Breeding Overhead

“I know how to say NO to new things coming up, but most of our troubles are from decisions we have already made,” Byron confided.

“Each year, don’t you review your decisions about what you will and will not do, including the cost structure for each of those decisions?” I asked.

“You mean, our budget?”

I nodded. “Yes, your budget. When you look at each budget item, whether it is a direct cost or an indirect cost, you have to ask this question.

“Is this absolutely necessary?

“If the answer is NO, get rid of it, dismantle it, idle it.

“If the answer is YES, move to the next question. What is the absolute minimum necessary to perform this function to our spec?” -Tom

Managerial Leadership is About What You Do

David was not surprised, but his disappointment was strong. “I don’t understand,” he started, then abruptly changed his pitch. “Yes, I do understand. I hired this guy, Marty, for a management position. He interviewed well, had all the buzzwords, you know, teamwork, synergy, empowerment. Heck, he even kept the book, Good to Great propped up on his desk the whole time he was here.”

“So, what was the problem?” I asked.

“The problem was, he never actually got anything done. We would meet, be on the same page, but the job never got done. The progress, during the time he was here, quite frankly, stood still.”

A few seconds ticked by. David looked up. He continued.

“You asked about the difference? I think I know the answer, now. The difference is execution. Words are fine, theories are fine, planning is fine, but the big difference in success is execution.”

“David, I often see this in my management program. Students come into the class thinking they will listen to a series of lectures, get the latest management techniques and life will be good. I talk about how education is often understanding certain technical information. I talk about how training is often motivational to make a person feel a certain way. But in my class, the focus is on execution. Quite frankly, I don’t care how much you know. I don’t care how you feel. I care about what you do.

“Some students,” I continued, “are surprised to find themselves, no longer sitting comfortably in their chairs listening to a lecture, but standing at the front of the class. I want them on their feet, out of their comfort zone. Leadership starts with thinking. Leadership is about who you are. But ultimately, managerial leadership is all about what you do.” -Tom

What is Competence?

Andrew was beside himself. “How could this happen?” he exclaimed. “We had that bid locked down. That was our contract. We literally worked for 16 months to position ourselves. We built the infrastructure. We built the relationships with the customer at all the levels. Then one guy gets promoted and we get a form letter saying that our contract has been terminated, thirty days notice.”

“What do you think is the problem?” I asked.

“I don’t know, sometimes I think my whole team is incompetent. To let this slip through, when we worked so hard for it.”

“Do you really think your team is incompetent?” I followed up.

Andrew shook his head from side to side. “No. Heaven’s no. What am I thinking? To every person on the team, I wouldn’t trade a single one. They are all A players. I just don’t know what happened.”

“Sometimes, when we think about competence,” I replied, “we think it is our ability to control the parts of the world that cannot be controlled. Events of the world will occur in spite of us. So, what is competence?”

Andrew was listening, but not sure if he liked what he heard. I continued.

“The Boy Scout motto is Be Prepared. Competence is not the ability to control the uncontrollable. Competence is the ability to control ourselves in the face of uncertainty. Be prepared. Be prepared for uncertainty. It is a matter of mental fitness.” -Tom

Short of a Temper Tantrum

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I was recently promoted to a manager role. Our company is really big on accountability. My first big challenge is holding other people accountable. I seem to stand by in a dream land watching a team member underperform or make a mistake. I point out the mistake, but that doesn’t seem to solve the problem. The mistake is made again. And, now my manager is telling me that I don’t hold my team accountable. Short of throwing a temper tantrum, what am I supposed to do?

Most companies get accountability backwards. A technician on your team makes a mistake, and your manager expects you to hold that technician accountable. It is YOU, the manager, that I hold accountable, for the output of your technician. You picked the technician for that assignment. You provided the training. You inspected the quality of the training. You provided the tools. You created the work environment. You provided the coaching. You provided the materials. As the manager to your team, you control all the variables around that technician. It is you I hold accountable for the output of the technician.

So, if the technician makes a mistake, what are the variables that you control? What changes will you make? How will you manage the risk in this task assignment? The source of all accountability is self-accountability. What are YOU going to do? -Tom

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Miriam looked wide eyed as she explained what happened. “I know I should have confronted the behavior straight away, but I didn’t. And now, she thinks it’s okay to be snotty and nasty to people when she doesn’t get her way.”

“How long has this been going on?” I asked. Miriam stopped. She didn’t want to tell me.

“Well, it pretty much started the first month she was here.” Silence. “Okay, about a year and a half.”

“And you haven’t spoken to her about her behavior?”

“At first I thought she was just having a bad day, then it turned into a bad week, then a bad month. By then, nobody wanted to go near her for fear she would rip their head off.”

“That bad?”

Miriam pursed her lips, looking sideways. “Well, not that bad, but she is just plain mean to people around her.”

“And what does your team think about the way you have handled it?”

“Oh, they must think I am very frustrated with her,” Miriam explained. “They know I am just afraid to say anything, even though I am the manager.”

“I don’t think so.” I lowered my eyes to look directly at Miriam. “After a while, you begin to stand for what you tolerate.”

How to Sustain Accountability

Phillip assembled his sales team. They promised to meet to look over their schedules for the following week. Two had substantial clutter on a spreadsheet looking paper. Others had something tucked away inside a folder, a corner peeking out, but nothing available for casual inspection.

