Why Your Organisation Is Busy Yet Nothing Gets Done (blame Michael)

OK, if you haven’t seen this before, this will land somewhere between ‘nice one’ and ‘holy freakin’ #@&* what have we been doing’.

It’s the reason why your whole organisation, your team, and you yourself have the permanent feeling of too much on and nowhere near enough of that ‘let’s get after it and get it done‘ vibe.

It’s the reason why whenever I ask ‘how’s things?‘ the answer I get is the wry smile, shake of the head, then ‘you know….flat out as always, you know how it is‘.

Yes, I do know how it is.

So let me set it up for you.  As always, I didn’t invent this stuff, I’m here to make genius useful when I find it, and this comes from Eli Goldratt’s Critical Chain, and further made sense of by Rob Newbold and Bill Lynch in The Project Manifesto.

It goes like this, which is deliberately over-simple: Read more…

“You can’t talk to my people” is NOT Requisite!!!

Exit Sign


I’ve heard that principles of Requisite Organisation mean that people can’t talk to people in other teams without checking with the manager first.  This seems to be against all modern ways of working together as an organisation, so just wanted to check in with you as I know you are an expert in this model.


I’m very glad you checked.  First principles, ‘Requisite’ means ‘what is required’ and in our model, which we call Requisite Enterprise as it uses these principles among others, it’s about designing and leading work so it’s fulfilling for customers, employees, beneficiaries and the planet.

This means that a way of working that causes frustration and disintegration of relationships is never going to be requisite in our model.  Saying ‘you can’t talk to them without checking with me first‘ is therefore obviously not part of what we teach in our workshops and online.

The Managerial Relationship

But…we can acknowledge where this comes from.  We use the Elliott Jaques idea of making managers accountable for their teams serving their customers (internal or external), and so give managers the authority to ultimately decide the way ‘work works’ and who does what in their area if that’s required.  This is called authority to ‘assign’ work.  And we describe the relationship between Managers and the team members using the Jaques term ‘Task Assigning Role Relationships’ or ‘TARRs’.  (BTW…we insist that before decisions managers also get the input of all those effected as an absolute minimum)

It is, however, a mistake to therefore think that this authority to ‘assign work’ means ‘a person may only do work directly assigned by their manager’, or even further ‘only the manager may talk to this person about work’. Read more…

Want change? Meet people where they’re at.

Stability fans

Stability fans

People can change.  If they want to.  You can’t make them.

And there’s one way to definitely make them NOT want to change – assume that they are you and act accordingly.

It’s not uncommon for ‘traditional’ organisations to choose a dynamic CEO to ‘shake things up’ who then chooses Executives who get things done.  And this is great because we need to get things done.

And it’s going to work in an organisation or department filled with achievers and overachievers who are hanging for the chance to ‘show what I can do and to hell with the rest of em‘.

Here’s the thing though…many people might choose to work in such ‘traditional’ organisations because they want to be a) part of something stable that b) serves other people and/or the community.  Which means taking a megaphone and shouting ‘we need to achieve, we can be #1‘ as the driving force is simply not going to connect.  It’s not wrong.  It’s just not going to connect.

What does connect?  Well, not shouting for a start.  What connects to this group is creating stability.  And for this group stability is what gets things done.

I can feel the reeling back in horror at the idea of creating stability in this apparently complex, volatile, ever-changing and connected world.  But I didn’t say ‘rigidity’.  I said ‘stability’, which can be defined as ‘the strength to endure’.

And if your people need strength to endure what’s coming….start where people are at.  Which means if large groups of your people value the work because it’s stable and provides connection….then start there.  Tell people the truth, deliver the news, then make things more stable.  Settle things down, make jobs clear, sort who does what with who, connect what’s required to the future conditions you’re going to be in and get the damn systems working!

Because starting where you’re at, rather than where they’re at is going to lead directly to disconnection.

And no megaphone is loud enough to get disconnected people moving, no matter how dynamic the wielder.


Board too risk-averse for innovation? Then bark up this tree…

The first job of a Board is to make sure the organisation continues to be viable.  And if you’ve been good in the ‘Added-Value Domain’ for a while (the work domain that’s about constructing the networks, systems and everything else required to deliver value to customers today and tomorrow)…it’s going to take a lot to start messing with that.

