Management for Accomplishment, 1-2-3: Here is Step Three

Accomplishment means, literally, “to fulfill together”. That is a good way to describe a group of people who are aligned on working toward well-specified goals, engaging with a performance network of other Key Players by making and keeping agreements to send and receive well-defined goal-relevant products, services and communications (also known as “deliverables”). The combination of the Team and other Key Players in the network is the “together” part of accomplishment. Regard for keeping the agreements in that network to honor the goals, the Team member responsibilities, and the promises to send and receive goal-relevant deliverables in the performance network – that is the “fulfillment” part of accomplishment.

But accomplishment is not real for anyone until it is declared, with evidence that is visible to Team Members (and others as appropriate). To validate the progress and fulfillment of project goals, timelines and other measures of success requires three elements: (a) tracking the status and progress on all the project’s success measures, (b) reporting status updates to the Team and (c) updating the project itself, i.e., determining what, if any, updates or changes in the project’s agreements would be useful going forward.

Step Three is the heart of management – providing regular feedback to the people who are at work on Project X so they can see the effects and impacts of their work, and offering an opportunity to discuss those impacts and make decisions for improvements in the next phase of their work. Step 1 aligns people on goals, measures and schedules. Step 2 establishes the network of agreements that will produce the accomplishment. But without this final step of regular tracking, reporting and updating, there may be no actual accomplishment present for the Team Members.

To ensure that Step Three – Management for Accomplishment – makes any accomplishment real, the Team Members must be involved in this step too. Having a “manager” do all the tracking, reporting and updating misses the point: it is the Team’s role “to fulfill together”, so the tracking, reporting and updating become part of their work.

WHAT-WHEN-WHY – Regular tracking of project status: What measures will be tracked and reported: Team Members collaborate to identify the most valuable indicators showing whether the project is moving ahead as desired or has encountered barriers or mistakes, including whether agreements for deliverables are being properly honored.  When will the tracking and reporting occur: The data capture schedule for tracking is likely to vary with the different measures but should be frequent and regularly scheduled. Regular Team meetings are best for reporting the tracking results, whether in person or online. Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meetings to share tracking results, i.e., project status updates, may depend on the pace of the project. Why is tracking the status of these measures over the course of the project worthwhile: it enables Team Members to stay close to progress and problems, and to address them as needed.

WHO-WHERE – Regular reporting of status updates: Who will be tracking and reporting of of the project’s success measures? Reporting project status updates for any success measure(s) is best done by the individual(s) who are responsible for the project’s performance in the area being measured. Progress reporting is ideally done with the entire Team participating.  Where will this reporting session be held? Again, this is a Team decision: in a meeting, online, in a visual display or somewhere else?

HOW: Regular reviews for updating project agreements: How will the updating be accomplished: Team meetings to review project status updates from the tracking process on each goal measure provides an opportunity for discussion, perhaps with some outside expertise weighing in as well.

  • Are all projections of goal progress being met?
  • Do any assignments or agreements need to be revised or more effectively enforced?
  • Is there any change in the goal statements or measures that may be appropriate for any aspect of the project – such as quality, schedules and costs of deliverables, or key functions such as Budget, Operations, IT, Marketing, and Public communication?
  • Where is more attention needed? What actions are suitable, and who will be best able to perform them?

RECAP:

Step 1 – 9/15/2020 blogpost: Management for Alignment. When you bring a group of people together to do a task or a project, job #1 is creating the group’s “alignment” – on (a) project goal(s), (b) responsibilities of participants and (c) what the group will need to recognize and respect in their project’s environment. Alignment on these 3 elements can create a ‘team’.

  • Spell out the Goal/Intention for the project: What our end goals are. When we want it to be complete. Why it is important to do.
  • Identify the “Responsibility Structure” for the task: Who will lead the team and fill other necessary roles, and Where these people are.
  • Clarify the relevant rules and regulations for working together: How will all aspects of the work to be done comply with corporate rules and guidance, and with other external requirements including relevant federal, state and local laws and policies.

