Tag Archives: roles

Bringing Order From Chaos

Order and chaos. That is the balance beam, one foot in order and one foot in chaos. Order is what we know. Chaos is what we do not know. We bring order to chaos by exploring its value in relation to what we know. Assigning value is the framework of hierarchy.

Organizational hierarchy is the sorting of value according to some value assignment. Before I tip my hat to the value, let’s look at the role of CEO, stand back and just watch. What do we observe about that role? What are the decisions that must be made, what are the problems that must be solved, what are the risks that must be considered and assumed? At the top? In that solitary role, for which no one else is accountable?

The value hat tip is timespan. While other members of the organization work on different things, the CEO must make the longest timespan decisions and solve the longest timespan problems, considering the longest timespan risks.

The most important task of the CEO is thinking. Thinking about what might happen in five to ten years. That thinking is full of uncertainty and ambiguity, it is full of chaos. It is the role of the CEO to bring some sense of order to that chaos. Because, today we have to make a decision. Five years from now, we may know if that decision was good or if it was bad. Who is to say? We just have to wait. But the decision must be made today.

Working Together

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

You have talked about managers and systems. And you’ve described the most important system for a manager as the People System. What’s inside that system?

There are three primary accountabilities for any Manager.

  • First, is that the Manager is responsible for the output of the team. I don’t listen to excuses that some team member failed to perform, or some other team member fell short. I hold the Manager accountable for the output of the team.
  • The element that supports that output is the ability of the Manager to assemble the team together. This has a great deal to do with identifying and selecting talent.
  • Once assembled, the Manager must lead the team to work together, competently and with commitment in pursuit of the goal.

Failure in any part of this system falls to the Manager.

Who Controls the Variables?

“What is structure?” Melanie asked. “I draw boxes and circles, with lines and arrows. The question that guides me is – who reports to whom?”

“And, that would be accurate,” I replied, “if you worked in a command-and-control, reporting environment. This misconception about most organized companies leads us astray.”

“But, that’s my central question, my guiding principle when I put the org chart together. Who reports to whom?”

“Indeed, as managers, we sit around the table discussing a new recruit coming into the company tomorrow. And, the question is, who should this person report to? Quite seriously, it’s the wrong question.”

“I’m listening,” Melanie replied.

“It’s not a matter of who this young recruit will report to, but which manager, around the table, will be accountable for the output of this new hire? It’s not a matter of reporting, it’s a matter of accountability, and it’s the manager who is accountable.”

“Seems upside-down,” Melanie observed.

“Does it?” I responded. “Think about it. This new person comes into the organization. Who designed the role for this person to play? Who determined what this person should do? Who determined the quality spec of the output? Who selected this person to play this role? Who trained the person? Who provided the necessary tools, created the work environment? Who controls all the variables around this person?”

Melanie paused, the answer so obvious. “The manager, of course.”

“Then, why should the manager not be held accountable for the output of this new hire?”

The First Sea Change

The first sea change for every organization is the way we organize work. The startup asks this question of every new team member. “What do you do well, where can you help us?”

“I can do this and I can do that.”

“Great, because we have some of this and some of that for you to do.”

We always start off organizing the work around the people. People with special talents get special work, others not so much.

Is there work left over? There is always work left over. It doesn’t take long for the founder to understand we can no longer organize the work around the people. We have to organize the people around the work. And, that is the first sea change for every organization, the emergence of roles.

Level of Work of a Team Lead?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I run a private industrial disaster recovery business. We respond to natural disasters and clean up the mess. We are very hierarchical, but I am having difficulty understanding the level of work in the teams that we dispatch.

Is it possible to have a supervisor in stratum level one? For example, we deploy teams of three people consisting of two technicians and a team captain. The two technicians are obviously working at S-I, one or two day time span, while the team captain works on a day to week at the most. The team captain directs the activities of the two technicians, but is he their manager?

We have several three person teams supervised by a single Project Manager. The Project Manager role, for us, includes team member selection, coordination of support resources, equipment, machinery, consumables as well as training for technicians and team captains. Our Project Manager clearly works at S-II, 3-12 month time span.

My question is, what is the level of work for the Team Leader?


You describe a classic case of a First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA). Elliott was very specific about this role. You are correct that the role is an S-I role and illustrates that within a single stratum level of work, we have different levels of work, illustrated below –

S-II – Project Manager, supervision and coordination, manager of the entire S-I team.
S-I-Hi – Team Captain, directs on-site, assigns tasks, but is not the manager of the team.
S-I-Med – Technician, works under the on-site direction of the Team Leader
S-I-Lo – Technician trainee

This works for project teams, deployed field units, multi-shift operations where the S-II Project Manager or Supervisor is not physically present at all times. The First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA) has limited authority to direct activity and assign tasks within the larger authority of the S-II Supervisor. The FLMA has recommending authority for advancement and compensation, but those decisions remain with the S-II Supervisor.

How to Spot Micro-Management

Joyce was thinking about her team. Things were not a disaster, but not running too smoothly. There was a friction in the team that was beginning to take a life of its own.

“I have been watching Phillip,” she started. “It seems he is struggling with his job as a supervisor, but it’s hard to tell. He has his good days, but not too often.”

“How would you rate his performance?” I asked.

“Well, that’s pretty easy to see. He is always late with stuff and it’s never completely done the way it should be. And then, when I go to talk to him about it, I can’t find him.”

“Is he in the building?”

