Pillar of Operations Improvement – Management Behavior

This is the final post of a four part series. You can read the first three posts here:

  1. 3 Pillars of Operations Improvement
  2. Pillar of Operations Improvement – Business Process
  3. Pillar of Operations Improvement – Management Tools

First we thought about how any business department operates on a cycle of activities making up a business process, and noted that the operations of the processes can be improved through elimination of waste and variability and balancing around the constraint.

Next we thought about how even a very well designed business process can fall off track if its managers do lack an accurate and clear portrait of what the process is capable of and what level it is actually performing at. To improve an operation’s set of management tools, often the best gains are made from increasing detail / specificity to daily schedules, and linking those daily schedules to longer term business requirements.

Finally in this post, I’ll talk about my experiences in where the rubber meets the road – how managers behave such that variances to the process are proactively addressed, employees in the process are engaged and prepared, and if / when variances do occur their root cause is identified and resolved as quickly as possible.

First let’s recognize three critical points:Operations Improvement - Management Behavior

  1. Processes – no matter how automated they may be – are controlled by people that are prone to mistakes
  2. Management Tools are only tools; they alone will not result in any operational improvements
  3. The role of a manager in operations is to prevent / eliminate barriers to success

While I’m happy to hear from anyone who disagrees with one or more of these three points, I’m moving forward focused on operations improvement!

While improving the process or a piece or two of the system of management tools will often lead to incremental operations improvements, efforts really take hold when the managers change their behavior and mindset.

An effective way to control management behavior and mindset is to plan it out. Consider the different activities that a manager performs each day and those activity’s impact on the operations. For example, is a manager really removing the barriers to the success of her operations when she is in the office approving payroll? Is a manager really removing the barriers to the success of her operations when she is sitting in the weekly 3hr TPS report meeting? There is no denying that meetings and payroll administration are requirements of a business, there is also no denying that time spent on these activities is not the optimal behavior of a manager.

Categorize all of a manager’s tasks into one of the following six categories:

  1. Strategic Management – Activities where a manager is planning or evaluating ways to grow the business in the longer term. Examples could be evaluating facility expansion options, planning a new sales territory, meeting with a potential business partner.
  2. Proactive Operations Management – Time where a manager is giving or following up on proactive direction to an employee regarding the expectations of the process. Examples are when a manager effectively sets an expectation of an employee by Specifically identifying the task required, setting a Measurable outcome, gaining the employees agreement that the expectation is Achievable, communicating to the employee the Results-based reason for the requirement, and setting a Timeline on which the manager can follow up with the employee to verify the outcome. That’s SMART management.
  3. Training – Time where a manager is increasing the skills, knowledge, or abilities of the organization. Training need not be scheduled or in a classroom, but does need lead to an improvement in the operations. Training can be a 5 minute demonstration and review or an hour long presentation followed by 2 days of practice. Training should also be measured!
  4. Administration – Time where a manager is performing a task required by the business but not leading to an outcome in their area of operations responsibility. Examples include time in meetings where they are not delivering any of the three categories above, payroll, vacation, employee performance evaluations, etc.
  5. Direct Work – Time where a manager is performing a task in the normal process. Generally this includes tasks an employee on the manager’s team has the capabilities to perform. Remember, the role of the manager is to remove barriers to success of the operations – not to be the best performer of the operations.
  6. Available to Manage – Time where the manager is available – to – manage. This is the catch all category for any time a manager spends that does not qualify for one of the first five categories. This is also where time should be categorized in case of a failed / ineffective attempt at any of the above categories… As a rule of thumb the categories are decreasingly strict from top to bottom, that is you should only “credit” a manager with Proactive Operations Management if she communicates an expectation perfectly including all 5 components of SMART management. A manager that is Available to Manage is NOT necessarily a bad thing.

Using these 6 categories, build a daily schedule for a manager to guide their behavior.

For example, let’s assume we are thinking of a manager of a team of employees.

  • The manager usually works 10 hours per day (7:30a – 5:30p).
  • The manager takes part in the daily management meeting from 9:00 – 10:00 every day
  • The manager approves his team’s time card every day by noon and usually takes about 30 minutes
  • The manager otherwise fills his day with responding to various emails and phone calls from stakeholders of the business, dealing with the daily disasters, and building relationships with his team.

We know that this manager then has 10 hours per day to work with, and that about 1.5hrs per day worth of required administration.

Proactive Operations Management

One of the most basic and most impactful behaviors that a manager can do to improve their operations is to increase the frequency of interaction with their employees. Remember, the role of a manager is to remove barriers to success. Seeing as barriers inevitably pop-up throughout the day, ideally a manager identifies the barrier as quickly after the barrier has popped-up as possible. Therefore, by behaving in a manner that increases the frequency of interaction between a manager and their employee is likely to increase the likelihood of the manager identifying the barrier sooner.

Based on this, a powerful operations improvement method is to guide managers to have 1-3 minutes of interaction with each of their employees every hour or two. By planning a manager’s behavior around these frequent interactions with their employees, it increases the likelihood that they will provide the proactive operations management that drives high performance.


