Tag Archives: accountability

Size of Task, Size of Role

“This timespan of intention,” Pablo continued, “turns out to be the missing element in measuring the size of a task, the size of a role and thinking about the capability of those we have employed to complete those tasks and play those roles.”

“Okay, but I intend to do a lot of things,” I countered. “Climb Mount Everest before I die, run a 4-minute mile. Just because I intend to do something does not define my capability to do it.”

“Indeed,” Pablo replied. “In addition to your imagination, you also have to observe your effectiveness in doing so. A manager can easily create a piece of paper that says 12 month goal calendar, with 12 months bolded at the top, but it does not make her effective in completing those goals. She also has to effectively execute.”

“So, we have the timespan of intention, and the timespan of effectiveness?” I asked.

“And, in management, we also have the timespan of discretion. Discretion is our authority to make a decision. Given a delegated task to complete, have we also been granted the authority to make necessary decisions? Within that delegated task, what is our timespan of discretion? Timespan is the metric for measuring accountability and authority and a team member’s effectiveness. Size of task, size of role, size of team member.”

Changing Behavior

“The manager may be accountable for output, but, what if the behavior of the team member is not productive and needs to be changed?” I asked.

“It often happens,” Pablo replied. “The path is not to change the behavior of the team member, but to build the system that creates the behavior necessary for productivity.”

“So, you are implying that you can change a person’s behavior?”

“Absolutely, change the context, change the system and behavior follows.”

“If we subscribe to this thinking, what should we expect?” I wanted to know.

“This understanding breathes life into the organization. Managers are now expected to anticipate, have alternate plans, in short, be prepared to respond to variable conditions. This, instead of watching over shoulders, micro-managing and blaming the team.”

It’s Not a Breakdown in Communication

“You are dipping your toes in this subject area called trust,” I nodded. “If the manager is to trust the team member, it starts with selection. I get that. But, how does accountability, laid at the feet of the manager, engender a sense of trust?”

“If the manager understands their accountability for output of the team member, blame goes away,” Pablo replied. “We often think blame is a personality disorder, or a breakdown in communication. Blame gets resolved, not through a communication seminar, but by defining, understanding the working relationship between the manager and the team member. When the manager understands, assumes accountability for output, there is no one to blame. The manager has to look inward, to determine what change the manager can make to impact the output.

“You see,” Pablo continued. “Let’s say we get a shipment of defective parts on an assembly line, a little plastic burr that has to be ground off before it can be assembled, and the grinding takes an extra 30 seconds. If our production output was intended to be 100 units per hour, but those 100 units now cause 50 minutes an hour of deburring, we can get behind quickly. And, that’s no matter how hard the team member works, it still takes 30 seconds extra per unit.”

“What does this have to do with trust and mistrust?” I wanted to know.

Pablo obliged. “If the team member is held to account for the output, they have nothing to say except to point out the deburring work. The team member cannot authorize someone from another team to come to help, or to pull two other deburring grinders from another work cell. They have no context for the output of the other work cells. And, if they are already doing their best, they can work no harder, they can work no faster, the deburring still takes an extra 30 seconds. If they are berated by their manager for the shortfall in output, there begins a mistrust of their manager. The team has little control over the conditions of their raw materials, it is only their manager that can accommodate the anomaly in production. This small bit of mistrust can begin to grow and ultimately erode the relationship. And, it is not personalities or miscommunication that is causing the mistrust, it is the definition of the working relationship between the manager and the team member AND where we place accountability for output.”

By Virtue of Contract

“You have been quite clear, that it is the manager accountable for the output of the team, so, does the team member have no culpability for the work?” I asked.

“Of course they do,” Pablo countered. “By virtue of a contract, a very simple employment contract, each team member is expected to show up for work each and every day, bringing the full application of their capability, in short, to do their best.”

“Sounds simplistic, if not idealistic,” I snorted.

“Indeed simple, AND not idealistic,” Pablo replied. “It is not a matter of idealism, it is a matter of contract. And, as a matter of contract, the manager must assume each team member is doing their best.”

“But, assuming the team member is doing their best does NOT make it so.” I pushed back.

