Lucky's Blog

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Sorcerer’s Techniques

Over the years I have seen many examples of managers casting blame upon others as though they were sorcerers casting magical spells. Throughout my management career I have always conducted myself in two ways. One, everything starts and stops at my desk. Two, I take all the blame and none of the credit. When something goes wrong it is my fault. I am the manager, who else’s fault can it be? I own it, and accept the consequences. Then I make adjustments that ensure it won’t happen again. When things go well, or I am given a compliment, I pass it down to my team where it belongs, don’t thank me, it was John, or Greg, or etc., which did all the work! If more managers would accept responsibility and stand up for their team, how much stronger would the American workforce be?
Unfortunately, in today’s world, I see more sorcery and finger pointing than accountability. It seems that more people are concerned with self preservation than with doing the right thing. Many managers are interested in setting themselves up in a position with no accountability. When something goes wrong, they divert the focus to a team member and the blame game begins.
As a manager I try to make it very clear to my team what my expectations are and how they will be held accountable to those expectations. If ever I cannot apply accountability, then I know there is an issue with structure. So the question has to be asked, how do people get themselves into a position of power with no accountability? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, but I can help by giving advice on how to keep it from happening to you.
If you are in a management position be sure to check your structure. If there is no accountability to a team member, group, or division, then more than likely you have a sorcerer in your organization. Here are the basics: You shouldn’t have responsibility for something you have no control over, nor should you be held accountable to something that you have no control over. Same goes for your team. Take the time to think through your reporting lines and make sure that everyone has a way to be held accountable for everything under their control. Then make sure that all team members truly have control over all they are being held accountable for.
Recently I had a discussion with a good friend of mine (we will call him Jim for this story). Jim is a Sr. PM at a competitor’s electrical company. He was expressing to me some of the frustration he felt due to a series of events he was involved in and I felt this situation would help illustrate the sorcerer’s techniques.
Jim was called in for a meeting by Ken, the Operation’s Manager, to review some of the projects under Jim’s “control”. When Jim arrived, Ken sat him down in his office and began asking Jim why his jobs were losing money. Jim tried to explain to Ken that after he had done his own project analysis, he realized that the estimating department on one of the projects had left out an entire page of the plans, which consisted of the whole third floor lighting and associated labor and materials. On a second project the purchasing department had purchased the generators for the project for nearly $500,000, when the estimate only had a total of $130,000 figured for generators. When you actually looked into the projects they were in good shape considering, all the mistakes made outside of Jim’s control. Once Jim finished with his explanations, Ken was upset and blamed Jim for the problems. Ken went on to let Jim know that he is the Project Manager, and it is his responsibility to make the projects financially successful. He went on to say that, mistakes in estimating are not an excuse for a bad project, every project has estimating mistakes.
So who is the Sorcerer? Is it Jim or Ken? The answer might surprise you. Actually they are both sorcerers. Jim blamed the estimating department and the purchasing department, and Ken blamed Jim. I would be willing to bet that the chain of blame continued in both directions. More than likely the estimating department will say they weren’t given enough time, and the purchasing department would say they got a great deal; and Ken’s boss would say that Ken needs to figure out what’s wrong with his whole group.
If Jim had gone through the plans himself and done his own take off before they started the project, he could have brought this to Ken’s attention before the job went south, and then Jim wouldn’t have looked like he was making excuses since at that point the job hadn’t even started yet.
Ken should have a process in place to make sure that an estimate is right prior to submittal, or at least before accepting the contract, and not put all the responsibility on the PM. That way, if there is something missed, you know before signing a contract and have time to correct the numbers, or take the risk.
For this particular scenario our chain of checks and balances goes like this: as soon as a team is awarded a project, we name a project manager and a superintendent. The project manager, superintendent, and the original estimator take an entire new, and separate, take-off of the plans. Then all three get together to compare notes and only once they have all agreed that the take-off is correct, do we move forward. There is also a high level legal contract review done to avoid contract language pitfalls. This includes the PM, Legal Counsel, Division manager, and a VP. Only once all agree that this is a good project, do we move forward with contract execution. While some people may feel that this expense is unjustified, just think about the amount of money lost on the two examples above.
While there is no guaranteed solution to eliminate all blame, you need to do your best to make sure that everyone is working together to the successful completion of every project. If you can commit to your team and they can count on your support and integrity, you will win and lose as a team with little to no blame or finger pointing. The sorcerer relies on smoke, mirrors, and misdirection and eventually they are reveled for the frauds that they are. It doesn’t take magic to establish accountability but it does take a brain. And remember, thinking is hard work. That is why so few do it!

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