Tag Archives: authority

The Key Ring

“Why did you think it was so important to give the key ring to someone else?” I asked.

“Because the key ring was a distraction,” Ryan explained. “People would come to me and ask for the key to the tool room, where we keep the calibration equipment. I loved when people asked my permission to gain access to the tool room.”

“Sounds like a powerful position,” I observed.

“And, I discovered that, as long as I had the key ring to all the doors, then people would continue to ask my permission. To the point, where I could not spend time on more important things.”

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“As long as I had the key ring, I was the bottleneck in every decision. And while that bottleneck grew, I ignored my real priorities.”

“So, you could not keep the keys AND do your job, at the same time?”

“No,” Ryan said. “I had to assign the key ring to a more appropriate person.”

“What did you learn?”

“I learned that the key ring was just a symbol for power that had little to do with effectiveness. And sometimes the key ring had nothing to do with keys. The key ring had more to do with decisions that should have been made at a different level of work, a more appropriate level of work.”

“And?” I pressed.

“And, so I have to constantly look for the key ring, I am holding, that I really need to let go.”

Who Carries the Keys?

“They called me KEYS,” Ryan explained. “I had the keys to every door and portal in the building. I was important. I was the person the company trusted with the keys.”

“And, what did you discover?” I asked.

“I thought the keys were a sign of power, and that power translated into being a manager.”

“And, why did you think that?” I pressed.

“No one could do anything without my permission.” Ryan replied. “I thought I had a great deal of authority.”

“And, now?”

“Now, I realize that carrying all the keys to the building has nothing to do with being a manager.”

“So, what did you change?”

“I found another trustworthy person to carry all the keys.”

Responsibility, Accountability and Authority

Words mean things. One of the biggest problems with managerial practices and the concepts constructed to support them, is the lack of clarity. And whenever things are not clear, people make stuff up, like holacracy, self directed work groups, management by objective, results based performance.

My thanks to Nick Forrest and his book How Dare You Manage, to bring some clarity to three words, responsibility, accountability and authority.

You see, you may think you have a communication problem, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem. You may think you are observing a personality conflict, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem.

Accountability, or an accountability is a contract between a manager and team member related to an agreed upon output. An accountability is a contracted output.

Responsibility is a feeling of obligation, created and maintained within an individual to perform or take action. It is a feeling generally connected to a contracted output (accountability). Responsibility that is NOT connected to an accountability can be a recipe for disaster, because noble action may be taken without regard for a defined objective.

Authority is a limit. Authority is a limit, within which an individual has the freedom to use their discretionary judgment to make decisions (even the wrong decision) and control resources to reach a defined objective (goal, task assignment).

Whenever I see some management fad, like holacracy, emerge, it is likely because these three words have never been accurately defined. And in that void, people make stuff up. And sometimes, that stuff is nonsense. And sometimes, the nonsense can lead us astray, waste resources and in the end, destroy the organization that we were trying to build in the first place.

Designed Around the Work

“I know you want me to be the nice guy,” Jim Dunbar pushed back, “that I would have a better organization if I wasn’t so hard on people, but at the end of the day, we have to get some work done around here.”

It stings against political correctness, but if you consider, for a moment, that statement is true, what changes?

What if, it is all about the work? What if the purpose of your organization is to actually get some work done, solve a problem, execute a solution? It’s not for every organization, only those with the intended purpose to get work done, complete a task, achieve a goal.

Some organizations are designed around other intentions, religious organizations, political organizations, educational organizations, collegial organizations, all with purpose, all with goals.

What if the purpose of your organization was to get some work done? What if your organization was designed around the work?

No Respect

“Tell me about that picture of the next step for you, as a manager.” I was talking to Jeanine.

“I can’t. I can’t do it until I have the authority to do it.” She was struggling with her new position in the company. She was handed a project to help solve some communication issues between several teams inside the company. “I just don’t have their respect. If I had the title, it would just be easier.”

“Jeanine, I can’t give you the title. You have to earn the title. I cannot make people have respect for you, it has to be earned.”

