Tenets of management design: If you can’t break down a job into its tasks and workflows, find someone who can

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Today I discuss a key element to managing well: Knowing what your team members are supposed to do.

This is part of a continuing series that explores the tenets of Management Design, the field this blog pioneers. Management Design is a response to the poorly performing existing designs that are currently used in creating managers.  These current designs describe how managers tend to be created by accident or anointment, rather than by design.

Today’s tenet:  If you can’t break down a job into its tasks and workflows, find someone who can.

Many managers are expected to manage a team of people, but really don’t have the clarity as to what the team members are expected to do.  Managers often have a sense of what their customers want, and what some examples of things the team produces, or metrics that indicate success (such as sales).

But these are, for the most part, results or indicators of what the team does, not what the team does.  The manager should have an understanding of what the component tasks are for the team members’ roles, and when added up, equals the thing that is produced, which then generate the metrics or impressions of success of the team.

Too often, managers only know this last element – what the impressions of success are, and not what the team members do.  As a result, the management team manages to the impression and not to what the team members are doing.  “We need higher sales!”

Breaking down a job into its component parts is not something that is easy.  In fact, it is really hard.  Even people – especially people — who do a job at a master level have a difficult time understanding the sub-tasks needed, the tools used, and the order performed that add up to performing a job role.   This is called “unconscious competence.”  Because of this, the top performers often create a haze that they are uniquely capable of doing the job.  Then the manager is in the position to having to accept this haze of only having an impression of what the output is, and not what created the output.

Since it is tough for an expert to define what it is she does, and since it is even tougher for a manager to define what it is that a team member is supposed to do, it is important that a manager or management designer find someone who can do this.

Fortunately, this is done all the time.  In the established field of Instructional Design, there is a common practice called “Task analysis.”  A more expansive version of task analysis is called “Workflows.” Either way, the Instructional Designer analyzes and documents what it is that people who perform a job at an acceptable level of performance and at an appropriate level of detail.  This is done for complicated jobs all the time.  Then the Instructional Designer typically takes that task analysis and develops a training program to get a new person up to the performance level.

But why is this reserved only for when a full training program is needed?  If a manager has actual employees in need of performing now, and a standard of performance needs to be set, it needs to be understood what it is that performance looks like.  With this information, the manager can provide better expectations, provide better performance feedback, and peers can better assist one another to assure things get done the way they need to get done.

I say get the task analysis and workflow analysis out of the domain and training programs where they often reside (and then die) and into the actual areas where people need to perform now — in the hands of people managers.  If you don’t know what your team members are supposed to do, ask an instructional designer or workflow analyst to help you find out.  Managers need this help.  As a tenet of Management Design, finding someone to help understand the tasks and workflows of the team members will help the manager manage better.

Do you have “task analyses” or “workflows” of what people on your team do?

Related articles:

Tenets of Management Design: Focus on the basics, then move to style points

Tenets of Management Design: Managing is a functional skill

Tenets of Management Design: Drive towards understanding reality and away from relying on perceptions

Tenets of Management Design: Identify and reward employees who do good work

Tenets of Management Design: A role in management is not an extension of performance as an individual contributor

Tenets of Management Design: Managers are created not found

Tenet of management design: If you don’t have a system, it’s probably being done over email

Tenets of management design: Doing managerial tasks is what adds up to being a manager

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .

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