Tag Archives: accountability

Time to Step Up

“I am ready to throw up my hands. I have come up with eight ways to Sunday for our route technicians to do a better job on their service calls. I am ready to do a Flutie drop kick and just let them deal with it.” Russell commiserated, hoping I would be sympathetic.

“Well, I think it’s a good idea,” I said.

“What do you mean?” replied Russell, still looking for sympathy.

“I mean, I think you should call your technicians together and let them deal with it. Look, the problem isn’t that your ideas are bad; the problem is they are your ideas. If you want your technicians to do a better job on service calls, the ideas have to come from them.

“One of the biggest mistakes young managers make is thinking that you have to solve all the problems of the world. You don’t. Spread the burden. You will be surprised at how your technicians will step up to the plate.”

Leadership Charisma

Leadership is a billion dollar business, yet all around us, we rarely see effective leadership. There are books, seminars, groups and programs to build better leaders (that’s the billion dollar business), yet much of that effort is wasted and fruitless.

The effectiveness of an organization is based on its structure and the role of leadership is to design and build that structure. Effective leadership has less to do with charisma and personality, more to do with building an organizational system to get work done.

Structure begins with the founder, a structure of one. There is work to be done and the founder is doing the work. There is always work left over, so the founder hires three or four people. These people do a little bit of everything. The work is organized around the scarce resources of infant structure. At some point the founder realizes the work can no longer be organized around the people, the people have to be organized around the work.

Organizing the people around the work requires that specialized roles be defined, tasks, activities and expected outputs from those activities. This is the emergence of roles.

This organization is no longer a structure of one, but a structure of many. It is not enough for each person to play their role, the roles have to be designed to work together, more complex than a structure of one, a structure of many. And, organizational structure is born.

Organizational structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people. The two things that must be defined are –

  • In this working relationship, what is the accountability?
  • In this working relationship, what is the authority? Authority to do what? Make decisions and solve problems the way I would have them solved.

And, so the structure of one becomes the structure of an organization. I don’t care about your personality or charisma as a leader. I only care whether you can design and execute the structure, to get some work done.

Communication Problem Only a Symptom

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Hi Tom. In the seminar I attended, you said something about communication not being an issue in an organization, and I was surprised at that, as I believe communication is often a problem in organizations. Maybe I misunderstood. Will you please elaborate?

Response:
Communication breakdowns are often a symptom of a deeper darker problem.  Companies believe they have communication issues, so they conduct a communication seminar that RARELY solves the problem.  Whenever a client reports a communication problem, I start with accountability and authority.  The identified communication problem is a symptom of an accountability and authority problem.  Communication breakdowns can help us locate the problem, but not to resolve it.

Most communication problems are between two people who have to work together, but are not each other’s manager.  This is the dotted line phenomenon on most org charts.  The problem with the dotted line is the undefined accountability and undefined authority.  As managers, we hope the two will be able to figure it out, which is where the communication breakdown begins.  Technically, these are cross-functional role relationships (two people who have to work together, but are not each other’s manager).  When we define the role relationship, we have to define the accountability and the authority in that relationship.

Example –
Would it be a good idea for sales to coordinate with marketing and marketing to coordinate with sales? Yes.
 
But, is the Marketing Manager the manager of the Sales Manager, and is the Sales Manager the manager of the Marketing Manager?  No.  

But, do we require they work together in a coordinating relationship?  Yes.  That sounds great until one begins to complain about the other, and so, we think we have a communication breakdown (or worse, a personality conflict).  What we failed to define in that working relationship is the accountability and the authority.

In a coordinating relationship between the Sales Manager and the Marketing Manager, who each are accountable for their respective budgets, can we require they consult with each other and coordinate their budgets to leverage that working relationship?  Yes.  Why?  

Because we said so, by virtue of a coordinating cross-functional role relationship.  They are required (accountability) to schedule meetings with each other to consult, share information, resources and tactics.  Each has the authority over their respective budgets, but they are required to coordinate.  When we make the accountability and the authority clear, the communication breakdowns disappear almost overnight.

Out of Integrity

“When we hired Lucas, we were clear about our values,” Alex described. “He’s been here for two weeks and we already caught him.”

“Can you be a bit more specific?” I asked.

“One of our values, integrity,” Alex replied. “We found him skipping the product testing step in quality control. Not on every unit, but he was only testing one in five.”