Step 2 – 9/29/2020 blogpost: Management for Production. The team prepares for project production by inventing its own structures for performance:

(a) Spell out the details for each key goal: What are the success metrics, When are the timelines and due dates for goal-relevant products, services and communications – and Why those metrics are important.

(b) Identify the project’s performance network of Key Players and establish agreements for sending and receiving goal-relevant products, services and communications: Who and Where are the project’s Senders & Receivers of necessary and goal-relevant products, services and communications, bolstered by agreements and a system for coordination within the Team and beyond into its performance network.

(c) Spell out the production and delivery systems, standards and practices for the project: How will the work and all the movement of products, services and communications be coordinated and delivered to and from Team members and in the performance network – so that goal-relevant requirements such as quality, schedules and costs will meet all of the goals including Budget, Operations, Product and Service quality and delivery, IT, Marketing, and Public communication.

Step 3 – 10/13/2020 blogpost: Management for Accomplishment. The team creates project accomplishment by tracking the progress of success measures over time, reporting them to the Team, and considering updates to the projects structures and processes where they would be valuable:

(a) Track the project’s status: What the project “success metrics” are that indicate project success are the ones that should be tracked over the course of the project, so Team Members can spot places where the probability of success could be improved. When the tracking happens will vary with the nature of the measure and the agreements associated with its fulfillment. Why those metrics are important to track is so that assignments and other agreements – or the measures themselves – can be revised to repair mistakes, solve problems and/or improve the chances of success.

(b) Report status updates for each of the project’s success measures to the whole Team. Who and Where – in this meeting/discussion, Team Members identify where they are winning and where they are not, i.e., which elements of the project need repair or improvement: resources, communications, agreements with other Key Players, etc. Find the places where the Team is accomplishing what was intended, and where there are barriers, difficulties or outright failures.

(c) Update project agreements: How can the project either get back on track, or go faster on the track to success? A Team discussion will identify which agreements, processes, and/or responsibilities need to be updated to meet the challenges observed in the reporting of project success measures. When all goals need to be accomplished, attention is given to the visible places that can be addressed.

Bottom line: Management for accomplishment is about alignment of people, production by people and feedback for people. Where many managers fail is in that third piece, if they forget to give people feedback on their performance, or provide only generalities instead of goal-relevant measures, or deliver feedback too infrequently. It is possible for managers to be more effective if these steps are part of their regular practice of management for accomplishment.

Management for Accomplishment, 1-2-3: Here is Step Two

Two weeks ago (https://usingthefourconversations.com/blog, Sept. 15, 2020) I mentioned three examples of projects I consulted on where managers wanted to implement a change in their organization. For the most part, they did not know how to set the project up in a way that everybody could win and accomplish the goal. One of those projects will serve as an example for Step Two in Managing for Accomplishment.

A city government’s Department of Electricity had five Units related to their project: Electricity Distribution, the Meter Shop, Engineering, Customer Service, and Purchasing & Stores. These groups worked well together – except for the Engineering and the Distribution Units, who rarely interacted except to argue about equipment and supply requirements.

The diagram below has 6 circles, representing the 5 Units in the project + the electricity Customer. It also has 11 arrows, representing the primary “communication relationship” between the groups, i.e., the most important products, services and/or communications that moved between each pair of circles and what they talked about most.

Notice in the diagram that installation equipment and supplies were determined by the relationship between the Engineering Unit and Purchasing & Stores. The Distribution Unit, which was made up of teams that handled construction, installation and repairs of electrical wires and stations, were the primary users of that equipment, yet were left out of the decisions on what equipment was outdated or needed to be changed for new kinds of projects.

One member of the Distribution team told me, “We aren’t able to satisfy our Department’s mission to ‘provide energy, street lighting and related services reliably with competitive pricing’. We can’t always pay for the city’s need for streetlights.” He was discouraged that they had no voice in improving construction and installation for electricity distribution.

The administrator of the Electricity Department wanted the Engineering and Distribution Units to find a way that they could both have a say in the selection and purchase of electricity installation equipment and supplies, to ensure that Distribution teams would have the equipment they needed to solve the engineering and maintenance problems in the field. He told them to work together and come up with a solution, but the Engineers had little respect for the Installers – and vice versa – so they made no progress.

