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.

Forbidden Relationship

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about the manager once removed, the manager’s manager. That’s me. You say that I should have a mentoring relationship with the team two levels below. Our company has a policy that if I need to communicate with that team, I am required to go through their manager. It’s almost a forbidden relationship.

Response:
It’s an unfortunate policy. As the manager once removed, there is a required relationship with the team two levels of work below. Now, it’s not an accountability relationship. It is a mentoring relationship.

Manager Once Removed

Manager Once Removed

The direct manager has an accountability relationship, and the conversation with the team member is all about production. The manager once removed has a mentoring relationship and the conversation is about longer time span issues like career advancement, training opportunities and work environment.

This is an absolute requirement. You see, at some point, the manager role will become vacant (all relationships, at some point, are terminal). The manager once removed will be faced with replacing the manager. The first place to source candidates will be internal. But, if the manager once removed does not have a coherent mentoring relationship, the MOR will have no clue as to who may be able to step up. In that case, the MOR will have to start at square one.

Does Increasing the Number of Projects Impact Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You seem to base level of work on time span. But can’t the level of work also be defined by the number of simultaneous projects? It seems odd that doing (1) six month project is the same level of work as doing (3) six-month projects, at the same time. The time span is still six months, but juggling three projects seems more complex than executing one project?

Response:
Yes, the number of simultaneous projects does impact the level of work, but not in the way you might think. In your example of the project manager, who effectively executes (1) six month project, what is the level of work? The time span of the project would indicate that this would be S-II level of work.

And so, her manager assigns (2) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

And so, her manager assigns (3) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend even more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

At some point, however, the project manager simply runs out of hours. The level of work doesn’t change, but the project manager passes out from exhaustion.

And so, her manager assigns (4) simultaneous six-month projects. In fact, to make the point clearer, her manager assigns (50) simultaneous six-month projects.

If the project manager is out of hours, (50) simultaneous projects cannot be done at the same level of work. To effectively execute (50) simultaneous projects, the project manager will have to delegate the direct work and create specific systems for monitoring progress and gauging quality control. The work creating the systems to monitor progress and check for quality is solid S-III.

And while the projects themselves may be completed in six months, the planning, recruiting, system design, and system testing will easily add months prior to project mobilization. Add the audit work to ensure project accuracy, phase completion and quality standards at the end of the project, and you are well over twelve months time span for these (50) projects.

So, you are correct that increasing the number of simultaneous projects impacts the level of work, but only when you run out of hours.

Hidden Power of Delegation

“So, how much time do you want to save?” I asked again.

“It’s going to take me an hour to complete the task. If I can delegate it, it will save me one hour. That’s how much time I want to save,” Roger replied.

“Pittance,” I said.

“Pittance?” Roger didn’t understand.

“If all you are going to save is one hour, then you should complete the task yourself.”

Roger sat upright, a little surprised. “But, I am supposed to delegate more. My manager has been encouraging me for the past year to delegate more. Now, you are telling me I should do the work myself.”

“If you think, all you are saving is one hour, then, what’s the point of delegating. I am looking for leverage from your role. I want you to save one hour and get five hours of productivity. I want you to save one hour and get ten hours of productivity. Twenty hours, fifty hours. You will never get that kind of leverage if you think delegation is a time management tool.”

“But, you said that delegation was my most powerful time management tool?” Roger protested.

“It is,” I responded. “But, it is also your most powerful people development tool. If you think about delegation as time management, you will only gain one-to-one leverage. To get one-to-five, or one-to-twenty, you have to think about delegation as a people development tool. That’s the real power of delegation.”

Running Out of Gas

“I know,” Roger replied. “The reason I don’t delegate more is that I don’t have time to teach the skills in the task. If I stop to teach, the ordeal will take 45 minutes and I will still have to do the work over, anyway. If I just do it myself, I can finish the task in 15 minutes and get on to the next thing.”

“Roger, the last time you took a road trip, did you run out of gas?” I asked.

“Well, no, of course not,” he chuckled.

“But, you were excited about getting on the road, likely in a hurry to get to your destination. Why did you not run out of gas?” I pressed.

“I stopped to fill up before I left town,” his chuckle disappeared.

“As a manager, you don’t have time to teach someone how to complete a task. It’s like running out of gas on a road trip because you didn’t have time to fuel up.”

Roger was silent.

“Why did you fuel up before you left on your road trip?” I wanted to know.

“Because it’s necessary,” Roger’s face was turning red. “It would be stupid to run out of gas because you didn’t have time to fill up.”

“The reason you don’t delegate, is because you haven’t made it necessary in your life as a manager.”

The Problem with Delegation

“How much time do you want to save?” I asked.

“I want to delegate this project because my manager told me that I needed to delegate more to my team,” Roger explained.

“Why does your manager want you to delegate more?”

“He thinks, and I agree, that I have too much on my plate. I work too many hours and many things don’t get finished. My manager thinks if I delegate some of my projects, that more things will get finished.”

