Finding Fault in Who versus in What

There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing going around. 

People pointing to other people as causes of problems:

  • One country points to another for the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • One politician points to another for failure in stopping the spread of the virus;
  • A restaurant owner blames a vendor’s delay in deliveries as reason for the lack of items on a menu;
  • A manager blames an office worker for poor sales performance;
  • Fans ask “Who’s at fault for why our team didn’t make the playoffs?” and the next thing we see is the head coach getting fired.

We tend to find fault in people.  And we do that a lot.  Just read the newspapers and we see people blaming other people.  Anything from crime, accidents, or plain gossip, someone is hitting somebody else for the issue.   

Rather than say: “Who’s at fault?”  maybe we should first ask: “What’s at fault?” 

Right there and then, the paradigm shifts from outright blame to a study of the circumstances behind any incident. 

  • “What, instead of who, started the pandemic?”
  • “What, instead of who, brought about the spread of the virus?”
  • “What, instead of who, caused the delay in deliveries of needed supplies for the restaurant?”
  • “What, instead of who, led to the enterprise’s poor sales performance?”
  • “What, instead of who, did we do wrong that our team didn’t make the playoffs?”

Just by substituting “Who” with “What,” our frame of mind, even our attitude and feelings, change.  Our ill feelings toward a suspect diminish. We switch from witch-hunters to problem-solvers.

When a problem strikes, it may be good to take a deep breath, get our thoughts together, and remind ourselves to start asking questions with “What” before “Who.”

One word can really make a difference. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Six (6) Reasons Why We Need to Learn How to Manage Supply Chains

Why do we need to learn how to manage supply chains?

The answer to the question may seem straightforward at first.   

We need to learn how to manage supply chains so that we can ensure the availability of products and services at the right quantity, right quality, at the time they’re needed, and at a cost that is within stakeholders’ expectations.

But it’s not really that straightforward. 

Supply Chain Management was the idea of Mr. Keith Oliver who sometime in the 1970’s, while working for consultancy firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, developed a vision to break down the functional silos within organisations and integrate operations toward the common purpose of meeting customer requirements. 

Keith Oliver proposed I2M or Integrated Inventory Management in a presentation to a steering committee at the multinational corporation, Philips, in the 1970’s.  But as Oliver struggled to define I2M as the “management of a chain of supply as though it were a single activity,” one of the Philips managers, Mr. Van t’Hoff, suggested Oliver to call it just that:  “total supply chain management.” 

Not many of us really remember Keith Oliver or Mr. Van t’Hoff that much these days but most of us know, or at least heard of, supply chains and supply chain management

Supply Chain Management is a subject that has gained much attention and interest since Messrs Oliver and Vant’Hoff uttered the term.  Just about every enterprise that sells a product recognises the importance of supply chains especially when it comes to deliveries and costs. 

I learned supply chain management mostly on my own, in which I was fortunate to experience different assignments representing various stages of supply chain operations.

I managed inbound receipts of raw materials in which I learned how to plan, schedule, store, and handle incoming receipts.  I learned to be careful in making sure there neither was too much inventory nor too little. 

I managed production operations in which I learned that management is mostly how one works with not only people who are on the factory floor but also with peers from other departments, like purchasing, shipping & transportation, engineering & maintenance, human resources (HR), finance & accounting, and research & development (R&D).

I managed outbound logistics in which I learned that customer service starts not with deliveries but with understanding what customers want. 

From these experiences, I’ve distilled six (6) reasons why we need to learn how to manage supply chains. 

  1. Supply chains are the life-blood of (just about) every enterprise

All enterprises that sell products and services rely on some sort of supply chain for the transformation and flow of resources and merchandise.  The operations that underlie them provide the revenues and dictate the costs which determine the wealth and health of enterprises. 

  • Supply chains go beyond the enterprise’s borders

Supply chains don’t describe what happens within enterprises.  They describe what happens between enterprises.  Managers who are adept about their operations are only at most half-way in managing supply chains.  The real good ones are those who can make the entire supply chain work favourably for their enterprise’s interests. 

  • They’re complicated

No two (2) supply chains are alike, whether one compares enterprises or the operations that run through them.  And every supply chain isn’t really just a single flow of stuff from one end to another.  They’re really interconnected links where items flow in and flow out at various points of every other enterprise’s operation; some of which are visible and some of which are sometimes not. 

  • They’re prone to adversity

Every chain has its weakest links and the more links they are, the more likely they are vulnerable to adversity.  Adversities come in all types of risks and degrees of disruption.  Some are natural; some are man-made.  And they are often unpredictable, which requires some special talent in mitigating, if not avoiding them. 