“But, if I don’t have the authority, how can I get their respect?”

I paused. “Jeanine, it is really very simple. All you have to do is bring value to the problem solving and decision making of those around you. Stimulate their thinking, help them move to the next level, show them how they can solve their own problems.

“People will always seek out others in the organization that bring value to their thinking and their work. If their manager is not bringing value to the party, the team member will always seek out the person that is.

“If you want respect, forget the title. Bring value to the problem solving and decision making of those around you. You will earn it.”

Too Many Layers

Sydney thought for a moment. “We just promoted Justin to Team Leader. The rest of the guys on the crew say he is breathing down their necks. He is obviously not ready to be a full supervisor, and we are losing his productivity as a machine operator.”

“And?” I prodded.

“And I really don’t know what to do,” Sydney replied.

“Let’s look again at your instructions to Justin. You said if a team member has a problem, help them solve it, if they have a question, answer it and make sure all the work gets done by the end of the day. And yet, you said he was not ready to be a supervisor? Sounds like you gave him supervisor tasks, but you already know he is struggling with those tasks.”

“Yes, but, if we are going to have the team report to Justin..” Sydney stopped. “So, I took my lead technician and tried to make him a supervisor, even though we already have a supervisor. It looked good on paper.”

“Actually, it didn’t look good on paper. You have 112 employees and twelve layers,” I observed.

“I know, I said 112,” Sydney explained. “Now it’s 110, two people quit this morning.”

Group Accountability?

“At first, this group dynamics stuff looked interesting, you know, everyone together under a team incentive bonus. It sounded exciting in the seminar, but in real life, this is painful,” Naomi explained. “The worst part, is we’re not getting any work done.”

“So, who is accountable?” I asked.

“I think everyone has to take a small part of the responsibility for the team not cooperating,” Naomi replied.

“No, I don’t mean who is responsible for the mess. I mean, who is accountable for the goal?” I insisted.

“The goal? We’re not even talking about the goal. We are just talking about cooperating better together, as a team.”

“Perhaps, that’s the problem,” I suggested. “You are spending so much time trying to cooperate as a group, that you forgot, we are trying to get some work done around here.

“Is it possible,” I continued, “that you have been misdirected to think more about shared fate and group dynamics than you have about your team. A team is not a group. A group may be bound together by shared fate, but a team is bound together by a goal. Stop thinking about group dynamics and start thinking about the goal. That’s why we are here in the first place.”

The Forbidden Managerial Relationship?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I attended one of your workshops last year and your email is my daily dose of wisdom. Is it the job of the Manager-Once-Removed to step in when he sees an employee’s manager making a mistake. Should the employee be able to go to the Manager-Once-Removed if they believe that their manager is incorrect?

Many companies are so afraid of undermining authority, that they forbid contact between the Manager-Once-Removed (MOR) and team members two strata below. This is actually a necessary managerial relationship. But it’s different.

Let’s tackle the first issue, this undermining authority business. The problem is in the way we frame our assumption. We assume the team member is accountable for their output under the authority of the Manager.

Stop. We missed where the accountability lies.

It is the Manager who is accountable for the output of the team member.

So, while the work of the Manager is to create work instructions for team members, it is also the work of the Manager to ensure those work instructions will be effective in reaching the goal, the task objective. It is imperative for the Manager to constantly ask questions, of the team members, about the effectiveness of the work instructions. It’s part of the role.

This same accountability works one strata above, as well. Who do I hold accountable for the Manager doing a good job of creating and testing work instructions? That would be the Manager-Once-Removed. So, it is incumbent on the MOR to visit the Manager, review work instructions, ask about the effectiveness of the work instructions in the reality of production.

It is also incumbent on the MOR to visit the production area and ask questions, because I hold the MOR accountable for the effectiveness of the Manager.

It is the role of both the MOR and Manager to bring value to the work, decision making and problem solving, of each team member. They are both accountable for the direct output of those team members one stratum below. This is done most effectively by asking questions and listening.