The simple yet powerful meeting structure

You need to focus on today. You need to focus on tomorrow. You need engagement from your people to get both done.

Nothing here you don’t already know.  So….

Need a method? Just schedule these meetings. Things will be better.

Weekly: Optimisation meeting.

Get together to look at graphs that show performance according to customer experience, cost and sustainability. Resolve issues and monitor the effects of changes you have been making.

The question here: how do we make this show run as it was intended? Read more…

A Talk – Designing for Quality Leadership

Adam ACSA May 2017

Something different this time around – a talk!  I spoke recently at the Leadership, Culture and Governance Symposium put on by Aged & Community Services Australia in Adelaide.

The topic – Designing for Quality Leadership   The point?  Leadership depends as much on your organisational design as it does the people in the jobs, so….stop fidgeting and start building something! 

Click here to watch.  Goes for about 40 minutes, and sorry about the hissing at the start – that blissfully goes away at 4:15.

It’s the stuff we teach in detail in our workshops and our online learning so you can design departments and enterprises where people can do great work.

And…if you’d like to see what was on the screen, or want the super-quick version,  click here to see the slides.  I’ve written short explanations on many of them so they make sense even without the presentation itself.

Feel free to download and distribute the slides to those who might be interested if you think it might help create a conversation that makes your place better.

Thanks to Derek Dittrich from ACSA and Tim Levett for the video production.

As always, if there is anything I can help with, just let me know.


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…

The real reason your roles are not clear

Provide clarity to employees

We can almost include as a template ‘clarify roles’ as the next step at the end of any planning day.  Seems to be the perpetual org development activity, along with ‘sort out cross-functional relationships’.

Here’s what’s not addressed: the reason roles aren’t clear is because we like it that way!

How do I know this?  Because you would take a stone out of your shoe if it was hurting.  Because when your friend recommends a certain dish from the menu, you give it a try.  Because, in the end, the world around you is the world you have created, which means you must like it that way.  Otherwise you would change it.

Getting roles clear is no harder than saying either “here’s what I want you to deliver”, or “here’s what I intend to deliver”.  This is the starting point, then discuss.  If you can’t reach agreement, boss makes the call.  Then list them up, and you’ve got yourself a role.  Make sure jobs higher in the hierarchy have longer timespans for what they are delivering so you don’t get compression in the levels, and you’ve got the general idea.

So why isn’t clarifying roles as common as ‘here’s your email address’?  Here are some of the usual reasons:

  • It will stifle creativity” – nope, creativity is stifled by a) unclear outcomes and boundaries b) specifying ‘how’ it needs to be done c) not having a good enough relationship so people can come back with ‘here’s a better outcome we should be doing’ d) people having work that is either under or overwhelming (too short or long in timespan) Read more…

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…

Executive accountability

“Wow, that felt like some real work!”.  Gareth had just put the finishing touches on planning the work of his area with a true focus on results.  He was GM of an Operations Division.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because you made me not only take each 3-year result and write down where it needs to be in 18 month’s time to be on track, you then made me write down where it needs to be in 9 months, then where it needs to be in 3 months!”.  Gareth looked both exasperated and pleased.

“How did you find that?”

“Annoying!” he replied.  “I kept thinking ‘surely a GM doesn’t have to go down to 3 months’.  Then I remembered your two points – that I’m the only one accountable for the whole Operations Division, and if we’re going to use the natural timespans that work organises into, we have to be serious about it and let our people know where the Division needs to be each quarter”.

“Exactly!” I said.  “Same applies to CEOs – they might set results for the organisation out 7 years, but if they can work these results down through the timespans to the 3 month organisational results or milestones that would show we’re on track…..things really get moving”.

“That would be some serious alignment!”

“It is.  If you’re willing to do the work.”

“So….am I done?” Gareth asked.  “I think I know your answer” he continued with a wry smile.

“You know me well.  The answer of course is no!”

“Of course it is.  So what’s next?”

“Now we write down the results you’re going to need each of your Senior Managers to deliver by 30 June 2017, that is, 18 months away”.

“But isn’t that their job to work out? Gareth asked.

“No.  It’s their job to advise, suggest, recommend.  But in the end, it’s your call.  And you know why?”

