Category Archives: Fitness

Creating Undergrowth

“It’s strange,” Byron said. “A couple of years ago, we were on top of the world. We were the industry leader, now things are tightening. You just never know.”

“So, this was not predictable?” I asked.

“No, our growth curves just showed, no turning back. I mean, it wasn’t hockey stick growth, but continued growth just the same. We just didn’t think we would have to pull in our horns.”

“So, Byron, what’s the purpose for a forest fire?”

“What do you mean? How can a forest fire have a purpose?”

“From an ecological sense?”

Byron thought for a minute. “I have heard that when a forest becomes choked with undergrowth, a fire can clear it out. Though it appears devastating, that’s what brings on new growth.”

“What could that tell us about business cycles?” I probed.
“Sometimes the market gets overgrown and has to be cleared out?” Byron tested.

“Yes, in fact, if you look at macro economic climates, you will see very distinct cycles. Occasionally, there has to be a clearing of the undergrowth. So, what if you looked at your own internal business cycles, within your own company. What do you now see?”

Byron pondered. “I see that, as we grew, some of the things we created weren’t good for the long term health of the company. They seemed like a good idea at the time, but, perhaps, we were just creating undergrowth.”

Our Proud Service

“But the project you are talking about abandoning is a service that we have provided for more than a decade. Our customers have come to expect it. Heck, part of our reputation stands on it,” Byron protested.

“So, is it your moral duty to continue something that is no longer producing results? Or can you accept that, what you are known for, once served a market, but that market was temporary? And that proud service no longer satisfies a customer need.” -TF

Not More Research

Byron was thinking back. “I think we have done what you suggested. Every year, in our annual business plan, we look at the cost structure in each of our project areas. And each year, we find one or two things that don’t quite measure up.”

“What was the last project that didn’t measure up,” I asked. “And what did you decide about it?”

Byron’s curiosity turned into a muffled laugh. “You’re right. Now that I think about it, the people involved, in the last project going south, negotiated more time and actually spent a ton of market research money to find out that there wasn’t as big a market as they thought. Their dwindling net profit went underwater the more they studied it.”

“And now?”

Byron shook his head. “They are still holding on to some hope that the market will turn around.”

“The answer is NOT, how can we make another research study? The answer is, how can we get out of this? Or, at least, how can we put a tourniquet on the bleeding?” -TF
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The failure to accomplish a goal does not prove that more efforts and resources are needed. The failure to accomplish a goal may indicate that efforts should be stopped and a different path should be taken.

Old Indian saying, “When the horse is dead, it is time to get off.”

Just Say No!

“You are right,” Byron continued. “The things that hurt us now are decisions we made a couple of years ago when times were good. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We didn’t think very hard about some of our bone-headed moves.”

“And, now?” I asked.

“And, now we have to get lean. Maybe really lean. It may get worse. We have to be able to take a couple more punches and still be able to maneuver, be able to take advantage of opportunities, but it’s difficult.”

“What is so difficult about it?”

“Well, now, everything has to be focused on a result. If it doesn’t produce a result, it has to go. It’s not pleasant. In many cases, we have to learn to say NO! So often, we try to figure out what TO do. Now we have to make decisions on what NOT to do.”

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Not Under Pressure

“I’m not sure what happened,” Byron explained. “Our company was voted the number one employer two years ago. We have the best employee benefits, we have the best equipment, we have roomy workspaces, our sales people get trip incentives. All of a sudden, to stay profitable, we have to lay some people off. The mood around here turned south very quickly.”

“Times have been good?” I asked.

“Up ’till now.”

“What happened?”

“Sales have been off. Suddenly all these great things about our company are costing us out of business.”

“When were the decisions made that put you upside-down on your cost structure?”

Byron had to think back. “Three or four years ago, I guess. Those were the best of times.”

“It’s in the Best of Times that we make our biggest mistakes.” -TF

Training to Respond

It has been a lively discussion. If you missed the story on Fox News or CNN, you can follow the link at the bottom of today’s post.

