Power Plays – Authority

Power Lines diagram authorityPower has a source, a circuit, and a purpose. The laptop into which I am entering these words is powered by a battery which receives its power from a wall outlet which receives its power from a power line which is powered by a generating plant.

The circuit is completed when the power flows from the generating plant through the lines into my house into the adapter and into my laptop which completes the circuit by running it through the computers many components and back to ground. Since the generator is connected to “ground” the circuit is complete and made so when the power converts electrical energy into another source of energy which yields the desired results. My document is written and posted where you can read it.

Power without a complete circuit goes no where. The energy remains in the line until work is performed. If there is a short, there are lots of sparks and consequential damage which prevents the completion of work.

Ok, enough about the dynamics of energy transfer. How does that apply to us as leaders and managers?

The power starts somewhere, probably with you. But you might be a component along the way and get the power from someone farther up the line – your boss, supervisor, or board of directors. Your personal engine of competence can’t do everything so you’ve hooked up more tools and are delegating to them this job or that.

By now we have covered the first two components in the distribution of power throughout your department, company, or organization – Delegation and Responsibility. This unit in the series will address the concept and practice of Authority. Delegation is the power outlet, the wall plug-in that connects the power source to the device. Responsibility is the purpose of the device, the reason it’s connected at this time because it specifies its purpose. Authority is the flow of power.

I am a user of BusinessDictionary.com. If you haven’t used the site, take a quick look (wait until after you’ve finished this article, please). Definitions found there are contextually inclusive for those of us in business or organizational settings. I like what they say about authority:

1. Institutionalized and legal power inherent in a particular job, function, or position that is meant to enable its holder to successfully carry out his or her responsibilities.

2. Power that is delegated formally. It includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed, it is always accompanied by an equal responsibility for one’s actions or a failure to act.

They agree with me. Authority is forever and always tied to a job, function, or responsibility and it is consequential. It carries with it rewards or penalties.

You know how packaged inside the box of every new appliance there is a list of cautions and directives you are warned to read BEFORE using the device? Well, here is my list of ten things to remember before you start connecting people and handing out responsibilities.

  1. Authority is both delegated DOWNWARD and awarded UPWARD. You authorize someone for a particular job. They grant you authority to oversee and hold accountable.
  2. When a person accepts a subordinate role, they essentially delegate a portion of their personal AUTHORITY and AUTONOMY to their superior (that’s you). Subordinates do not act in a monarchy. They owe you for the responsibility and authority you have yielded to them.
  3. When authority is given, there exists an IMPLIED CONTRACT that says, “If you will commit yourself to accomplish this goal, we will delegate to you the authority you need to achieve it.”
  4. Authority must match the responsibility. Give enough to get the job done as specified, not more, not less.
  5. A leader can never give away all his authority.
  6. Authority should first be given to a POSITION and a FUNCTION (a RESPONSIBILITY) not to a PERSON.
  7. Always state:
    1. What is to be accomplished
    2. How it is to be done
    3. When it is to be accomplished
  8. Always get a VERBAL AGREEMENT on the objective.
  9. Request a WRITTEN PLAN on how the objectives will be reached.
  10. Authority given on this basis will FOCUS ON THE WORK TO BE DONE AND THE OBJECTIVES TO BE REACHED RATHER THAN ON THE AUTHORITY OF THE PERSON.

Authority, then, is official or traditional sanction for individuals occupying specified positions to perform certain directive tasks. Malcolm Forbes has said that “Those  who enjoy responsibility usually get it; those who merely like exercising  authority usually lose it.” I concur.  What experience you have had when delegating jobs? How did it work out?

Previous articles in this series:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

The Six Principles of Delegating

Power Plays – the 6 principles of delegating responsibility

Power Lines diagram responsibilityA man got on a crowded bus carrying a heavy briefcase. There were no seats, and he had to stand near the driver, holding on to a pole next to the driver’s seat. He held the pole with one hand and the briefcase with the other.

After a while, the bus driver looked at him and asked, “Mister, why don’t you put the briefcase down and let the bus carry it?”