Of the hundreds of managers that I have worked with ALL of them – without exception – expressed that they wished they did / should spend more time training their team. A quick and effective way to kick-start a manager’s training routine is to have them list all of the activities that their team is responsible for performing, then have the manager rank each employee on each activity (this is commonly known as a skills matrix). From this matrix, each day the manager should pick one employee and / or one activity and take some planned time to increase the employee’s capability through on the job training and demonstration and observed practice. Even if a manager only spends 15 minutes per day, they will become better in tune with their teams skills and can improve them even if only slightly over time.


No business will ever be able to rid itself of administration, but many businesses are successful and minimizing the impact it has on taking their managers away from their role – removing the barriers to success. Two easy ways to minimize a manager’s administration requirements include offloading admin tasks to other employees, and planning explicit time for administrative tasks that minimize the impact of the business. For example, can the HR staff take care of payroll approvals? Can the weekly meeting happen before / after normal business hours one day a week? Can the entire organization agree to check / respond to email at 9:00, noon, 4:00 so as to reduce the interruptions it commonly causes?

Direct Work

Depending on the level of the manager, this may be an absolutely ineffective use of time (e.g. an executive), or a perfectly reasonable expectation for the majority of a shift (e.g. shift supervisor). The most important facets of Direct Work is planning an appropriate amount of time for it based on the level of the manager, and planning the most effective times of day for the manager to perform it. For example, if the afternoons are busiest, the supervisor should be taking care of admin in the morning and direct work in the afternoon.

Available to Manage

Most of the managers that I have worked with are surprised at how much “free time” they have when I take them through this behavior planning exercise. As in the example above, the manager only has ~1.5 / 10 hours of explicit commitments. However, every manager knows that usually the remaining 8.5 hours is nowhere near enough to deal with the daily variables. In fact, this is the exact reason for this exercise in the first place, to take control of these daily variables that consume the vast majority of managers’ days. By deliberately setting frequent times for interaction with employees and proactive direction setting will reduce the seemingly endless line of employee questions or problems. However, every smart manager refuses to pack their calendar all the way full, and intentionally leaves wiggle room for the inevitable emergency of the day, and for that matter the casual chat with coworkers by the water cooler that the manager previously described as building employee relations. Important to remember here is that while fighting fires and dealing with problematic issues is considered Available to Manage, it is not a bad thing to plan a manager’s behavior to include this time. In fact, all 5 other categories should be planned first, then Available to Manage fills in all the blanks!

Making the Plan

In excel, enter the manager’s usual start time (e.g. 7:30 am). Then add 15 minutes for each row below the start time (7:45, 8:00, etc.) until the row of the manager’s usual end time (e.g. 5:30 pm). Label the column to the right of the times “Activity” then label each column working to the right with the successive categories (Strategic Management, Proactive Operations Management, Training, Administration, Direct Work, Available to Manage). Save this template! It can be used for all of the managers in the business!

For each manager enter in the required, time specific activities such as daily meetings into the activity column in the row for the matching time of day.

Enter in the frequent interactions with the manager’s team. Hourly is ideal, but depending on the team, some veteran managers are able to be effective with an interaction first thing in the morning, mid day, and mid afternoon. Depending on the size of the team, these interactions could take up 15-30 minutes.

Block an appropriate time for training. Many managers are effective by committing to two separate 15 minute slots, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Usually the biggest hurdle here is that the manager is hesitant to get out there and do impromptu training with employees as it is a serious shift in culture. Keep the manager focused on a few ideas – employees ALWAYS complain that they do not receive enough training, and if a manager is consistent with daily training for a week or two the employees will get used to it and the short term awkwardness will be well worth it in delivering continuous incremental capability improvements.

Enter in the specific times for administration activities while at the same time searching for ways to minimize them. A powerful tactic here is to create a mandatory or compelling trigger to stop working on administrative activities at a certain time. For example, one Director I worked with set a 1 minute meeting with his manager who was often letting his administration activities chew up his day. When the manager was late for the 1 minute meeting, the Director would go to his office and express the seriousness of focusing on proactive operations management over administration. The one minute meeting was also the Director’s opportunity to provide the manager with proactive operations management as well.

Enter in the specific times for direct work. As noted above, depending on the level of the manager, this could be nonexistent or substantial.

Finally fill in the remaining time slots with “Be available to manage.” Often managers will amend this activity with a location that rotates throughout the day, e.g. “Be available to manage – factory tour” where the manager roams the factory for 15 minutes visible for employees to approach him and in position to proactively identify barriers to success.

Making it Happen

A manager that takes this model to heed and puts themselves constantly in the best possible position to remove barriers of performance for their team will be well on their way toward Operations Improvement.

Read Previous Posts on The 3 Pillars of Operations Improvement:

  1. Part 1 – 3 Pillars of Operations Improvement – Introduction
  2. Part 2 – Pillar of Operations Improvement – Business Process
  3. Part 3 – Pillar of Operations Improvement – Management Tools
  4. YOU ARE HERE – Part 4 – Pillar of Operations Improvement – Management Behavior

Looking forward to discussion in comments,

Rick Maher

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