Tag Archives: task assignments

Tell or Ask?

“I think, when I tell people what to do, acting like a big shot, that does not create trust,” Nathan started. “In fact, I don’t even have to act like a big shot to be perceived as a big shot.”

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“It seems that no matter how tactful I am, or how I sugarcoat it, when I tell people what to do, I sound like a critical parent.”

“That is quite a discovery,” I remarked. “So, how do you tell people what to do, without sounding like a critical parent?”

“I don’t think I can. I can’t tell them, they have to tell me.”

I knew Nathan was on the right path, just curious if he was putting it all together. “What do you mean?”

Nathan thought for a bit. “Instead of telling my team member what to do, I should ask them how they intend to accomplish the task at hand. Instead of me telling, I want them telling.”

Nathan waited for my response, but he didn’t get the advice he was looking for. “So, let’s go try it out,” I said.

Individual Technical Contributors and Levels of Work

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Attended your workshop last week. I understand Levels of Work related to a manufacturing business model, but we are a financial services firm. How do we approach Levels of Work in our company. We simply don’t have Stratum I production workers. In fact, our producers have to help people make decisions that will impact their lives 10 years, 20 years down the road.

Financial services, attorneys, CPAs, architectural firms, engineering firms all share a similar approach to Levels of Work. Indeed, production work in professional services often rises to Stratum II, III, IV or higher. For a more specific discussion on Levels of Work in a CPA firm, you can visit this post.

But your question leads me to a more general discussion of Levels of Work from individual technical contributors. In the workshop you attended, we focused on Levels of Work in a manufacturing business model. That model illustrates the following managerial roles –

  • Stratum I – Production
  • Stratum II – Supervisor
  • Stratum III – Manager
  • Stratum IV – VP
  • Stratum V – Business Unit President

But, in professional service firms, there are individual technical contributors whose capability, Level of Work, may land in any of these Stratum, depending on the complexity of the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made. I find it interesting that you easily made the leap in your question, that you have individual technical contributors helping people make decisions that will impact their lives 10 years and 20 years down the road.

Time Span gives us critical insight into the capability required for these technical roles. Indeed, these technical roles may not manage other people, but, rather, manage the uncertainty of technical projects into the future.

So, yes, your production work in financial services, is most likely Stratum II, III, IV or above. And it likely depends on the age of your customer, your customer’s own Time Span capability, even the size of the estate.

Making simple decisions inside a young employees 401(k) plan is quite different than the complexity of the decisions to be made where trusts (revocable or irrevocable) and other large estate decisions must be made.

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.

Accounting – What’s the Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

We are working on the structure of our accounting department. We have a comprehensive list (spreadsheet) of ALL the tasks that need to be completed from daily transactions, to weekly flash reports, to monthly financial statements, to quarterly reports and annual compilation activities. But all this work keys around, seems to be performed by one individual, the accounting manager. We have two additional people in that department, but we need help figuring how to distribute the work to the right person.

This is an accounting department, but the same principle applies, no matter the discipline. The futile approach would ask “Can this person do this and can that person do that?” The result would be a helter-skelter mish-mash of who would be accountable for what. It might help, but you would remain in a state of disorganization. Especially where you have a spreadsheet of tasks, enough to go around for three people in your accounting department, you need a systematic way of figuring this out. This is not complicated.

You say you have a spreadsheet. As comb through the list of tasks, the central question is to identify the Level of Work. Add a column in your spreadsheet that identifies the Level of Work (LOW) for each task. Your Accounting Manager needs to self perform those tasks at S-III and delegate S-II and S-I tasks.

S-I – Clerical, transactional input from coded paperwork, proofing batch transactions for accuracy, printing reports and schedules. This would include A/P and A/R data entry, timesheet entry, including job cost transaction input for labor and materials. Matching paperwork from work orders and POs to invoices received from vendors. Collecting, sorting and filing required paperwork to support higher level decisions related to disbursements or billing activities. [Scope of task assignments range from (1) day to (1) week to (1) month with no task assignments longer than (3) months].

S-II – Coding paperwork (making decisions) for transactional input, coding job costs of materials and labor including split allocations according to formula or system criteria created by manager. Reconciliation of accounts to workpapers. Second level review of transaction input from S-I activities. Compilation activities of reports and schedules required for routine reports for accuracy, completeness according to a publishing schedule created by manager. [Scope of longest task assignments range from (3) months to (12) months].

S-III – Creation of systems for all accounting functions, including documentation of steps, checks and balances, reconciliation points, review steps, identification of thresholds, risk assessment, and operating parameters. Third level review (signature) of transaction schedules for execution of disbursements (cash), movement of cash and cash management. Forecasting and budgeting. Cross-functional work with departments and divisions to support the financial analysis required for operational decisions (bid profitability, bid qualifying, project budgets, work-in-process, milestone completions, payment apps, collections). [Scope of longest task assignment range from (12) to (24) months].

You can flesh these guidelines out to assist in identifying the Level of Work in each line of your spreadsheet. Once the Level of Work is defined, it is easy to determine what tasks the Accounting Manager must self-perform and what tasks can (should) be delegated to appropriate team members.

Calibrating Level IV Roles

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

How do you incorporate Time Span into a Role Description?

This is the fourth post in this series.
Calibrating Level I Roles
Calibrating Level II Roles
Calibrating Level III Roles

Level IV Roles
Level IV roles are typically responsible for multiple systems and subsystems. Left to their own devices, organizational systems fend for themselves and create friction at the departmental level. It is the role at Level IV to integrate these systems together. More than multi-tasking, Level IV managers understand the dependencies, inter-dependencies, contingencies and bottlenecks that exist between multiple systems. The goal is to integrate these systems together into a “whole system.”

Problem solving at Level IV is generally related to longer term initiatives which may take 2-5 years to achieve defined objectives. The focus in problem solving often requires the Level IV manager to step out of the internal elements of a single system to examine (often counter-intuitive) the output of multiple systems interacting together. This may involve the momentum of a reinforcing system offset by the impact of a balancing system. Sales, as a reinforcing system, are often offset by the capacity of operations, as a balancing system. Unrestrained sales that outstrip operational fulfillment create backorders and unhappy customers. Unrestrained operations that outstrip sales create inventory overstocks, carrying costs and bloated balance sheets.

Task assignments at Level IV are defined by operational planning and longer term strategic planning.