So why don’t we let the “bus” carry our load? I am a realist so I am not naïve. Most of us have been burned when we tried to pass off jobs to others. Some of us may be so badly burned that we’ve decided to do everything ourselves or we have become very reluctant to delegate anything.

I cannot possibly address every aspect of this topic in one blog post. But I can in several of them, which I intend to do. For oh so many years I travelled from country to country and encountered a common challenge – overworked, overloaded, over-conscientious leaders and managers who cared deeply about their organizations or companies and wanted success for them and themselves.

I believe that you are reading this because you are a conscientious and responsible leader who feels the same way.  But are you letting the “bus” carry your load?

Some leaders, especially those who have built a company or organization from scratch are reluctant to hand off authority. They want to retain decision-making power for all those positions they’ve occupied along the rise to the top. Simple logistics should soon convince you that you cannot keep up the pace for long.

If you are ever going to reach your personal and professional objectives you soon understand that your circle of concern is always wider than your circle of ability. (See figure 1)

Figure 1
Figure 1

 

Delegation starts the process. It gets the power flowing. But just what does one hand-off? It boils down to this:

You will look for and engage people to whom you can hand-off specific tasks that will:

  • Increase their skills
  • Free their superiors (that’s you!)
  • Extend your reach
  • Multiply your effectiveness
  • Divide your work

You hand off RESPONSIBILITY, not authority. I will cover “authority” in a future post. Authority is created when one accepts responsibility. Never, and I mean never give out authority to a position unless and until that position is tied clearly, definitively, and permanently to a responsibility.

Here are 6 principles for enabling the responsibility-authority matrix:

Principle #1 – Give opportunity according a person’s ability. All effective delegation is intelligent and well-considered. You just don’t hand out jobs to keep people busy. Match jobs to people with the skills, personality, and attitude to match.

Principle #2 – Expect responsible behavior in return. The hand-off is never total and the release never final. You will demand…and receive ultimate accountability because you are still responsible for the results of your company or department. You hand off jobs not to get rid of them but to get them done and done well. HINT: Your best followers will return MORE than was expected of them.

Principle #3 – Responsibility is not completed until accountability is given. Power flows only when there is a complete circuit.  It is not wrong to expect those to whom you delegate to come and find you to give you a report of what happened.

Principle #4 – Shouldering responsibility builds a person’s credibility. Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing shouts competence like a job done well, done on time, done completely. I hired a computer repair firm once to repair a laptop. When they returned it they had done the job…almost. There were still things to be done but they told me, “You can handle the rest of the things.” I never hired them again. Why? Because I hired them to do the job but they did only part of the job. I delegated to them the responsibility to repair my computer. They did most, but not all of it.

Principle #5 – Acting responsibly assures leaders of a person’s dependability. We are looking for people upon whom we can rely. Handing out power to an unproven recipient is a formula for catastrophe. We are looking for people who can shoulder greater and greater loads of responsibility. We know we can safely do that when one handles a job well.

Principle #6 – When a person demonstrates responsibility, then and only then, should you grant appropriate levels of authority. Take a look at the last two articles again. You the leader/manager have a choice to make when you pass off a job. The amount of autonomy you give will depend directly on the confidence you have in the person. That confidence may come from personal experience or from referral but the final choice is yours.

Ok, so why make people responsible? There are four reasons.

  1. You care about people and what they do or don’t do.
  2. Keeping promises is important.
  3. If people do not do what they say they are going to do the entire organization suffers.
  4. Integrity is at stake – theirs, yours, and that of your company or organization.

So, when you delegate a task to another, there is one more component – the all-important verbal contract. The responsible party is guaranteeing to you three things:

  1. They are saying to you, “I believe this can be done.”
  2. “I will do it.”
  3. “I will tell you as soon as I doubt my ability to keep my promise to you, tell you why I was not able to keep my commitment, and explain what I am going to do about it in the future.

Once these criteria have been established, then you can delegate the job and begin to release authority. Not before. Once a person has proven their ability to shoulder responsibility, less and less specific agreement and action will be required because they have built trust between you and you can see the history of performance.

