Tag Archives: accountability

Bottom Up or Top Down?

Yes.

There are a number of management moves (Agile being one) that demands bottom up orientation. I say yes. There are other management moves that that demand top down. Yes. How to reconcile the inevitable conflict?

The problem with those who would argue that top down is bad, they ignore the reason for higher levels of work and misconstrue the reason that management exists in the first place. Those who would argue against top down believe it is for control. It’s not.

The reason for top down, is context, not control.

It’s not about reporting. The fact is, we report to lots of people in the organization. I always ask, who has direct reports? All managers raise their hands. I have to deliver the bad news – you are not a manager so people can report to you.

It’s not about control, it’s about context.

Managerial roles exist to create context. That context is based on timespan. It is the role of the supervisor to think beyond what has to be done today, this week, this month. What is today’s work in the context of this week, this month?

It is the role of the manager to think beyond what has to be done this quarter, this year. What is today’s work in the context of this quarter, this year?

It’s not about control, it’s about context.

Managerial Attention

“Positive reinforcement isn’t money. Don’t think the only element you have as a manager is to give someone a bonus, or a spiff, or a raise. Don’t get me wrong, money is important, but it is not the only touch you have, nor is it the most powerful.

“See that production line over there,” I asked, pointing toward three lone workers alongside a bank of automated machine presses. Travis looked. He was familiar with that work area.

“Did you ever wonder why those three workstations still exist?” Travis knew that seven other stations in the line had been replaced with automated presses.

“Yeah, sometimes, it’s like why do we still have people doing that?”

“Initially, that’s what we thought, but when we benchmarked the automated production with the manual production, we found one worker not only kept up, but exceeded the output of the automated machine. We started asking questions. How could this be?

“Turns out the workstation on the end, Rochelle’s station, is right by her supervisor’s office. Every time the supervisor comes out, he stops, looks at Rochelle’s production and smiles at her. It’s the only station he stops at. He never says a word to Rochelle, yet she has the highest production rate.

“Do you think she has the highest production rate because she thinks she is going to get a bonus? Or because she might be replaced with a robot. I don’t think so.”

Next Gen Technology

Looking at Agile through the lens of Levels of Work. Today, we move down the list to next gen technology.

  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.

Next generation enabling technology
Technology will replace many roles, AND it will drive the necessity for higher levels of work to design, configure and implement technology. When is the current technology obsolete? When is next gen mature enough to rely on? We always overestimate what we can do this year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.

This technology transformation allows for more transparency in core operational and support functions, more rapid project deployment requiring the use of cross functional teams. The easy problems will be solved by technology and will create the necessity for more functional integration. Core functions and support functions will still exist, but the organization can now focus in functional integration (don’t get rid of your silos, integrate them). This integration will focus on functional capacity and the balance of those capacities between functions. It will also require the inspection of each function’s output used by related functions. Some of that output will be accelerated through the use of technology. Data will be collected in real time and routed democratically through the organization.

This is not subtle stuff and the organization will look different.

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.

The Culprit is the Contract

As a manager, when we protect our team from the truth, we create dependency. Our behavior becomes an unspoken contract that, when there is bad news, the team doesn’t have to worry, because the manager will bear the impact. When there is a hard problem to solve, the team can stand and watch while the manager solves it. When there is a tough decision to make, the team can deny all responsibility and point to the manager, after all, that is why the manager gets paid the big bucks. When there is a conflict in the team, the team can whine and complain behind everyone’s back and depend on the manager to step up and confront the issue.

This circumstance feels good in the beginning. The team is off the hook. The manager gets to play God. The offer of omnipotence from the team to the manager is difficult to turn down, irresistible. It is a co-dependent relationship that cannot be sustained.

It is a contract based on a falsehood. While the manager promises to shield the team from pain, there will (always) come a time when that is no longer true. The truth (pain) spills on to the team. The team feels betrayed. The unspoken contract is broken and the team will turn on the leader.

Documented in military literature, the squad leader makes a promise to the platoon. “Do what I say. Follow my lead. And, I will bring everyone home safely.” It is a promise the platoon desperately wants to believe and the seduction of the leader begins.

Reality always wins. A fire fight ensues and one hapless recruit does not return alive. The contract is broken, the team feels betrayed. In the quiet of the camp at night, one lone team member lifts the flap of the leader’s tent and rolls in a grenade. The military term is fragging.

It was not that someone died. It was a relationship based on a lie. Inevitable betrayal of a unspoken contract. The culprit is the contract.

Agreements with Others

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you cheat other people, you ultimately cheat yourself. When you break a promise to other people, you teach your brain to mistrust your own intentions. You sow the seeds of self doubt. You undermine your own strength and integrity.

Agreements you keep with yourself, that are invisible to others, are the most powerful because they are pure. They sow the seeds of self confidence on a foundation of integrity.

Two Armed Octopus

Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but that is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.”

“Not really,” I said. “To me, your system is working exactly the way it was designed to work.”

Chase was puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s not working at all.”

“No, it is working exactly the way it is designed to work. The design of your day’s work is to drink coffee for the first fifteen minutes, then run around the floor solving urgent problems. At the end of each day, you check the list to make sure you didn’t do anything important.”

I paused. “Not a bad design. How’s that working for you?” Chase didn’t like what he was hearing.

“If you want to change your day, you have to change your design for the day. I see about four major design changes you might want to consider, but let’s start with just one. Don’t let anyone work during the first fifteen minutes of the day. Instead have a huddle meeting around the boss’ list of important projects. That one design change will be a good start.”

How is your day designed?

Point A to Point B

An event is anything that gets our attention. An event, at work, is any decision or problem that gets our attention. Decisions and problems present themselves as isolated events, yet they exist inside a context. That context will have significant bearing on the outcome of the decision and the solution to the problem.

When we measure the context in terms of time, or timespan, we gain insight into the impact of the decision made or the problem solved.

We can certainly walk from point A to point B. And to carry a payload, we are limited to our backs. In the long term, if we are to carry many payloads, we may want to invest in a vehicle to carry each payload. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

If we are to carry many payloads in our vehicle faster over a longer period of time, we may want to invest in a road. If we want to go faster, we may top that road with smooth asphalt. If we want the smooth asphalt to remain smooth with minimum repair, over time, we may invest in a strong sub-structure for the road. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

Still, we can certainly walk from point A to point B.

It is the role of management to think about longer timespan impact at higher levels of work.

Stand on the Chair and Scream

As the team left the room, Mandy had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There were lots of promises from her team, but in her heart, she knew that only ten percent of the project would be complete on time. It was, as if, Mandy should stand on a chair and scream at the top of her lungs, “I really, really mean it this time. We have to get this stuff done.”

Those of us who have children know the futility of standing on chairs and demanding. It is pretty entertaining for the children, but hardly effective.

In what way could Mandy create an atmosphere to drive higher performance toward the goals set by the team? If standing on chairs and screaming doesn’t do it, what does? Most Managers are not aware of, or do not leverage team accountability. Managers assume the role of the bad guy and essentially let the team off the hook when it comes to holding each other to account for performance.

Turn the tables. In your next meeting, when a team member reports non-performance or underperformance, stop the agenda. Ask each team member to take a piece of paper and write down how this underperformance impacts their part of the project. Go around the table and ask each person to share that impact in one sentence. Around the table once again, ask the team to create an expectation of how the underperformance should be corrected. Finally, ask the underperformer to respond to the team and make a public commitment to action.

Team members, holding each other to account is a very powerful dynamic.