Tag Archives: time span

Is It Beyond the Capability Required in the Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In our company, we have a Stratum II (S-II) sales role, 3-12 months time span. In that role, we have a person who has demonstrated solid S-II effectiveness at around 9 months in the role. Our lead time on proposals along with the length of the sales cycle feels about right.

In the past year, I have been trying to get our salesperson to think out a bit further. Sometimes, we find that we are not on the short list for some RFPs because our competitors have already established a better relationship. In some cases, our competitors have been courting the prospective client for three to four years, way before a project was even on the horizon. I am thinking about adding a Key Result Area (KRA) to our sales role called Client Development and calibrating it at a three year objective. To create client relationships up to three years in advance of a prospective project. It’s a really small industry, so we know who the real players are across the country. We just need to get to know them sooner.

When I proposed this to our salesperson, I didn’t get outright rejection, but she said she would be more effective focusing on projects that were real instead of wasting her time on something that might never happen. Problem is, when they do happen, it’s too late to establish the relationship. We are already off the short list.

I can see Client Development as a valuable KRA for this role. And I can see the time span of the objective as appropriate to accomplish what you want, to create the kind of long-term relationship to ensure you make the short list. If you examine your competitors, that is exactly how they are defining the relationship work and they are beating you to the short list as a result.

Understand, however, when you define the level of work at 3 years, you have moved the level of work from S-II to S-IV. That is a totally different level and may be beyond the capability of your solid S-II salesperson. Your observation of push-back would make me suspicious that simply changing the role description is going to elevate the behavior.

Moreover, if establishing the prospective client relationship is a 3 year time span task at S-IV, you also must consider that the person you are establishing this relationship with, is also thinking 3 years out. It might be a more appropriate time span task, a more appropriate client relationship for you.

The Curse of a Manager

“You look off-balance,” I said.

Renee shook her head. “Ever since I was promoted to sales manager, things are different. When I was on the sales team, things were exciting, always a new customer, a deal in limbo, a sale that closes, a sale that gets stalled. But there was always action. As sales manager, I only get to hear about that stuff from other people. I get to coach, but I never get to play.”

“What else is different?” I asked.

“When I was a salesperson, I was always focused on the day, or the week, at most a month or a quarter. Sure, I had my annual sales goals, but mostly, I only looked at what was right in front of me.” Renee took a breath. “Now, I live in the world of annual sales goals. My decisions are centered around how many salespeople on the team, which one is going off the rails, gauging whether our sales backlog is within the capacity of operations. Not very exciting stuff. And budgets. I am not just thinking about this year, I have to think about next year. The ops manager wants to invest in some automation and wants to know if I can generate enough sales to pay for it over the next three years.”

“So, the biggest difference is time span. You use to measure your success, or failure by the day or the week. You got constant juice from your deal flow,” I replied. “Now, there is no juice. You are working on goals that won’t be completed for one to two years. Oh, sure, you will soon know whether you are making progress, soon enough, but you won’t hold the result in your hands for quite some time. It’s the curse of a manager.

“But, here’s the thing,” I continued. “If all you ever think about is the next deal, the next customer, if everything you think about is short-term, then thinking about what needs thinking about, never becomes a priority. Planning never happens. Your ability to plan, your ability to think long-term atrophies. Making short moves in the needle is easy. Making large moves in the needle takes time. Most managers are too impatient to do that kind of thinking. They would rather get the juice.”

How to Measure the Level of Work

“I hope he snaps out of it, soon,” Warren shook his head. “Tyler was one of our best supervisors before he got promoted to manager?”

“How big is this new job, as a manager?” I asked.

“I didn’t really think it was that much different,” Warren lamented. “I mean he went from six people to eighteen people, but he has two supervisors under him now, each handling a team of eight people. So, he really only has the two supervisors that he has to directly work with.”

“How big is this new job?” I repeated. “How do you measure the level of work in this new role?”

Warren thought. “It does seem more complicated. He has more resources to work with, but I don’t know that I can actually measure the level of work.”

“What was the longest time span task that Tyler had, as a supervisor?”

“Well, as a supervisor, he was accountable for making sure all the production got done. He had to make sure he had enough people on the line, that we had enough raw material to work with, make sure all the machinery was available and in working order. It was a pretty big job.”

