Tag Archives: authority

Do I Have the Authority?

“But, I am the manager, shouldn’t I have the authority to make some decisions around here?” Amber asked.

“Ah, yes. Authority,” I replied. “You must understand, however, that authority comes with accountability. Neither comes first. You cannot have the authority to make a decision without the accountability for the outcome of that decision. Conversely, you cannot be held to account for the outcome unless you have the authority to make the decision.”

“So, just exactly what decisions do I have the authority to make around here?” Amber pressed on.

“To know that, you have to examine your goals and objectives.” Amber had an unspoken question on her face. I continued, “Your goals and objectives, agreed upon by you and your manager, set the context for your accountability (output) and the authority you have to make decisions to reach those goals.

“In the beginning, that authority may be unclear. That is why you meet with your manager more frequently, to clarify the context, define the accountability and determine your authority. As time goes by, your confidence will increase and so will your understanding of the discretion you have to make appropriate decisions.

“The most important understanding, where you have authority to make decisions regarding the output of your team, you also have accountability for that outcome. Do not think you can have the authority without the accountability.”

Accountability and Authority

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
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My last post on Hidden Hierarchy, took a close look at Buurtzorg, where nurses in self-managed groups of 10-12 make decisions related to intake, scheduling, planning, holiday and vacation coverage. These are all decisions well within the timespan capability of each team. This slice of the organization has clear accountability for those issues and with that accountability must come the authority to make those decisions.

Laloux describes the authority exists because there is no managerial hierarchy with oversight that might question or reverse a decision made collectively by the team. Elliott Jaques, in the schema of levels of work would describe the authority as “timespan of discretion.” Each team has full discretion to make decisions and solve problems related to tasks identified at that level of work. The authority doesn’t exist in the absence of management, the authority is expressly assigned to the team.

With authority must come accountability. Laloux describes the nursing teams as accountable for their own output, without managerial oversight. This appears to work well, until it doesn’t.

When, it doesn’t, there are “coaches.”

Elliott would always be looking for “who is the manager?” He would not be looking for the mandated manager, but the observable manager. Who is bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team? At Buurtzorg, there are coaches who provide facilitation along defined problem solving models (I am reminded of Eli Goldratt’s Conflict Resolution Cloud).

It is incumbent on the coach to set context (in the form of questions), seek clarity in the issue or problem and bring the team to its own resolution. I think we just found the manager.

In short, the founder of Buurtzorg, Jos de Blok, found a way to grow the organization by driving decisions down to the appropriate level of work, organizing small teams to do that work. The design is perfectly scale-able to the current tune of approximately 10,000 nurses.

There is a hierarchy, not a hierarchy of power, but a hierarchy of accountability.

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.

New Role, New Authority?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was recently promoted as lead tech of a lab. My boss feels I undermine her for things I do without discussing them with her first. I explained directions for another technician, so she could speak to patients with more clarity. I was told I undermined my boss because of this. I asked our director, in front of my boss, if she was aware of an issue and I was told that I undermined my boss because I asked without consulting her first. I wonder if it’s a lack of trust or if I undermine her without meaning to?

Response:
Yes. It is both a lack of trust and you undermine your manager without meaning to. The solution is in the question. You must build trust AND stop undermining your manager. In your new role, you have new and specific accountability and authority. Unfortunately, these are rarely defined and that is where the trouble begins.

You have appropriate accountability and authority and your manager has a larger (longer time span) accountability and authority. Your manager is working in a longer time span context, aware of things you may not know. This is why the manager-team member relationship is so important (and often fragile).

Monthly 1-1 conversations with your manager work to bridge that gap. For you, in your role, to be in alignment with your manager, you have to understand the larger context of your manager. The only way to find out is to talk about it.

Following is an example of discussion elements for your next 1-1 with your manager.

Whose Decision Is It?
With accountability, comes authority. Whose decision is it? Is it yours or your manager’s? If you don’t talk about it, you won’t know. Here is a framework for the discussion.

  • Which decisions are reserved exclusively to my manager?
  • Which decisions are reserved to my manager, AND based on my input?
  • Which decisions are mine, but have to be discussed and approved by my manager?
  • Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager before I pull the trigger?
  • Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager, after I pull the trigger?
  • Which decisions are mine, and I don’t have to tell my manager?

As a new lead technician, you have new accountability and new authority. That new authority has to be defined.