“How did you find that out?” I wanted to know.

“Easy. We have a reject rate of 20 percent. I know, I know, that’s high, but we had some raw materials out of spec lately, so our reject rate is higher than normal. Lucas’ reject rate was only 4 percent.”

“What did Lucas say?”

“He was proud. Said he thought a lower reject rate was good. Something about sampling. Pointed to his bonus on output. On that, he was right, his output was 16 percent higher than anyone else. But now we have to go back and re-test the entire batch.”

“The entire batch?”

“Yes, his lot output was mixed in with the other lots, so we don’t know which is which,” Alex answered.

“I have three questions for you,” I said.

  • How is your bonus system out of integrity with your quality standards?
  • How is your measurement of output out of integrity with the raw materials problem?
  • How does your management system blame an employee attempting to do his best, when this is really a management issue at a higher level?
  • Done or Done, Done?

    “But, Paula promised to finish that report by Friday,” Francine lamented. “Now, I guess I will have to finish it myself, to meet the deadline for the Board meeting.”

    “So, your definition of finish and Paula’s definition are different?” I asked.

    “What do you mean, finished is finished,” she flatly stated.

    “I understand what you mean by finished and I understand what Paula means by finished. Your understanding is that the report is complete, legible, proofread for accuracy, math checked and double-checked. What you mean by finished is published. What Paula means by finished, is substantial completion of the report so she can go home at 5p.”

    “But, on Monday, we were in agreement,” Francine protested.

    “Yes, but you agreed on different states of completion,” I nodded. “What words could you, as the manager, have used to clarify the agreement?”

    The Anabolic Window

    The meeting was almost over. Butts in chairs began to shift toward the door.

    “Take this 3×5 index card and write your name on it. Below that, write down the one thing you are going to do in the next week based on what we talked about, today.” The puzzled faces gave way to ideas for action and the writing began. Forty-five seconds later, we started around the table, each in turn, in front of the group, making a public commitment.

    At the end of each meeting, there is an anabolic window that most managers never take advantage of. This window is a short period of time in which growth occurs. Ten minutes later, the window is gone.

    Public commitment to action. Your team was engaged the past twenty minutes in a meeting about improving the work-flow process. At the end of the meeting, you could adjourn and lose the window, or you could stop and ask for a public commitment to action. It could be the most powerful three minutes of the meeting.

    Oh, bring your 3×5 card to the meeting next Monday. We want to know how you did.

    What’s Wrong With My Org Chart?

    “What’s wrong with my org chart?” Ron wanted to know.

    “You tell me,” I said.  “An org chart is just a piece of paper with a picture of the way you think.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Organizational structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people.  Org structure is a mental construct, your mental picture of the way people ought to get on together at work.  You drew the picture.  What did you have in mind?  You tell me where the friction is?”

    “Okay,” Ron started.  “Just this morning, the sales manager called a meeting with the marketing manager to talk about their expenses to date related to the budget each submitted at the end of last year.”

    “And?”

    “And, the marketing manager said it wasn’t the sales manager’s business to see how marketing dollars are spent.  She tactfully refused to attend the meeting.  She said the sales manager was NOT her manager and declined to go.”

    “What was your response?” I asked.

    “I had to admit, the marketing manager has a point.  The sales manager is not her manager.  When she took the position, we were very clear that it was her department.  She has very clear objectives and unless she is off track, we expect her to run things without interference.  But, still, declining to go to the meeting seemed a little insensitive.”

    “So, when you think about their working relationship, how do you see it?  Clearly, neither is each other’s manager.” I said.

    “Well, they seem to get along fine, at least until this meeting thing,” Ron shook his head.

    “Let me be more specific in my question,” I replied.  “How do you see these two questions? –

    • In their working relationship, what is the accountability for each of them?
    • In their working relationship, what is their authority?

    “Well, when you put it that way, marketing should coordinate with sales, and sales should coordinate with marketing.  We have significant trades shows we attend that eat up a lot of marketing budget.  Our trade show booth is generally staffed with people from the sales department.  So, the two departments need to coordinate together.  The company has a high vested interest in their coordination.”

    “And, in their working relationship, what is their authority to make what decisions?”

    “Each department has a department budget, submitted each year and approved by their manager?”

