Tag Archives: problem solving

Inside the Function

“Take your most important internal function,” Pablo instructed. “In the beginning, likely will be operations. What is the work most closely related to producing the product or delivering the service? Especially in the beginning, that is mostly short-term work, 1 day to 3 months. Most production roles have a supervisor, with longer term goals and objectives, 3 months to 12 months. The supervisory role is to make sure production gets done, completely, on time, within spec.”

“So, every production person knows they have a supervisor?” I added.

“And, every supervisor knows they have a manager,” Pablo smiled. “This is the beginning of structure, nested goals and objectives related to successive roles (context), a production role, to a supervisory role to a managerial role.”

“The roles are distinguished by longer timespan goals and objectives?” I suggested.

“Yes, the roles are different in that way, but also in the way they relate to each other. Organizational structure begins with nested timespan goals, but also includes the way we define two things associated with those role relationships.”

“Accountability and authority?” I chimed in.

Pablo nodded. “In this working relationship between the team member and the supervisor, what is the accountability? What is the authority?”

My turn to show off. “The accountability on the part of the team member is to apply their full capability in pursuit of the goals and objectives agreed to by their supervisor, in short, to do their best. It is the accountability of the supervisor to create the working environment that makes those goals and objectives possible (probable). It is the accountability of the supervisor for output.”

“And, the authority?” Pablo prompted.

“The authority to make decisions and solve problems appropriate to the level of work in the task.”

Matching the Work

“I’m a structure guy,” Pablo said. “When you think about effective managerial leadership, I think the focus is on the structure.”

“It’s not on charisma, likeability, luck?” I asked, knowing the answer.

Pablo gave me a knowing smile. “The first key area for any manager, is to design and build the team. Individual achievement is a myth. If you want to create something great, it takes a team, a collection of teams, organized to get work done.”

“Before I do anything else, I have to build the team?” I wanted to know.

“Before you build the team, you have to design it,” Pablo continued. “That’s where most companies make their first missteps. As time goes by, there is too much to do, always work left over. Someone has a brilliant idea, let’s hire some more people. And, they do this without any thought of the overall design of the team to get work done.”

“So, first I have to think about the work?”

“And, not just task assignments, we have to figure out what problems must be solved and what decisions have to be made. With that, then we have to determine the level of problem solving and the level of decision required on the team, to make sure when we start to match up the people, we can select the right ones.”

All About the Work

“Brent, let me get this straight. You said that your salespeople may not be doing their best because they may not be interested in the work? Do your salespeople understand the work?”

“You’re right! Sometimes, it’s like they are brain dead. They are just mechanistic, going through the motions,” Brent described.

“So, they understand the prescribed duties, show up, make a presentation, ask for the order. But let me confirm, they may not understand the problems that must be solved or the decisions that must be made to create a successful sale?”

“Exactly, I mean we train them and train them again on the presentation, until they have it memorized, down cold, but you are right, that does not make a successful sale. The success of the sale depends much more on the questions they ask and the data they collect about the customer’s problem.”

“So, as the Sales Manager, do you sit with your team and talk about the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made during the sales call? That’s where the work is. That’s where the excitement is. That’s where the challenge is. If you are looking for interest from the salesperson, the connection is in the work, not the prescribed duties.”

A Sale That Sticks

“You are going to have to go slow, because I am still not getting it,” Brent shook his head.

“In order to close the sale by the end of the second sales call, what are the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made by the salesperson?” I repeated.

“Well, we know that to make a sale that sticks, that doesn’t get canceled or delayed, we have to collect certain information, then do some research and then present a case that is difficult to resist. Right now, it can’t even be, just a good deal. It has to be difficult to turn down.

“If the first meeting is going too fast or the data we collect is too superficial, we cannot do the analysis and we won’t be able to make an irresistible offer. The salesperson has to use judgment to determine if the information is right. It’s almost a gut decision.”

“So, the work of the salesperson is using discretion to judge the pace and quality of data collected in the first sales call?” I confirmed.

“Absolutely, the customer, in the first three minutes will tell you how this sale is going down, if you listen.”

What’s the Work?

“We have an opening on the team,” Marlena announced.

“And, you would like my help?” I asked.

“Yes, what kind of person should we hire?” she wanted to know.

“What’s the work?” I asked.

“It’s a project manager role, coordinating and organizing all the elements of projects we have in-house,” Marlena replied. “I am thinking we should hire someone who is analytical, good attention to detail, works well under pressure. Oh, and they have to work well with people, because there are people involved in all our projects. I think it is a very specific personality profile.”

I chuckled. “So, this person would only be able to work in the project manager role you have in mind?”

“Not necessarily, there may be other things they could do, but you have to be a special sort of person to be a project manager. There’s a lot of multi-tasking, to make sure none of the balls get dropped.”

