Category Archives: Learning

Habits Help, Habits Hurt

“But habits can help and habits can kill,” I said.

“I don’t understand,” Muriel 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 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 a powerful force 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.” -Tom

Watching, Observing, Assessing

“You can still feel an allegiance to the project,” I said, “and, you are correct, as a manager, you have to solve the problem in a different way. You have to move the team. What are your levers?”

“What do you mean?” Miriam looked puzzled.

“It’s one thing to say you have to move the team, but what do you do? Where is your leverage? If your role is NOT to solve the problem, but to get the team to solve the problem, what do you control?”

Miriam stopped to think, then finally replied, “I get to pick who is on the team, team membership. I decide on training. I decide who plays what role on the team. I specifically assign tasks. And, I get to watch, observe. I can coach, but I have to stay off the field. Ultimately, I have to assess effectiveness in the role. It’s either more training, more coaching, more time or de-selection.”

“And, at the end of the day, who is accountable for the output of the team?” -Tom

Why? You Ask.

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.

Yet, some people would rather complain about a problem they can’t solve, than execute a solution they don’t like. Or, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

You will never learn from questions you don’t ask. So, why do we hesitate?

  • It’s uncomfortable to admit we don’t know.
  • The answer is obvious to everyone. Or it should be obvious to everyone, even if it’s not.
  • Our assumption may be wrong, but to ask a question requires us to re-examine what we believe to be true.
  • We might be wrong, but no one will notice, unless we ask the right question.

Asking questions takes us out of knowing mode and places us in learning mode.

Homage to Lee Thayer and Wayne Gretzky.

Gratitude

“What are you thankful for?” I asked.

The eyes from the other side of the table turned kind.

“I am thankful for this time of year, where things slow down. I stop. I stop being busy and become aware. If we don’t stop, we just keep going. Gratitude is about awareness. When I stop, my heart rate goes down. I am calm. In the quiet, I can take it in. I can watch and see things more clearly for what they are.”

“And, what do you see?” I prompted.

“I see connections, the relationships I have with other people. I play a role in other people’s lives and other people bring value to mine. It’s all about connections.”

“And, what are you thankful for?” I asked again.

“I am thankful that I am not wandering alone. I am thankful for those around me, that are connected to me. It sounds too obvious. That’s why it is so important to slow down and become aware. If we don’t stop, we just keep going.”
____
During this time of Thanksgiving, I am going to stop. To become aware. See you next week, with my gratitude. -Tom Foster

Too Expensive and Too Late to Train

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Our company has a critical issue around finding skilled workers. Our community is growing fast and we cannot find the skilled workers we need to meet the demand. We are trying to connect with our community college and state & local job staffers. I am calling on my former company, an economic development corporation to talk about a recruiting program to bring skilled workers to our market. What else?

Response:
In South Florida, this phenomenon appeared three years ago in SWOT analysis. Most of my construction related clients clearly identified – when the recovery happens, we are going to run short of qualified technicians and skilled labor.

Two things contributed. First, when the recession hit hard, many immigrant workers (both legal and illegal) simply went home (and stayed). Second, many in our work force discovered air conditioning. Construction trades often work outside in the elements and for about the same money, the fast food industry offered work inside under air conditioning.

This resurgence in the overall economy has bolstered two cottage industries – recruiting and training. There are, indeed, industry associations that focus on this dilemma. The leader is an organization called Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). They have a strong national organization and local chapters in every major and many minor markets. They offer a range of training from basic OSHA certifications to vocational training in specific skilled labor trades.

It’s funny. When we identified this problem three years ago, everyone pushed back and said they weren’t equipped to train or they couldn’t spend the time to train. Training took too long, they needed workers now. But, if they had jumped in with training programs two years ago, there would be a stream of graduates in the market, now.

Others pushed back, saying they could not take the risk of training. They feared they would invest in a person’s training and then have them leave the company. What’s more expensive? Training someone and having them leave, or not training someone and having them stay?