  • Supply chain success relies on the performance of people

Much emphasis has been made on managing resources when it comes to supply chains.  But supply chain success can only happen with how well people working in them perform.  A lot rides on the workers and operators at different points of the chain and that doesn’t discount stakeholders such as the vendors, customers, information technology professionals, engineers, technicians, executives, and supervisors. 

  • They’re changing

Supply chains are evolving.  And not necessarily uniformly.  Some have hardly changed, such as storage & handling at seaports.  Some have dramatically altered the landscape such as e-commerce portals displacing middlemen in the retail industry.  And not only are they evolving within industries.  Supply chains are coming into play in enterprises one would never think they’d be applicable.  These include business process outsourcing (e.g. call centres), labour contract agencies, insurance, and software development. 

Supply chain management was born from the “aha” moment of Messrs. Keith Oliver and Van t’Hoff.  While the names of both esteemed men have waned from our memories, their brainchild, supply chain management, has become a very popular subject of discussion at enterprises the world over. 

But popularity alone is not enough a reason for why we need to learn how to manage supply chains. 

Supply chain management has become more important as enterprises recognise that it is the manifestation of actual revenue and cost, that it goes beyond borders of businesses, that it addresses complexity and adversity, that people performance is key to success, and that it is changing, not necessarily smoothly but more often in fits and starts. 

I am lucky to have experienced working in various supply chain operations but what it gave me wasn’t credentials but rather, the insights in how supply chains deserve a high place in our management priorities. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

What is a Manager, Anyway?

What is a manager?

That was the first question the group of line managers asked me. 

I just got hired by as a management trainee at a consumer goods company and was on my first month at its Manila manufacturing facility, going through orientation. 

I was required to undergo a qualification test with senior managers to assess how familiar I was with the company’s personnel manual, which detailed policies and benefits for employees.  The session with the line managers was a practice or “mock” qualification before the actual test with the facility’s top executives. 

Even after reading through all the manuals and memorising human resource policies and procedures, I was stumped.  I didn’t know how to answer the question.

“Do not guess!,” one line manager said, who happened to be a 25 year veteran shipping manager in the company.  “Apparently, you do not know what a manager is.” 

And right there, I failed the mock qualification test and had to go back to studying and finding out specifically what a manager is. 

Some will say a manager is a leader.  And that would not be the right answer.

Some will say a manager is a supervisor.  And again, the answer is no. 

A search on the internet will show varying results: 

A manager is a person who is responsible for supervising and motivating employees.”

A manager is an individual that supervises both activities and people within a given organization. In other terms, it is the person in charge of overseeing things that to get done.”

A manager is an expert in his or her field and is a support system for employees.”

“manager: a person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it.”

“manager: a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.”

Words such as “responsible,” “supervision,” and “control”, however, don’t provide a complete picture of what a manager is. 

After my disastrous failure at the mock qualification test, the shipping manager approached me and said, “check the Philippine Labour Code.”  I did right away and this is how the Philippines labour law defines a manager:   

(m) “Managerial employee” is one who is vested with the powers or prerogatives to lay down and execute management policies and/or to hire, transfer, suspend, lay-off, recall, discharge, assign or discipline employees. Supervisory employees are those who, in the interest of the employer, effectively recommend such managerial actions if the exercise of such authority is not merely routinary or clerical in nature but requires the use of independent judgment.

ref: Article 219 (m), Labor Code of the Philippines, DOLE Edition, 2016

In later conversations, the line managers said that the Philippine Labour Code was a starting point to knowing what a manager is.  They said:

Managers are representatives of the business.  They have the mandate and authority to make and enforce policies, and to hire & fire people. 

But more than that:

Managers are expected to muster resources to deliver results but what makes a manager different from everyone else is that they have responsibility over people

The late Peter Drucker, famous management guru, said it best when he said:

Management involves getting people to work toward the objectives of the enterprise.

A manager doesn’t just handle resources; a manager isn’t a manager unless he or she has people working for him or her.  

When the line managers met me again for a retaking of the mock qualification, I was able to hurdle the definition of what a manager is.  At the same time, the line managers taught me an important lesson.

You can’t manage anything until you first understand what your role as a manager is.

In a world where enterprises outsource work to third parties and oversee operations from far-away offices, defining what a manager is can be debatable and complicated. 

I don’t really believe a manager is one until he or she directly handles people, as in person, face-to-face, restrictions such as pandemics notwithstanding.  One can have one, two, or a team of a hundred working for him or her.  The point is management when it comes down to it, is all about getting people to work for the goals you as a manager and the enterprise who hired you have set. 

Defining what a manager is the very first step in any enterprise endeavour. 

