Real Learning

“And that concludes my report. A well-thought out plan, perfectly executed.” Martin smiled. I knew he was lying. His plan may have been well-thought out, but life is never that perfect.

Carla was next up. She was nervous. Her plan was solid, but her team had hit some rocky patches. “I guess things didn’t go the way we thought,” she reported. “We had to make several adjustments as we went along. Our project required three additional meetings. In the end, we made the deadline and came in under budget, but it was tough. I will try to do better next time.”

Carla got a quiet golf clap from the room for her efforts. I moved up to confront the class.

“Carla thinks her project didn’t go so well. Carla thinks she should have had a better report for class tonight, but here is why her report is so important.

“You read these management magazines out there, about CEOs with well-thought out plans, perfectly executed. Some reporter shows up to write about every target flawlessly achieved. No pimples, no bumps, no bruises. Whenever I hear that, I know I have to get the guy drunk to get the truth.

“But, look at Carla’s report. Her team started out toward their first objective, they got off course.” I drew a line across the page with an abrupt turn. “It took an extra meeting to figure out where they went wrong, to get back on track.

“They met their first target, but immediately things went south again. Another meeting, another adjustment.” My line on the flipchart meandered across the page with another hard turn back to target number two.

“And it happened again, before the project was finished.” The flipchart now showed huge jagged lines criss-crossing the page. “And this is where the real story is. Not the neatly wrapped perfect execution. The real story is out here, where the team cobbled together a solution to an unanticipated event to get back on track. And over here where the client threw them a curve ball.

“And that’s why Carla’s story is so important. And that’s where real learning exists.”

When to Start Training for Succession

“But I was here until 10:00 last night. I am working myself to the bone and my company seems to want more. I can’t work any harder.” Victoria was tired. I could see it in her eyes, the hint of a glaze.

“What is it that your company wants more of?” I asked.

“I just don’t know. I have all the stuff I was doing before I was promoted and now I have new stuff.”

“Why are you still doing the old stuff?”

“Well, who is going to do it?” she snapped.

I paused, “As you left your old position, weren’t you supposed to train someone to take over those tasks?”

“Well, yes, I was supposed to, but there was just never any time to do that,” she said, calming down a bit.

“So, now you are in double trouble. You didn’t take the time to train someone else to do the work, so now you have even more work and less time.”

Victoria silently nodded.

“You have proved me wrong,” I said. “I always tell managers that they can never be promoted until they train someone else to take over their old job. But here, you have managed to do exactly what I said could not be done.”

Victoria started laughing. “No, I did not prove you wrong. You are still right. I have not managed this very well at all.”

“So, when should you have started to train someone to take over?” I inquired.

“The very first day on the job, of my old job. In fact, I should already be looking at my new tasks to figure out who I should be training right now.”

Necessary

Ted bit his lower lip. “I am ready,” he said. “Right now, being a manager is not much fun. If I was better at this, if I knew what to do, things would be easier. I want to make this happen.”

Wanting is not enough,” I replied. “You have to make it necessary.”

Ted looked sideways. “What do you mean, make it necessary?”

“You may think that high levels of performance are driven out of desire, team spirit and rah, rah. But that sputters out eventually. When you don’t feel well, your desire gets weak. When your team has an off day, the rah, rah disappears. All of that will impact your performance.

“The only way that high performance can be sustained is if that high performance becomes a necessity. It will only be sustained if there is no other way. Necessity. Necessity drives high performance.”

“I am still not sure I understand,” Ted said. “What makes something necessary?”

“Something is necessary only when there is no other way. Look, Ted, you think you want to be a better manager. That will only sustain you when you feel like it. Unless becoming a better manager is necessary, you will ultimately fail. But if there is no alternative, if becoming a better manager is a necessity, then you cannot fail.”

Change Comes With a Price

“If you want to change the team, first you have to change yourself,” I responded. “But, there is a price to pay.”

“Oh, I am willing to pay,” replied Ted. “And my company is willing to support me, to pay for training, whatever it takes.”

“Ted, the price you pay has nothing to do with the price of a seminar or a book on management. The price you pay has to do with you. The price you pay is in your commitment, your passion, your focus, your discipline. It is a high price. It is a price not many people are willing to pay. Most will pay for a seminar or a book, but few are willing to pay the real price.”

Ted took a deep breath. It was not a sigh, but an attempt to get some extra oxygen to his brain.

“You are telling me this is not going to be easy,” he finally replied.