“And what was the longest lead time item on his plate?”

Warren smiled. “Oh, yes. There is this one material that we order from Indonesia. When it arrives, we outsource a special coating. The whole process takes about six months before we even bring it in-house. And we can’t run out or all of our production shuts down. Tyler had to pay specific attention to that.”

“So, we can measure the longest time span task in his old role at about six months?” I confirmed. “So, what is the longest time span task in his new role as a manager?”

I Need Your Help

I have been asked to make a presentation at an international conference sponsored by the Global Organization Design Society at the IBM Palisades Center NY, July 31-Aug 5, 2014.

I need your help in my preparation for that presentation. My subject at the conference will be how companies have applied the Time Span principles contained in the research of Elliot Jaques. I am looking for both informal application in how a manager sees decision making and problem solving to formal application in hiring systems or organizational changes in structure.

If you have attended one of my Time Span workshops (I have delivered 400 workshops over the past ten years) and you have used some principle or understanding to help you in your managerial work, I would like to hear from you. Please use the form at Ask Tom to send me a short note.

Thank you for your interest in the Time Span research of Elliott Jaques.

Time Span – Where Do I Start, How to Implement?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question – 
I attended one of your workshops on Time Span.  Since that day, the subject is like a song that I just can’t get out of my head.  At the same time, where do I start?  You described Time Span, or Requisite Organization as a comprehensive management system, but where do I start?

Response – 
A first introduction to Requisite Organization and its central kernel, Time Span, can be overwhelming.  But the first steps are not that complicated.  Over the past ten years, I have shared this concept with more than 5,000 CEOs and managers, and this is always the first question – Where do I start?

It’s all about the work.

There are many kinds of organizations in the world, groups of people organized around a purpose.  There are religious organizations, community service organizations, political organizations, and organizations to get work done.  Work is my focus.  It’s all about the work.

So, what is the work that has to be done.  Where do I start?  It starts by understanding the answers to these questions.  These questions are helpful, to understand the different levels of work required in any complex endeavor.  Where you start, is by understanding the work.  The first step is understanding, the first step is a design step.

  • (S-V) What is the superior purpose for the work?  At the end of our foreseeable future, what do we want to accomplish?  This is often called vision, mission, purpose.  Without defining this purpose, the rest of the list doesn’t make sense.
  • (S-IV) To achieve the superior purpose (vision, mission), what are the big milestones that have to be achieved?  What are the big rocks that have to be moved?
  • (S-III) To move those big rocks, what are the consistent, repeatable behaviors (habits, systems) that have to be created?
  • (S-II) Inside each system, what are the deadlines and completed actions (projects) that have to be completed?  What are the materials, equipment and people required to complete those projects?
  • (S-I) What are the fundamental tasks that have to be organized?  What is the production work that has to be completed day in and day out?

The first step is to understand the work, to understand the different levels of work.

How to Detail a Task to Discover its Time Span

I could see that Joel was stressed. This was a big job. Joel had been a successful supervisor, but this assignment as a new manager was different for him.

“It was all about improvisation,” he proclaimed. “Life was exciting. Things were always moving.

“But you asked me to make a list of the most important tasks in my new role, as a manager. I started with my role description. The insight came when I tried to peg the time span associated with each task.

“Here is one,” he continued. “The role description says that I am responsible for making sure we have enough direct labor to meet the production needs for all the cycles during the year.

“At first, I thought it just meant that I should post job vacancies and do some interviews. But when you asked me to attach time span to the task, my head started to spin.

“It was only then, that I realized I needed to research our historical workloads during the three cycles of our year. I had to take a look at our maximum production capacity along with the marketing and sales forecast. I spent the time to lay out all this data for the whole year. I used a line graph to help me visualize it. Then I had to figure out what resources we needed to produce the numbers related to the forecast. The forecast is helpful, but it is often wrong by as much as ten percent.

“All in all, when I looked at my new job, I really have to be planning out 12 months or more, in advance. This is a lot bigger than I thought.”

I smiled at Joel. He was new to the job, but he was beginning to understand the time span related to this new level of work, the time span necessary to be successful as a manager.

