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The beauty of facts is that they describe and define a reality which is independent of the people involved. A business is an entity in its own right. We as people simply work there. All bosses are different in style, character, approach, and so on. The leveller of all bosses is facts. Even if your boss is not ‘a fact’ person, and especially if they are not, the facts will protect you as much as they help you.
If you are not ‘a fact person’ you leave yourself vulnerable to opinion, suspicion, subjectivity and other influences. You will be operating partially blind if you have not bolted down a trusted representation of reality, based on the facts that you and your boss use to navigate reality, progress and set-backs. In all roles a direct report must learn to construct or model a picture of reality, progress and future outcomes based on ‘facts’ or agreed assumptions. This must become one of the primary dimensions of a common language that you and your boss share. It doesn’t have to be ‘the budget’ picture, but it helps if there is not duplication of systems.
The day to day, month to month picture of reality is often in a KPI or budget format. Such a schedule should have enough trended information to see the patterns and direction of movement in KPI’s. KPI’s must capture activities, volumes, capacities, and performances for the key variables that you are responsible for in your role.
When you start a role, it is paramount that you agree or construct for yourself the way that you wish ‘to see’ your role for the purpose of managing the day job. This data could be both quantitative and qualitative. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to see ‘a view’ of a role on one page of A4. The detail can be attached behind. Each monthly meeting between a line manager and a direct report should involve the agreement and any conversation that goes with the current picture of performance reality. If the numbers that you use are in a separate system there needs to be a demonstrated reconciliation to anything which is used for business statutory reporting. A direct report would ideally issue their objective picture to their line manager ahead of any 1:1 meeting with a narrative on issues. This will save time and prevent surprises. By adopting this discipline it is upholding the principle in this article of ‘objective criteria’. Even if the numbers are poor, a report makes the numbers objective.
The second reporting view should capture the activity and progress on priority projects. A summary of project names, value add, activity taken place and level of completion should exist at the basis of such a report.
The summary of such a page should fit onto one page of A4 too. A narrative for each project should help a direct report to assess achievement and to highlight issues and challenges still remaining. A good line manager will pick up a summary report and drill down into the real issues, risks and opportunities and an objective report will give them the best chance of engaging their experience and expertise quickly. A report that is focused on projects, will help a direct report to manage the time and capacity boundaries that were covered in the previous article. The list of projects can be sorted by highest value add, earliest completion date, level of risk and so on. It is usual that a person cannot handle more than 7 projects effectively at anyone time. With a greater number of projects a person begins to spread themselves too thinly and lacks focus. The construction of project portfolio is the core skill in the process of a direct report ending up ‘on top of their role’
This is the area where newly appointed senior managers and directors struggle to demonstrate and model the future reality. For a whole business entity this might be called a strategic plan or a business plan. For a function such as IT, HR or other support services ‘the model’ is often less obvious. The principle point is that all business leaders need to demonstrate how their activity will lead to improving or affecting the system in a positive way. It is a cause and effect picture that needs to be built for something that might have a 3 to10 year time frame on outcomes. Without this linkage between activity and outcome, decisions cannot be seen, let alone be made. This third dimension of ‘objective criteria’ is the one that will enable resources to be allocated to an improvement agenda. Without the skills to demonstrate this longer term dynamic of resources used to generate more value add, a role will be limited to short-term projects and often functional silo thinking around a business.
The fulfilment of a leadership role at any level but particularly critical at senior management and director level requires that a direct report masters the use of ‘objective criteria’. This is not about analysis paralysis or getting lost in detail. This skill is required to assure short term performance and to manage the medium term change agenda and the longer term strategic change agenda. Without this set of skills a direct report cannot fully serve their line manager and present business reality and business cases in such a way that decisions can be made. Without objective criteria in the three dimensions of performance, change and strategy a direct report cannot be operating on top of their role unless they are extremely intuitive and practically experienced.
Objective criteria and the ability to paint pictures in numbers is a fundamental skill of a transformational leader.
Enrichyou’s Leaders of the Future development programmes include coaching and mentoring programmes to enhance the line-management relationship giving strategies to develop great working relationship with high quality engagement. Please contact us for more information.
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