In the two previous articles I wrote about delegating (here and here). This is the fourth article in the series on Power Plays – those systems and procedures that keep build your influence and get things done in your business or organization.

Up next? Authority. See you Thursday.

The previous posts in this series are:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

 

 

Power Plays – How power flows

The mantra goes like this. We have a staff of employees, associates, and subordinates for three purposes:

To extend our reach – to make it possible for us as leaders and managers to get influence more people and thus get more done.

To multiply our effectiveness – the principle of reproduction works here. We impart to faithful people who are then able to impart to others. Our vision, our objectives, our enthusiasm, our ideas, our intelligence, our abilities are distributed through a network of trained and competent individuals, otherwise known as staff.

To divide our work – we add others so we can pass on task lists to them thus freeing ourselves to focus on those things that we can uniquely do. Discover what it is that you as a leader can do that no one else can. Give everything else away.

For those readers that have been visiting my blog for awhile, you’ve read the three purposes above before. (if you’re new and want to catch up, check them out here.) They sum up the definition of leadership which is:

“the process OF PERSUASION AND EXAMPLE by which an individual (or a leadership team) induces a group to TAKE ACTION that is in accord with the leader’s purposes or the shared purposes of all.”

Leadership does not happen in isolation. By its nature it involves, engages, and affects others. Therefore, leadership is primarily a function of influence, the capacity of one person to positively motivate someone else so that something happens.

No attributes of leadership are passive. They are all active. Something happens as a result of leadership. If nothing happens, if no one follows, if no one does anything, if nothing develops, leadership has not happened.

Like the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “Leading is easy. The hard part is getting people to follow.” So, the mobilization of inanimate objects requires some sort of force.

In my last post I wrote of the gentle side of force. Today, I will discuss the dynamics of force as it energizes objects and creates movement. If that is to happen, there must be some sort of connection, power lines if you will, that transfer energy from one to another. It looks and works like this:

Power Lines diagram.docx

Leadership conceptually and practically demands that you, as leaders or manager, get the ball rolling. A good friend who served as manager for a major automobile manufacturer once remarked that

Effective leaders become the point of action and accomplishment while ineffective leaders become the point of reaction and resistance.”

My illustration above provides the outline for the next several posts. You as the leader or manager are the center point. Power starts with you. What you believe, what you say, who you are, and what you do either influences others or it doesn’t. Let’s take the premise that you are reading this blog because leadership rests on you.

With most subordinates, something must be said, tasks must be defined, and objectives must be clarified. The hand-off of power is called delegation. True enough, you may have associates who are quite intuitive and proven who can “read your mind” so to speak and pick up on what needs to be done, then run with it, but those associates are not many. Most will need, want, indeed wait for the hand-off from you.

If this does not happen, not much else will either.

However,NEVER DELEGATE AUTHORITY WITHOUT EXPLICITLY AND DEFINITIVELY TYING IT TO RESPONSIBILITY.

Never!

Power is not to be played with and never to be passed around simply because you can pass it around. Power has a purpose – to accomplish a specified and agreed upon task or objective.

Therefore, for you as leader and manager delegation does NOT MEAN abandoning responsibility even when you hand it off. Take another look at figure 1 above. Power needs a complete circuit in order to flow. Just like electricity, the power must return safely to its source.

The leader/manager always retains the responsibility to:

  • Know what is going on,
  • Set the direction for the department or company,
  • Make the decisions the delegated party cannot make,
  • Ensure that everyone stays on course
  • Open doors, clear the way, offer a guiding hand,
  • Assess performance,
  • Be smart.

In the next post I will explain the choices you have to make when delegating, how the process works, and verbal contracts. Check back in on Thursday.

Keeper Trait #15 – Initiative

iniitiativeMany potential employers put it directly in their ads – “must be a self-starter.” It is, apparently, an all too unusual trait.

Perhaps more than any other trait, it separates the successful from the failure, the winner from the loser, the prosperous from the poor. A person with initiative does not wait to be told to something, does not sit back blaming anyone for his or her lack of progress, but steps up and gets going.

C. Northcote Parkinson said that The man whose life is devoted to paperwork has lost the initiative. He is dealing with things that are brought to his notice, having ceased to notice anything for himself.

