Tag Archives: authority

Fulfillment or Frustration

“But, if I have discussions about career path with James’ team members, wouldn’t that undercut James’ authority with his team. Won’t it appear that I am going around his back?” Brendon was concerned.

“You might think that,” I replied. “On the other hand, if you set the context properly for the conversation, it is a reasonable explanation, that you are curious, and interested in them, as a person. While there is a well defined working relationship between the team member and James, there is an appropriate conversation, an appropriate relationship between the team member and you, as the manager-once-removed. It is not your purpose to coach them on productivity in their current role, but you want to talk about the future, their aspirations, their interests, their curiosities, their future role in the company. It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion that demonstrates the care of the company in the career paths of their team members. People feel fulfilled when they can see their future and opportunities to pursue it, and, they feel frustrated when they do not.”

In the Weeds

“So, timespan helps us understand the dysfunction of having a manager who is too close, who struggles to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team?” I clarified.

“Too close, and also too far,” Pablo replied.

“How so?” I asked.

“You have had the experience of a manager who breathes down your neck, but have you also had the experience of team members too far away?” Pablo wanted to know.

“You mean, where a team member is more than one stratum level below?”

“Yes,” Pablo nodded. “And, how did that feel?”

“As a manager in that situation, frustrating,” I replied. “As a manager, I was dragged into the weeds, solving problems that should have been taken care of without me.”

“Timespan helps us determine, not only whether a person should be selected for a role, but how to accurately design the working relationships between those roles.”

“Like giving a person a more correct title?” I asked.

“Not at all, companies use job title all over the place. I don’t care about titles. When we accurately design working relationships, I care more about defining, in that relationship, what is the accountability and what is the authority?”

“Authority?”

“Authority to make decisions and solve problems the way I would have them solved.”

Like a Horse and Carriage

“We have to put leadership back in the hands of CEOs and their managers,” Pablo said. “Relying on control systems to manage our companies misleads us into the false sense that we actually have control.”

“You mean we don’t,” I stopped. “You mean we don’t have control?”

“Not over the things that really matter,” Pablo replied. “We don’t have control over our markets. We don’t have control over social trends, stock prices, pilot error. We only have the illusion of control. When we run our companies solely by its Key Performance Indicators, we remove discretionary judgement in the face of uncontrollable things. We have to put leadership back in the hands of CEOs and their managers.”

“By doing what?” I asked.

“By taking advantage of decision making and judgement at all managerial levels. The future is uncertain, ambiguous. Decisions made in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity are not calculated algorithms. If they were, we could let computers rule the world.

“We are back to two words,” Pablo continued, “accountability and authority.”

“Those are the two defined elements in structure,” I connected.

“Only when we vest decision making authority in the role of the CEO and the roles of managers, do we take advantage of their capability to do so. And only when we do that, can we truly hold them accountable for the results (output) of their teams.”

“I’m going to push back,” I countered. “I think most CEOs assume decision making authority at the highest level.”

“Some do,” Pablo agreed. “But, many run the company by the numbers, or offload accountability to their executive team, attempting to engage in democratic decision making. Then, wonder why the direction of the company goes off balance. We typically place accountability one level-of-work too low in the organization. Accountability and authority go together, you can’t have one without the other.

“Except in government,” Pablo smiled. “I always find it amusing, a government oversight committee, thinks it has all the authority without any accountability. If you have the authority, you have to have the accountability that goes with it.”

Fear, the Loss of Control

“And, if the CEO feels that the CEO role is to be the glue that holds this house of straw together,” Pablo continued, “there is an associated, frightening feeling that the CEO is losing control. The CEO applies more glue. We see the invention of control systems, so the CEO can see more clearly that things are falling apart. These control systems remove the need for managers to make decisions, the decisions are made for them, they no longer are required to use discretionary judgement.”

“These control systems look like what?” I asked.

Pablo smiled. “In simple form, the manager does something that is detected by a control system (KPI), the indicator is reported (KPI report) to the CEO related to underperformance, so the CEO can chastise (motivational intervention) the manager for not being smart enough, not fast enough or paying too little attention to quality. The CEO applies more glue in an attempt to regain control.”

“I think we are up to three layers of glue,” I observed.