“Marlena, the things you describe are character traits for most all jobs. Most every role requires someone who is reasonably analytical, reasonably organized, has reasonable attention to detail and can reasonably pace a project so that it meets internal deadlines. You seem to be focused on things you might describe as character traits. I want you to shift your focus to behaviors. Behaviors is how work gets done. My first question to you was – What’s the work? We often get carried away trying to climb inside the personality heads of candidates without a clear understanding of What’s the work?

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.”

Structural Quagmire That Starts at the Top

“Let me push back,” I said. “I assume that CEOs do have a firm grasp on the managerial relationships inside their company.”

“And, you would be missing the critical overlay that timespan brings to the overall structure,” Pablo explained. “With timespan as the overlay, the CEO will discover that not all people on the executive team have defined roles at S-IV (Multi-system Integration). Most CEOs have too many direct reports, or if I can more accurately describe – the CEO is the direct manager of too many people.”

“I have seen that,” I replied.

“Or, over time, team members with solid S-III (Single System) capability are promoted to S-IV (Multi-system Integration) roles where they struggle. This over-promotion (Peter Principle) causes the CEO to be dragged into system integration issues. Problem solving and decision making has no systemic or disciplined structure. There is no generally understood order, titles become jumbled and subject to individual interpretation. But, here is the real problem. The CEO gets the feeling that the CEO role is to be the glue that holds this house of straw together.”

“I have seen that as well.”

“And, if there is underperformance, the CEO believes it to be a fault of the team member, when it is really a problem of structure. There is a design problem that is covered over by the CEO in heroic attempts to make people smarter. And if there is continued underperformance, then the team becomes the culprit. Finger pointing surfaces down into middle management, and the band plays on.”

The Story of Our Intentions

“Once you understand this elegant simplicity, that timespan is nothing more complicated than the time measure of our intentions, the story of our intentions, the target completion time of our goals and objectives,” Pablo started, “you can begin to see that timespan is going to touch every aspect of a manager’s life.”

“Starting with?” I asked.

“You would agree with me that some problems are simple and most people can solve them?”

I nodded.

“You would also agree that as problems become more complex, some people struggle?”

I nodded again.

“And, while some struggle, others see the solution clearly. And, as those problems become more complex, more struggle. And, yet, there are still those who see solutions clearly.”

“I am still with you,” I confirmed.

“If we measure those problems in timespan, we get a clear demarcation of the problem’s complexity and those individuals who struggle and those who see clearly. For thousands of years, we have intuitively created organizations where we observe multiple levels of problem solving by different levels of people, but without a metric to measure that complexity. Timespan becomes the metric by which we can measure the complexity of problems and more accurately select people to clearly solve those problems.”

The Best Measure of Performance

“We started this conversation trying to figure out the size of the role and the size of the person,” I clarified. “I think we have established that we can measure size of role with timespan. So how do we measure the size of person?”

“It’s a trick question,” Pablo immediately responded. “I don’t judge people, I only judge the work.”

“But, if we are trying to match the size of the role with the size of the person?”

My question was cut short. “We are misled when we try to judge the size of a person. People are too complicated, and besides, at the end of the day, does it matter? The only thing that matters, is the person effective in the work of the role? Think about it. We come up with all kinds of descriptors like foresight, agility, conscientiousness, tenacity, initiative, motivation, flexibility. We give these things a score. As if we can measure the absolute score of a human being? We say a person needs more of this and less of that. What does that have to do with work?”

“Let me change my question,” I recalibrated. “Instead of measuring the size of the person, how do we match the person with the complexity, with the level of work in the role?”

“Now, you have a case. In this discussion, the central question is, compared to what?” Pablo asserted.

“Okay, compared to what?” I parroted.

“You cannot measure the qualities of a person with some absolute number, because people change inside the context of the moment. Compared to what? Compared to the work in the role? I only care, can they do the work?” Pablo stopped, then picked up again. “The best measure of performance is performance.”

Accuracy of Timespan

“You see,” Pablo continued, “it’s the ‘by when’ that creates the complexity of any problem.”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“The further our intention is into the future, the more uncertainty, the more ambiguity creeps in. In spite of our best intentions, the future is without precision. My friend Murphy* has a law, with which, I am sure you are familiar. From one day to one week, one month, three months, a year, two years, five years, the longer the timespan, the more uncertain those future events. And, yet, in the face of that uncertainty, we have to make a decision today.”

“We were talking about the size of a role,” I tried to bring this discussion back on point.

“Indeed, some roles, production roles focus on today, tomorrow, this week. Supervisory, coordination roles focus on this week, this month, this quarter. Managerial roles focus on this quarter, this year into next year. Executive management roles focus on this year through five years. The CEO role looks out 5 years and beyond. Using timespan, we can accurately measure the size of the role.”

“And, we were talking about the size of a person,” I prompted.

“Most people are capable today, this week, maybe a month into the future. Meaning, they can perceive things around them and are competent at making near term decisions. As the timespan of the decision increases, some struggle. There is a big drop off at one year. Thinking out, and making effective decisions beyond one year into the future, well, far fewer people have capability at that level.”
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*Murphy’s law – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Attributed to Capt. Edward A. Murphy, US Air Force, 1949.