Without This, a Void Filled With Shenanigans

I am told that we need more leadership around here. I am told that we manage things, but we lead people.

My experience tells me otherwise.

I believe, especially as companies grow larger, that we need more management. I would concur that it is very difficult to manage people. People resist being managed. But, it’s not the people who need to be managed, it’s the relationships between those people. In a company, it is the working relationships that need to be managed.

I hear about personality conflicts in an organization. But, I don’t see a personality conflict, I see an accountability and authority issue. In an organization, we rarely define the accountability and authority in the working relationship. We never defined where people stand with each other, who can make the decision, who can make a task assignment and who is accountable for the output.

We take relationships for granted. We take for granted that people know how to behave with parents, with siblings, with teachers. We take for granted that people know how to behave as managers, but, in most cases, managers behave the same way they were treated by their managers.

There is a science to all this. It has to do with context. Effective managers are those who create the most effective context for people to work in. It is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together. There is a science to context.

Organizational structure is context. It is the defined accountability and authority in our working relationships. Without it, people fill the void with all kinds of shenanigans. Not their fault. It is the responsibility of the manager (including the CEO) to set the context.

The Truth About Empowerment

“Empowerment!” Joshua proclaimed. “The answer is empowerment.”

“Really?” I turned my head. “Just exactly what does that mean?”

“Well, when we are trying to get people to do something, we have to empower them.”

“All you did was use the word in a sentence, you didn’t tell me what it means.”

“When you want to raise morale, make people feel better about their job, you have to empower them,” Joshua tried again.

“Empowerment is a weasel word,” I explained. “Everyone uses (misuses) it, no one knows what it means. There are whole books about it, and no one knows what it means. It’s a cover-up, the salve to heal a wound inflicted by management. We have an empowerment problem. Our employees need to be empowered. WTF does that mean?”

Joshua turned sheepish. “I dunno.”

“Of course, you don’t know, you just stumbled into it. Sounded good, so you said it. Don’t ever use that word around me again. You don’t have an empowerment problem, you have an accountability and authority problem. You don’t need to empower your employees, you need to sit with your team and define the authority and the accountability that goes with it. It’s a contract with two parts. Empowerment is like a government oversight committee that has the authority to indict with no accountability. If you have the authority to do something, then you have the accountability that goes with it. Don’t talk about empowerment, talk about accountability and authority.” -Tom
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Weasel words is a concept codified by Lee Thayer Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing. In the history of this blog, in addition to accountability, we have identified two other weasel words, motivation and holocracy.
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Registration for our Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer is now open. Find out more – Hiring Talent.

Not a Personality Conflict

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am trying to sort out an argument between one of my foremen and our safety officer. They have two different personalities. My foreman is driven, goal oriented with a knack for getting things done, even if he has to bend a rule or two. My safety officer is conservative, a stickler for policy without much admiration for getting things done. On the face of it, their personalities are suited to the roles we have them in. Until they get in the same room, or in the same meeting, or worse case, on the same job-site. It’s like oil and water. We have done personality testing to confirm what I have described, but they fight like cats.

Response:
You don’t have a personality conflict, you have an accountability and authority issue. Both roles have goals and objectives. Neither role is the manager of the other, yet they both have to work together. You could stand in and referee every interaction (if you have that kind of time on your hands) or you can get clear about the accountability and authority of each.

The foreman, no doubt, has production goals to meet each week and month for the duration of the project. The foreman has the authority, as the manager of his crew, to assign tasks, monitor those tasks and adjust work assignments as time goes by.

The safety officer has goals and objectives related to the absence of workplace accidents, the adherence to safety policies and long term, a reduction in work-comp modification factors. The safety officer is in a classic auditor role, accountable for safety, and, also with special authority to delay or stop work in the face of an unsafe work practice.

The conflict you witness between your foreman and your safety officer has nothing to do with personality, everything to do with the lack of clarity on your part, as their manager, related to their accountability and authority. The safety officer has the authority because you define it. If you don’t define it, you will get behavior that looks like a personality conflict.

Who Needs to Be Fired Today?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am a manager, and I understand that I am accountable for the output of my team. My team is accountable for showing up every day with full commitment to do their best. But, I feel stymied by my colleagues, my manager and his colleagues. I know I am accountable, but my authority is constantly under pressure to keep members on my team who should have been terminated long ago. The trouble is, it’s so difficult to get rid of anybody around here. Yet, I am accountable for substandard output. My manager points to HR, HR points to policy, policy points back to me and my hands are tied.

