Want a Successful New Year’s Resolution? Try Management (Recipe Enclosed)

A friend told me he wanted to “get in shape”. Gabe said, “I’ve been getting lazy in this pandemic with gyms closed and online classes that aren’t great. Putting on weight, losing muscle tone. I’ve got to do something, sort of an advance New Year’s resolution.”

We talked about changing diet and exercise habits. Gabe said, “But it’s not like regular change management. When my company wanted to merge two divisions and realign staff responsibilities into a smoother set of processes, they had to study change management to get it done. This diet-and-exercise change is a whole other kind of problem.”

Is it really? The principles of management are the same in both cases. Management has only three primary elements: Goals, Resource agreements and Tracking (more on this below).

A 2017 Harvard Business Review article, called All Management is Change Management supports those ideas. The point of the article was to “view change not as an occasional disruptor but as the very essence of the management job”. The author was developing a perspective that would make “constant improvement become the routine” for all managers and employees. In sum, “Setting tough goals, establishing processes to reach them, carrying out those processes and carefully learning from them” is what constitutes management for any intended result.

Will this recipe work for an individual who was looking to change a personal habit rather than a corporate structure or process? I walked Gabe through my own personal “management recipe” and here’s what we came up with:

  1. Clearly Stated Goals, with Measures of Success and Schedules of Action: Gabe defined his “get in shape” goal by identifying two metrics: body weight and weight-lifts. He wanted his body weight back to below 165 and his weight-lift capacity at up to 50 pounds. He also identified two actions he would need to take daily: a low-carb diet and a 45-minute workout every day.
  1. A Network of Resources and “Performance Agreements” with Each Player: The primary resource Gabe had was his business partner, who was planning on doing a similar program. They agreed to compare their progress every Friday morning. Another resource was an online site for choosing low-carb foods to buy or make. Gabe also decided to try a new online workout program to use whenever he felt the need for variety.
  1. Regular Tracking, Reporting and Updating All Agreements: Gabe went to Staples and got a small white-board to hang in his spare room, where he planned to do his workouts. He used it to track his weight, his weight-lifting capacity and his daily workouts and calories. On Friday mornings, Gabe and Barry reported their result measures to each other and supported each other to stay with their game.

The answer to the question “Will this work?” is Yes. Gabe has been using his new management system for just over three weeks now and has lost 7 pounds. His weight-lift capacity is above 40 pounds at this point, and he is doing two 30-minute workouts every day.

When Gabe and Barry compared their statistics last Friday, Gabe said his agreements were producing good results and he didn’t need to change any of them. Barry, however, decided to add a new measure to his reporting agreement with Gabe. “I’m not as interested in weight-lift ability”, he said. “I want to take that online yoga class I found online. I’ve been sitting at a computer or a TV almost full-time and I need to get flexible.” Both men are still going strong with their programs.

As the HBR article said, “A critical part of this evolution is holding managers accountable for continuing improvements.” Gabe and Barry are going to continue their Friday “measures-matching” conversations, and both are winning their game. Gabe says that he expects to be halfway to his goal before New Year’s Eve. It looks like change management is useful for all kinds of result-producing, right?

Workers Don’t Just Work – They Also Know How to Think!

An article in the October 24, 2020 edition of The Economist* suggested that the armed forces have a few lessons useful for non-military workplaces. No, not rewarding employees with service medals or anything like that – what they recommended was having employees use a “war-game” method to talk through team member ideas for achieving a goal, discuss different scripts to implement those ideas and evaluate the effectiveness of their decisions, situations and possible outcomes. It also helps them discover what might go wrong in the process of making an organizational change or implementing a strategic plan and to prepare for surprises.

The Economist spoke with Captain Gareth Tennant of the Royal Marines, who dealt with some Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2010. His team intercepted the pirates, confiscated their weapons and then were attacked. It became chaotic, but the team did not wait for orders – they acted right away because they had war-gamed what might go wrong. Capt. Tennant, now back in civilian life believes that, “the habits learned in the Royal Marines can be useful for business life.”

Another good method from the military that can empower employees is using the Before Action Review (BAR) technique. It is a great way to help a team start a project and to learn three important things: (A) How to clarify their intentions before beginning the project, (B) How to draw on lessons learned from past experiences to identify potential challenges and risks in the project, and (C) See what knowledge they already have and what they need to learn more about.

When I Googled “Before Action Review”, I found a set of instructions for doing this exercise, which promised to deliver “Fast, real-time learning in the midst of doing your normal work”:

  • When to use BAR: Before meetings of staff, team or board of directors.
  • What to cover in the conversationget specific about answering 6 questions:
    1. What are the intended results?
    2. What will that look like?
    3. What challenges might we encounter?
    4. What have we learned from similar situations?
    5. What will make us successful this time?
    6. When will we do an After Action Review?

The After Action Review (AAR) is the “closure” or feedback conversation. The instructions look like this:

  • When to use AAR: After meetings of staff, team or board.
  • What to cover in the conversationget specific about answering 6 questions:
    1. What were our actual results?
    2. What caused both the successful and the unsuccessful results?
    3. What will we maintain?
    4. What will we improve?
    5. When is our next opportunity to test what we have learned?
    6. When is our next Before-Action Review?
  • Special notes: Who should we copy this to? What other action items do we have?

All three of these tools – war-gaming, BAR and AAR – support team members in becoming more able to adapt quickly to surprise events and more proactive in planning and taking effective action.

But perhaps the best aspect of this method is that it has the employees doing the planning and testing of their own ideas to accomplish something, instead of having to wait to be told what the boss wants done. An image offered by Mr. Tennant is that “the ideal command structure is not a rigid hierarchy, but a sphere, where the core sets the culture and the parts of the organization at the edge are free to react to events outside them.” Using this image, we can see that command is centralized, and execution is decentralized.

We tend to expect the hierarchy to direct people in taking actions or producing results. It is surely better to develop people so they can see for themselves what will be successful and how to overcome barriers and resolve problems. As the closing line of this Economist article said, “In business, as in conflict, it isn’t the generals who carry the burden of the war; it’s the troops.”

* This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Fighting spirit”

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.

 

Some Advice from an Effective Change Agent

Shannon, one of Jeffrey’s former students, just sent him an email about our “four conversations” material (https://usingthefourconversations.com/). He also referred to Matt Lemay’s “Product Management in Practice”, and included these two quotes from that book: (1) “the guiding principle for communication is ‘clarity over comfort’…”, and (2) “you cannot fear discomfort – you must actively work through it to get clarity for yourself and your team”.

Shannon said that in his workplace, he often hears people saying, “You need to be able to work within an environment of ambiguity”. This led him to notice that people often prefer ambiguity rather than having what could be a “difficult conversation”. The problem, he says, is that “we end up promoting and recognizing people who passively choose to not seek clarity”.

This reminded me of when I first discovered the idea of creating certainty (in the Landmark Forum https://www.landmarkworldwide.com/). I had always thought certainty was discovered, not created – and that it was discovered by scientists or geniuses, not by mere mortals like me. But then I learned about giving my word – making promises, agreements and commitments – and about integrity, which means keeping my word. Giving my word and keeping my agreements is what creates certainty.

Of COURSE people are reluctant to do that! It’s a little scary, at least until you practice it for a while and discover how useful it is – and how effective it can make you. Shannon is realizing there are people who don’t care about being effective, and it’s true that we aren’t all wired to be interested in that. Plus, it’s often easier to be ambiguous, unclear and uncertain than to commit to something or confront those “difficult conversations”.

But Shannon said that Lemay’s quotes about “clarity over comfort” helped him address the ambiguities that are usually left hanging in some conversations at work. I’m glad he also gave credit to his study and use of the four productive conversations in those situations. In fact, he gave Jeffrey some high praise that I will share with you: “First off, thank you for the awesome class you taught during our Master Black Belt training at OSU. I have actively been applying the principles around conversations and being an effective change agent at my job. We even integrated some of your key topics into our Six Sigma training sessions at the office.

Nice, huh? But I think the realization that may contribute the most to Shannon was in these 34 words of his email: “We rarely see leaders encourage people to create clarity with their peers. Instead, there is more emphasis on “getting along” instead of actually creating productive environments. We shouldn’t settle for ambiguity in the workplace.”  I’m betting that Shannon will use that advice to become a stronger leader himself. Let’s make it easier for people to step up to creating clarity and certainty.

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.

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. ?

Create Certainty for Yourself and Others – Start Saying “By When”

I just read an article about “time” in The Economist. It was in the business section, so I expected it would say something about managers setting due dates for assignments (or not) – maybe in the context of high performance or something like that.