And so it should.  If the magazines Science or Nature allowed any old idea to get published…credibility of the whole science profession takes a nose-dive.  You’ve got to prove yourself before we start changing the laws of nature!

But as we also know, eventually what we produce in the Added-Value Domain is going to have to change as values change….and the connection comes from what we call the Innovation Domain of work.  The point of this work is for values and trends to be revealed in decisions to provide fundamentally new value to possibly new clients.

It’s different to the Added-Value Domain….but ends up in the Added-Value Domain.

(If you’d like to read more on these Domains, check out Luc Hoebeke’s wonderful work Making Work Systems Better)

Here’s the trick – the attributes of good work in the Added-Value Domain are fundamentally different to that in the Innovation Domain.  But if we don’t see this, and in particular, if we present information to Boards using the same criteria for both Domains….we are automatically set up for ‘no’.   Read more…

New to management? Not sure what to actually do? Do this.

Communication Managers

Lots of people become managers for the first time.  Then for training they’re sent to a course on ‘leadership’ which is actually about how to be a decent human in the world.  Which is useful.   But just like there’s more to being an aircraft captain than getting along with your crew, there’s more to being a boss than knowing how to get along with your people.

So here’s an email I sent to an experienced specialist who is a good operator who has recently become a manager.  They mentioned they would appreciate some advice on what to actually do. It’s the stuff I teach in tailored workshops and coach individuals and teams on. 

Hey there,

OK, this is the stuff that will get your team moving to where it needs to be:

1) Context & Planning – your job here is to make sure the team is clear on their mission Read more…

GM of Operations? You might like to try this…

Are you, in one form or another, a General Manager of Operations?  In the US you might be VP Operations.  Either way, if you are in an Executive role, and you have any accountability for delivering the products and services to your customers…then you might be interested in giving this a shot…

Wander over to your friends (or enemies) in the Marketing area and ask for a copy of every current advertisement and promotion that’s out there.  In particular, anything with a sentence, ideally, advertisements by video or radio.

Now call an all-hands meeting with everyone in the Operations area, and play the ads.  That’s right…play the videos, run the radio ads, big screen, loud speakers….and  have everyone in groups note down their understanding of what is being promised to people should they become a customer.

Then point this out – these promises are operational requirements.  They aren’t optional extras, they aren’t arguments to be used to show how unreasonable the Marketing department is….these are the dead-set requirements that Operations is being asked to deliver.  And even better, deliver within a certain budget.

To not do so is to break a promise that the organisation has made, either to customers if you don’t deliver or deliver and charge too much, or to owners if you deliver as expected at a loss.

Now ask the room to discuss what needs to be different in order to deliver that promise with the budget given.

Watch closely which people choose to take on this challenge, and which choose to use their capability to avoid it.  Avoiding won’t look obvious, it will take the form of very rational reasons why what is being asked just isn’t possible.  You’ll be tempted to agree.

But it’s still avoiding.

Don’t get angry or frustrated because do you know where it comes from?  From the messages that people have been sent for years by the very way the organisation is designed and run.

What you’ve now got is the need for genuine dialogue about what everyone is experiencing.  Which requires you to listen, then listen, then listen.

And this might be the hardest work you do all year.


The simple principle that keeps large groups connected

“OK, so what have we found?” asked Kathy, CEO of a mid-size manufacturer, about 1600 people.

“We’ve found a possible cause of the issues coming out of your Eastern plant” I replied, putting on the table a diagram known as a Levels of Work Analysis.  The diagram is like an X-Ray for organisational design – it shows clearly the cracks and splinters in the org design itself that are causing frustration and lack of delivery.

Kathy leaned forward and pointed at the clearly marked red areas.  “What’s going on there?”

“I need to give you a quick bit of lingo” I said.  “We use some fundamental principles that, if in place, will see frustration down and delivery up.  One of these is about having what we call building blocks in place to make sure that our natural need for connection isn’t accidentally designed out.”

Kathy’s eyebrows went up.  I waited to check I was making sense.  “Go on” she said.

“The first building block is the basic team structure.   But above that we have the wider structure, or the three-tier structure.  The fancy term for it Elliott Jaques coined was the ‘Mutual Recognition Unit’, or ‘MRU’.”