Stephen Covey adds in his perspective when he says that Employers and business leaders need people who can think for themselves – who can take initiative and be the solution to problems.

In a general sense, your associates, subordinates, and employees will fit somewhere on this chart.4 levels

The Forced Laborer is always there BUT you have to go find them, take them to the job site, show them precisely what needs to be done, and either stand over them yourself or assign someone to do so in order to keep them working. They completely lack initiative.

The Hired Hand is a bit more independent. They will do the job once it has been pointed out, once the tools or devices necessary to do it are supplied, and once the task has been defined. But you usually do not have to monitor them very closely.

The Reliable Assistant has a good deal of initiative but may be a bit reluctant to volunteer. Once you issue a directive or point out a general task that needs to be done (which you can do by either specifying the task or the objective), they will take it from there. What’s more, they will aggressively account to you once they are finished.

The Trusted Associate is so in tune with the objectives of the organization, the supporting objectives of his or her department, and with the comprehensive vision articulated by you, that they will see what needs to be done even before it is pointed out. Then they will take charge and make sure it is done then report to you.

Forced Laborers and Hired Hands cost less money but more in supervisory engagement. Reliable Assistants and Trusted Associates cost more money but they free up manpower and, most critically, they free up your time.

People with the trait of initiative make the world, make your world, a better place. Now, if you’re a control freak, don’t be surprised if you drive people with initiative away. They do not like, and will not tolerate for long, too much meddling. It seems odd that control freaks bring trouble upon themselves. They drive off the independent types who could really help, who could extend their reach, multiply their effectiveness, and divide their work. They limit themselves to associates, subordinates, and employees who require copious amounts of oversight and management causing control freaks to lament that all they can find are people who have to be constantly managed.

So, what do you do? Find those with initiative and integrate them into your work circle so they can do what they do so well. Keep cycling through the others until you build a team that can run the engine of commerce without your constant oversight.

 

Keeper Trait #12 – Stewardship

waldorf astoriaOne stormy night many years ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night.

“Could you possibly give us a room here?” the husband asked.

The clerk, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town.

“All of our rooms are taken,” the clerk said. “But I can’t send a nice couple like you out into the rain at one o’clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It’s not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night,”

When the couple declined, the young man pressed on. “Don’t worry about me; I’ll make out just fine,” the clerk told them.

So the couple agreed. As he paid his bill the next morning, the elderly man said to the clerk, “You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I’ll build one for you.”

The clerk looked at them and smiled. The three of them had a good laugh. As they drove away, the elderly couple agreed that the helpful clerk was indeed exceptional, as finding people who are both friendly and helpful isn’t easy. Two years passed.

The clerk had almost forgotten the incident when he received a letter from the old man. It recalled that stormy night and enclosed a round-trip ticket to New York, asking the young man to pay them a visit.

The old man met him in New York, and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky.

“That,” said the older man, “is the hotel I have just built for you to manage.”

“You must be joking,” the young man said.

“I can assure you I am not,” said the older man, a sly smile playing around his mouth.

The older man’s name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The young clerk who became its first manager was George C. Boldt. This young clerk never foresaw the turn of events that would lead him to become the manager of one of the world’s most glamorous hotels.

No matter who signs the paycheck, you are always working for yourself. Always.

So very many employees just do not get it. They don’t get it at all. Their total investment in their life and career is nothing more than the effort the grudgingly expend every day and the days they work between paydays.

Rarer, and consequently more precious, are those associates and employees who handle their responsibilities and your company like it was their own. People are responsible for being responsible and those who demonstrate that are called stewards.

They carefully manage what belongs to another in a manner that exceeds expectations. They take a little and make it more, a problem and make a solution. They exercise care, concern, and careful management.

Stewards work for themselves while they work for you. Their actions and attitudes reflect the concern that comes from recognizing what they do is directly tied to what belongs to someone else. They acknowledge that personal advantage and prosperity is directly tied to the prosperity of the company that employs them.

Like farmers, they understand that short-term advantage should never be exchanged for long-term viability. Prosperity tomorrow depends a great deal on taking care of business today.

