening to you, what could you do differently?” I smiled. “Remember, the goal is NOT to get them to listen to you (because they won’t), but to get their ideas on how to speed up daily output?”

Susan was obstinate, but the questions were breaking her down.

I continued. “If your team is not listening to YOUR ideas, whose ideas will they listen to?”

Susan was reluctant to reply, but she finally did. “I guess they will only listen to their own ideas.”

What Was the Purpose?

“What would you do differently, to get a different outcome?” I repeated.

“I don’t know,” Susan replied. “They are just not a very creative team. I don’t know why I even try to get ideas from them.”

“Susan, what if I told you that your team is as creative as any team I have ever seen work together, and that you, as their manager, have to find a different way to get them to contribute?”

“I would say you were wrong.”

I nodded. “Yes, and if your team really was a creative team, what could you do differently?”

Susan realized I was not going to let this go, but she was still stumped in silence.

I continued. “When you gave the team a list of your ideas up front, before asking for their ideas, what were you communicating? Not with words, but with the list?”

“You mean I should not have given them my list?” Susan asked.

“What was your purpose in calling the meeting?”

“I wanted to get the team’s ideas,” she replied.

“To get ideas from the team, what could you have done differently?”

What Would You Do Differently?

“I don’t understand,” Susan complained. “My team just isn’t very creative, they never contribute ideas.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a problem meeting our output goals, some days we fall a little short, some days we fall short by a lot,” she started. “I called a meeting to get some ideas on how we could speed things up. To kickstart the meeting, I distributed a list of my ideas and then asked for ideas from the team.”

“And?”

“And, I got no response, zero, nothing. The team just sat there, avoiding eye contact, looking at the ceiling, doodling on my list. Someone said they liked my ideas. After two minutes I adjourned the meeting. The team was worthless.”

“Then what happened?”

“That’s the worst part. One of my ideas was to start on time, but when I called out half the team for being late to start, all I got was grumbling. That day, we had the worst level of productivity of the week.”

“So, if you had the meeting to do over again, what would you do differently?” I prompted.

Susan just shook her head. “I would have cancelled the meeting before it started,” she snapped.

“But, if you DID have the meeting, what would you do differently to get a different outcome?”

Who Makes the Hiring Decision

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about the Manager Once Removed (MOR) in the hiring process. Our company followed that advice, but now our Hiring Managers are stuck. It seems the MOR is now making the final pick without input from the Hiring Manager. The Hiring Manager is now using that as an excuse to blame a new team member, saying, “Well, I didn’t hire that person.”

Response:
To recap, the Manager Once Removed is the Hiring Manager’s manager.

Manager Once Removed (MOR)
————————–
Hiring Manager (HM)
————————–
Open Team Role

Each, the MOR and the HM have specific purpose and specific accountability in the process.

MOR Accountability
The accountability of the MOR is to improve the quality of the decision made by the HM. The MOR is ultimately accountable for the decision made by the HM. This does not mean the MOR makes the decision, but coaches the best decision from the HM.

The process starts early, when the HM states that a new team member needs to be added. It is the accountability of the MOR to question the need and ask the HM to put together a (business) case for the new hire. This decision may go back to the annual workforce plan that contemplated an increase in production volume, or it may be an emergency because a team member quit to go to a competitor.

With agreement that a new team member needs to be recruited, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure that a proper role description has been created. The HM, desperate for a new team member, may attempt to shortcut the process and use a substitute for the role description. The MOR must insist that a proper role description be written or an existing role description be updated. Note, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

With a proper role description, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure a proper set of interview questions be written, in both quantity and quality. A proper role description will contain several key result areas (KRAs) and sufficient questions in each key area should be documented. Again, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

A large part of the role of the MOR is in screening for the candidate pool. Unqualified candidates should be screened out, qualified candidates should be screened in. The end result should be a pool of qualified candidates. If the candidates in the pool are qualified for the role, the possibility for a mistake goes down.