“Glue, band-aids, temporary fixes, or even more dysfunctional changes in the structure, creating an increasing fugue in the way people work together.” Pablo stopped. “Timespan is the framework where all of this becomes clear. What looks like a communication breakdown, or a personality conflict reveals itself as an accountability and authority issue. Structure is where we place accountability and where we release authority to make decisions and solve problems.”

“And, what of the control system?” I asked.

“The CEO conversation is not, can’t you work harder, but, in the work in your role, what are the decisions you have to make, what are the problems you have to solve? This is the essence of managerial judgement that leads to managerial effectiveness. CEO effectiveness rarely requires massive applications of glue. This is a design problem, not a performance problem.”

The Rare Grasp on Structure

“I get it,” I said. “Timespan helps us sort out the complexity of problems at hand with the selection of the right person to solve that problem. You say that timespan touches everything a manager does?”

“Let’s start at the top with the CEO,” Pablo replied. “I rarely meet a CEO who has a firm grasp on the structure of their organization. And, by structure, I mean, the way we define the working relationships between people. Not only is it important to define the accountability inside a single role, it is also critical to define the way those roles work together.”

“I’m listening.”

“There are two types of working relationships, vertical and horizontal,” Pablo continued. “Vertical relationships, we understand more easily. Those are (vertical) managerial relationships. Every technician understands they have a supervisor, every supervisor understands they have a manager. If the organization is large enough, every manager understands they have an executive manager. Somewhere, hovering at the top is the CEO.”

“This is the CEO who rarely has a firm grasp on the structure?” I asked.

“Precisely,” Pablo smiled. “Most people get promoted in an organization because someone left the company, leaving a hole in the org chart. Or someone appears qualified for a promotion, requests a promotion, but there is no hole on the org chart, so we create a new role, with a new title. Or someone needs (deserves) a raise, but we cannot justify the increase in compensation without assigning a new title with a new role. Or someone needs leadership experience, so we make them a manager and assign a single person for them to manage. There are all kinds of wonky reasons that org charts get bloodied up.”

“We were talking about timespan?” I reminded.

“And, those bloodied org charts make no sense, they are bloated, accountability is vague, performance excuses abound. So we have communication seminars and do personality testing, AND nothing changes. That’s because we don’t have a communication problem, we have a structural problem. Timespan creates the only framework where we can accurately define two things, accountability and authority.”

“Accountability and authority for what?”

“To make decisions and solve problems. Work is making decisions and solving problems. It’s all about the work. When we can measure the decision (with timespan) and measure the problem (with timespan), we can now structure the organization around something that makes sense. Supervisors have a larger (longer timespan) context than technicians. Managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than supervisors. Executive managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than managers. It’s all about the work, all based on goals and objectives.”

“And, CEOs rarely have a firm grasp on their structure?” I repeated.

“Understanding timespan, the CEO can overlay levels of work onto the org chart, and discrepancies leap off the page. The burning platforms inside the org chart now reveal themselves, not as communication breakdowns or personality conflicts, but as structural problems, where we have not accurately identified the complexity of problems at that level of work, or mismatched a team member to make those decisions or solve those problems.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Is it a Personality Conflict?

“You would think at their age, they would know better,” Phil complained.

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“The sales manager calls a meeting with the marketing manager, and the marketing manager refuses to attend. I ask why? And, all I get is how the sales manager is pushy, always with opinions about the way sales runs and it’s not even his department.”

“So, what is the sales manager to do?” I prompted.

“It’s annual budget time, and I told the two of them to get together,” Phil continued. “I need sales and marketing to coordinate. What I get is a big, fat personality conflict.”

“What would you say, if I told you, I didn’t think you had a personality conflict,” I replied. “But, rather an accountability and authority issue?”

“What do you mean?” Phil looked skeptical.

“Do each of them have an accountability to publish an annual budget coordinated with the other?”

“Yes,” Phil nodded.

“Is coordination something you would like, or is it a requirement?”

“It’s something I would like, but I don’t want to be pushy. They should be able to figure it out,” Phil defended.

“And, if they don’t coordinate, then they miss the accountability?”

“Well, yes,” Phil looked puzzled.

“I don’t think you have a personality conflict, I think you have an accountability and authority issue.”