And in the field of supply chain management, for instance, the most important word is the last one. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Appreciating the Value of Veteran Employees

When I was a young industrial engineer at the food production division of a multinational company, the accounting department asked me to find out why there was a large reported loss of refined coconut oil.

They’re the ones we always look for when we need something. 

I went to the production manager and he told me to ask Mang Ben.

In the Philippines, calling someone “Mang” is an address of respect usually to an elder.  Mang Ben in my case was a fifty-plus year old veteran who had worked at the multinational’s foods processing department for more than 25 years.  Mang Ben had more experience than everyone else and he would know why there is a reported loss in the coconut oil.  (It turned out to be due to an unsubmitted form that failed to get to accounting). 

Mang Ben could tell how many weeks supply an oil storage tank has just by looking at a gauge and he knew how to “cook” the fats and oils that the multinational produced every day. He could unload a barge of coconut oil all by himself and even called shipping operators to schedule when the barges should arrive such that they’d be timed with the incoming tides.  

I’ve met many workers like Mang Ben in the enterprises I later engaged with.

  • There’s the veteran machine operator who worked for a printing press company.  He knew how to quickly troubleshoot critical equipment and was the one the owners went to if they wanted to know if deadlines could be met; 
  • There’s the storeroom clerk who knew where every spare part of every equipment of the enterprise.  Even if there would be hundreds of items, he’d know where they were kept.  He also had a box of index cards which he used to track the inventory of the items, from when and how many arrived from which vendors to when and how many were given out and to whom; 
  • There was the 30-year-old young lady who was the right-hand assistant of an owner of a trading enterprise which delivered to independent convenience stores.  She knew every inch of the warehouse she was in charge of and knew every step in the trader’s logistics operations, from order to delivery.  She would push people to deliver rush orders and knew the ins and outs of the trading enterprise’s accounting system;
  • There’s the purchasing clerk who was familiar with every vendor of the multinational company she worked for.  From the ones who delivered the expensive chemicals down to the office supplies, she knew who offered the best deals.  She was the go-to person when any of the enterprise’s managers needed something to be bought fast. 

Some executives in the past have cited operations managers’ dependency on people like Mang Ben as a sign of weakness in the system.  Relying on one person for so much may entail risk especially if that employee suddenly becomes absent or leaves the enterprise. 

On the other hand, having a very able veteran brings about opportunities.  Veteran employees like Mang Ben bring a wealth of experience that manuals or consultants can’t equal.  A manual does not quite teach how much to turn a valve in real life to get to just the right cooking temperature as well as how Mang Ben would show it in person.    

Veterans also are likely to know what improvements would be most helpful for an enterprise.  Many veteran labourers at warehouses had given me insights on how storage racks should be laid out and what kind of material handling equipment would help. I was surprised, for example, when the labourers at a toy importer said they’d settle for well-built ladders to climb than expensive forklifts to retrieve bulky boxes from the tallest rack shelves. 

And when it comes to big changes such as building a new warehouse or installing new technology, it also helps to have veterans participate.  Veterans know the products and services of an enterprise very well, if not more so than the owners themselves.  Whenever there is an introduction of something new like a new improved machine or new storage facilities, the veterans would likely have valuable input on what to watch out for especially on quality, efficiency, and service. 

Veterans would know how high a truck dock should be or where in a factory the floor would be strongest to place a new machine.  An architect or civil engineer may offer all the standards but a veteran would know via experience what and where would contribute best for something new. 

Many enterprises have veterans like Mang Ben, employees who have loyally stayed long with the business and know more about the operations than just about anyone else.  Veterans are not signs of weaknesses but people who offer opportunities for educating new employees and to consult with for improvements, whether minor or major. 

We should be grateful for the veterans in our workplace.  They contribute more than what we can appreciate them for. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Three Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

Every new manager should always ask three (3) questions about an operation he or she will be in charge of:

  1. What does the book say should be happening?
  2. What do the people say should be happening?
  3. What is really happening? 

Chances are each answer would be totally different from the others. 

What does the book say?

The “book” in this case is the manual, memo, policy, or rule.  What does the book say how an operation should be run? 

What do the people say?

The “people” are the workers running the operation, your boss, and your peers whom you work with.  They’re the men and women on the ground who know their jobs as well as those co-managers who think they know more than you. 

You could also pose the same question to support staff like the inspectors & maintenance technicians, or to foremen and supervisors who oversee the workers.  But I’d put more weight to what the people who are on the front-line say since they’re the ones who are right there doing the job itself.   

What is really happening?

This is what is actually happening which comes from witnessing the operation itself. 

Most of the time the answers to each question differ greatly.  What the book says would differ from what the people you work with say and either would differ from what is happening in real life.

