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.

Hiring Talent – 2018 – Online Workshop

Hiring Talent 2018 is accepting applications for our online workshop on hiring. We kick off our first session April 16, 2018.

Application Process
Applicants must be in a hiring manager role, an HR role or a member of a hiring team. Applicants can find out more about this online program and complete the enrollment form here.

Purpose of this program – to train hiring managers and HR specialists to conduct more effective interviews in the context of a managed hiring process.

How long is the program? Designed to be completed in 4-6 weeks, the program is self-paced so participants can work through the program even faster.

How do people participate in the program? Participants complete online assignments and participate in online facilitated discussions, working with an expert online coach and other participants.

Who should participate? This program is designed for managers and HR professionals who play active roles in the recruiting process.

What is the cost? The program investment is $599. Vistage members receive a $100 discount per participant.

When is the program scheduled? This program is self-paced, on-demand, so participants can login and complete assignments on their own schedule.

How much time is required to participate in this program? Participants should reserve approximately 2 hours per week (on demand) for 4 weeks (total 8 hours).

Program Description
Module One – Role Descriptions – It’s All About the Work
Learning Objectives

  • Examine what hiring managers are up against.
  • Define the steps in a comprehensive hiring process.
  • Specifically define the Role Description as the cornerstone of the hiring process.
  • Define the Structure of the Role Description
  • Write a Role Description

Module Two – Interviewing for Future Behavior
Learning Objectives

  • To understand how most managers conduct interviews, so we can stop bad habits.
  • To identify, from the Role Description, the specific data we need from the candidate.
  • To design questions to capture the data we need to make an effective candidate selection.
  • To construct a bank of organized, written, prepared questions on which to base the interview.

Module Three – Conducting the Interview
Learning Objectives

  • To prepare mentally to conduct an effective interview.
  • To practice asking prepared questions and creating clarifying questions during the interview.
  • To practice taking notes during the interview and re-capping those notes following the interview.
  • To create a Decision Matrix to compile interview data and compare candidates.
  • To effectively work with an Interview Team.

To apply for this program please complete the enrollment form here.

Is the COO Irrelevant?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I read your book, Outbound Air, again.

And I was thinking there might be a conflict with trendier/newer business models. A lot of companies seem to be pushing flatter structures and mixed function work-groups. So there isn’t really a role for COOs as say, the CEO’s internal quarterback

My understanding is that COOs exist to corral the various functions i.e. highest timespan
while the CEO is dealing with strategy, major threats etc.

So does the timespan model change for these flatter-structured businesses where the COO is supposedly irrelevant?

Response:
Elliott’s response to a similar question goes like this –
“I hear these things, and I just have to ask, who is kidding whom?” It is not that the role of the COO disappears, but it is certainly different.

Small Organizations
First, many organizations (small ones) are not level (V) organizations in the first place. Indeed, many companies are level (III) organizations, so they have production, supervision and a CEO, who really plays the role of a level (III) manager. Nothing wrong with this small company, the CEO can make a wealthy living out of it.

Growing Organizations
As the company grows, the level of work will necessarily increase to level (IV). There are multiple functions (systems) inside the company that must be integrated together. Again, the CEO in a level (IV) company will play the role of the integrator. In a larger, more mature company, this would be the role of the COO.

Maturing Organizations
In a level (V) company, the CEO must leave the integration role and truly focus on strategy. Without an effective COO at level (IV), the CEO will necessarily be dragged down into the weeds (back into integration activity). And, as long as the CEO is doing work at level (IV), the company will not grow, likely grow and contract in fits and starts, never effectively integrating their multiple systems. Yes, it is possible to have a dysfunctional level (IV) organization.

Digital Technology
Over the past two or three decades, technology arrived. Indeed, computer systems (note the word system) supplant many level (III) functions. MRP and ERP software systems, in their algorithms, require very specific steps in specific sequences, level (IV). The algorithms were created by some very smart teams who created systems and system integration in a variety of disciplines.

However, with effective technology implementation, the managerial work changed. So, let me pose this question. If we have a technology platform that serves to move data between multiple functions in the company, integrating those functions together, a level (IV) role, then what is the work of the COO?

Here is a hint. Work is decision making and problem solving. In the presence of an effective ERP system, what decisions are left to be made and what problems are left to be solved by the COO? There is an answer to that question.

Your thoughts? -Tom

How Old Will You Be in Five Years?

Timespan is a frame to understand.

Timespan is the language of context to understand what is happening now in relationship to the past and future. Anecdotal references to the “big picture” or “50,000 foot level” can specifically be measured in timespan.

We can look at business processes, over time, and examine the cause-effect relationships of process elements. We can also look inward, look at ourselves, over time, and examine the cause-effect relationships of our own internal decisions. What happened in the past shapes the present. What is happening now gives us insight into the future, but only if we can see the context.