Next Leadership Series – Ft Lauderdale – Oct 13, 2014

Oct 13, 2014 kicks off our next Working Leadership Series in Fort Lauderdale Florida. This program contains twelve modules in six classroom sessions. The program instructor will be Tom Foster (that’s me).  

Who Should Attend? – This program is designed for Stratum III and Stratum IV managers who are currently in leadership roles.

Location – All classes will be held at Banyan Air Services in Fort Lauderdale FL, in the Sabal Palm Conference Room.
Banyan Air Services
5360 NW 20th Terrace
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

Schedule – Curriculum details below.
Session 1 – Mon, Oct 13, 2014 – Orientation – Role of the Manager – Time Management
Session 2 – Fri, Oct 17, 2014 – Working Styles – Communication
Session 3 – Fri, Oct 24, 2014 – Positive Reinforcement – Team Problem Solving
Session 4 – Wed, Oct 29, 2014 – Planning – Delegation
Session 5 – Mon, Nov 3, 2014 – Decision Making – Accountability
Session 6 – Mon, Nov 10, 2014 – Effective Meetings – Coaching

Location – All classes will be held at Banyan Air Services in Fort Lauderdale FL in the Sabal Palm Conference Room.
Banyan Air Services
5360 NW 20th Terrace
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309

Tuition – $1600 per participant. Vistage member companies receive a $100 discount per participant. This includes all books and participant materials.

Curriculum

Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and managerial roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Two
Working Styles.
 Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement

This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving.
 Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
Planning.
 This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effective delegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making
. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings.
 Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

How to Think Out of the Box

Lee Thayer tells us that whenever someone says “I think,” you can be reasonably sure that they are not. Thinking is hard work.

“Thinking is like improvising music. All the fundamentals have to be at your command without thinking about them. Years of practice may enable you to think out of the box.

And I stopped. How does one practice creative thinking? And that’s when I thought of Joe. Joe Anderson always cracks me up because he has a different way of looking at the world. And now he shares his secret in a new book called That Thing Between Your Ears is an Idea. It’s one of the only books that accurately describes creative thoughts and how to get them. Available on Kindle.

Disclosure, I am not on commission and Joe still cracks me up.

How Will You Learn?

The cherub faces in my leadership class looked up, all smiles, ready to take notes, write down all the answers.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“Well, to listen and learn,” came a response from the back.

“Listening to me will not make you a more effective manager,” I replied. “What I have to say is only my understanding, for me.” I stopped. “So, how will you learn? Listening to me will not make you a more effective manager. Reading my blog will not make you a more effective manager. How will you learn?”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Sometimes silence does the heavy lifting.

“What you learn will only get started in this room. The real learning happens outside of this room, when you take the words and try them out in your own problems and decisions. My understanding means nothing (except to me). What is your understanding?

Why Do We Do That?

“Why do you assemble the pieces of the installation on-site?” I asked.

“Because that’s what we are paid to do,” Roger replied. “The customer purchased this assembly and needs it installed in this location. That’s what we do.”

“But, I am watching this installation and it seems very awkward. That technician is standing on a ladder, in a dark corner of the room, securing two pieces that he cannot see, reaching around another piece that is in the way.”

“I know,” Roger agreed. “But that’s what we do.”

“Roger, you are part of a trade profession. How long has your profession been doing this awkward work in this way?”

Roger chuckled and nodded. “I guess forever. That’s the way it has been done for centuries.”

“Then let me ask again. Why do you assemble the pieces on-site?”

“I will answer you the same way. That’s what we do,” Roger pushed back.

“And that’s what you have always done. Why don’t you assemble the pieces before you get on-site, in a room that is well lit. Instead of climbing on a ladder, you could assemble the pieces on a table where the technician could see the material, and work directly on a connection instead of around something that was in the way?”

Roger looked at me like I was from Mars.

“All I am suggesting,” I continued, “is that you ask a question. Sometimes we do things out of habit. We do something because we know the way to do it. Is it better to know something and describe the way it’s done or ask a question? Why?”