When a new manager notes the different answers, it provides a starting point on how best to manage the people and operations she will be in charge of.  It will lead to more questions like:

  • Why isn’t the operation doing what it’s supposed to as per the manual?
  • Why are people saying differently from what is actually happening?

The idea isn’t to catch people and find fault.  It’s to know what real problems underlie the jobs people are doing and the systems that run them. 

The three (3) questions provide an opening into understanding what those challenges and difficulties are. 

Case in Point:  Production at a Refrigerated Margarine Packing Line

As a new manager of a refrigerated margarine packing line of a multinational consumer goods corporation, it was my job to make sure production would always be maximised.  There was high demand for the corporation’s refrigerated margarine brand at the time and I had to make sure production was in full swing.

I noticed, however, that production per eight-hour shift never was more than 700 packed cases a day. 

I went to check the work styles of the margarine’s operators.  I had the three (3) questions in mind:

What did the book, the company’s manufacturing manual, say? 

The manual said employees must be on the production line at the very start of their shift and can only leave their work-place during breaks and only at the end of their shift.  During their work-time, they must be working and packing to meet output as dictated by the production schedule.

In other words, employees should be working throughout their shift except during breaks. 

But if they are working throughout their shift, then based on time & motion studies, they should easily exceed 700 cases a day.  So why weren’t they?

What did the operators say?

When I asked the operators how come they weren’t exceeding the 700 cases a shift, they said that is the maximum they can humanly do.  Each case is heavy and packing them isn’t as easy as what the manual says. 

When they pack a refrigerated margarine case, they said they have one person scooping up the margarine bars and putting them into a corrugated container.  A second packer tapes the case and stacks it with others on a pallet.  A third person who is also the operator of the production equipment moves the pallet to cold storage adjacent to the packing line and then provides a new pallet for the packets to stack new cases. 

What was really happening?

When I went to discreetly observe the packing operation (I would observe from a spot where they wouldn’t see me), I noticed that there’d only be one operator on the packing line.  The other two wouldn’t be there.  In fact, whenever I observed the operation, there will always be only person doing everything:  packing, stacking, and moving the pallets. 

On the swing shift (afternoon to evening) and graveyard shift (evening to early morning), there would be no production operation for the last two to three hours of each shift.  As in no one present on the production line. 

When I confronted the crews about this, their first answer was that the other operators were on break when I was observing only one person on the line.  When I countered that it wasn’t the designated company break time, they then said they took turns on breaks so that they could run the machine straight without having to turn it off and on again. 

When I asked how come there was no operation for the last two to three hours of a shift, they said they were making up for the break-times they didn’t use up from going straight during the shift.

Finally, when the employees realised they weren’t making sense, they finally said:

Some years ago we were paid on incentive.  We were given a quota of 700 cases a shift.  If we exceed quota, then we will be paid extra.  But the company decided two (2) years before you the manager came to scrap the system and raised every worker’s salaries to make up for the lost incentive.  We at the refrigerated margarine line, however, felt no longer motivated to produce more than 700 cases per shift.  And rather work throughout a shift, each of us operators took turns packing the items on the line.  Each of us would really be working only two (2) hours a shift.  After six (6) hours, when we reached the “quota” of 700 cases, we would all go upstairs to our locker room and rest until quitting time. 

For the succeeding months afterwards, I worked with the refrigerated margarine crew in this regard.  I didn’t outright succeed in getting more production per shift but I did change how production schedules were done and did organise the crews into teams that worked on reducing downtimes.  Productivity actually improved despite the ongoing practice of producing only a fixed quantity per shift. 

Asking those three (3) questions:

  1. What does the book say?
  2. What do the people say?
  3. What is really happening? 

helps managers see what’s happening from three (3) different angles. 

Neither answer may necessarily be the right one.  The idea is to reconcile them all and identify the problems that underlie each one of them. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

What Organising Really Means

There are four (4) basic functions to management:  planning, organising, directing, and controlling. 

We can picture what planning, directing, and controlling are.  They’re kind of straightforward and self-explanatory.  Organising, however, is not. 

When we “organise,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  We perhaps think of putting our stuff in order, like filing away papers and cleaning out the clutter.  Maybe we see organising as rearranging the tables of our subordinates, laying out the machinery, and scheduling who’ll work from home versus who’ll be at the office.  It can be that we think it is about making an organisational chart that shows the positions of people. 

Organising as a management function, however, is more than just all of the above. 

The dictionary defines organise as “cause to be structured or ordered or operating according to some principle or idea,” and “arrange by systematic planning and united effort.”  The key words are structure, order, and arrange and it is done for a principle or idea via systematic planning and united effort.

