Author Archives: Tom Foster

About Tom Foster

Tom Foster spends most of his time talking with managers and business owners. The conversations are about business lives and personal lives, goals, objectives and measuring performance. In short, transforming groups of people into teams working together. Sometimes we make great strides understanding this management stuff, other times it’s measured in very short inches. But in all of this conversation, there are things that we learn. This blog is that part of the conversation I can share. Often, the names are changed to protect the guilty, but this is real life inside of real companies.

How to Think Out of the Box

Lee Thayer tells us that whenever someone says “I think,” you can be reasonably sure that they are not. Thinking is hard work.

“Thinking is like improvising music. All the fundamentals have to be at your command without thinking about them. Years of practice may enable you to think out of the box.

And I stopped. How does one practice creative thinking? And that’s when I thought of Joe. Joe Anderson always cracks me up because he has a different way of looking at the world. And now he shares his secret in a new book called That Thing Between Your Ears is an Idea. It’s one of the only books that accurately describes creative thoughts and how to get them. Available on Kindle.

Disclosure, I am not on commission and Joe still cracks me up.

The Curse of a Manager

“You look off-balance,” I said.

Renee shook her head. “Ever since I was promoted to sales manager, things are different. When I was on the sales team, things were exciting, always a new customer, a deal in limbo, a sale that closes, a sale that gets stalled. But there was always action. As sales manager, I only get to hear about that stuff from other people. I get to coach, but I never get to play.”

“What else is different?” I asked.

“When I was a salesperson, I was always focused on the day, or the week, at most a month or a quarter. Sure, I had my annual sales goals, but mostly, I only looked at what was right in front of me.” Renee took a breath. “Now, I live in the world of annual sales goals. My decisions are centered around how many salespeople on the team, which one is going off the rails, gauging whether our sales backlog is within the capacity of operations. Not very exciting stuff. And budgets. I am not just thinking about this year, I have to think about next year. The ops manager wants to invest in some automation and wants to know if I can generate enough sales to pay for it over the next three years.”

“So, the biggest difference is time span. You use to measure your success, or failure by the day or the week. You got constant juice from your deal flow,” I replied. “Now, there is no juice. You are working on goals that won’t be completed for one to two years. Oh, sure, you will soon know whether you are making progress, soon enough, but you won’t hold the result in your hands for quite some time. It’s the curse of a manager.

“But, here’s the thing,” I continued. “If all you ever think about is the next deal, the next customer, if everything you think about is short-term, then thinking about what needs thinking about, never becomes a priority. Planning never happens. Your ability to plan, your ability to think long-term atrophies. Making short moves in the needle is easy. Making large moves in the needle takes time. Most managers are too impatient to do that kind of thinking. They would rather get the juice.”

How Will You Learn?

The cherub faces in my leadership class looked up, all smiles, ready to take notes, write down all the answers.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“Well, to listen and learn,” came a response from the back.

“Listening to me will not make you a more effective manager,” I replied. “What I have to say is only my understanding, for me.” I stopped. “So, how will you learn? Listening to me will not make you a more effective manager. Reading my blog will not make you a more effective manager. How will you learn?”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Sometimes silence does the heavy lifting.

“What you learn will only get started in this room. The real learning happens outside of this room, when you take the words and try them out in your own problems and decisions. My understanding means nothing (except to me). What is your understanding?

Good Busy or Bad Busy

“Whew,” Marcy plopped into the chair behind her desk. “What a day?”

“How so?” I wanted to know.

“Lots of things going on. Good things. Everybody was busy. Lots of work on our plate,” she explained.

“Good busy, or bad busy?” I asked.

“It’s always good to have work to do,” Marcy replied.

“How do you know?” I prompted. “The just dessert for hard work is more hard work. How do you know that the increase in activity is good, or not?”

Marcy was just trying to follow the discussion.

“Look,” I said. “Most people allow the events of the day to happen to them. They judge their lives by what happens to them. To be an effective leader, you have to judge whether those events move you toward your purpose or away from your purpose. Good busy or bad busy has to do with purpose. And without a purpose, without an objective, you will have no way to judge.”

My Senior Managers Are Too Busy

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
In your workshop, you talk about the Manager-Once-Removed, who, you say, has a major role in the hiring process. I have to tell you. My “managers-once-removed” are too busy to participate in the upfront part of recruiting. Why can’t we delegate some of the initial sorting, telephone screening and first round interviews. We usually get the manager-once-removed involved only when the hiring manager is down to the last three candidates.

Response:
What more important function is there, for the manager-once-removed, than to build the infrastructure of the team? I would ask, why is your manager-once-removed so busy? Is it because the MOR did such a lousy job of building the team in the first place.

Lets say we have an open role at S-II, supervisor position. The hiring manager is appropriately at S-III, and the manager-once-removed is the hiring manager’s manager, at S-IV. In the hierarchy, (remember, I’m a structure guy) it looks like this.

S-IV – MOR
S-III – Hiring manager
S-II – Supervisor (Open role)

What pain is occurring?
For the hiring manager (S-III) – a production team is likely running without supervision, meaning the hiring manager has to fill the gap and work down a stratum level of work, at least part time. Simultaneously, the organization is looking to the hiring manager to initiate a recruiting search for a replacement.
For the manager-once-removed (S-IV) – one of the S-III managers (the hiring manager) is currently under stress, spread thin, covering for an open role, making sure production gets done while simultaneously recruiting for that open role.

When does the role need to be filled?
For the hiring manager – yesterday would be good.
For the manager-once-removed – when the right candidate is identified in the candidate pool.

What is the critical purpose for the recruiting effort?
For the hiring manager – to remove the stress in the production system, created by the open role.
For the manager-once-removed – to build a stronger team, finding a truly qualified candidate that creates bench-strength.

What is the hiring methodology?
For the hiring manager – whatever is fastest. Use a job posting for the role description. Hope the hiring team likes the first candidate. How fast can the candidate give notice on their current job? Better yet, are they currently unemployed and can they start tomorrow?
For the manager-once-removed – slow the process down. Make sure the role description is well written and understood, it’s the central document for the process. Create a hiring team with well-understood roles on the team. Use the hiring team to identify the critical role requirements. Use the hiring team to create a bank of interview questions, ten written questions for each Key Result Area. Bring value to the decision making process of the hiring manager.

Who is accountable for the quality (output) of the decision made by the hiring manager?
A manager is that person held accountable for the output of the team. The manager-once-removed is the hiring manager’s manager. It is the manager-once-removed that is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring manager.

Do not leave your hiring manager to twist in the wind. The manager-once-removed is the quarterback of this process. What more important function is there, for the manager-once-removed, than to build the infrastructure of the team?

What Were They Thinking?

“I don’t understand,” Geoff began. “We had a meeting. I explained the new way things were going to be done. A couple of people asked questions. Everyone on the team agreed.”

“And?” I asked.

“And when I took a look at the work today, nothing was changed. It was done the same as before without the changes,” he replied. “I don’t know what they are thinking.”

“If you want to know what someone is thinking, watch what they do. People say and agree to all kinds of things. As a manager, never mistake what someone says for what they can do or will do. Don’t listen for their agreement, watch what they do.”

Why Do We Do That?

“Why do you assemble the pieces of the installation on-site?” I asked.

“Because that’s what we are paid to do,” Roger replied. “The customer purchased this assembly and needs it installed in this location. That’s what we do.”

“But, I am watching this installation and it seems very awkward. That technician is standing on a ladder, in a dark corner of the room, securing two pieces that he cannot see, reaching around another piece that is in the way.”

“I know,” Roger agreed. “But that’s what we do.”

“Roger, you are part of a trade profession. How long has your profession been doing this awkward work in this way?”

Roger chuckled and nodded. “I guess forever. That’s the way it has been done for centuries.”

“Then let me ask again. Why do you assemble the pieces on-site?”

“I will answer you the same way. That’s what we do,” Roger pushed back.

“And that’s what you have always done. Why don’t you assemble the pieces before you get on-site, in a room that is well lit. Instead of climbing on a ladder, you could assemble the pieces on a table where the technician could see the material, and work directly on a connection instead of around something that was in the way?”

Roger looked at me like I was from Mars.

“All I am suggesting,” I continued, “is that you ask a question. Sometimes we do things out of habit. We do something because we know the way to do it. Is it better to know something and describe the way it’s done or ask a question? Why?”

Massive Update to Time Span 101

Just wanted to tell you about a massive content update to Time Span 101.

New Video Content (2-1/2 hours worth)
Time Span 101 now contains video from our most popular workshop Management Myths and Time Span. We recently produced this recording, and embedded more than 2-1/2 hours in 23 video segments into the learning platform at Time Span 101. If you attended one of my live workshops over the past ten years, this is your chance to re-capture the things you discovered about your organization.


New Updated Workbook
Subscribers will receive our pdf workbook, based on the workshop handout, to help organize your notes as you go through the program.

Old Subscribers
If you already have a subscription to Time Span 101, your login still works. You will receive a separate email with more details, including the pdf workbook.

New Subscribers
Get your login, now, for only $100. Register here – Time Span 101.

Learn the Way You Want to Learn
It’s up to you -

  • Follow the program – Timespan101.com is built in a logical sequence, so that one principle builds on another. It’s a no-brainer.
  • Random Access – You might have a particular interest. You can access any of the topics out-of-order based on your own interests.
  • Just Watch the Videos – If you just want to watch the videos, there is a link in [How to Use This Program] to just watch the videos. There are (23) video segments in the playlist. More than 2-1/2 hours of embedded videos.

Share This Critical Research
If you know someone else, who might also be interested in the Time Span research of Elliott Jaques, let me know. If you have any questions, just Ask Tom.

The Uncertainty of the Future

“You look absorbed in something,” I observed.

Abbe looked up from her desk. “Yes, I have this project coming up. Never worked on a project like this before. Don’t know anyone who has worked on a project like this before. Risky. Not devastating risk, but this project could go sideways fast.”

“And?” I asked.

“I am trying to think about projects we have completed in the past that could help me figure out this new project,” she replied.

“Looking for patterns in past projects will only help you so much. It helps you understand the past. But we live, going forward into the future. And we cannot predict the future. There is uncertainty and ambiguity. Planning helps, but even the best plan rarely survives its train-wreck with reality. We cannot control the future. The best we can do is be clear about our intentions. And prepare ourselves for that uncertainty.”

Before the Team Can Get Better

“I am really disappointed in my team,” Carole began. “I really need to get them to step up their game.”

“Whenever I watch a team,” I replied, “to see how it is performing, I always end up watching the leader. Most times, the competency of the team reveals the competency of the leader.”

“Are you saying that the lack of performance of my team, is my fault?” Carole defended.

“No, I am saying, before the team can step up, it’s the leader who has to step up. Before the team can change, the leader has to change. The team you have right now, is the team you deserve. If you think your team should be more effective, you have to become more effective. Your team and their output is the product of your effectiveness as a manager.”