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.

Benefit of NOT Solving the Problem By Yourself

As a manager, you are often faced with a problem to solve. And, you think, if I could just get my team involved, there are some benefits. Team problem solving –

  • Communicates the accountability to the team
  • Brings in a diversity of fresh ideas
  • Brings in ideas that can be combined with other ideas
  • Challenges the team to contribute their best thinking
  • Brings in other perspectives on what the real problem is
  • Surfaces additional “what if” scenarios
  • Speeds execution of the solution

So, why don’t we get our team involved more often?

  • We don’t have time
  • Our team members are already overworked
  • Our team members are too busy to attend a problem solving meeting
  • It’s not their problem

Our objections are just head-trash. Every time the manager solves a problem for the team, it cripples the team from engaging in problem-solving behavior.

The team still needs a guide. And when you float the problem, they will resist, at first they will panic. Your job, as a manager, is to simply outlast the panic. If you want to build a team, give them a real problem to solve. -Tom

The Source of Organizational Pain

Sometimes people on your team don’t fit. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. Some people don’t fit. It doesn’t make them a bad person, they just don’t fit.

Some companies hire for culture, assuming the company can train the technical stuff. Some companies require the technical stuff assuming the candidate can adapt to the culture.

Organizational structure is the way we define the working relationships between each other. Organizational structure is culture.

Based on your product or service, your business model, what is the relationship your customer wants with your organization? The Discipline of Market Leaders documents three types of relationships (why customers buy from us).

  • Product Superiority (Quality)
  • Low Cost
  • Customer Intimacy

This narrative set the stage in 1995, and, now, there are more ways to define the customer relationship. (I would like to hear how you describe yours.)

Your customer relationship platform drives everything else, specifically your structure. It is the basis of your business model. When your organization structure (your unwritten set of rules) gets out of sync with your customer relationship, you will experience pain.

What Changes About the Work?

What will be the nature of work?

As we adopt technology into the enterprise, what will change about the work? Those who sit in my workshops know that I define work as – decision making and problem solving? What will be the nature of decision making and problem solving as we embed technology into our internal production systems?

Production Work (S-I)
Physical robotics are already creeping in to production work (S-I). Robots are most often adopted into physical work that is repetitive, requiring precision cuts, punctures, bends, dipping, pouring, lifting. Robots are also useful in production environments where human involvement is uncomfortable (cold, heat) or dangerous (hazardous exposure). As companies adopt robotics and other technology, what changes about production work? What decisions are left for humans?

Supervisory Work (S-II)
And, what of supervisory work (S-II)? Typical (S-II) tools are schedules and checklists, the role is accountable for making sure production gets done, on pace and at standard spec. If we can sense most critical items in a production environment, with precision, in real time, what decisions are left for humans? As companies adopt technology, what changes about supervisory and coordinating work?

Managerial Work (S-III)
And, what of managerial work (S-III)? Typical (S-III) tools are work flow charts, time and motion, sequence and planning. The role is to create the system that houses the production environment. Most sub-enterprise software (as opposed to full enterprise software) is simply a transaction system that records transaction activity through a series of defined steps. Most computer software contains embedded rules that enforce a specific sequence of task activity. If most systems are designed around software systems, what decisions are left for humans? What changes about system work?

Executive Management Work (S-IV)
With a concentration in Ops (COO), Finance (CFO), Technology (CTO), the essence of executive management is functional integration. Most enterprise (full enterprise) software is designed to integrate end to end functionality across the organization. It contains hooks that communicate from one function to the next, with a plethora of configurations possible depending on the desired integration. If functional integration is controlled by enterprise software, what decisions are left for humans? What changes about functional integration work?

These are not idle questions.

What Will Your Company Be Like?

So, here is something I want you to think about. As technology is integrated into your business model, what does your company look like in five years, ten years? When we can measure all kinds of things in real time, in feedback loops with algorithms that detect meaningful change (or stasis), what does work look like?

Autonomous driving vehicles are tested and adopted in plain sight. The mining industry prefers autonomous machinery because accident rates have dropped to almost zero, component wear (brakes, tires) dramatically reduced, productivity dramatically increased.

What will happen to your company as you afix sensors to almost everything? Below is a little list. If you have something else you are measuring, let me know, I will add it. What will change in your business model? More importantly, what will be the new work created?