Stewardship is directly tied to Trait #8 – Prudence. Faithful stewards are worth their weight in gold. They are faithful executors of your future. Keep stewards around. They’re good for business.

Keeper Trait #8 – Prudence

flat rate boxesWith nothing to do but wait while we stood patiently in line at the local Post Office, we happened to see that there was but one “If It Fits It Ships” box in the rack. For those readers outside the United States, the Post Office here has a product  that lets a shipper send a box for a flat rate anywhere in the US if it fits inside regardless of weight. Normally, there is a selection of several sizes which ship for different rates. In our local office there was only one box.

When we got to the window, we mentioned to the postal clerk that she was almost out of “If It Fits It Ships” boxes.

“Yes,” she reasoned. “I know. As soon as that one’s gone I’ll order more.”

We could not let that reasoning go unchallenged. “Why not order some now so that you don’t run out?”

“But we have one left. We don’t order until they are all gone.”

“But,” we persisted, “if you order now you will never be out and you are out of some sizes already.”

“We have our system,” she bristled. “When we’re out we order more.”

In so doing, she immediately disqualified herself from ever working for me in any capacity in any application (not that she would even want to). The postal clerk happened to be female but her lack of prudence is not gender specific. Either sex can be shortsighted.

Prudence is foresight, the capacity to see what lies ahead and do whatever it takes to be ready for it.

All businesses have future completion dates that must be met. My woodworking business dealt with deadlines every day. But non-production companies do to.

Prudent people do not see only the next step; they see the end result and the steps between now and then. They realize that if something is going to have to happen “then” something(s) will have to be started now.

Prudence has come to carry the meaning of cautiousness as well, but this is seldom an issued in business unless one wants to counterbalance recklessness. Business itself carries risk. We use the term business venture because there is an element of risk. Recklessness does not consider the risk and potential for peril and proceeds anyway. Prudence does consider the risk and proceeds when appropriate because it considers contingencies and prepares to meet or avoid them. The ability to discern whether a considered act is foolhardy or courageous is itself an act of prudence.

Prudent people weigh options and make a considered decision. They have the insight and understanding (I discuss these in detail in my book 3 Essential Skills of Effective Leadership) to reason rationally and intelligently. They allow emotions like desire and machismo to be tempered by foresight and maturity.

Prudent people understand why foresight, planning, and preparation are necessary. They put the pieces together so that customers have flat rate boxes whenever they might need them. Prudent people do not retreat into and hide behind systems or policy. They place the over-riding objectives of customer service and relationships as trump cards. If they are going to supply customer’s needs, they will never run out of flat rate boxes. They will always have an on-hand supply.

Prudent people will be free of debilitating vices, or if not free, have them well under control. In the last post I spoke of the 26 employees I had hired and fired. More than one of them lacked prudence. If you show up for work stoned, you may be certain prudence is not among your virtues.

Finally, prudent people pick their battles carefully. They are neither firebrands nor demagogues. They know that not every engagement is an opportunity for conflict. Prudent people build bridges before they burn them.  They save their strength and resources for battles that can be won.

Trait # 9 – sensitivity – is up next. See you in a few days.

Keeper Trait #7 – Diligence

diligenceI went through 26 employees. 26 employees hired and fired over the course of five years. In that time I was approached by the Job Corps people with candidates for work, by who knows how many walk-ins, and by people responding to ads in the newspaper.

Some lacked the talent to be trained for even low-lever jobs. All of them lacked diligence.

One of the seven heavenly virtues*, diligence is usually defined as

“A zealous and careful nature in one’s actions and work; decisive work ethic, steadfastness in belief, fortitude, and the capability of not giving up. Budgeting one’s time; monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness. Upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching (integrity).”*

We most often call it a work ethic. You would think it would be part and parcel to human nature but it is not. The culture from which I had to draw employees was quite casual about work. It was not unusual for workers to simply fail to show up for work for a few days then reappear ready to plug back in.

When I hired everyone and anyone I told them the same thing. “If you don’t show up, and if you don’t call in, don’t come back. I have zero tolerance for no shows.”