“Because I’m accountable”.

“Yes..but for what?”

“For their results”

“What else?”

Gareth looked at me quizzically.

“Every manager is accountable for ensuring that the efforts of their people are put toward delivering results that create true value for the organisation. That their efforts are not wasted.  Which ultimately means that they are valued.   You were picked by the CEO to run the Operations Division because she thinks you’ve got the capability to do that, to determine which results will create the most value.  It’s what you’re actually…..”

“It’s what I’m actually paid to do.”

Which ‘e’ word are General Managers accountable for?

Danni was General Manager Operations in a 1400-person organisation with about 600 people under her umbrella.   The new Board had made it clear they required a renewed focussed on ‘efficiency and effectiveness’.

“So which one do you hold your Senior Managers accountable for?” I asked.  “Efficiency or effectiveness?”

“Well both!” she answered.  “It’s not enough that they just do things right, they need to make sure they are doing the right things”.

“And who decides what the right things are?”

“What do you mean?” Danni asked, her brow furrowing.

“Well….let say one of your Senior Managers asks to invest $150k in improvement consultants for a six month project that will deliver a three-year payback of $1.5 million.”

“Sounds good to me.  Approved!” she smiled.

“Hang on a tick….what if the service that is being improved is one that we would call, using Drucker’s words, ‘yesterday’s breadwinner’.”

“Well, $1.35 million over three years sounds pretty good”.  Danni was fast with numbers.

“True” I agreed. “But what if those improvements required most of the people who are involved in that  series of projects you were telling me about to find tomorrow’s breadwinners?”

“Well….that would be a genuine strategic decision.  Classic resource allocation.  What’s  savings of $500k each year compared to the value of new products?”

“Would you let your Senior Managers make this decision?” I asked.

“Nope.   I’d get their inputs, hear their disagreements.  But the final call – that’s what I’m paid for.”

“And which ‘e’ word are we talking about now”.

“Effectiveness”  said Danni with a confident nod.  “General Managers make decisions about what are the right things to do.”

“Which means….”

Danni had it:  “Senior Managers make decisions that make sure we do it right”.



Which one do you hold your Senior Managers accountable for?

Danni was General Manager Operations in a 1400-person organisation with about 600 people under her umbrella.   The new Board had made it clear they required a renewed focussed on ‘efficiency and effectiveness’.

“What does that mean” I asked.

“You know, do more with less, headcount, that sort of thing” she answered.

“So what sort of stuff will you be doing”?

“Well everyone is talking the usual suspects.  LEAN, Six Sigma, process maps….I can see a lot of boxes and arrows in my future”.

“That sounds like efficiency to me” I continued.  Where’s the effectiveness?”.

“Well I like the traditional definitions.  Efficiency is doing things right, and effectiveness is doing the right things”.

“So which one do you hold your Senior Managers accountable for?”


Planning in five minutes

Are you a manager?  If so, you are accountable for providing the organisation and your people with a plan for the work of your area.  It’s not a bonus thing to do if you get time for it, it’s actually one of the things you are paid to do.

So here’s how you do it.

Write down a) where your area needs to end up at a future point, then b) how it got there.  How far into the future?  Use this simple guide:

  • If you run a frontline team, write down what’s been completed at the end of the year, both in terms of business-as-usual volumes and any new stuff you’ve done.  Now write down what the team did to achieve that (what training, methods, techniques, layout, rosters etc. got them there).  Your job is about doing it better. Read more…

How to take the confusion out of your people’s career development

Crowd cheering

There is a simple way to sort out the career development of your own direct reports – stop doing it!

Asking a manager to take accountability for both the output and behaviour of their people as well as considering their future aspirations is asking a lot.   But….people knowing that the organisation has someone concerned with their future beyond their current role (even if it means not leaving the current role)  is a key part of creating the trust that ultimately sees people being willing to provide their full commitment.

So who is that someone?  We use the Manager-once-Removed, put forward by Elliott Jaques in a number of his works.   The Manager-once-Removed, or MoR is your boss’s boss.  Your skip-level manager.  We make each MoR accountable for building the pool of talent that sits below their own people,  that is their skip-level reports.   Read more…