In the end, it is the HM that must pick, with minimum veto authority for the final selection. The last thing I want to hear is, “I didn’t hire that person.”

Practice, Practice

“And, after all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” Travis chuckled. “I heard that in a seminar once. But maybe it’s true. After the training, some of the people worked the new way, but some didn’t. Over time, the whole process was abandoned. ”

“You know your program really didn’t have a chance. It was missing something critical,” I said.

“I know, you are going to say positive reinforcement, but we all talked it up and everyone got a certificate when the training was over,” Travis defended.

“That’s all very nice, but I am not talking about being nice. I am talking about being effective. In the training you demonstrated a new process. This new process required a new skill, a new behavior.

“Travis, I can show you how to throw a ball, but if you want to get good at it what do you have to do?”

Travis looked puzzled, “Practice?” he said.

I nodded. “Very special practice.”

The Big Difference Between Training and Coaching

Tyler finally had a question. “So, have we been wasting out time training our people?”

“Training is not a waste of time, it is how you train that determines its effectiveness.” Tyler squirmed. His company spent thousands of dollars on management training the prior year.

“Tyler, let’s take a fun example. Ever play video games?” Tyler nodded and flashed a huge grin. “How did you learn to play that game? Did it come with an instruction manual? Did you go to the bookstore and buy the Insider’s Guide to the game?”

“No way, I just sat down and started playing it.”

“And what is your competence level?”

“Well, I am at a level 40, now, but over the weekend, I think I can get my character to level 50. That’s as high as I can go with the character in this clan.”

“So, you are telling me that you became an expert. Did you become an expert because their instruction manual was so well written? Did the quality of the Insider’s Guide (that you never bought at the bookstore) have a significant impact on your learning this new behavior?”

“No, I just played the game. My character got killed a few times, but I learned how to navigate around the danger zones. I learned how to engage other characters in battle. I learned out to accumulate powers. Every time I did something right, I got points. Every time I did something stupid, I lost points. My points accumulated, my character got stronger, I leveled up. All around the screen are status panels that give me constant real time feedback on where I am in the game and how I am doing.”

“And you did all this without reading the instructions or attending a training class?” I asked. Tyler nodded yes again. “Tyler, you learned to play the game at an expert level because the game was designed to positively reinforce desired behavior. This positive reinforcement was meticulous and frequent. There were established goals and measurement systems to track progress and status.

“Next week, we will get back together and talk more about training.”

Before or After?

Tyler’s curiosity had moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced gets repeated,” I said. We had been talking about positive reinforcement and its impact on behavior. “That’s why measurement and feedback loops are so important.

“Here is the insight,” I continued. “Most managers focus their time before the behavior. Most managers provide training and give lectures on the way things should be done and then wonder why they don’t get the desired behavior. Most managers think their biggest influence on behavior occurs before the behavior.

Let’s meet, let’s plan, let’s discuss, let’s show.

“All of this occurs before the behavior and has minimal impact.

“The payoff, the big influence is after the desired behavior occurs. That’s when to pay the most attention. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Hmmm. Just an Attaboy

Tyler was curious. “Let’s say I buy this positive reinforcement thing. Exactly how do I do that? I mean, do I just walk around all day giving attaboys?”

“Is an attaboy meaningful?” I replied.

“Well, not really. It’s not a real attention grabber.” Tyler flashed a hint of a smirk.

“Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be earth shattering to be effective. But it does have to be meaningful to the individual to have the behavior repeated.”

“So, give me an example.”

“Have you ever watched a teenager completely absorbed in a video game, relentlessly pushing buttons.” Tyler’s brow furrowed but he was still listening. “Now, you would think that, for a bright young gamer, repetitively pushing buttons for three or four hours at a stretch would become hopelessly boring. Yet, every time a button is pushed, something on the screen glows or a bell dings, or a spaceship blows up. In a video game, so much positive reinforcement occurs, the gamer can become addicted.” Tyler’s curiosity moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced, gets repeated.”