This administrator did not know that “management for accomplishment” begins with creating a “team”, i.e., getting people aligned on the basics of working well together. Management for Alignment is Step One, and once Team members are clear on the intention of the project, have identified a responsibility structure for the Team, and agree to recognize the relevant rules and regulations for working together, they are ready for Step Two: “Management for Production”.

Getting people ready lay the foundation for productivity requires Team collaboration to define three Step Two elements: (a) the metrics of success; (b) the Team’s performance network of agreements for goal-relevant communications etc. (that’s where their diagram came into existence, even though this version does not spell out all the deliverables); and (c) the production and delivery systems, and standards and practices, to coordinate work and agreements within the Team and with others, including for processes, quality, schedules and costs.

The idea of a “performance network” of deliverables and receivables is sometimes hard to grasp for people who haven’t thought of projects in terms of “deliverables”. We tend to think of “doing” a project and we look forward to when it’s “done”. But we don’t often think of what needs to be “delivered” between Team members and others in order to get the project completed successfully. There’s a big difference in what happens when you focus your attention on Doing vs. Done vs. Delivered.  Tip: Go with “delivered” – get the results (products, services and/or communications) produced into the hands of the people who will put them to work. And get the resources you need delivered to you.

Ultimately, this city Electricity project involved discussions with Purchasing & Stores and the Meter Shop, which produced changes in the way installation equipment and supplies were ordered. Meter equipment was then ordered using the same computer system that Distribution and Engineering would use, which included updated reporting formats that would go to Customer Service from all of the groups.

Production is not a matter of “doing”, nor of getting something “done”. Production requires looking at what needs to be produced and by whom, and to whom it is delivered. All 11 arrows in this performance network diagram were altered – with many added specifics and new agreements – as the Engineering and Distribution Units invented out a way to make more effective purchasing decisions. Note: The Engineering Unit also collaborated with the IT Unit for this project.

As with Step One, the elements of Step Two require the ability to ask 6 questions and to work together to develop the answers. And again, none of these elements involve managing the people (we manage agreements here).

Step Two: Management for Production

WHAT-WHEN-WHY – Spell out the metrics for each key goal: What are the success metrics for budget and cost goals; What are the key performance indicators for production processes, product quality, and service quality. When are the key due dates and milestones. Why these metrics and timelines are important for fulfilling the overall purpose of the work.

WHO-WHERE – Identify the project’s performance network and establish agreements for sending and receiving goal-relevant products, services and communications: Who & Where are the non-Team players who are important for the Team to send and receive goal-relevant products, services and communications (e.g., funding, HR, maintenance, operations, product and service delivery, legal obligations, etc.). Assign responsibilities to the Team members to “own” one or more of these relationships and establish and honor agreements with external non-Team players for goal-relevant delivery content, quality, timing and costs between the Team and external players.

HOW – Spell out production and delivery systems, standards and practices for the project: How all aspects of the work and its deliverable products, services and communications will be produced, coordinated and delivered among Team members, and with players in the performance network, to satisfy goal-relevant requirements, e.g., content quality, schedules and costs, for key functions including: Budget, Operations, Product and Service quality and delivery, IT, Marketing, and Public communication.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But managing for production requires structures to accommodate the velocity of production and the partnerships in the Team’s external environment. Especially: (a) The metrics that will let everyone see progress and success (or failure) in meeting targets; (b) The relationships with other individuals and groups outside the Team who have resources and ideas that can support success and integrate the project’s results into the larger work environment; and (c) The Team’s organization and coordination of its work and its products, services and communications within its performance network and with other key functions.

A team of people aligned on working productively with goal-relevant partners, using its own custom-designed goal-relevant structures of (a) success metrics, (b) a functional performance network and (c) agreements for coordination and communication, will be ready to manage itself – for accomplishment. I’ll tell you that story in 2 weeks!

What to Manage: Workers? Or the Links Between Them?

I’ve been reading an article (HBR, Competent Management) which mentioned “obstacles that often prevent executives from devoting sufficient resources to improving management skills and practices”. The research they reported made it clear that better management skills lead to higher competitiveness and better performance all around. So, understanding obstacles to good management is a good idea.