Organising is therefore not just making things neat.  It’s about making things ready for a specific purpose.  The “things” in this case are people, assets, resources, and products

Organising People

Managers organise people to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.  Organising is about employing and deploying the people crucial to making the enterprise’s goals into realities.  These include those we directly hire, i.e. employees, and those we engage with such as contractors and vendors. 

The tasks in organising people include team building, organisational development, training, defining job descriptions or scopes of work, and assignment of duties and responsibilities. 

Organising Assets

To get things done, managers need to have their assets in place and ready to be used.  These include having enough funds to pay for them and prepping them for operation. 

There have been many times I’ve seen managers order equipment and then realising they didn’t set aside enough money to pay the seller, causing delays in installation and start-ups.  

Organising assets includes tasks such as allocating cash in conjunction with budgets, setting up work stations, making and doing a checklist for preventive maintenance, calibrating gauges, running diagnostics, preparing storage space, and housekeeping.

Organising Resources

Resources are the materials, supplies, energy, water, and spare parts that we need to get things done.

Managers tend to underestimate the organisation of resources. 

Organising resources include preparing purchase orders, putting items in their proper place, checking that item codes are updated in the information system, informing security and receiving clerks what vendors are delivering the next day, clarifying policies such as first-in first-out retrieval, cycle counting of items to reconcile with inventory records, and regular quality inspections of critical components & parts. 

Organising Products

Similar to organising resources, we should make sure products are in their proper places, their codes complete in our computers, and delivery documents are arranged visibly for dispatch. Organising products also includes classifying each product’s inventory policy, marshalling finished goods for staging, categorising them by segment, group, family, and stock-keeping unit, and fixing the process descriptions and parameters of each. 

Organising products is no less important than organising people, assets, and resources.  In many cases, it should be the first to be done before the rest.

Organisation is not the same as organising.  The former is about structure; the latter is function.  Organising is work we may call mundane but necessary because the devil is in the details.  We can plan, direct, and control but if we don’t organise, that is, focus on things, make sure they’re in order, arranged, and ready for the strategies we will execute, then we’ll for sure run into trouble. 

Leaders rally people to a cause.  Managers organise people, assets, resources, and products to make real the goals of the cause.   

About Overtimers Anonymous

Owning versus Managing: What’s the Difference?

Do you own the business or do you manage the business?*

A senior member of the board of trustees of a high-rise building walked into its administration office and asked the accountant there to order parts for a diesel generator set.  The senior board member believed that the generator needed a minor repair and not only does he tell the accountant to buy parts, he also tells the building technicians to do the repair the coming weekend.  At no time does he talk to the building manager or the engineer both of whom were at the office. 

The building manager didn’t agree with the board member.  She made that clear in a previous board meeting where the senior member as well as the president and other board trustees were present.  The building manager felt that an outside contractor, with special expertise in generator sets, should diagnose and repair the building’s diesel generator.  It shouldn’t be entrusted to the building’s technicians who themselves said they were not qualified to do the job. 

The senior board member didn’t care for the building manager’s opinion and didn’t bother to talk to the engineer.  When asked why, the senior board member said the technicians agreed to do the job and the engineer didn’t seem to be interested. 

We can easily see that the board member was wrong for pushing ahead with a job that is the responsibility of the manager.  But this kind of thing happens a lot not just in buildings but in businesses.  Owners hire managers but take it upon themselves to micro-manage daily activities.  

Owners would insist on being part of every daily decision, from approving every petty cash disbursement to studying every project, big or small.  Managers end up paralysed; they won’t move until the owners tell them what to do. 

Thus, the question to enterprise owners: are you there to own the business or manage the business

Managing the business is about planning, organising, directing, and controlling the enterprise’s day-to-day activities and projects.  It’s about supervising people, procuring resources, budgeting & accounting, and compliance to rules & regulations.  Managers make sure goals are met and strategies executed. 

Owners set the standards and peg the objectives of the enterprise they have stakes in.  They monitor the performance of the enterprise in which management delivers and reports.  They listen to management’s recommendations on issues such as budgets, plans, projects, and strategies.  It is the owners who decide via their boards or executive committees whether plans push through or not and how much resources will be planned, procured, and given.   And of course, it is the owners who hire and fire the managers. 

Both managers and owners share the same common interest:  make the enterprise prosper.   Each just have different roles.  But because we are human in which we each have our own opinions, owners sometimes cross the line and interfere with management. 

There is nothing wrong when owners complain when they notice employees come in late for work or when they question why customers aren’t receiving their orders quickly.  There is nothing wrong when owners suggest ideas to managers whether it be for process improvement or for a new gadget. 