    “Same manager, between the two of them?”

    “Yes, our VP of business development is the manager of both,” Ron clarified.

    “How clearly have you spelled out their accountability and authority in the work they do together?  You just explained it to me, how well have you explained it to them?”

    “But, they are supposed to work together, shouldn’t they be able to figure it out?” Ron asked.

    “Apparently not.  You think you understand their working relationship, in fact, on your org chart, you drew a dotted line.  So, the situation looks like insensitivity, when the friction is because you failed to define the accountability and the authority in that dotted line.  You put the dotted line there for a reason, but failed to define it.”

    Not a Communication Problem

    “I think I have a communication problem with my team,” Jordan explained. “It seems like I have to constantly explain, interpret, assign and reassign, clarify, all to come back and do it over again. I think my team needs a communication seminar.”

    “And, what would you hope the outcome of this seminar to be?” I asked.

    “That the team understands,” Jordan simply put.

    “And, what if I told you I don’t think you have a communication problem?”

    “What do you mean? It sounds like a communication problem to me.”

    “My telephone rings for two reasons,” I replied. “Most people call to tell me they are in the midst of a communication crisis, or have an unresolvable personality conflict on their team.”

    “Like me, a communication problem.”

    “In my experience, in the throes of explaining and clarifying, you fail to establish two things. I don’t think you have a communication problem, I think you have an accountability and authority issue. You failed to establish, in the task, in the working relationship, what is the accountability, meaning, what is the output? The second thing missing, in the pursuit of that output, who has the authority to make decisions and solve problems?”

    “So, I need my warehouse crew to move material, according to a list, from the warehouse to a staging area for a project. I explain what needs to be done, give them the checklist and then they get stuck.”

    “Stuck on what?” I asked.

    “The material to move is blocked by other material, the forklift aisle isn’t wide enough for the material, or the forklift is down for maintenance,” Jordan shook his head, “so I have to come back and solve those problems before the team can do their work.”

    “Not a communication problem. It’s an accountability and authority problem. What is the accountability (output)? And who has the authority to shift materials, find an alternate forklift aisle or fix the forklift?”

    Who Controls the Variables?

    “What is structure?” Melanie asked. “I draw boxes and circles, with lines and arrows. The question that guides me is – who reports to whom?”

    “And, that would be accurate,” I replied, “if you worked in a command-and-control, reporting environment. This misconception about most organized companies leads us astray.”

    “But, that’s my central question, my guiding principle when I put the org chart together. Who reports to whom?”

    “Indeed, as managers, we sit around the table discussing a new recruit coming into the company tomorrow. And, the question is, who should this person report to? Quite seriously, it’s the wrong question.”

    “I’m listening,” Melanie replied.

    “It’s not a matter of who this young recruit will report to, but which manager, around the table, will be accountable for the output of this new hire? It’s not a matter of reporting, it’s a matter of accountability, and it’s the manager who is accountable.”

    “Seems upside-down,” Melanie observed.

    “Does it?” I responded. “Think about it. This new person comes into the organization. Who designed the role for this person to play? Who determined what this person should do? Who determined the quality spec of the output? Who selected this person to play this role? Who trained the person? Who provided the necessary tools, created the work environment? Who controls all the variables around this person?”

    Melanie paused, the answer so obvious. “The manager, of course.”

    “Then, why should the manager not be held accountable for the output of this new hire?”

    Bone-headedness

    Mark nodded, head-bob up and down. “It would seem very different for us to talk about performance issues in the executive management team. I am not even sure how I would start.”

    “Why don’t you start with yourself?” I asked. “I am absolutely certain there are some shortcomings in the company that you can own, where you could have made a different decision, or handled something in a different way. Why don’t you start with yourself?”

    “I suppose if I can’t think of something, you will say that I am in denial,” Mark replied.

    My turn to nod. “We are often in denial. The sooner we confess to a problem, especially our contribution to a problem, the faster we can get on with solving it, learning from it, avoiding it in the future.” I stopped. “So, think about a decision you made that was hasty, not thought through well enough, that now, with 20-20 hindsight, you can clearly identify as bone-headed. What would it sound like to ask for feedback from your executive team?

    “I want you to think about something,” I continued. “When your team makes a bone-headed decision, it costs pennies. When you make a bone-headed decision, it can cost millions.”