What are the “obstacles”? First, overconfidence: managers think they’re already doing a good job. Another obstacle is that many managers can’t make an objective judgment about how well things are really going. The article included several other obstacles, but the whole list made me recall the most frequent problem I encountered in my career as a management consultant: managing the people and their activities. That’s not what needs to be managed.

I learned about that obstacle very early in my career, from the CEO of a non-profit firm. I saw a need for better management practices – aligning people on goals, measures, tracking and reporting. Two of his groups were making mistakes in the products and communications they were sending out to the firm’s members, prospects and customers and the reason was they were not collaborating with one another at all. When I suggested to the CEO that it would be useful if his Marketing team and his Communications Office got together at least once a month to clarify what each of them needed or wanted from the other, he banged his fist on his desk and shouted at me, “They should already know their jobs!”

Omigosh – he was watching what his people DO instead of what they DELIVER to others! Wow.

I was startled that he shouted at me, of course. But it was difficult to believe he did not have a process for ensuring that different units in his organization had an opportunity to talk with each other to stay updated on the products, services and communications they produced, sent out, and/or exchanged with one another. That would have given the Marketing team an opportunity to find out what the Communications Office was sending out to the firm’s prospective members, which would have helped Marketing do a better job of recruiting new members.

The CEO couldn’t see that the Marketing team needed information from the Communications Office and vice versa. Instead of supporting effective and goal-oriented communications between groups, he was watching what goes on inside those groups, as if they were stand-alone entities. As I went through my whole career, that was something I came to see as a frequent cause of misunderstandings in organizations. It was also a source of blaming “those people” for not knowing what they’re doing.

The mistake was the focus on what people were “Doing”, which isn’t what I was watching for at all. I focused on what moved from one group to another or went out to a customer: the products, services and communications that go out of Group 1 and into Group 9, then on to a user/customer. This allowed me to start at the end of the line, getting ideas from the Receiver of a delivery about how they evaluate or measure the quality and effectiveness of what they received. Then I could work with the Sender to obtain and use that feedback from the Receiver on a regular basis. I admit, it was sometimes touchy, especially if the Receiver was unhappy with what they got from the Sender. But I was the “ambassador”, carrying feedback to the Sender and assisting them in finding ways to put it to work. Ultimately, though, the two groups would establish a productive relationship and better products, services and communications were then available to all.

I was surprised to find that almost no manager watches the links between Senders and Receivers. They’re watching the “job”, the “work”, the people and their activities – but that’s not where the leverage is. Just sending something from one place to another doesn’t mean you’re getting the job done. You need to get the Receiver’s feedback on how well it worked. Was it the right quantity or size? Was the quality what they wanted or needed? Did it arrive on time? Does it perform properly, producing the effects the Receiver desired?

Getting feedback requires establishing a reliable communication link between Sender and Receiver, an easy management practice to implement. And, according to the article, good management practices will pay off in a big way, delivering better overall organization performance. That non-profit CEO actually learned how to improve the whole network of teams in his firm.

Even though that article I read didn’t focus on the links between groups, it had a lot of smart things to say about competent management. One valuable point was that companies think strategy is more important than management. I haven’t seen this discussed for over a decade, and the research reported in this article clarified that management competence is more important than strategy. It’s a good read, even if it is over 3 years old. Check it out: (HBR, Competent Management).

One Management Trainer’s Advice – and Why I Think He’s Wrong

I’ve been clearing out – very slowly – the client files from my career as a management consultant. I found some notes on what one workshop leader – I’ll call him Alex – said about “how to be a good manager”, and as you’ll see below, I didn’t agree with him on several of his ideas.