Many of them tested my resolve.

They all lost.

You cannot build a business on the backs of weakness when your employees are riddled with a casual work ethic.

I almost put this trait at the top of the list, but I have stated that the traits are not sequential. They are all number one. A work ethic might just be a little more number one than the others.

It has it all:

Motivation, ambition, carefulness, self-starting, energy, effort, awareness, concern about the expenditure of time, all of those wonderful characteristics that make an employee worth far more than they get paid.

I actually thought I would just have to close up the shop when I had to go through so many workers. But I finally found four men who exemplified diligence. They turned my business around because with diligent workers:

  • I could get work out on time,
  • I could get more work out,
  • I could produce a higher quality of work,
  • I could schedule more work because I knew I would have workers to do it,
  • I could predict cash flow more accurately,
  • I could cut down on waste in both effort and product,
  • I could concentrate on my side of the business (sales, marketing, customer care) because I knew the employees would actually show up and do their job.

They will do these things for you to.

Up next, trait #8 – Prudence.

*The seven heavenly virtues were derived from the Psychomachia (“Contest of the Soul”), an epic poem written by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (c. AD 410) entailing the battle of good virtues and evil vices. The intense popularity of this work in the Middle Ages helped to spread the concept of holy virtue throughout Europe. Practicing these virtues is considered to protect one against temptation from the seven deadly sins, with each one having its counterpart. Due to this they are sometimes referred to as the contrary virtues. Each of the seven heavenly virtues matches a corresponding deadly sin.

Accountability, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #2

power plugI had ordered a meal and let the conversation around the table carry away the wait. When the order arrived, it was a different server who placed my plate in front of me. It was almost correct. I had ordered fish and what was on my plate was indeed fish. The problem was I had ordered it prepared a different way.

When the server sat it down I told him so and also suggested I keep it. I’d waited long enough.

In under two minutes the server who had taken my order was at the table offering an articulate and sincere apology for the mix-up. In that one moment, the server identified herself as a Keeper. Why?

Accountability!

An accountable person understands that mistakes happen and they own up to them when they do. They don’t have to be chased down and confronted about it. They don’t try to cover up or ignore it hoping it goes undiscovered. No, they report to you and explain what happened.

Accountability is an active trait, not passive. It takes the lead. Accountable people offer no transparent excuses, no blame-shifting, no relocating the guilt. There is a reality show series on TV called Restaurant Undercover or something like that. Restaurant owners who suspect an employee of theft hires a company to install hidden monitoring devices to find out what happens. I have watched a few episodes. In every one I’ve seen, when the culprit is caught they try to relocate their guilt back onto the restaurant owner. They all claim that their job performance is above and beyond the call of duty. They refuse to even acknowledge their incompetence or thievery instead they try to shame the owner because they are not more appreciative of the culprit’s hard work, sacrifice, and effort.

Weasels annoy me…big time. I live by the creed that if something is amiss, simply acknowledge it, find a solution, and keep moving. Accountable people exhibit two character traits that add to their keepability.

First, they conduct their lives with a high degree of responsibility. I will explore the traits of diligence and prudence later in this series, but those two traits find a seed plot right here. Accountable people don’t like error or defeat and live so as to avoid it as much as possible.

Second, when it happens, they report it to their superiors and those connected and involved associates before it becomes a bigger issue. They realize that failure is an event and live so that it does not become a way of life.

Throwaway people don’t. They live carelessly, fail to exercise due diligence, ignore prudence, and cover themselves with the slippery film of excuse-making and blame-shifting.

Whenever you are engaged with employing others, you do so because there are jobs that must be done that you, because of time or skill, cannot and should not try to do. I’ve said this so often in this blog through the years that it’s become almost a mantra. We engage others to extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work. We hire others, we delegate responsibility to others so they will solve problems, not create more.

The accountability component is built of the reality that a leader can never give away all his authority. S/he is ultimately responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen. All responsibility and the authority to fulfill that responsibility is released under a carefully determined agreement. Whenever you as leader/manager allow others to participate in the process of work for your company, whether it is one person or dozens or more, a contract implication exists.