“Oh, yeah, he will turn up, but it’s like, he was two hours down in receiving, he said he was organizing the place. Now, I know the place needs to be organized, but he was doing it all alone. He was not out here, supervising on the floor, where he really needed to be. The receiving guy should be doing the organizing in receiving.”

“What do you think the problem is?”

“Well, even though he is a supervisor, it seems he would rather be doing lower level-of-work stuff. Some of his team members even accuse him of micro-managing.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“It’s like he is in a role that he doesn’t even like, and probably in over his head,” Joyce concluded.

“And who put him in that spot?”

Joyce turned her head, looked at me sideways. A bit of a smile, a bit of a grimace.

Why I Interview for Habits

Those who attend my workshops know there are four areas connected to work that I interview for –

  • Capability
  • Skills
  • Interest, Passion (Value for the work)
  • Required Behavior

Yes, there are required behaviors in any role. Some you contract for, like showing up in the morning at an appointed time. There are also required behaviors connected to culture.

And there are habits.

Whenever I look at a role, I examine the critical role requirements and identify the habits that would support those requirements. I am looking for grooved, routine behaviors, repeated behaviors that contribute to success in the role.

There are some people, given a complicated task, who will charge ahead in a flurry of activity. There are others, who, as a matter of habit, stop and plan, before charging ahead. Some roles require charging ahead, some require planning. Which habit supports the work in the role?

We think we choose our future. We don’t. We choose our habits and our habits determine our future.

Not Enough Time

“I gotta get something off my plate,” Adrian shook his head. “I am so busy, I just don’t have time to get everything done.”

Busy?” I asked. For me, busy is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Busy. I get here early to catch things up from yesterday, make some headway on one of my projects, but about 7:30, the chaos begins.”

Chaos?” I asked. For me, chaos is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Chaos,” Adrian replied. “Unsolved problems from yesterday. Yesterday’s decisions delayed until today. It hits my email, it hits my text messages, it hits my phone, it walks through my office door.”

“So, you think you have a problem?” I clarified. “And, if you could get something off your plate, you would have more time? And if you had more time, you wouldn’t be so busy? And if you weren’t so busy, there would be less chaos?”

“That’s it,” Adrian agreed.

“Then, why did you start coming to work so early?” I probed.

“Because I was too busy during the day. There was too much chaos during the day. I couldn’t get anything done,” Adrian was frustrated with his circular problem.

“So, you came to work early to get more time, but you are still too busy and there is still too much chaos? Do you think not-enough-time is really the problem.”

Over Promoted

Whirlwind last week between Wash DC and my hometown, Austin, TX. I would like to welcome our new subscribers from those Time Span workshops.

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


Okay, the workshop opened my eyes. I now understand why one of my managers is failing. I promoted them to a position that is beyond their capability. Training hasn’t worked, coaching hasn’t worked. How do you demote someone who has been overpromoted?


First, you have to realize who made the mistake. And it’s NOT the person who was placed in the role beyond their capability. It’s the manager. My guess, it’s you.

The biggest mistake most managers make is underestimating the Level of Work in the role. One reason is that most managers don’t sit down and think about what is really required in terms of Time Span capability.

That said, your question is how to fix it. First, you have to take responsibility for the underperformance. Own up to your mistake.

This inevitable conversation will be difficult. Difficult to talk about, difficult for the other person to accept. Effective completion of work is tied into our self-concept and our emotions. It feels good when we are effective. It feels bad when we are not effective.

The focus of the conversation has to be on the work. Focus on the work, not the person. The underperformance does not make them a bad person, it simply reveals capability related to the Level of Work in the role. Compiling proof of intentional sabotage at work is advised for employees facing such situations to protect themselves and maintain a fair working environment.

Discuss specifically about how the two of you intend to re-design the role so that the task assignments are within the demonstrated Applied Capability of the team member.

Embedded in your question is the unspoken issues of job title and compensation. Don’t mince words. Your job titles should be consistent across your organization and indicate Level of Work. Failure to maintain consistency causes confusion of expectations for everyone. Compensation may have to be readjusted if you, as the Manager, have made a gross error in judgment. For the most part, I find compensation errors are minor. You might be a pay band off, and if that’s they case, suck it up. A person’s capability increases over time. Eventually they should catch up. You may have to defer a raise period or two while that happens, but remember, you made the mistake.

Let us know how this turns out.

Chocolate Mess, Related to a VP

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I was hired into the company six months ago, in a managerial role. One of my team members, a supervisor, was promoted beyond his capability. It’s a mess, but a mess that I inherited. This guy is not a bad person, he means well, just over his head. Oh, did I mention, he’s related to one of the Vice-Presidents?


You are doing no one favors by leaving this person in a role where they consistently underperform, no matter who they are related to. This person may be doing their best, but pace and quality suffers.

The fix is managerial work for you. Your options range from modifying parts of the role to a complete reassignment to a different role. If you intend to modify the role, you will need to break it down into Key Result Areas and determine which parts of the role are done well, reassign the rest to someone else. In your assessment, take a look at the history of this person, what were their previous positions and how well did they do? Everyone has competence, somewhere, you just have to find it.

The political part, being related to a current VP, will require some finesse, but will likely be easier than you think. If you truly have a chocolate mess on your hands, everyone already knows it, they just don’t talk about. And yes, the VP knows it, too. You will be doing the VP a favor if you can determine a more suitable position.