It becomes wrong when owners push managers on how to address a complaint or how to adopt whatever idea or suggestion is raised.  Managers are there to figure out how to do things.  Owners are there to see how managers perform. 

Managers represent the owners when they deal with clients, vendors, contractors, community, and government.  Managers therefore should make sure their decisions and policies are in line with the owners’ standards and objectives. 

Owners lead.  Managers execute.  Owners set the destinations; managers map the routes.  Owners approve the strategies; managers act on them. 

There should be no overlap.  No crossing over.  Owners should know their place as much as managers should too.  If owners want to manage, then they should assume the position but be ready for the consequences, one of which is organisational paralysis. 

*Thank you to Mr. Jovy Jader of Prosults for coining the question and inspiring this blog. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Case of the Half-Cut Tree; How We View Accountability

There’s a tree across the street from where I live that looks like it’s half of what it should be. 

the half-cut tree

The tree’s trunk is rooted on an empty lot.  Its leafy side hangs over a street intersection. 

The tree’s leafy branches press down on telephone & internet cables.  Over the years, especially when the wind is blowing, the branches force the cables to snap.  We’ve lost telephone landline service several times as a result. 

One day, a contractor working for the power utility company MERALCO (short for Manila Electric Company), came by and started trimming the tree’s branches.  He trimmed the few branches on the side of the tree that didn’t touch the telephone wires.  When I asked if he could prune the branches pressing on the telephone wires, he said he couldn’t.  His contract with MERALCO covered cutting tree branches touching electric cables but not those belonging to the telecom companies.  And since there were no MERALCO cables where the telephone wires were, he had no authority to cut anything there.  I should just call the owner of the lot to fix the problem, he said.

The problem was I didn’t know the owner of the empty lot.  I haven’t seen anyone on that empty lot for years. 

I called the phone company and reported about the tree branches endangering their wires.  The man on the other end of the phone said the phone company couldn’t cut the branches.  The phone company does not have a permit from the Philippine government’s Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) to cut tree branches.  The phone company cannot justify a permit, the man said, because their cables pose no danger to the tree.  The MERALCO contractor, the man added, probably has a DENR permit because the electric cables are high-voltage and may pose a risk to the tree. 

In other words, I can’t ask either the MERALCO contractor or the phone company to trim the tree and free the telephone wires from the pressing branches.  The MERALCO contractor went on to trim the tree from one end but would not cut the tree on the other side. The tree therefore looks cut in half with a leafy side matched by an empty space on the other. 

One day a city engineer’s crew in a truck passed by, inspecting the street lights.  I approached the crew and asked them if they can do something about the tree branches.  The crew chief said he’ll look into it.  A few days later he came back and promised to trim the tree.  It’s been two (2) weeks and he hasn’t come back. 

Who’s accountable for the telephone wires?  The phone company owns the wires but they won’t touch the tree.  They’ll repair the telephone wires when they snap but they won’t trim the tree to prevent it from happening. 

Who should trim the tree branches?  Both the MERALCO contractor and the phone company said the owner of the empty lot should be the one responsible to cut the tree.  It doesn’t mean though he should be responsible for the telephone wires. 

What’s the role of the city government and the DENR? I imagine that the the city hall people do not consider themselves accountable for either the tree or the telephone wires.  The city government would be concerned about safety and well-being of residents but they wouldn’t touch the tree if there’s no apparent risk.  As for the DENR, they’d rather no one do anything to the tree. 

The case of the half-cut tree represents the state of accountability in society today.   To put it bluntly, we avoid accountability. 

Saying that people avoid accountability is a matter of personal opinion.  But from experience and observation, we try as much as we could to not take in added responsibility, unless there’s an incentive or reward to be had. 

First reason:  it’s human nature.  When we were children, most of us would blame someone else for our misbehaviour.   This is to evade punishment or to look good.  “It’s not our fault, it’s hers!”, we’d exclaim when our parents catch us doing something wrong. 

Second reason:  We have become more defensive.  Thanks to social media and all the finger-pointing, trolling, and blown-up scandals that come with it, we have become more careful about what we say and do.  People can see more of what we’re doing and question and criticise us for it.  We have seen people’s reputations damaged or their careers side-lined because they said or did something someone didn’t agree with. 

We therefore hesitate to accept new challenges, ones that especially bring us out of our comfort zones.  We fear criticisms or worse, legal and social consequences for volunteering ideas or joining a cause. 

In business, enterprise executives look out for their interests before deciding on an initiative.  Executives and managers rather work within their turfs rather than venture with other departments.  Employees don’t go beyond their job descriptions, and if they don’t know what their job descriptions are, they’ll demand it be clarified before they proceed to work.    