  • Physical Pressure
  • Air pressure
  • Barometric pressure (altimeter)
  • Humidity (air, surface, soil)
  • Temperature sensor
  • Fluid pressure sensor
  • Fluid flow sensor
  • Fluid position sensor – mechanical position
  • Fluid specific gravity
  • Fluid accumulation sensor (rain)
  • Vibration
  • Accelerometer
  • Photo pixel shift (movement)
  • Photo pattern recognition
  • Photo contrast (light-dark)
  • Photo color sensor
  • Bio – photo oximetry (SpO2)
  • Bio – fingerprint sensor
  • Electric current switch sensor (On-Off)
  • Electric current voltage sensor
  • Electric current resistance sensor (Ohms)
  • Electric current touch sensor
  • Proximity sensor
  • Infrared sensor (transmission – reflective)
  • Sound wave sensor (sonic, sub-sonic, ultra-sonic)
  • Smoke sensor
  • Gas sensor
  • Alcohol sensor
  • Temperature sensor
  • GPS sensor
  • Gyroscope sensor
  • Tilt sensor

Your five year thinking will be a one year tactical plan in four years? -Tom

Your Skinny Point of View

When you seek advice and counsel from others, you must reveal the whole story, not just the part that will yield advice you want to hear. Truly seeking advice and counsel from others means you have not made your decision and are interested in other perspectives and outside analysis.

If you seek only to locate opinions that support your skinny point of view, you violate the 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not kid thyself.”

Translator Role

My conversation with Tony (S-II) about his manager, Suzanne (SIV) –
I have to tell you, every time we get together, all she talks about is pie-charts, bar graphs and the big picture. It’s different down on the shop floor. Sometimes we get materials in from our vendors that are out of spec and we have to reject them. When we reject raw materials, sometimes our productivity goes down. And, remember the machine we were going to replace this year, but kicked it into next year’s capital budget. That machine breaks down a little more than it used to and when it does, our productivity goes down. I try to explain this stuff to Suzanne and she just keeps talking about the big picture.

My conversation with Suzanne about her team member, Tony –
Don’t listen to Tony, he gets all wrapped around the detail and loses sight of the big picture. He just doesn’t understand what we are all about here.

Not a personality conflict –
When we introduce the context of time span, we can clearly see the reason for this conflict. Tony is in a role with shorter time span decisions and problems, clearly having difficulty with the way Suzanne sees the world. Suzanne is in a role with longer time span decisions and problems, clearly having difficulty with the way Tony sees the world.

Translator –
The translator role (S-III) sits in between Suzanne (S-IV) and Tony (S-II), who can translate Suzanne’s big picture thinking (that is what we hired her for) into time span appropriate projects that Tony can drive on the production floor.

The Sight of a Newbie

“Not sure what to try next,” Melissa lamented. “I have my best people on the problem and they are stumped.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, it just doesn’t make sense. We have tried every resolution, every best practice related to a problem like this.”

I waited for Melissa to stop, to take a pause in her thinking. “I talked to one of your new teammates this morning and he said he might have a solution,” I said.

“I know who you are talking about,” Melissa replied. “He’s new. He has never seen a problem like this. He needs to stick to his orientation training, maybe he will learn a thing or two.”

“Is it possible your new teammate can see the fix for your problem, and that if he completes the training, he might not be able to see it anymore?”

What Keeps Us From Thinking?

There is an NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) process that encourages the act of visioning. This imaginary exercise requires the subject to place themselves into a future state (point in time) without the encumbrances of the present. Encumbrances of the present limit the vision of the future and prevent the creative imagination to guide real, substantive change. Difficult to see down the road while looking at the bug on the windshield.

  • ToysRUs
  • Radio Shack
  • Sports Authority

It is likely these companies saw the advance of technology and understood the implications to the survival of their business model. Yet, in spite of feeble efforts to adopt technology initiatives, worse yet, failing to understand the significance to their business model, these companies failed. Survival is optional.

An emerging characteristic of those companies who successfully adapt, is the abandonment of legacy thinking. I always thought it curious that Uber seldom considered how to comply with local taxi authorities and focused on a business model that in large part ignored those restrictions. I watched and chuckled as Uber was forbidden to serve a market because they refused to comply, only to watch municipal magistrates eventually remove those restrictions in the face of market demand.

One would think that a local taxi company would examine and copy Uber’s technology to compete head to head. It was certainly available to them. What stopped the effective adoption of technology had nothing to do with the technology.

What stopped the effective adoption of technology was the sacrosanct immovability of the legacy thinking. A legacy taxi company cannot imagine a world where they own no vehicles. A hotelier cannot imagine a world where they own no physical hotel properties.

Legacy Thinking

The landscape is littered with technology initiatives that died. Some wimpered, some imploded, collecting significant collateral damage.

We know what happened and why it happened. The question – how to create technology initiatives that deliver on the promise?

What got you here, won’t get you there. – Marshall Goldsmith

The solution to a problem will not be found by the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. – Albert Einstein

Many technology initiatives fail in an attempt to preserve existing methods and processes. Adopting a piece of software supplants existing work. Technology changes the decision making and problem solving of humans. Human work changes.

Nip the Bud

There are many ways to manicure a tree. Unwanted branches can be hacked off or buds can be nipped.

On a team, when performance does not meet expectations, it creates a gap. It’s the performance/expectation gap. In the near term, the gap is short and our options-to-fix are many.

As a manager, the longer you procrastinate the fix, the wider the gap becomes. In the long term, with a wider gap, the dissatisfaction is greater and our options-to-fix are fewer.

Nip the bud or hack the branch.