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The Missing Piece in Managing for Results: Know Your CRABs (no, not that kind!)

We all know people work to produce results, right?  Produce a sale, a widget, a TV show – there are lots of kinds of results. It’s great if producing the result also produces a paycheck or some other reward.  Either way, the purpose of work is for the results.

That’s why a good manager knows it’s important to be clear about the results people should produce. And equally important, be clear about the goals – the reasons for producing those results. But… many managers, even the best ones, leave out something important (besides giving deadlines, which I wrote about earlier this month). They leave out the “CRABs”.

We forget to tell people that for every goal, and every result, there are people we should consult, i.e., people who have resources we want, people who need to approve some part of what we’re doing, and probably a user-customer at the end of the line who has a preference or opinion you should know about. Here’s how to remember who those people are:

  1. Collaborators – the people who have information we need, such as scope, constraints, and other professional perspectives;
  2. Resource providers – those with money, people, and know-how that could be critical to what we want to produce;
  3. Authorities – the people who will sign off, or reward (and punish, if necessary) some of the details of our work; and
  4. Beneficiaries – the people who are going to use and appreciate (or complain about) the results of our work.

These are the CRABs associated with every goal and every work assignment. They need to be our partners in performance, but they are too often invisible to us. Sometimes we forget they’re there until it’s too late! CRABs are a key part of your “performance circle” to produce results.

You can see the sketch of a CRAB network in the picture accompanying this blogpost. I drew it up as part of a project with people who were working at nuclear power plants. Note: I was a management consultant for a long time and have lots of these diagrams.

Identifying CRABs is a worthwhile exercise for anyone who has a goal and a result to produce. Find out about the individuals and groups who will likely have (or want to have) something to say about what you are doing or producing. Maybe get in touch with them early on, to let them know what you’re up to and to learn about their perspective on the matter.

But don’t get crabby, even if they say something negative. Those CRABs could be around for a long time.

PS – You don’t need to mention that you call them CRABs. ?

Understanding Conversation – Clarifying Ideas and Roles

I took my ideas about an online conversation for “Management is Missing” into several meetings over coffee and lunch in the past 10 days. I had lunch with a man who develops websites: he liked the Performance Circle idea, and we sketched out some thoughts on how to have the kind of interactive discussion I’m looking for. Then coffee a few days later with another man who does photography, videos, and video editing for YouTube and other websites.

Then I talked with several people about learning management systems and how they are used for online learning. One of them creates and manages several online learning sites, another has used online learning systems, and a third has built a business around them. All this was useful to help me see the kind of design work and planning that I need to do, and who I could link up with to get some of the results I want to have.

The last conversation was with a manager, call her Lynne, who is in a really bad situation. Lynne was hired as an “account manager”, to provide services to a large customer organization. The job included some compliance duties (making sure that products and equipment were updated on time and with appropriate vendor support) and collaborating with several other organizations in industry, service, and government. The bad situation started when she pointed out some serious compliance issues to her boss – she noticed several places where the relevant laws were being broken and gave the boss a memo about it. Nothing happened.

The situation soon spiraled downward: Lynne grew impatient with a boss who didn’t seem to care about illegal situations, and she began noticing other places where internal policies were not followed or agreements with partner organizations and clients were unmanaged. She began speaking up at meetings about these things even though it was clear that nobody wanted to hear it. Now she is stuck in an increasingly negative relationship with many of the people above her in the organization. Even some of her peers are hesitant to work too closely with her for fear that the management reaction to being accused of mistakes will taint them too.

Could an “understanding conversation” – a dialogue about what players are involved in the problems, who should be involved in creating solutions, and how to go about putting things right – have made a difference? Maybe, if it was held early and privately with the boss. But maybe not. If Lynne is determined to set things right without building a performance circle and having the dialogues for clarifying roles and responsibilities, she is creating a hard road ahead for herself and others.

All of these conversations were exploratory – they were “understanding conversations” to learn more about where my ideas fit into a possible new future. But this last conversation reinforced the importance of having a place where people – both managers and the people they manage – can look at different ways to talk about management problems they are having. And perhaps we can even create a place where people can create solutions that will be relatively quick and painless.

When I finish these understanding conversations, I’ll move on to the performance conversations. Back soon.

New Initiative – Identify my Performance Circle

I led a program recently for project managers and saw their biggest challenge is that most people don’t see the “bigger picture” when they are at work on a project – or any work assignment, for that matter. Most of us tend to focus on what’s in front of us (the desktop, both computer and physical) along with some ideas about the future we expect from our work. But we forget to identify, right up front, all the relationships and agreements with people, groups, and organizations that we will need to achieve our objectives.

So it surprised me to realize I was falling into the same myopia myself: focusing on what I have to DO and not giving much attention to the other players critical for my success.

The project managers in my program all had at least one story about what happened when they failed to check with some of the other people necessary for the success of their project. Sad tales of the consequences of not clarifying exactly what was needed and when – or, as one woman said, “I learned the hard way that I need to establish an agreement about the deliverables that were going to be exchanged”.

Example: One PM, let’s call him Dave, had a large software project that was projected to take 8 months to complete. Dave told me, “I knew what our schedule was, and that we would have to send the whole product to the Test Lab for final system testing. So I called the Lab a month ahead and said, “We will be ready for test in mid-March, so I will send over the system materials to you on March 18th.” I was shocked when the guy laughed at me – he said the Test Center was booked 6 months in advance! I mean, we had talked and everything, but he never mentioned that we would need that much notice.”

Dave’s project missed its deadline and blew its budget projections because he hadn’t talked about the specifics: What he wanted, When he wanted it, and Why it mattered. Those basic elements are necessary for a performance conversation (a conversation that uses requests and promises to develop a performance agreement). But the same elements are also necessary for an “Initiative Conversation”: What am I intending to accomplish? When do I intend to accomplish it? Why is it important? As soon as I can say those 3 things, I will be ready to figure out who I need to talk with, and consider all the other people or groups that will be affected by my planned initiative. Where does their success touch on what I’m proposing to accomplish? Where does my success require their attention?

My initiative: I’ve been looking at creating an e-learning system to engage managers of all kinds in a conversation about where they find that “Management is Missing”, and how they resolved it. I have collected lots of these stories over the years of consulting and leading programs, and I was ready to buckle down and get to work.

Oops! If I fail to take the time to identify my “Performance Circle” – the people and groups who are my resources and my users/customers – then I will be working without a net. And for someone who is all about network management that would be a mistake. So the initiative is: What – an e-learning system for managers to talk about where “Management is Missing” and what to do about it; When – up and running in 2012; Why – to engage managers in creating a conversation for “Management is Simple”. Next task: I’m going to identify all the players necessary for a successful initiative, and start lining them up to have Understanding Conversations with me!