So, let’s talk about training. After all, this blog is about management. What Gregory St. Germain didn’t understand was training. My wife trained three years in kick-boxing, with five years in a martial arts blend of kenpo and muay-thai, earning her black belt, and three years of kung-fu weapons training. That’s why St. Germain sits in Broward County jail.

I was not surprised.

Why is management training so important? Over the last 13 years, more than 1,000 managers have participated in my management program. It’s training. While I like to think it has a great curriculum (I compiled and wrote the book), it’s not the book that makes it work. It is the repetitive behavior drills.

In the end, I don’t care one whit what participants know about management. What I care about is, given a situation, can they do? Can they perform? Can they respond effectively? That’s why management training is so important.

Our local police chief, a former graduate of my management program, is quick to caution people about confronting criminals (my wife got a stern warning). So, tomorrow, we will talk about Decision Trees. –TF

If you missed the story, here’s the CNN link.

Split Decision

Twenty-four year old Gregory St Germain must have missed the photos on top of the television, photos taken at Margo’s Black Belt graduation. And he certainly missed the display of Kung Fu weapons in another bedroom. For several minutes, he organized what he considered to be loot, working room to room. Donning a backpack of valuables, ready for his exit, he heard the front door slam shut.

My wife noticed the frantic commotion in the hallway, a shadowy figure trying to release a deadbolt on a side door.

“I am not a victim,” she told herself.

CNN Link

I want to thank you all for the emails and phone calls. There are times in our lives when we are called upon to respond. For the next couple of days, we will talk about training, discipline, fitness and decision trees. -TF

What Helps, What Hampers?

“It’s people that are difficult,” Marion began. “Keeping a machine productive is easy. I can calculate its capacity and then stack work in front of it accordingly. But people aren’t machines. How can I calculate capacity and then stack work in front of people?”

“Machines are easier,” I replied. “Machines work the same way, day in, day out. People don’t. People are subject to daily changes and long term changes. As a Manager, you have to stay in front of that growth curve.

“When you look at the role of each of your team members, let’s start with these three questions.

  • What is the work that is necessary in each team member’s role?
  • What is it that you do, as a Manager, that is helpful in their work?
  • What is it that you do, as a Manager, that hampers their work?

Marion smiled, “Well, I already know that.”

“Perhaps, but you might compare notes with your team members.” -TF

Out of the Groove

“But habits can help and habits can kill,” I said. Muriel and I had been talking about competence in the workplace.

“I don’t understand,” she replied. “We just talked about how competence and habits go hand in hand.”

“Yes, they do and like many things, your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.” I could see Muriel’s face scrunch up, mixed in resistance and curiosity.

“Competence requires a set of habits. Habits help us, habits hurt us. Think about a new problem that must be solved, like that change in production last month.”

Muriel winced. “I know, I know. We had really practiced hard on producing that left element. We were really good at it, and it was difficult. Then we got the machine. Using the machine was even harder, so my team kept doing it manually. Someone even sabotaged the machine configuration that kept it out of the loop for two days. All in all, it took us three weeks to become competent on the machine, when it should have taken only five days.”

“Habits can sometimes be the most powerful forces in resisting change. Habits are grooves in the way we think. They can be helpful, but sometimes, we have to get out of the groove and it’s tough.” -TF

Connection to Habits

“Why are habits connected to competence?” I asked. Muriel and I had been talking about competence in the workplace. Muriel was promoted to manager in her department two years ago.

It was like a trip down memory lane. “When I first became a manager,” she started, “I was awful. I thought I was such a hot shot, walking around telling everyone what to do. Within a couple of weeks, productivity in my department was at an all time low, and I couldn’t figure it out. That’s when you began to talk to me about the Power of the Question.

“So, I started asking questions. Instead of telling my team how to do the work more efficiently, I began asking them how they could do the work more efficiently. I didn’t do it very often, but when I did, remarkable things happened. Over time, I got better at asking questions. Now, asking questions is a habit.”

“So, what competence is connected to the habit?” I followed.

“The competence is challenging my team. Challenging them to higher levels of performance, productivity, efficiency.”

“So, competence is all about acquiring a new habit.” -TF