“Fancy indeed” Kathy commented.  “So how does this help me?” Read more…

How to stop your culture of busy busy and start delivering

“Everyone around here is just too busy being busy” sighed Merryn.  Her business employed 250 people, it was growing and she was feeling the strain.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“Because everyone time I ask someone ‘how’s things’, I get the same response…a roll of the eyes and  ‘just busy….flat out…..you know how it is’.  And things are stalling.  Lots of action, no results.”

“What would you like to be hearing?”

“It would be great” Merryn continued, “if someone would say  ‘I’m focussed, in the flow and we’re all delivering.  Feeling great‘”

“So what are your people working on then?”

Merryn looked puzzled for a second, then replied “Lots of stuff – business-as-usual, we’ve got improvements to the warehouse operation underway, legislative change coming, our IT systems need an upgrade, the usual product development, and on top of that, we’re trying to find ways to innovate so we can play in some new fields”.

“Sounds pretty busy busy” I replied.  “So if I’m sitting there with a choice as to what to work on next, which one do you want me to do?” Read more…

Who’s fault is organisational pain?

“My Distribution area is driving me insane!”  So declared Lisa, and I could see genuine anger in her eyes.  Lisa owned the company.

“You mean Teresa’s area?  What’s going on” I asked.  Teresa was Senior Manager Distribution.

“I’ve tried everything we’ve been speaking about.  I’ve asked Teresa to put together her plan for the next 18 months.  I’ve asked her to get more clear in assigning work.  I’ve asked her to make sure she’s got the capability that she needs…”  Lisa paused.

“Go on” I said.

“And she’s been in your workshops.  The one we did last year, then I know you ran a 2-day session for her and her directs so they would all understand the management practices we’re putting in here.  Everyone else got one day, but I wanted her to have the extra training.   Despite all that…”

“Despite all that…What are you seeing?”

“Well despite all that, her area has missed on delivery targets to our retail network again, I don’t know how many times this year, cost per delivery continues to rise, and I just found out today that we had a bunch of customers at one of our stores who were ready for the new range in the catalogue….but do you think that range had been delivered?”

I nodded in understanding.


I jumped as I’d assumed the question was rhetorical.

“I’m guessing no” I said quietly.  “And I also know this….you’ve got a problem”.

“You’re damn right I’ve got a problem.  It’s called Teresa.”

“Actually, you are 100% wrong.” Read more…

You pay them a lot of money, so….

“OK” Gemma said.  “So let my people know what I expect, set them up to deliver it, then expect it.  That’s all I have to do is it?”  Gemma and I were working through the true work of her Executive role.  And her tone of voice made it clear this wasn’t exactly a question.

“No, that’s not all you have to do” I replied.  “There’s other stuff.  But let’s be clear – if any of the above three are missed, or you don’t give these three the priority they need, then you owe money.”

“Owe money?  To who?”

“Who do you think?  The organisation!  You are paid to make sure that the work of each of your managers is valuable, so the extent to which you are not doing this is the amount of salary you owe back”

“Alright, I see what you mean.  But I’m pretty sure I’ve done this.  At least the first one, I’ve let my people know what I expect”.

“When did that happen?” I asked

“The planning process” Gemma replied.  “Three months ago.  I had each of my Senior Managers write out the plan for their area, real strategic stuff, looking into the future.  Was a challenge for them to be honest, they were used to just doing a budget for next year”.

“What did you do with these plans?”

“I reviewed them.  Made comments, some changes, then gave them back to them.”

“So how did they know what their plan was supposed to cover?” I asked.

“They had a template”

I hadn’t been clear.  “Sorry, what I meant was, how did they know what they were planning to deliver? How did they know their key results, the things the organisation really needed?”

“Well, us Execs had developed the purpose of the organisation together and the key strategies, I communicated that, so then I expected them to work out how they were going to contribute.”

“And where you didn’t agree with them, you then corrected it.  Like a teacher marking an assignment”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know.  But it’s what you did.”

“But they are Senior Managers.  They are paid a lot of money, I shouldn’t have to tell them what to do”.

“Nope.  It’s the exact opposite.  They are paid a lot of money…so maybe you should tell them what to do”.