Thoughts on a Workshop about “How to Be a Good Manager”

HE SAID

SHE SAID

1.  Have one-on-one meetings with each of your staff members to establish performance expectations. 1.   Have weekly group meetings with your whole team to review goals, clarify assignments and identify obstacles or problems. Don’t use the “expectations” thing.
2.  Rely on relationships and personal connections to get things done. 2.   In any conversation for getting something done, (a) state the objective and the value in succeeding, (b) establish agreements on who will do what by when, then (c) take responsibility for the follow-through with everyone. Build productive relationships, not “connections”.
3.  Influence and motivate your people rather than using your “power position” or your title. 3.   Rely on productive communication – dialogue to clarify goals and measures, clear requests and promises to establish agreements, and follow-up to review progress on agreements – to generate engagement and momentum.
4.  Encourage planning all schedules and activities based on priorities. 4.   It is important to be clear about priorities but recognize they may change quickly and often. “Planning” is a process of (a) identifying intended results and outcomes, (b) formulating the processes and actions that will produce those results, and (c) establishing timelines and assignments for accomplishing them. “Priority” can be fleeting and is not always a reliable management tool.
5.  Resolve conflicts and deal with emotional behavior promptly. 5.   Dealing with conflicts and emotional behavior is best based in policy rather than playing therapist to resolve them. Your people should understand that they will participate in resolving conflicts, including problems with emotional behavior. A manager is not a den-mother.

Mary Parker Folet, a 1920’s management guru, said, “Management is getting things done through other people.” She did not say, however, that management needs to focus on the people, but that is where management theory has taken us. This people-focus, visible in each of Alex’s pieces of advice, has given us a people-oriented vocabulary that has taken over management thinking. Here it is:

One-on-one meetings” focus on an individual rather than promoting coordinated teamwork. They are often seen as making someone feel “special”, or an opportunity for “development” of some kind. Sometimes it develops teacher’s pets, though, which can cause ill feelings among team members.

Expectations”? They are subjective – they live in your head and can change in a flash. Further, it can sound a little demeaning to tell people, “Here’s what I expect from you.” Simply state the goal, then discuss it until you are you are confident there is a shared understanding of what success looks like.

And “performance”? The word literally means “provide thoroughly”, but we have turned it into a code for evaluating people. If it’s not quantitative or visible, it may not be performance at all.

“Connections” are personal relationships, not necessarily productive ones. For a manager, it is more useful to learn how to make agreements to produce specific results and support staff people in committing to do or produce a certain result by a specific due date. Using a personal relationship to get a performance promise from someone may be seen as manipulating them into doing you a favor. Why not keep things a more professional?

And how about “influence”? This is another interpersonal game, like “expectations” and “connections”, and it relies on personalities. First, “influence” is a vague concept: how do I know whether you are influencing me or I am influencing you? But influence can also be very short-lived (ending when the Influencer leaves the room), and may not produce any genuine engagement or commitment. Maybe people don’t like being “influenced”, experiencing the process as a form of bossiness.

“Motivation” – we talk about it like it’s a thing, as if it can be passed from one person to another. But your motivation is for you to generate, not mine to give to you. I can’t motivate anybody but myself. I’ve seen managers work to “motivate” their people, expecting some response that seldom arrives. I’ve also talked with the people who have been the object of those attempts and are often not inspired. One person said, crossly, “I don’t want her to try to motivate me. She should just talk straight.”

“Priorities” are individual interpretations that are unlikely to communicate anything specific about the desired due date, the product quality or quantity. “Priority” is just a code for saying something is important and/or urgent and a priority can change quickly if something else happens. Stick with performance agreements and follow-through, including the details of what is wanted and needed by when.

“Resolve conflicts and deal with emotional behavior promptly” – this last one is the icing on the cake of management’s “people-talk”. It fails to draw the line between the rigor of clarifying agreements and holding a psychotherapy session. Both conflicts and emotional behavior should be rare phenomena in the workplace, and this suggestion from Alex takes us back to the beginning: hold group meetings, encourage people to work together in pairs or sub-groups to get things done, and deal with the whole picture of what all team members are doing and where people need help or resources. The team can solve problems, including some personal ones. Create transparency wherever possible, without releasing confidential material, and people will support one another.

Management is often misunderstood to be all about people – getting people to do things and having them behave “properly” to support a productive environment. But you can make management about getting things done with group discussion on the specifics of what, when, and who, which gets an actionable message across. Then, if you add respect, good manners and some friendliness or humor, you’ll also make room for everyone to be more responsible for their commitments to “provide thoroughly”. Do we have an agreement?