“Phillip tells me, you all decided to make some changes with the way the sales team goes to market,” I started. “I am very interested to hear about your plans.”

There was shuffling of bodies around in chairs, everyone trying to get comfortable with this new accountability.

“I see some schedules for next week,” I continued. “Let’s get the cards out on the table.” Everyone looked to their left and then to their right, some schedules appeared, then more, then all. Some were full of chicken scratch, some were sparse.

I asked Phillip to explain, again, the purpose of the meeting, the purpose of the schedules, the purpose of this change of habit. We went around the circle, each explaining their schedule.

“Here is the secret to accountability,” I said. “And, if you don’t do this, the likelihood for success is slim.

“Many people think that accountability is noble and that nobility will sustain it. Others think that if they don’t take accountability seriously, they will feel guilty and the guilt will sustain accountability. Neither of those thoughts work.

“The only thing that sustains accountability is to gather those people around you who will not let you off the hook, who will hold you accountable for what you promise to each other. It is the team that will sustain you through those times when you want to quit, or when you feel lazy.

“So, look around the table, my friends. This is the team that will help you to the next level. You just have to give them permission to hold you accountable.” -Tom

Working Leadership Program – Bryan/College Station TX

Our next Working Leadership Series kicks off in Bryan/College Station, TX. This program contains twelve modules in six classroom sessions.
Who Should Attend? – This program is designed for Stratum III and Stratum IV managers who are currently in leadership roles.

If you would like to register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself, include your phone number and we will add you to the registration list.

Schedule – Curriculum details below.
Session 1 – Wed, Feb 15, 2017 – 1:30-5:00p Orientation – Role of the Manager – Time Management
Session 2 – Wed, Feb 22,2017 – 1:30-5:00p Working Styles – Communication
Session 3 – Wed, Mar 1, 2017 – 1:30-5:00p Positive Reinforcement – Team Problem Solving
Session 4 – Wed, Mar 8,2017 – 1:30-5:00p Planning – Delegation
Session 5 – Tue,Mar 21, 2017 – 1:30-5:00p Decision Making – Accountability
Session 6 – Tue, Mar 28, 2017 – 1:30-5:00p Effective Meetings – Coaching
The program instructor will be William Foster.

Location for the program –
Century 21
404 University Drive East
Suite D
College Station, TX 77840

Tuition – $1600 per participant. Vistage member companies and members of the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce receive a $100 discount per participant. This includes all books and participant materials.


Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and manager roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Two
Working Styles.
 Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement

This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving. Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
 This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effective delegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making
. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings.
 Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself, include your phone number, and we will add you to the registration list.
William Foster
William Foster will be the instructor for this program.

States of Thinking – Parallel

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 4 of 4

Parallel State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

And then the serial thinker wakes up one morning to discover the predictable output of their genius system is impacted by the output of another system. To understand what is happening requires a parallel state of thinking.

Peter Senge, Fifth Discipline, explains how one reinforcing system can be impacted by a distinctly separate balancing system. The output of your sales system will eventually be impacted by the capacity of your fulfillment system.

Parallel thinking must consider the dependency, inter-dependency, contingency and bottle-necks that occur as multiple systems sit side by side. The goal at this parallel level of work is to integrate our multiple systems and sub-systems into a whole system. This requires optimizing the output of one system relative to the capacity of another system, and shaping the hand-off of work product from one system to the next system as work travels horizontally across the organization. To be effective at this level of work requires systems analysis, a parallel state of thinking. -Tom

States of Thinking – Serial

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 3 of 4

Serial State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

The cumulative thinker wakes up one morning and sees the world in a whole new way. Not only are things in the world connected, but there are cause-and-effect relationships between them.

If this is the case, then this must be the result.

One thing causes another thing to occur. This is the state of thinking required to be effective at creating single serial systems. There is end to end accountability for the effectiveness of the system at this level of work.

Decision making and problem solving not only requires an understanding of steps to be included, but the duration of each step, sequence of steps, which steps depend on other steps to be completed (dependent steps), which steps may be worked on simultaneously (concurrent steps), lead times for steps and critical path. Trouble-shooting (problem solving) is an analytic process (root cause or comparative analysis).

Serial thinking creates consistency and predictability in each system. And then the serial thinker wakes up one morning to discover the predictable output of their genius system is impacted by the output of another system. To understand what is happening requires a parallel state of thinking. -Tom

States of Thinking – Cumulative

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 2 of 4

Cumulative State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

If declarative thinking cannot connect the dots, cumulative thinking can. Cumulative thinking sees patterns and makes connections. A cumulative thinker can learn, not only through trial and error (declarative), but through the documented experience of other people. This documented experience could be an article in a trade journal or magazine, a book, research on the internet or perhaps a conversation with a colleague.

Standard operating procedures (documented SOPs) can be a powerful source for cumulative problem solving. Given a problem to solve, a cumulative thinker can see the pattern in the problem, connect it to a documented best practice, problem solved.

This works really great, as long as we have solved the problem before and documented the solution. This is the land of best practices. Best practices is an S-II cumulative problem solving strategy.

But, there are some problems we have not solved, some problems we have not seen. The cumulative thinker wakes up one morning and sees not just the connection between two elements, but the cause and effect relationship between those elements, the emergence of serial thinking. -Tom