Who are you now? Who will you be in one year? Who will you be in five years?

If Nothing Changed

“Everything seems to change, every day,” Charlotte whispered. She felt the change, but never said the words.

If nothing changed in your company, what would your team members do at work, today?

They would continue to do the same thing they did the day before. And life would be good.

But things do change, and that is why you have a job as a manager. Change is your job security. As long as there is change, you will have a job to do.

As your customers change, specifications change, technologies change, your role as a manager is to modify systems and processes to accommodate those changes.

The more things change, the more your company needs competent managers.

Productive by Design

The response in the room was silence. Everyone counted, one, two, three, waiting for Jeanine to nod her head indicating that the discussion was over. Today would be different.

The team knew that the less they contributed, the less they could be held accountable. Jeanine would describe an issue or a problem, and then ask for ideas. No one ever had any ideas. No ideas meant no accountability. The team was not doing this on purpose. Most counterproductive thinking is unconscious.

Productive thinking requires conscious thought. It most often happens by design, rarely happens by chance. Jeanine’s statement of the issue played right into the hands of chance. “The customer is complaining that their product is always late, even though they know it was manufactured by the deadline. Does anyone have any ideas?”

Chance of an idea? Fat chance.

We changed Jeanine’s question to make it more specific. “In what ways can we move the customer’s product from our manufacturing floor to the staging area and onto the truck in less time?” Suddenly, there were seven ideas.

Productive thinking happens by design. Make your question more specific. You will get more ideas.

Check Your System

Gerard was puzzled. By chance, the night before, he ran into Nancy, a former employee, at a local restaurant. The conversation was cordial, but surprising to Gerard. At her new company, Nancy was responsible for a competitive product that was kicking butt in the marketplace. When Gerard terminated Nancy for not reaching her goals, he felt she was a marginal contributor with a big “L” on her forehead. Now, she was in charge of a development team at another company that was eating Gerard’s lunch.

Gerard explained to me that after Nancy’s termination, he had two more managers fail in the same position. His complaint was that he just couldn’t find good people. Now, he was puzzled.

Success is determined, not only by the person in the role, but also by the circumstances and systems that surround that role. Before you terminate someone, be sure to check your system. If your system is broken, the next hire will not fare any better than the person you are currently pushing out the door.

Who Do You Have in Mind?

The ball lifted off the tee with a wobble before moving sideways from right to left, arching into moderate grass off the fairway. Harvey’s next shot went vertical, over his head, then smack into the turf at his feet.

“Who were you thinking of?” I asked.

“No one. What do you mean? It was just a lousy shot.”

“I mean your second swing. Who were you thinking of?”

“I was just letting off steam. Wasn’t thinking of anyone.”

“If you were thinking of someone, who would it be?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking about the guy who taught me how to play. He would have been a little disappointed.”

“Who is this guy? Do I know him?”

“No, he was a pretty old guy when I learned. And I was only nine years old.”

“I was just curious.”

Kurt Lewin tells us that individual action is a myth. Our behavior is always influenced by groups or individuals, even if they are not physically present. To gain insight into a person’s behavior, all you have to do is find out what group or person the individual has in mind.

Who do you have in mind, that is affecting your swing?

No Drill Sergeants in the Jungle

Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?

Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.

But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”

Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.

As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.

Might Still Be Legal In NY

In the area of behavior modification, the most, perhaps only, effective means are psychotropic drugs and frontal lobotomies, which may still be legal in some places in New York.

There are so many round people in square roles. Get out of the behavior modification business and get into the talent selection business.

The most effective managers are not those who are expert in motivation, or coaching, or process improvement. The most effective managers are those that are expert at defining roles and selecting the right people to fill those roles.

Look at your team. How long have you been trying to modify behavior? Any wonder why this is driving you nuts. Stop it. Get better at selecting talent, then go build your team.

Treat People Like Machines

It took six months to make the decision to spend $65,000 on a new machine. It replaced another older machine that had finally retired. A committee conducted research on the new board technology. Another team of two shopped lease arrangements and term equipment loans. The transition team worked hard to determine how work-in-process would be diverted during the installation and burn-in period. The training department coordinated a technician training program with the manufacturer. This equipment purchase was going to be a real game breaker.

What I was most interested in was the last Project Manager hired into the company. The salary was about the same, $65,000. Three people were involved in the interview process, but when I looked at the documentation from those interviews, it was mostly subjective statements:

  • I think he has a good personality and will fit in well with our culture.
  • In the next five years, he wants to excel in project management. That’s what we need him for.
  • Demonstrated a great attitude the during the interview.

The job description was a photocopy of a similar position with some notes scratched on the bottom. The training program consisted of shadowing another project manager for two days. So there is no wonder that the new Project Manager was NOT going to be a real game breaker.

Perhaps we should create a process that takes recruiting as serious as buying a piece of equipment. We would do well to treat our people as well as we do our machines.