“So, what’s stopping you from delegating more often?” I wanted to know.

“The things I have to do are complicated. I can’t just dump them on someone, they won’t know what to do. They will do it wrong and I will have to come back and fix it anyway.”

“Really?” I looked surprised. “Here are some other reasons you don’t delegate -

  • Your mother told you if you wanted it done right, you had to do it yourself.
  • You don’t trust your team.
  • No one on your team is competent enough to complete the task.
  • Your team members are already overworked.
  • You don’t have time to train someone to complete the task.
  • Your team will resent you dumping more work on them.
  • You will lose control.
  • You will have to actively manage other people, when you have difficulty managing yourself.

Democratic Decision Making

“I am conducting an experiment,” Marianne explained.

“Why do you call it an experiment?” I asked.

“Because I’m not sure if it will work. I have never tried it before. So, if it fails, then it was just an experiment. I am going to try democratic decision making with my team.”

“How will that work?” I wanted to know.

“Well, we have a situation with a couple of different solutions. Some people think we should go one way, others think the other way. I thought it best just to take a vote. At least that will get buy-in and support.”

“What if it’s the wrong decision and it jeopardizes the whole project?”

Marianne was silent.

“Which way do you think the decision should be made?” I prompted. “And what if the team decides the other way? And how will you explain a poor decision to your manager? Will you say that you disagreed, but your team outvoted you?”

Is It Beyond the Capability Required in the Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In our company, we have a Stratum II (S-II) sales role, 3-12 months time span. In that role, we have a person who has demonstrated solid S-II effectiveness at around 9 months in the role. Our lead time on proposals along with the length of the sales cycle feels about right.

In the past year, I have been trying to get our salesperson to think out a bit further. Sometimes, we find that we are not on the short list for some RFPs because our competitors have already established a better relationship. In some cases, our competitors have been courting the prospective client for three to four years, way before a project was even on the horizon. I am thinking about adding a Key Result Area (KRA) to our sales role called Client Development and calibrating it at a three year objective. To create client relationships up to three years in advance of a prospective project. It’s a really small industry, so we know who the real players are across the country. We just need to get to know them sooner.

When I proposed this to our salesperson, I didn’t get outright rejection, but she said she would be more effective focusing on projects that were real instead of wasting her time on something that might never happen. Problem is, when they do happen, it’s too late to establish the relationship. We are already off the short list.

Response:
I can see Client Development as a valuable KRA for this role. And I can see the time span of the objective as appropriate to accomplish what you want, to create the kind of long-term relationship to ensure you make the short list. If you examine your competitors, that is exactly how they are defining the relationship work and they are beating you to the short list as a result.

Understand, however, when you define the level of work at 3 years, you have moved the level of work from S-II to S-IV. That is a totally different level and may be beyond the capability of your solid S-II salesperson. Your observation of push-back would make me suspicious that simply changing the role description is going to elevate the behavior.

Moreover, if establishing the prospective client relationship is a 3 year time span task at S-IV, you also must consider that the person you are establishing this relationship with, is also thinking 3 years out. It might be a more appropriate time span task, a more appropriate client relationship for you.

Not a Lot of Listening

“The biggest difficulty we have,” Susan insisted, “is communication.”

I nodded. “How so?”

“Well, sometimes it seems we are not even on the same team. I give instructions, I hold meetings, but when somebody has to coordinate with someone else, it always seems like the ball gets dropped.”

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

“It seems that when I do the talking, there’s not a lot of listening.”

“And that surprises you?” I smiled.

“No. But, as the manager, I expect my team to listen when I talk to them,” Susan shook her from side to side, impatiently.

“Oh, so this is your team’s fault?”

Susan was no dummy. She sensed I was setting her up. “Well, okay, I know I am 50 percent to blame,” she relented.

“And what would you do differently, if I told you that you were 100 percent accountable for your team’s complete understanding? You, as the manager, are 100 percent responsible for the effectiveness of the communication. What would you do differently?”

Do You Carry an Organizer?

“I’ve been working with my team to get them to be more effective at time management,” Bobbie explained.

“How’s that going?” I asked.

“Kind of rough. I showed them how to use a task list, how to schedule events into a calendar, using our software. But, I haven’t really seen any improvement. They still miss deadlines and forget things.”

“Do they understand the mission of the work they do?” I wanted to know.

“Well, the company has a mission, I mean, we have a mission statement.”

“But, do they understand the mission of the work that they do? People who are clear about purpose, have little difficulty deciding what actions are necessary. Those people without a clear purpose will have to carry an organizer to plan their day.”

Not Enough Time

“Rush, rush, rush, that’s all we seem to do,” Russell complained.

“So, you get a lot done?” I asked.

“Not really. We move so fast, we end up having to do a lot of re-work,” he explained.

“Why don’t you slow down?”

“We don’t have time to slow down!” Russell shook his head.

“You mean, there is not enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it twice?”