“Why, do you think it is hard?” Pablo asked, not giving me time to respond. “It is not difficult for team members to continually do their best. It is only when our people systems are dysfunctional, people find it difficult. Unless we, as managers, prevent it, people will engage, with full commitment to do their best, in fact, will find deep life satisfaction in doing so.”

A Well Argued Decision

“Let’s take meetings,” Pablo suggested. “Lots of managers AND their teams work hard to gain concensus, avoid conflict, at times even attempt to make decisions democratically.”

“I have seen that,” I said.

“And that manager of the team, also has a manager, let’s call that role, the manager-once-removed, the manager’s manager,” Pablo described the setup. “If the team and their manager engage in democratic decision making and make a bone-headed decision, who does the manager-once-removed hold accountable?”

Manager-Once-Removed (MOR)
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Manager
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Team

“Well, I assume it would be the whole team, manager included,” I observed.

“Who is the manager-once-removed going to call into the office to discuss this bone-headed decision, the whole team? If we are going to call in the whole team, what do we need the manager for?”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“And, what of the dynamics in the decision meeting? If the decision is to be democratic, then team members will lobby their own agendas, sometimes hidden politics emerge to gain support from other members, perhaps a little arm-twisting. The manager almost becomes a bystander. And, yet, at the end of the day, it is the manager called to account for the bone-headed decision.”

“And?” I asked.

“It is only when the manager becomes accountable for the decision, that we can make headway,” Pablo described. “Team members now show up to provide feedback and support to the manager, who will make and be accountable for the decision. The team will play devil’s advocate, argue this position or that position, in short, create conflict. The point of the meeting is not to manage conflict, but create it, for the benefit of the decision. Don’t manage conflict, manage agreement.”

“And, the benefit?”

“A well argued decision,” Pablo said. “This only happens when we understand the working relationship between the team and the manager, with the manager accountable for the output of the team.”

Accountability for Wrong Decisions

“You have talked about managerial systems and organizational structure,” I started. “Those are well-worn labels, but the devil is always in the details.”

Pablo nodded. “Yes, the detail of structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people. The success of any organizational structure rests on its effectiveness to define two things – in this working relationship, what is the accountability and what is the authority?”

“But, isn’t it second-nature, that especially in a hierarchy, the manager has the authority and the team member is accountable to carry out the decisions of the manager?”

“Not so fast,” Pablo said slowly. “Each has the authority to make decisions within an appropriate span of discretion. And it is the manager accountable for the output of the team member.”

“But, if the team member, within an appropriate span of discretion, makes the wrong decision, how can you hold the manager accountable?” I asked.

“Because the manager selected the team member, trained the team member, assessed the team member and then delegated the decision to the team member. If the team member makes the wrong decision, that outcome is the accountability of the manager.” Pablo stopped to let that sink in.

“When we are clear about accountability, behavior follows,” Pablo continued. “When we accurately define the accountability, people know what to expect and they behave accordingly. If the team member is held to account for a wrong decision or underperformance, there begins a mistrust about whether the manager was clear in their instruction, whether the training was adequate, the right tools available, the circumstance not anticipated. If the manager is held to account for the team member’s wrong decision or underperformance, there begins a supportive relationship to ensure the training was adequate, the working conditions conducive, the selected project appropriate, within the team member’s capability.

“You see,” Pablo said, “the manager cannot allow the team member to fail. In a punitive context, that is why the manager often snatches back the authority for the decision and simply assigns the task. In a trusting context, the manager has to make sure all the variables around the team member are adequate and conducive to success. And, that includes the manager’s selection of that team member in the first place. The success of the organization starts with being clear about managerial accountability.”

To Stay Green

“You continue to use the term managerial system,” I started. “What do you mean?”

“In the beginning, in a startup, every company is haphazard, organizing the work around the people they have. At some point, there is still work left over and the founder realizes work can no longer be organized around the people, we have to organize the people around the work. Specialized roles emerge. And, then those roles have to work together.”

“And the system?” I asked.

“Roles cannot be haphazard, working together cannot be haphazard, too much friction against profitability. I have seen companies work extremely hard and never make a profit. Eventually, they have to make a profit or the company dies (a long slow death exasperating death). For a company to survive and be profitable, they have to create a managerial system, what we call structure.”