Response:
It is not unusual for an organization to be fuzzy about hiring and firing practices. Upper management does not trust lower management to make sound decisions, and this lack of clarity creates a malaise of inaction that is allows underperformance to continue, simultaneously debilitating the morale of the rest of the team.

Elliott Jaques was quite clear that managerial accountability also requires managerial authority. Organizations underperform because this issue remains unresolved with managers, at all levels, passing the buck.

For a manager to be held accountable for the output of the team requires the manager to be given, minimum, veto authority in team member selection. Likewise, that same manager must have authority to de-select an individual from the team.

There are two implications. No manager can unilaterally make hiring and firing decisions in a vacuum. There are considerations of budget, work flow, work schedule, capacity. These circumstances create the context of the hiring and firing decisions. The second implication is the role of the manager-once-removed. The concern of upper management about the decision-making of lower management is not without merit, but, for Pete’s sake, get clear about the authority that goes with the accountability.

Manager-once-removed
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Hiring manager
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Team member

In hiring practice, the manager-once-removed is required to create a slate of qualified candidates for the hiring manager to select from. The manager-once-removed should be well aware of the context of the hire, including budget, work flow, work schedule and capacity planning. In this way, the manager-once-removed can be assured the hire is proper in context and that the hiring manager has a qualified slate to select from.

In firing practice, the manager-once-removed is required to be an active coach to the hiring (firing) manager. The hiring (firing) manager may de-select an individual from the team, but terminations from the company require the agreement from the manager-once-removed. Again, the manager-once-removed should be well aware of the context of the de-selection and/or termination related to budget, work flow, work schedule and capacity planning.

Most organizations leave this authority fuzzy and suffer the consequences. For a manager to be accountable for the output of the team, that manager must have the minimum veto authority on team selection and authority to de-select after due process.

So, why would the manager-once-removed want to get tangled up in this mess? Because the manager-once-removed is accountable for the output of the hiring manager. The manager-once-removed is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring manager. This accountability changes everything, overnight.

A Little Compromise, Give and Take

“What happened?” I asked.

“It was amazing,” Sean described. “We changed the name of the meeting from the VPs Meeting, to the President’s Meeting.”

“How was that different?”

“It was now clear that, as the president, I would be accountable for the decisions of the group. Before, the group was accountable as a group, sort of, but not really. Now, it is crystal clear. I am accountable for the decisions in the meeting.”

“What happened?”

“The tone of the meeting was completely different,” Sean continued. “Before, everyone was tactful and compromising, give a little here, take a little there. It was quite an agreeable bunch, and they arrived at quite agreeable decisions.”

“And?”

“And, now, without the need to compromise, knowing that I will listen to best advice and the decision is mine, there was quite a difference of opinion. The group uncovered problems that had always been swept under the rug. Some issues surfaced that had been off limits before. The discussion was actually uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable?” I said.

“Yes, and whenever the discussion is uncomfortable, I know we are talking about something important.”

Parlor Games at Best

Samuel Pierce felt it was his duty, as Chairman of the Board, to make sure the new CEO was grounded in reality. “Catherine, I just want to make sure that you are up to the challenges you face as the new CEO, and that you are not being too idealistic.”

Catherine Nibali was chosen as the successor CEO to a company in trouble.

“You will have the union to deal with,” Samuel warned. “I know it was here when you arrived, but it is here nonetheless.”

“That’s true,” Catherine agreed. “The existence of a union is only one indicator of the deeply ingrained misconceptions this company drifted into. The people systems were based on false assumptions of managerial leadership. It’s no wonder the union was able to take hold. But, Samuel, there is more. The union is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“With all due respect,” Samuel interrupted. “Your predecessor, Al Ripley, tried a number of things. He re-engineered many of the work processes, he allowed group dynamic exercises, ropes courses, results based incentives, group bonuses.”

It was Catherine’s turn to interrupt. “Exactly,” she stared directly at Samuel. “Parlor games. Parlor games that, at best, might create a small burst of productivity, but in the long run, laid the ground for the union and shaped a culture that provokes disruptive behavior. We stand for what we tolerate.”
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This is the beginning of the next book, sequel to Outbound Air. Find out how Catherine got here.