Manager Tip: Clarify What You Really Want in Every Work Request

One job of a manager is to ask, invite, or demand that other people “do their work”. But people understand the word “work” in three different ways. You may be asking that I “do” something, like you want me to put the appropriate data into a spreadsheet for analysis. That’s not the same as getting something “done”, which is when you tell me to get that spreadsheet finished. And it also doesn’t mean “delivered”, which would be you asking me to send the finished product over to you by close of business today.

When you want something from me, it is important to clarify: Do you want me to work on something? Or produce something? Or bring it to you or someone else? Do – Done – Delivered: do you want to keep me busy, or finish something, or turn my final result over to somebody? Or maybe all three?

Good work typically generates a specific product, service, or communication that calls for all three: to be produced, completed, and delivered to someone who will use it and/or value it. The best way to produce results – to perform well – is to focus on those “deliverables”.

A focus on deliverables, sometimes called “Do-Dues”, requires giving attention to the desired outcome(s) – the products, services, and communications to be provided to another individual or group. Deliverable results always have:

  1. Specific characteristics such as production processes, amounts, formats, and other attributes or qualities,
  2. A producer/sender and a user/receiver,
  3. A due date and time it will be sent or received, and
  4. Some value or benefit that will serve others.

Both the work-requester and the Doer-Deliverer should clarify – and agree on – these four aspects of what a “good result” will look like.

If you want to improve someone’s “performance”, don’t focus on what they should do. Start by being clear on the specifications, requirements, and conditions for what will be sent and received, to and from others. This seemingly small shift in attention – from what people are doing to the outcome of what they do – is actually very useful. If you add the information of who will receive it and why it matters to them, you have added value to people’s “doing-work” and to the result it produces. Magically, their “work performance” will improve too.

 

We All Need Deadlines

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.” -Duke Ellington, jazz pianist, composer, and conductor 

Although we resist, protest, and sometimes miss deadlines, they provide a structure time alone does not. “Deadlines are one of the most powerful tools for accomplishment you can use,” writes Jeffrey Ford. Deadlines let us know what is needed by when and, when added to a request, create an agreement that can be managed. Without a deadline, projects or tasks exist in limbo, their importance undetermined and their necessity questioned. 

No matter whether the task is for personal satisfaction or a critical business action, a deadline arranges time so you can measure success. So, the next time you are given a new assignment, take the first step to achieving success by asking, “by when do you need it?” If you don’t, getting it done on time suggests “It Don’t Mean a Thing”. 

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

Step #6 – Problems & Solutions: Work Plans and Follow-Up

The All-Region Workday paid off for Rodd’s managers and their staff members. They had identified the three biggest problems for the whole StateOrg organization, and then, after listening to all 12 of the small-groups presenting their solutions, they formulated a work plan to solve each problem in the same way at each Regional Office. (The three problems, with their solution-focuses, are listed again farther down in this post.)

After hearing the solution ideas – all based on using the “four productive conversations” as a basis for making changes in staff communications – they took all the ideas and came up with a single format for addressing all three problems:

  • Start by clarifying the Goal for solving each problem, using Initiative conversations to specify What they want the solution to look like, When it will be in place, and Why it matters.
  • With a clear goal, they could move into having group discussions to develop a Work Plan for goal accomplishment. They used the Understanding Conversations – a dialogue – with its questions of Who the key people are who need to be involved in reaching the goal, Where the resources will come from and Where benefits will show up, as well as How to get the right people doing the right things.
  • The next element was to establish good working Agreements with those people. They identified Who Asks for something to be done, and Who Promises to do it, making sure people were clear about What would be done or delivered (whether products, services, or communications) and by When it would be complete. These are known as Performance Conversations, and everyone seemed to recognize that these conversations were their group’s “weakest link”, as one person said.
  • The fourth piece was Closure Conversations that provided the follow-up to see where things stand. People agreed they would have Regular Update Meetings to review the status of requests, promises, and agreements. These conversations are made up of two or more of the following “A’s”:
    • Acknowledge the status of results regarding promises made and promises kept;
    • Appreciate the people who have participated in the project;
    • Apologize for any mistakes and misunderstandings that have occurred since the last meeting; and
    • Amend broken agreements – by making a new agreement that will be workable or by revoking it altogether and finding another solution.