“Structure?” I prompted.

“Organizational structure is simply the way we think about, often on paper, the accountability and the authority in the working relationships between people,” Pablo stopped. “Two types. Vertical managerial relationships and horizontal cross-functional relationships.”

“And this structure is important for profitability?” I clarified.

“Yes, and, this structure is important for the sustained creative output of the people who work in the company. Because without that, the company will also die, become a corrosive institution where no one wants to work.” Pablo paused again. “To stay green and growing, the managerial system has to be vibrant and well-thought-out.”

The Delegation Paradox

“But, it seems to me, that accountability is already fixed,” I replied. “The manager makes the decisions and the team member carries it out. Isn’t that the pervasive understanding for everyone?”

“You might think that, but you would be mistaken,” Pablo ventured. “For a company to grow, it cannot be so. If the manager makes all the decisions, eventually, what happens to the speed of decision making?”

“Well, it begins to slow down,” I observed.

“Or stops, when the manager becomes overwhelmed with all the decisions. As the organization grows, there are too many decisions to be made by one person.”

“And?” I prompted.

“For the organization to grow, the manager has to delegate,” Pablo flatly stated.

“But, every manager already knows they have to delegate, happens all the time,” I said.

“No, every manager knows they have to delegate, and they think, what they have to delegate are task assignments. In the delegation of a task, the manager also has to delegate appropriate decision making along with the task.”

“But, shouldn’t the manager reserve the authority for the decisions to be made?” I wanted to know.

“Only, if the manager wants to slow things down, or bring things to a crashing halt,” Pablo chuckled. “Appropriate decision making has to be delegated along with the task assignment. Most managers, at the end of a delegation meeting, ask ‘Do you understand what to do?’ A more relevant question would be ‘As you work through this task, what decisions do you have to make?’ Every level of work has appropriate decision making.”

“Well, that should get some things off the manager’s plate,” I said.

“Not exactly,” Pablo had a hint of a smirk on his face. “You see, the manager is still accountable for the output of the team member. If the team member underperforms or fails, it is the manager who is accountable. And that changes everything.”

Fix Accountability

“All well and good,” I said. “If we want to build managerial systems based on something other than greed, status and power, where do we start?”

“All at once, and all over,” Pablo chuckled. “Look, the first place we start is by clearly defining the working relationships people have with each other. There are two types, vertical managerial relationships and horizontal cross-functional relationships. When we look at those two types of working relationships, we most often fail to define the accurate placement of accountability and exact scope of authority.”

“Accountability?” I prompted.

“All too often, we fix accountability one level of work too low in the organization, and it plays into the blame game,” Pablo explained. “Between the team member and the manager, it is the manager accountable for the output of the team member.”

“How so?”

“Simple,” Pablo said. “The manager selected the team member, trained the team member, provided the tools for the team member, selected the project for the team member, created the working environment for the team member. The manager controls all the variables around the team member, it is the manager accountable for the output of the team member.”

“But if the team member underperforms, doesn’t that point the finger at the team member?” I countered.

“See, you fell right into the blame game,” Pablo smiled. “The team member does have an accountability, and that is to show up to work each and every day, to bring their full potential, to exercise their best judgement, in short, to do their best. It is the manager accountable for the team member’s output. The first place to start is to fix clear accountability.”

Sidelined by the Team

Nathan, a new manager, had been sidelined by his team. “What happened?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I was giving orders for the day and a couple of the guys wandered off and before you know it, I was in the room by myself.”

“What do you think happened?” I continued.

“Well, Troy had been on my case since I was first made manager. Seems he thought he was in line for the job. But the company picked me.”

“So, now, what do you think your challenge is?”

Nathan was quiet, then finally spoke, “Somehow, I have to get them to trust me.”

“Nathan, it’s a long road, to get your team to trust you, even if they have known you for a long time. Where do you think you will start?”

Nathan was still quiet. I poked my head out the door. His team hadn’t abandoned him. They were all at their workstations, doing their work, but it didn’t seem like Nathan was having his way.

“Nathan, I think your team will work okay for the rest of the day. The schedules that were posted yesterday haven’t changed that much. Let’s take a hike down to the coffee shop and talk about a new strategy. It’s tough being the new boss.”