Third Reason:  We have become more individualistic.  Teamwork should mean people working together.  But in the real world, it has become synonymous to delegating and performance evaluation. 

We see teamwork in sports such as when basketball players pass the ball and assist one another to score.  We see it in religious organisations when we see choirs practice singing together.  But we hardly see it in every day work in which managers simply farm out tasks to subordinates and assign them deadlines and criteria for success. 

We have become more careful of what we commit as a result.  As much as possible, we don’t commit if we could.  Better if we don’t join a team.  We’d rather work on our own rather than risk getting more to do that we’d be condemned later for if we don’t finish on time or completely.

It’s ironic that enterprises invest in team building workshops in which employees participate in exercises together only for them to go back to their workplaces to toil on individual commitments. 

Fourth Reason:  Performance management has focused more on individuals than on the teams.  We manage performance more on the parts than on the whole. 

Management philosophy at the turn of the 21st century has shifted towards scorecards and metrics.  Key performance measurement has become the enterprises’ go-to method to getting things done. 

Managers, however, have been emphasising individual performance than team achievement.  When an enterprise applies the basic features of a SMART-C performance metric, in which it has to be specific, measurable, show who’s accountable, realistic, time-bound, & challenging, they drop them on the lap of individual employees, not on teams.  If teams themselves present scorecards, it’s the team leader who’s usually made accountable.  He gets the glory if he makes it; he gets the reprimand if he doesn’t. 

Backers of key performance indices, KPI’s, may disagree with what I just said.   Scorecards are designed for teams not individuals, they’d say.  That is true.  But from what I’ve seen, enterprises have remained focused on individuals when it comes to performance evaluation.  Hardly does one see an executive evaluate a team together.    

And because of this, individuals work on the measures they’re evaluated on than on the overall standards of the organisations they work for.  And that’s assuming if they even know what those standards are, or if they care. 

It is these four reasons why I believe the tree outside my residence will remain cut in half.  One side trimmed and not in any way endangering the electric power cables, the other side left untrimmed with branches ready to snap the service out of my telephone line. 

The phone company, the MERALCO contractor, the owner of the empty lot, the city, the DENR, and I will not volunteer to prune the tree.  It requires a joint team effort among all the parties.  And it looks like it’s not going to happen because of the four (4) reasons stated above. 

Accountability has become a bad word for many people.  We don’t want more of what we already have and if we can avoid it, we will. 

The best solution to reverse the accountability avoidance trend is to bring back old-fashioned team work.  You know, the one where people come together and work together as a group?  If it can be done in sports and religious organisations, then why not in every day work?

Easier said than done, yeah, especially with a virus forcing people apart.  But if we can somehow recognise the need to be together to get something done together, why not indeed?   

About Overtimers Anonymous

Paying Attention versus Getting Attention

A columnist at a leading daily newspaper writes every week about ghosts, spirits, reincarnation, or in other words, supernatural stuff.  He is obviously popular as he’s been writing for the newspaper for decades.  He seems to be doing well as he’s consulted for some people and spoke at gatherings. 

I laugh at how people can believe the silly stuff this columnist writes about until I remind myself that I also have advised clients and spoke at gatherings in which I try to get people to believe everything I say. 

Am I really any different from the columnist who preaches unbelievable content?  I offer insights but they can be hard to digest especially if they entail big changes in mindsets. 

The columnist writes to get attention.  Apparently, so do I.  Many of us seek attention in our efforts to gain influence.  We advertise.  We preach.  We SHOUT. 

More so when it comes to management and staff.  Managers seeking attention talk a lot and remind their subordinates a lot.  I know because I do it a lot as a manager and I’m still working on getting to do it less. 

Sometimes and more often than not, it’s better to pay attention than get attention. 

As treasurer for several commercial buildings, I monitor the spending of property management companies the associations of these buildings hire.  In some cases, the property managers spend too much or they spend too little.  This causes budget overruns leading to running out of cash or under-runs in which a building hoards too much money that otherwise should have been spent for better services and infrastructure. 

When I sit down with a property manager to tell her how she should plan her spending, I’d often go into a long-winded speech about how she should have a vision for the building and how she should plan and present projects. 

Naturally, after several minutes, she’d be silent with a glassy stare.  And I know by then:

  1. She’s no longer listening;
  2. I’m talking too much. 

When I, however, ask questions about the challenges of her job, she starts talking.  As long as I keep asking, she keeps talking. 

And as she talks and I listen to what she’s saying, I realise she’s coming from a wholly different point of view than mine.  She’d start by saying that the property company she works demands numerous reports—reports that require considerable time to write and submit. 