By implication in accepting the responsibility the person accepting the job has agreed that if you will grant them the authority to do this job, they will award to you the accountability both you and the task deserve. Whenever an associate accepts a responsibility, they become, at least in that instance, a subordinate. Because authority and responsibility flows much like an electric current, if power is ever going to accomplish work, it must flow within a circuit. Current leaves the source, flows through wires and machinery, and returns to the source. If the circuit breaks, power stops and along with it the machinery. If it short circuits, a destructive fire could result. You as leader/manager release power (authority) to do the job but the circuit must flow back to you. The return trip is called accountability. The power source is you. To maintain a safe and effective flow of power, it eventually has to come back to you.

You have every right to expect that the accountability comes to you. You should not have to go get it from anyone. This initiative is what makes someone a keeper. They find you, make their report, and keep the machinery running. I do want to state that accountability does not only exist when something goes wrong. Accountability is not limited to the times something goes wrong. Perhaps most often accountability need to function when everything goes right.

When someone accepts responsibility they agree to three things:

  1. I will do it
  2. I will let you know as soon as I know if I am not going to be able to do what we agreed to in the time we set.
  3. I will tell you why I cannot meet my obligation and what I will do to prevent it from happening again.

Accountability is a broad topic and I do not presume to have addressed more than one facet of it in this post. However, I do want to include one more piece of the subject.

Some leaders/managers are uncomfortable either holding people accountable or accepting accountability from a subordinate or an associate. If this is you, you’ll need to acquire that ability. The flow of authority and responsibility depends on a system of accountability. Quality control, customer satisfaction, obligations to constituents, the very vision of the business or organization rests on the smooth flower of power throughout the system. Please do not minimize when an employee or associate brings news of a failure. Don’t over-react either. Deal with the issues, leave persons and personalities out of it, move on. Don’t gloss over it when they do well and report a success either. Celebrate the completion of a responsibility and build the bank of good will between your and those you rely on to carry out the many tasks of your group.

Next installment = Psychological security, maturity in action.

Keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful

employeeShe was a hidden gem. A degree in Business Admin, she had taken a job as a server just to get a job. In the economy of her city, jobs were not that easy to find and even though she was way over-qualified, she took the job. For several months she worked, showed up on time, handled her duties diligently, and said nothing while her superior bungled his.

Eventually top management gave up trying to educate and train that manager to handle the minimal demands of the job. When they let him go, they asked her if she would accept the position. She did and grabbed onto it from the first moment. Within hours the top management saw that their choice had been the right one. Now, quite some time later, the positive report holds up. This is a true story, by the way.

So this event provoked me to consider just what it is in certain people that make them stand out, that make them valuable assets to a company or organization. I came up with the following list which I will discuss deeper and post, one at a time, over the next several days.

Here is my list of 16 personal qualities found in people you must keep around you. The series begins tomorrow.

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological security
  4. Loyalty (personal & institutional)
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity – they understand what is important to you
  10. Skills appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness – no sycophants need apply
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able – can bring others along
  15. Volunteerism (Initiative)
  16. Polite

Management 101 – Part 4 – Control

steeringThe first three installments in this series covering management’s most basic principles addresses Planning, Organizing, and Training. Once those have been done, or more realistically, once those are being done, the final principle is that of controlling action.

If nothing is moving, the first challenge is to get things moving in an orderly manner. One that happens, the next logical addition is to control what is moving; minimize waste, maximize efficiency, and focus efforts.

Control happens when movements are contained within certain parameters. In engineering those parameters would be called “tolerances” because a certain degree of latitude is allowed. In retail businesses, they control inventory by budgeting for shrinkage, which is the loss of inventory, through breakage and theft. In manufacturing, control is exercised by managing time, predicting and planning for the supply of component parts, and monitoring specifications.

In all applications of control, there has to exist a standard from which all variance is measured. Here it might be helpful to borrow a term and concept from surveying. When new territory is being plotted, surveyors lay a base line, a straight line running a fixed length along which all other measurements are to be made. When the original settlers of the San Bernardino valley laid out the city their base line, now a busy street, ran for many miles. All other streets and the plots of land that would be parceled out to settlers were measured from that on line.

Management and leadership uses the same principle. A standard is established which becomes the target for measuring performance and therefore a basis for controlling action. Corporate run restaurants establish the target number of diners and their average purchase amount and they control costs by carefully controlling portions in both recipes and servings.

Corporate run casinos know how much money the average gambler will lose at a blackjack table per hand that is dealt. They also set the standard for how many hands the dealer should deal per hour and thus can predict with reasonable accuracy how much the table should earn. They then monitor the take from that table and can see where it deviates from the base line. If a regular pattern emerges, say one particular dealer is earning less than those who precede of follow him, the house begins to look for the reason why.

Base line control works just about everywhere. It was Peter Drucker who said that “if you cannot count it you cannot control it.” So the concept and practice of control is a counting action. Leaders do not do so well at this because the nature of leadership is less specific and more inspirational. However, if inspirational and motivational influence does not somewhere and somehow translate to measurable advances, leadership is relegated to platitudes and concepts. They’re pleasant but produce little in the way of lasting effect.

Control is a concept many people are uncomfortable with because it requires them to hold people accountable for results. We live in an age of fuzziness where we confuse feelings and attitudes with genuine advancement and progress. HR people and social scientists have proposed that we focus on the feeling side of work which can have a counterproductive effect if not balanced with real control targets. Your role as manager is to place the right people in the right positions so they can do the right job at the right time and produce the right results. Feeling good, loved, accepted, and fulfilled has value as long as that focus does not override the objective – to produce results.

On the other hand, too much control can result in friction (see my post here about that subject). If things are functioning smoothly and on track, a different kind of control is called for. MacGregor’s X and Y management styles addresses this and I will too in future posts (this is also the subject of my next book “How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned”) so be informed that that this subject is by no means exhausted here.

In summary, here are the 7 key components of the principle of control:

  1. Management is a game won or lost by numbers. To be able to control is to be able to count.
  2. A base line needs to be determined and laid out so EVERYONE who is accountable to it understands it and what it means. It is unfair to hold people to standards they are not aware of.
  3. Ineffective managers keep moving the base line. This inevitably causes confusion and resentment. If you arbitrarily move the baseline to put more money in your pocket while taking money OUT of the pockets of the people who work for you, count on your best and most productive people moving on.
  4. Ineffective managers have no baseline going in or they refuse to reveal it to their associates. People respond best when they know what is expected of them. If you are going to hold people accountable for numbers make very sure they know what those numbers are.
  5. Monitor deviation from base line numbers and find out why before jumping to a conclusion. There can be more than one reason why numbers are not met or exceeded.
  6. If you move numbers higher because of better than expected results make sure it is a joint effort and a reasonable one.
  7. To control results you’ll need to coordinate efforts. Until you have clear evidence otherwise, you may assume that most people want to do well in their jobs and will continue to do so if given the right tools and competent management. Demanding more with less will doubtless provoke resentment, grumbling, and plots of rebellion (just ask an ancient Pharoah when he demanded his guest workers, the Israelites, to make more bricks with less straw).  It takes lots of fuel and gear grinding to get a vehicle moving, but once it is on the road, a different type of control is necessary. You can let the machine do what it was designed to do and simply keep a supply of fuel, lubrication, and guidance to keep it on the road an on the way.

The first three installments of Management 101 are available here:

Part 1 – Plan

Part 2 – Organize

Part 3 – Train

I am yet in Uganda, East Africa. I spent the last two days on the road travelling up-country arriving back in Entebbe last night to discover that my internet access was no longer functioning. As of mid-day today it is still out. I have a wireless modem used here through the mobile phone providers but it is so slow I hesitate to use it. Nonetheless I have. Even getting airtime is fun. A trip downtown to the currency exchange office to but more shillings, then a walk down the street to the mobile phone office, a wait in line, then it’s my turn. Select the number of gb’s I want for a month and pay the fee while the tech retrieves the SIM card registration, gets the airtime and downloads it onto the stick. I am using the stick modem now. Thanks for your patience.