“We aren’t too good at these conversations, either,” one person said, as heads nodded with agreement.

The solutions differed only in their focus and the details of implementation. Here are the three problems, with the key elements of their unique solutions:

  • Outdated equipment or systems and insufficient materials and supplies: It was decided that this problem would be solved by taking an inventory of what was missing and what was needed. The inventory would be kept up to date and timely purchasing would improve productivity while reducing frustration and incomplete work.
  • Changes implemented without discussing them with the people whose jobs will be affected by the change: The solution chosen for this problem was to have specific communications that would be delivered to everyone by StateOrg executives and managers whenever changes were going to be made to any staffing, budgets, or systems. The communications would be developed by the people who had been through prior changes and knew what was missing in their knowledge of whatever was happening.
  • There are significant differences in the quality of work people do. This problem would be solved only by improving the way managers and supervisors give people their work assignments. The groups working on solving this created a list of ten questions that every manager had to discuss with staff people, so they would be clear on what was expected of them. The questions would be asked whenever assignments were changed in any way.

After three months of working on implementing these solutions – using online ZOOM meetings to report results and update work agreements among the members of the three “Problem Solver” teams, the results were reviewed, including some surprises. You can see them here, with other details about the process and findings of the last step: Workplace Assessment, Step #6.

It was impressive what this client had accomplished – so impressive that Rodd decided they need to have a celebration for the whole StateOrg team. Back to the capitol for a fine buffet and a cash bar!

Accountability is a Manager’s Job – Not an Employee’s Mindset

Last week a friend introduced me to a manager, saying, “This guy is talking about accountability, so I thought I would introduce him to you. The manager – let’s call him Steve – told me a little about his group and how they were preparing to expand it by adding 7 more people.

“I’m looking for people who know how to work with systems and have some financial background. But most of all, I am looking for people who are accountable.”

Uh Oh. I was glad he kept talking, because my brain was spinning with an attempt to think of something useful to say, without offending him.  What I wanted to say is, “That’s ridiculous. People are not accountable. Accountability is not a personality characteristic. And it sounds like you don’t understand the job of management.”  Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut until I found another option.

Accountability is an agreement – and a relationship – between a manager and an employee, or even a manager and a group. A manager, for example, has a dialogue and performance conversations with one or more team members about three things:

  1. To clarify What needs to be done and What results need to be produced, What resources need to be obtained from others, and What deliverables (products, services, and communications) need to be provided to others;
  2. Identify those “others” – Who, exactly are they? And,
  3. Specify When each of those results and deliverables need to happen.

Then all you have to do is make sure that everyone is on board – by establishing agreements to perform these results and timelines, with clear responsibilities for each result, including Who will manage each relationship with those “others” who part of the project or program.  Oh – and update the status of the agreements at regular meetings.  Try it for two or three months and watch your team’s performance measures shift gears.

I finally found something say that Steve might find useful. I told him that, sadly, people don’t come equipped with accountability as a part of their DNA, or even their education.

“Accountability is between people, not inside them,” I said.  “But with a few conversations you can set up the communication structure and schedule that will establish accountability between you and keep it going for as long as you choose.”  I told him about setting performance conversations for good agreements – discussing What needs to happen? Who is the team member responsible and Who else is involved? And When should results happen?

Steve began to look more relaxed, with just a hint of a smile. He said, “I’m going to test that idea on my current team starting this week. I suspect it will improve our performance.  I’ll let you know if it works – and if it does, I’m buying you lunch.”

I figure the phone might ring in the next 4-6 weeks.

Performance Management = Count the Hours Worked? Or the Results Produced?

I love reading The Economist magazine for its useful perspective on the world. Last week an article included a summary of the evolution of “performance management” at work.  Here it is:

  1. Before the industrial age, most people worked in their own farm or workshop and were paid for the amount they produced.
  2. When machines were developed and were more efficient than cottage-industry methods, factories emerged. Suddenly, workers were not paid for their output, but for their time – they were required to clock in and out.
  3. Today, work hours are still the measure, and employees have found ways to make it look like they are working longer hours than they really are. The article mentioned some tricks they play to maintain their image as a performer:
    • Leave a jacket on your office chair;
    • Walk around purposefully with a notebook or clipboard; and/or
    • Send emails at odd hours.