The building manager also mentions that her superiors have pushed a roll-out of ISO (international standards for quality & compliance) in all their client projects and that she has deadlines to meet those standards. 

And so on and so forth the building manager would go about the training she has to go through, the meetings she has to attend at her company offices, the complaints of building tenants she has to address, etcetera, etcetera. 

At a point, it would take an effort for me not look at my watch, not put on a glassy stare, and not to pretend to listen.  Because from the effort to ask and the effort to listen, I get to learn what it’s like for the building manager.  And from learning what it’s like, I get to understand the backgrounds and rationale for how the building is managed. 

And as the building manager opens up, she opens up too to what I not only ask but also suggest.  Eventually, we come to a point where we both agree to ideas on how to better manage the building. 

By the way, this really happened.  In that building where I did ask and develop a rapport with the manager, both cashflow and spending for critical maintenance projects doubled in one year.  There were improvements in sewage, elevators, and air-conditioning equipment.  Collections of dues gained in efficiency and the manager was still able to comply with her company’s directives. 

Asking is a technique I’ve come to appreciate to have fruitful conversations and obtain tangible results.  Asking is a key component of listening, of what many in the human resources field are promoting as empathy. 

Taking away the buzzwords and hype, I’d just say asking works.  When we ask questions and listen to the answers, it starts a conversation.  As long as we don’t try cutting the other off, let the other talk, and digest what the other party is saying, we gain insights for ourselves which we can build on to suggest to the other side’s point of view.  Because when we work from another person’s point of view, the person seems to understand better what we’re talking about; they would welcome it more than if we were communicating from our own. 

We have a habit of trying to get attention to the things we want to say and preach.  It’s what we see what people do every day in the media and in our everyday lives.  We end up doing it too in our attempt to expand our turfs and gain influence. 

I’ve learned, however, that paying attention works better.  It’s done by asking, listening, and asking again, until rapport is built and ideas flow.  And by experience, when ideas flow, doable solutions to problems follow.  And I’ve seen the real-life benefits.  

Ask, listen, repeat.  It works. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Seen and Not Heard, Speak Only When Spoken To, Why It’s Good to Listen

In the old days (as late as the mid-20th century), many parents told their kids that children were meant to be “seen not heard” and that children can only “speak when spoken to.”

This rule prevails among many families, never mind if it’s the 21st century and some people say we should be more liberal with our kids. 

Many enterprises apply this rule in their organizations too. 

In one company I was consulting with, the executive vice president disliked getting interrupted or being asked questions by her subordinates.  When they do, the EVP yells at them.  The subordinates believed they didn’t have the privilege of speaking out; only their bosses have. 

Whenever I sat in the top management meetings of large multinational corporations, I noticed only the executives seated around the conference table would be allowed to speak.  Those middle managers and staff who sit at the periphery in less comfortable chairs would only talk when they’re addressed.  Otherwise, they were expected to keep quiet.  (They can laugh at the chief executive’s jokes though).

It seemed that such an old-fashioned rule stifles the sharing of information and the emergence of innovative ideas.  And because of this, executives had become out of touch with their own people.  Instead, the executives form their own opinions and solutions and when they address their staff, they expect immediate agreement. 

New enterprises attribute their successes to the teamwork of their people.  This gets forgotten as enterprises grow in size and complexity.  But size and complexity shouldn’t be the reasons for not engaging with everyone in the organization. 

Whether big or small, everyone in an organization has always something to share.  Many of what they share may seem trivial but chances are there will be a gold nugget of an idea in the information they impart. 

So, what should an organisation do to encourage information sharing?  Meet with the people at their level is the first thing that comes to mind.  Go listen to them at their workplaces.  Note I said “listen” not “talk.”  Listening is the real key here.  It’s amazing how much an employee can open up when he or she realises there’s someone actually willing to listen. 

It will take time of course.  Some employees won’t open up at once especially when they’re face to face with the person who they believe holds the power of the organisation.  There is effort involved.  There always is when trying something not really done as much before.

But I think many have testified to the benefits of listening.  It promotes trust for one.  When the people of an organisation trust their executives more, when they see that executives are humans just like them, they tend to be more open to change.  At least they would be more open to share information as well as receive feedback from the executives. 

Some of us grew up in families where we were not allowed to speak unless spoken to.  This unwritten rule somehow carried over to organisations which some of us work for today.  It stifles information sharing and hampers innovation.  Executives can break this rule by simply going down to the level of their employees and listening. 

Listening builds trust and trust opens up communication which leads to information sharing and innovation.  Innovation drives growth and competitive advantage.  And it doesn’t cost a thing.  Just some effort will do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous