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.

Testing a Person Prior to a Promotion

“You told me, before I promote someone to a new role, that I should test them, with project work,” Maryanne surmised.

“So, how will you test this person?” I prodded.

“Her assembly work is good, but to keep everyone on the line productive, we need an ample supply of raw materials. There is a lead time of three weeks from ordering and we can only keep so much in stock. I could ask her to put together the next order from our supplier.”

“And, you will check her order before she places it?”

“Of course. But after she does it couple of times, I can likely trust her. Then I will give her another project to do related to the preventive maintenance schedules on some of our machines.”

“And, what will be the trigger point for the promotion?” I asked.

“Good question. I think I should sketch out an overall plan for this promotion to include a sample project from each skill required in the new position.”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

You Have a Hunch

“You have a hunch, let’s call it intuitive judgment, that this team member might be effective at a higher level of work. You observe evidence of that potential in current projects, and in the pace and quality of current work output. She is helpful to other people she works with and coordinates her work handoffs so they are seamless. So, what is your question?” I asked.

“There is an open position. I think I would like to promote her,” Maryanne shrugged her shoulders.

“So, if you promote her, and it doesn’t work out, what do you have on your hands?” I pressed.

“You’ve told me before, a chocolate mess.”

“So, how will you test her in the role you are thinking about?”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

How to Evaluate Effectiveness in the Role

“You have a hunch this team member has potential,” I told Maryanne. “What did you see, what did you observe that gave you the hunch?”

Maryanne was not convinced about her hunch. “This team member always seems to finish her work on time. It rarely contains errors. Occasionally, I will see her toying with other ways to accomplish the work, shortcuts that save time, but don’t impact quality or quality improvements that don’t take extra time. Whenever there is an extra project, she always volunteers. She is helpful to other people she works with, coordinates her work handoffs so they are seamless.”

“When you think about her effectiveness in the role, would you say she works as well as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role?” I asked.

“Definitely the top half,” Maryanne replied.

“And in that half, would you say the top, middle or bottom?”

“Top of the top,” she confirmed.

“Then, how are you going to test her potential?”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

Should I Promote Based on a Hunch?

“I have someone that I have been watching,” Maryanne started. “I think they have the potential to move into the open manager spot on my team.”

“What makes you think this person would be successful?” I asked. “What is the evidence of potential that you see?”

“It’s just a hunch,” she replied.

“So, you are going to give someone a promotion based on a hunch?”

“Okay. I know you want me to slow down,” she agreed.

“So, tell me. What evidence of potential do you see?” I repeated.

“How can you see potential?” she asked. “How can potential be more than a hunch?”

“Most of the time, if a person has potential for higher levels of work, there is evidence. Your hunch is based on something you see. What did you observe in this person? What is the evidence?”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

The Go-Go Stage

“That which does not kill you, makes you stronger,” Jim Dunbar grinned. “Our momentum told us we were not likely to die, at least not in that fiscal year,” he said. “We were invincible. So, I signed a lease on the second plane.

“Passenger loads picked up, and I had to hire more people. And that led to a predictable stumble. There was no rhyme or reason for the way we did things. We survived on our tenacity, but our tenacity began to fail us. My wife described our behavior as improvisation. Invincibility and improvisation make for a toxic cocktail. We over-promised, extended our thin resources.

“I remember our first overbooking. We had more passengers than seats. I looked at my schedule, figured we could make the run to Denver, flip the aircraft around and come back for the other group. For some reason, we thought the stranded passengers would wait the four hours. But, a weather system moved in. In spite of our promises, we never made it back, and missed another flight leg with a scheduled full plane.

“To say we flew by the seat of our pants was an understatement. But, at the time, I figured that my team practiced for months. We successfully flew one plane, how difficult could it be with two planes?

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, now available on Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

Who Should This Person Report To?

“I think we have these roles sorted out,” Peter proclaimed. “I like the picture. It makes sense. But how do these roles relate to each other? I mean, who decides who is whose manager?”

Johnny jumped in. “It’s true. Whenever someone new joins the company, that’s always the first question. Who will this new person report to?”

Jim Dunbar knocked gently on the door. “Hope I’m not disturbing. How are things going?”

“We have a problem,” Johnny declared. “Who decides who reports to whom? Whenever we have a new employee, we all sit around the table and that’s the question. Who will this new person report to?”

Mary looked out the window, but suddenly turned and came back into the conversation. “Usually, we unload the new guy on the manager or supervisor who is the least busy.”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, now available on Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

It’s All About Empowerment, Really?

But, as the budget dollars piled up, Kevin DuPont could smell trouble. “Look, guys and gals, boys and girls. I know you all have important projects, but all this costs money. And you know very well, I am accountable to the board to make sure this company is fiscally sound. I am afraid that I have to take issue with the budget you have presented.”

There was silence in the room. After all, the executive team just followed instructions. They followed Al Ripley’s instructions, before. They followed Kevin DuPont’s instructions, now. Finally, one person had the courage to speak, Javier Ramirez.

“Mr. DuPont, with all due respect. We are only doing what you told us to do. You said you empowered us with group decision making. Give us a problem to solve and leave it to us. Well, we decided on a budget, and I know that the expenses are more than our current revenue, but if we are going to grow, we have to take risks. The group is willing to take that risk, but now, you are pulling the rug from underneath us.”

Kevin turned a red tinge around the rim of his ears, his pulse quickened. “That was not my intention. I want each of you to feel better about being a part of this management team. That is why I empowered you. But I also know my board and they will not stand for another losing quarter. The government is auditing the subsidies on some of our routes. This airline has to learn to stand on its own.”

“But, you said you trusted us, it would be our decision,” Javier stood up. “It is a matter of empowerment.”

“I know, I know,” Kevin continued to defend. “But I am accountable to the board. If we lose money next quarter, you will all still have your jobs. You are not accountable to the board. It’s me whose job is on the line. You are only accountable for the performance of your departments. All I can say, at this point is, I’m sorry. Meeting adjourned.”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, now available on Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

What’s a Manager For?

“Here is one thing we do know,” Peter chimed in. “We think everyone comes to work, at Outbound, every day, intending to do their best. We can watch a technician doing their best, yet, sometimes the output falls short. Maybe they couldn’t finish an installation on time, or they have four maintenance items to do and the second item turns into a bag of worms, so they only finish three during their shift. Sometimes, in spite of doing their best, the expected output just doesn’t get done. So, the technician gets called out and humiliated in front of the team, when the truth is, they were doing their best.”

“But, isn’t the technician accountable for all four items?” Jim asked.

“Of course,” Peter continued. “But, here’s the thing. Let’s say the technician couldn’t finish a project because the shop runs out of materials. Or a specialized piece of equipment isn’t available, or it takes two people and no one else is around to help. There is someone in charge of all those things, but it’s not the technician, it’s his manager. We are wondering, if the technician is accountable for doing his best, is it the manager who is accountable for the output of the technician? It’s the manager who controls all the variables around the technician – supplies, equipment, tools and other personnel. Should it be the manager who is accountable for the output of the technician?”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Outbound Air

For Every Management Problem

Al Ripley believed, for every management problem, there was a management consultant. As issues surfaced in meetings, Al looked down his nose, over the top rim of his glasses, and ask the inevitable. “Don’t we know a consultant that can help us with that?”

Those meetings were short and decisive. Ripley emerged from the conference room victorious, confident that he met adversity with a firm commitment to the solution, by hiring a consultant.

Some problems, however, did not go away. But then, Al quickly pointed out, “We must have hired the wrong consultant.”

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.

Outbound Air

The Executive Team Meeting

As time ticked by, Kevin DuPont’s democratic decision-making began to show some cracks. The executive management team got together each week to kick around the most pressing issues. But Kevin and his team were often at loggerheads when it came around to budget issues. Each department seemed to have its favorite projects.

The starched white shirts would gather in pairs, making deals on the side to support this budget item or that odd project. As presentations were made, the team was slow to poke holes, for fear their pet project would be subject to the same scrutiny.

The Executive Team Meeting, it was called. There were hidden agendas, under the table handshakes, unconscious agreements not to spoil the day for each other. Each meeting’s agenda was like a stepping stone across a creek. Quick strides for each measured step. If a stepping stone was unstable, discussion moved quickly to the next item. Real problems in the agenda were avoided. There was collusion, not cooperation. There was defensiveness, not inquiry. This was the Executive Team Meeting.

Excerpt from Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, soon to be released in softcover and for Kindle.