“Oh, it’s easy to be a manager, and only slightly more difficult to be a mediocre manager. But, what I am talking about is more than being a good manager, it is a question of being a great manager. What price are you willing to pay?”

The Team You Deserve

“Ted, your team is functioning exactly as it was designed to function,” I started.

“What do you mean? You make it sound like it’s my fault,” he defended.

“Exactly, as the manager, the team you have is the team you deserve.”

I could tell Ted was getting agitated. It is easy to look at someone else to blame. It is tough when the responsibility is ours.

“The team you have is the team you deserve,” I repeated. “As time goes by, you will find that your team will be no better than you are. The speed of the pack is the speed of the leader.

“If you find that your team is not what you want it to be, if you find that you are not able to bring out the best in that team, to bring them to higher levels of performance, then, as the manager, you are not the leader who deserves better. At least not yet.”

Ted was quiet.

After a minute, I broke the silence. “So, what do you think we need to work on? Where should we start?”

Ted took a breath. “I guess we have to start with me.”

Stars Can Win Trophies

“Look, I have the best engineer, I have the best mechanic, I have the best designer, I have the best installer,” Ted complained. “Then why do we get such mediocre production?”

“I don’t know, what do you think?” I asked.

“We just can’t seem to make our numbers,” he started. “It’s like we have all the best talent, but just can’t put it all together.”

“So, it’s the putting together part?”

“Well, yeah.” Ted stopped. “You’re right, it’s not the talent part, it’s the putting together part. They don’t sync up, they are all running in a different gear. They don’t relate.”

“So, you just found your constraint? How well you connect is how well you do as a team. Your production will never be as good as your star player. It doesn’t matter how well your star plays. Individual stars can win a trophy, but it takes a team to win a championship.”

Hiring Talent Summer Camp, Now Open

Hiring Talent Summer Camp is now open for registration.

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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 directly with Tom Foster as the online coach, along with 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 $499.

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).

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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.

Looking forward to seeing you online. -Tom

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A Manager’s Speech

Hank surveyed the floor, timecards in hand, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it,” he observed. “They know they are supposed to be here at 8:00a sharp, but, look at this, only two people punched in on time. The next nearest one is 8:06, then 8:09, then 8:12. A couple of people were 20 minutes late. And it’s this way everyday. So, everyday, I have to make my little speech, but it just doesn’t seem to work.”

“And you know this just by reviewing the time cards?” I asked.

“Of course, that’s why we have punch clocks.” Hank looked sideways at me, wondering if I had never seen a punch clock before.

“I understand, but you didn’t actually see when they got here.”

“Oh, no, I don’t have to be here until 8:30a when my manager’s meeting upstairs starts. I’m a supervisor now, I don’t have to be here until then.”

“And, your team doesn’t listen to your daily speech about being here on time?”

“Nope, I will remind them again this afternoon before the shift is over, just to make sure they remember,” Hank replied confidently.

“Here is the thing, Hank. Sometimes, what we do speaks so loudly, they can’t hear what we say.” -Tom

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

Slow Down to Go Fast

“If habits are connected to competence, why is that so important?” I asked.

“Sometimes, when I am faced with a problem, especially a new problem, that is difficult to solve,” Muriel was thinking out loud. “Competence is the ability to bring my thinking and resources to the problem quickly. Not just quickly, but easily. Almost like an instinct. Only I know it’s not instinct, because it is something I learned and had to practice,” she replied.

“Give me an example,” I said, looking for clarity.

“Okay, planning. As a manager, I know it is very tempting, when faced with a problem, to just jump in and solve it, dictate a course of action and move on. What I found was, that whenever I did that, I would fail to notice some critical element, misdirect my people and end up with my team losing its confidence in me.

“It took me a while to learn that I needed to slow down, get to the root cause of the problem, then create a plan. It was painful, in the beginning, because planning was not me.

“I would have to stop everything, clear the decks, drag out my books on planning. It was excruciating, worse, it took too long. Sometimes we would miss a deadline because the process took too long. It was difficult not to go back, jump in, dictate a course and move on, even if it was in the wrong direction.

“It was only when I committed the planning model to memory, that things began to change. Once I had it in my head, I could access the steps without having to look them up in my book. I began to break down every problem this way. Planning became quicker and quicker. Better yet, I was able to involve my team in creating the solution by using the steps. We seldom overlooked critical items. The best part was that everyone was on-board when we finished planning.

“Now, planning is a habit. My team does it all the time. It is a competence.”