The name for this new phenomenon is “presenteeism”: being present but not productive. This is because, the article states, “managers, who are often no good at judging employees’ performance, use time in the office as a proxy”. Some take the shortcut of “judging” performance based on the hours worked rather than understanding the actual results produced. That decision can create a damaging idea of what workplace “performance” means.

Perform: The original meaning is “To provide thoroughly. To deliver completely, as promised.” That tells us performance is the fulfillment of a promise for an action or delivery of a product, service, or communication. It means a manager has to clarify which results, by whom, and by when – not to mention discussing resources, and identifying relevant key players. It requires thoughtful, productive communication, including a “performance conversation” in which the manager clarifies the results and timelines then gets an agreement – a promise from the employee – to deliver the intended result(s).

Performance is not determined by a judgment based on apparent work hours. It entails tracking promises for results and the results produced and delivered.  But managers who take that performance-judgment shortcut are also short-circuiting the work of management.

A “performance review” is more than checking a time clock or filling out a form. It looks at the promises made and/or revised, promises kept, and promises not kept. It is more objective than subjective, looking at what results each person (or team) actually produced.

It does take time and attention to manage performance in terms of results, so I see why some managers rely on their personal judgment instead. It’s sort of like leaving a jacket on their office chair or walking around purposefully with a notebook or clipboard. Looking busy will often be perceived as being productive.

The New World of Management

I was talking with a professor the other night and she said something I had heard a million times in my (former) career as a management consultant: “I hate managing people”, she said. “They should just do their jobs.”

That might have been a valid position back in the days when Frederick Taylor first invented workplace management. People worked on assembly lines then, putting pieces and parts together to make tools or equipment of some kind. Their “job” consisted of making the same four or five movements in a specified sequence – and that’s what they did all day long.

Today, jobs are more fluid. I had lunch today with Alina, who works in an insurance agency. We were scheduled to get together yesterday, but I got a text that morning asking to reschedule because her boss had a special project for her. Today at lunch she explained her “job” to me.

“No two days are the same,” Alina told me. “I’m often not doing what I was hired to do, and sometimes it’s frustrating. The boss sent me an email the other night, but I didn’t see it until the morning. He told me to “dress down” because I was going to be moving boxes for the construction of our new meeting rooms. It’s like that all the time, where he changes my assignments to new things. Sometimes it’s OK, but I wasn’t happy about doing the physical labor yesterday.”

I hear similar things from many younger people, saying they don’t have a well-defined job definition and need to be ready for, as one friend puts it, “Interruptions, disruptions, and people changing their minds.” A new software program, a change in meeting schedules, a special request from higher-ups: the days when people could plan and do their work seem to have dissolved into thin air.

Bottom line: management today is rarely about training people to do one simple job and then putting up with them until they retire. It’s more about having lots of productive conversations every day.

  • Propose actions to take or results to be produced. (Initiative conversation)
  • Discuss the actions or results so the people – the “performers” – are clear about who does what, how it could or should be done, and where the resources will come from, where the work will be done and where the results will be delivered. (Understanding conversations)
  • Make requests and make promises to establish agreements with all the “performers” regarding what each will do or produce, when it will be done or delivered, and why it is important. (Performance conversations)
  • Follow up to confirm whether the agreements were kept, and, if not, identify what happened and how the failure(s) can be remedied. (Closure conversations)

This is not Fred Taylor’s kind of management. And it’s not about “managing people” anymore. It’s about managing people’s agreements for taking actions and producing results. That means the manager is a communicator – not in order to motivate people, but to get clear on the job for today, or for this afternoon, or for that phone call at 2:15. Being a manager means you work with people to clarify the jobs to be done and get people’s agreement that they will do it. Every day.

If you’re a manager, it’s probably smart to get really good at this, because you’ll be doing it all day long for the rest of your career.