How to Calibrate the Time Span of a Task

Joel laid the list on the table. “It’s weird,” he started, “there were some obvious things, but there were some other things that were more interesting.”

I had asked Joel to make a list of tasks that he had performed as a supervisor and to identify the time span of each task.

“For example,” he continued, “I ran a rolling production schedule out for six weeks. So at any one time, I was working six weeks into the future. But there were some other tasks that were longer than I thought.

“I was in charge of raw materials. We would get in shipments of plastic parts that had to be inspected. There was a time when a whole boatload of parts was defective. In the short term, I had to really move around the production schedule to keep things moving. But in the long term, I had to work with the vendor on getting replacement parts. I had to figure out what we needed to keep in production, then to build back our raw goods inventory.

“Finally, I had to spend time figuring out what the problem was with the parts, working with the vendor to solve the problem. Turns out, there was a bad batch of resin from another supplier. Because of the problem, the resin supplier actually went out of business and our vendor had to find a new source. I know it was his problem, but I had to work with him, trying out and finally certifying a new resin supplier so our parts would hold up. That whole process took five months and my manager expected me to handle it without a lot of direction from her.”

“So the time span for that project was about five months?” I asked.

“Yes, you could call it five months.  Most of the time it is easy, averages out to be fairly short in time frame.  But, when it’s hard, I have to look out further.  Even when it’s hard, it’s still part of my job.”

“So, now in your new job, as a manager, what are some of the tasks that you will be responsible for and what is the time span? Take a look at your job description and meet me back here tomorrow.”

Time Span of Tasks of a Supervisor vs. a Manager

“Tell me, Joel, in making your transition from supervisor to manager, why do you think things slowed down for you?” I asked.

“The biggest difference,” he replied, “is that I am not dealing with things so much as I am dealing with people. When I was a supervisor, I just made sure material got received, stocked, staged and moved around, that machines worked, and that everybody was at their workstation. Sure, things shifted around and we changed the schedule all the time, but it was easy compared to this. As a manager, things have slowed down, but it’s a lot harder to get things done. It’s more complicated. I have to think further into the future.”

“How far into the future did you have to think as a supervisor?” I pondered.

Joel thought for a minute. He had never considered how far into the future he to think. “Well, as a supervisor, I guess it was only a few months out.  I mean, we had some long lead time items, and sometimes we had to reject materials that were out of specification, meaning the lead time doubled, but even with that, four to five months.  And with people, I just scheduled from the list of people of the team.  Now, I have to look out and see if we have enough people on the list.  I have to decide who is on the team.”

“Tell you what, Joel. The next time we meet, I want you to list out the longest tasks you had as a supervisor. I want to go over that list with you to see if we can make some sense moving forward as a manager.”

How To Measure Time Span in a Role

Marge was frustrated. “I am fed up to here,” she stated flatly. “”I spend more time correcting than I do controlling the work.” She had just paid a visit to the shipping dock. Four orders, mis-packed and two orders with the wrong ship address. Luckily, the errors were discovered before the freight company picked up, but the orders would now be delayed another day.

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“Well, Martin just doesn’t seem to be catching on. He has been here for five weeks, now, and I swear it’s like he is still in his first week. He is supposed to be matching and proofing orders and picking tickets, catching mistakes before they get out the door.”

“When you look at his job, how would you describe the longest task he has to perform, longest in terms of time frame?”

Marge thought for a minute. You could see some insight wave across her face. “He gets an advance report every Monday that looks two weeks out for orders and their target ship date. It’s like a rolling two week calendar. Of course, the orders during this week are much more definite, but we want him to think out two weeks.”

“And how far in the future do you think he is working?”

“Oh, no more than one day. If you ask him about tomorrow, you get that deer in the headlights look.”

“Did you ever think about that when you hired him?” I asked.

“No, he had experience as a packer, but not as a supervisor. I never thought it would be that big of a deal to really control what was happening.”

“Marge, don’t feel bad. Most companies underestimate the time span required for success in the job. And if you key in on time span, you can get much more specific about the level of the person you need. Here is the key question. When you look at the job, how would you describe the longest task the person has to perform, longest task in terms of time frame?”

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.

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.