Nope. It was about whether “long-term strategizing” or “following mega-trends” would help businesses be more competitive in the marketplace. Their conclusion was interesting: “Too much emphasis on the distant future is a waste of time.” OK, amen to that.

But, that is a 10,000-foot view of time. Admittedly, it is a valuable perspective, but I’d like to see more discussion about workplace communication at the 1000-foot level. And even the 100-foot level. I’ve had more than a few examples recently of people leaving a “time” commitment out of their interactions, such as:

  • The colleague who answers my email requests for his conference presentation materials by saying, “I got your information”;
  • The woman at the moving company who wouldn’t commit to a time for the delivery of my sister’s belongings to her new residence; and
  • The supervisor in the dining room who accepts every complaint – about food or service – with a generous smile and a promise to do something about it, though never saying “by when”.

A few of my former clients called me the “by-when-lady”, because every time they told me what they were going to do for one of our projects, I would ask, “By when?” That question always plunged them deep into their heads, where they searched for an answer. At some point they got used to thinking in terms of scheduling a due date for their work agreements with me.

I usually have to check my calendar before I can answer a “By when” question. But without knowing specific times when I will get back to them, other people are left either waiting or doing follow-up with me. Neither of those options is productive or enjoyable – and a little of our energy leaks away every time either one of us thinks about that unfinished business. Better to pick a time, enter it into the schedule, and make it happen.

The challenge is this: are we willing to be responsible for supporting other people in being productive too? Or do we leave them waiting, and having to follow up with us?  People do appreciate certainty in their lives, at work and elsewhere.  If we can give them that simply by including a “by when”, a date-and-time, we are granting them a little more peace of mind than they would have had without it. In these uncertain times, that is a lovely gift.

Personal productivity or accomplishment depends on the agreements we make with others. An agreement always has three ingredients: What are we going to produce + When will we deliver it + Why does it matter. If we leave out that middle one, we don’t have an agreement. Hope is good, but a promise for delivery is gold.

Breaking News: Accountability Can Be Killed by Vocabulary

I learned something this week: accountability isn’t just a matter of the conversations we use. It can also be ruined by the words we use.  Wow.

My “conversations” theory – which is still valid, by the way – is that Accountability is strengthened by conversations that (1) establish agreements and (2) follow up on those agreements. Let’s say we have a (performance) conversation, in which I agree to bring some boxes over to your place so that you can pack up your antique toy cars and take them to an auction. We agree that I’ll deliver them Tuesday morning.

Depending on how reliable I’ve been with past promises, you might assume I will keep my word and not bother to follow up with a second conversation. Or, maybe you’ll decide to call me Monday evening and ask, “Are we still on for you bringing those boxes over tomorrow morning?” Or, if I didn’t get them to you on Tuesday morning, you would likely call me and ask where those boxes are. Either one of those would be a closure conversation.

Accountability begins with performance conversations: a request plus a promise makes an agreement. Then accountability is completed with a closure conversation: Was the agreement kept? Do we need a new agreement? Did something unexpected happen that needs to be dealt with?

This week, however, I saw a demonstration of what I will now call “Accountability Prevention”. A woman, let’s call her Millie, worked at a moving company and was responsible for coordinating the delivery of my sister’s belongings to her new home. Millie said the delivery date would be no later than July 9th.  On July 9th, my sister texted Millie, saying, “What time will my things be delivered?” Here are some of the statements she got back from Millie over the next 8 hours:

  • I’m trying to reach the driver.
  • I tried calling you and got a busy signal.
  • The driver tried to load your shipment from the warehouse, but he was unable to do it because of a miscommunication.
  • The local agency has been trying to get the containers, but they haven’t arrived yet.
  • I will try calling you again after my meeting this morning.

You notice the word try?  That word was used rather than making a promise, which would have sounded more like, “I will call the driver and get back to you within an hour.” Or, I will call you at ten this morning.” Or, “I will see that the warehouse releases your containers to the driver and let you know your expected arrival time.”

My sister noticed that Millie was really “trying” – in every sense of the word – rather than committing to something specific. Unfortunately, my sister – an executive at heart – has little sympathy for people who are “trying” rather than performing. Now our radar is now out for the try word, because if we let it stay in any conversation we’re having it will block access to creating an agreement. Without agreements, and the follow-up they make possible, there is no accountability. Sometimes it is best not to try.