Tag Archives: manager

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

No Longer the Glow of the Project

“Management is not all I thought it was,” Miriam explained.

“How so?” I asked.

“I started in the marketing department, working on projects by myself. It was satisfying. I would finish a project and I could stand back and look at it. My friends could admire the project. The project had a glow and it was me.”

“That’s because you are a results oriented person and the results were close at hand and tangible. What it different, now?”

“Now, it is slower,” Miriam started. “As a manager, I don’t get to work directly, I work through other people. The results of the project are the results of the effort of my team. I don’t get the glow out of the project, the team gets the glow. What do I get?”

“And this is frustrating?” I prompted.

“Yes, most of my problems, now, are not project problems, they are people problems. I can get the people problems resolved, but the glow is elusive. It is hard to put my finger on the result.”

“So, in your brief experience as a manager, where is the glow?”

“Sometimes, the glow doesn’t take place right away, and it is subtle, in the background,” Miriam stopped. “The glow for a manager is in the development of the team, learning, tackling tough issues and moving to tougher issues. It’s a very indirect glow. I used to have passion for the output of the project, now, it’s a matter of placing value on the development of other people.”

“Congratulations, you have discovered the true role of a manager. You thought being a manager was so people could report to you. Management is about bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team.” -Tom

Level of Work of a Team Lead?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I run a private industrial disaster recovery business. We respond to natural disasters and clean up the mess. We are very hierarchical, but I am having difficulty understanding the level of work in the teams that we dispatch.

Is it possible to have a supervisor in stratum level one? For example, we deploy teams of three people consisting of two technicians and a team captain. The two technicians are obviously working at S-I, one or two day time span, while the team captain works on a day to week at the most. The team captain directs the activities of the two technicians, but is he their manager?

We have several three person teams supervised by a single Project Manager. The Project Manager role, for us, includes team member selection, coordination of support resources, equipment, machinery, consumables as well as training for technicians and team captains. Our Project Manager clearly works at S-II, 3-12 month time span.

My question is, what is the level of work for the Team Leader?


You describe a classic case of a First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA). Elliott was very specific about this role. You are correct that the role is an S-I role and illustrates that within a single stratum level of work, we have different levels of work, illustrated below –

S-II – Project Manager, supervision and coordination, manager of the entire S-I team.
S-I-Hi – Team Captain, directs on-site, assigns tasks, but is not the manager of the team.
S-I-Med – Technician, works under the on-site direction of the Team Leader
S-I-Lo – Technician trainee

This works for project teams, deployed field units, multi-shift operations where the S-II Project Manager or Supervisor is not physically present at all times. The First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA) has limited authority to direct activity and assign tasks within the larger authority of the S-II Supervisor. The FLMA has recommending authority for advancement and compensation, but those decisions remain with the S-II Supervisor.

When to Promote

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I have a technician in an S-I role, but he shows promise to be a supervisor. Shows promise, he’s not there yet. If I promote him, he will fail. Yet, he is clamoring to be promoted. If I promote him and he fails, he will likely quit OR I will have to fire him. What to do?

Your instincts are solid. I divide each stratum level of work into three parts (Lo-Med-Hi). For example, Lo-S-II would be an emerging supervisor, may not have earned the title of supervisor yet, but is still in the learning and testing phase.

Med S-II is someone with the competence to be effective in the supervisor role, certainly has the role title.

Hi-S-II is someone, extremely competent and a candidate for consideration at Lo-S-III (emerging manager).

So, Hi-S-I would be your best technician, could be called at “team lead.” If the S-II supervisor is out for the day, this guy is in charge. He will struggle in most areas as a supervisor, but given time (couple of years) he may grow and become more effective at Lo-S-II accountabilities.

Let’s take safety as a key result area (KRA), for example.
S-III designs a safety system.
S-II selects elements of the safety system to focus on each day, coached by S-III manager who designed the safety system.
Hi-S-I may deliver a 3-min safety talk to the team, on a topic selected and coached by the S-II supervisor from the S-III safety system. Hi-S-I would be the role model for the rest of the team to make sure they all go home with fingers and toes.

As time goes by, Lo-S-II projects are assigned to the Hi-S-I team member. This will give the Hi-S-I team member low-risk experience making S-II decisions and solving S-II problems. At some point, everyone will realize the Hi-S-I team member is effectively completing task assignments at S-II. That’s when the promotion happens, not a minute sooner. -Tom Foster

A More Accurate Judgement of Capability

I do not judge a person’s capability. I am not that smart. I have no authority to try to climb inside the head of a teammate, a colleague or a spouse (careful!). While I took a course of study and a minor in psychology, I have no degree, am not certified nor licensed by the state to practice psychotherapy or psychoanalysis.

People are complicated, tough to figure out. So, stop.

But work, work I understand. I understand the decisions that have to be made and problems that have to be solved. As managers, we are all expert at the work. Don’t play amateur psychologist, play to your strengths, as a manager.

I do not judge a person’s capability. I do, however, judge effectiveness, effectiveness in a role that I have selected them to play. Either the person is effective, or not. That, I can judge.

So, get out of the people judgement business and get into the role judgement business. -Tom Foster

If We Had Only Known

“But, how could I possibly know, a year in the future, what my team members will do?” Melanie asked. “I don’t even know what I am going to do a year from now.”

“That’s an interesting question,” I replied. “What questions could you ask? Think about the two supervisors you just lost, who graduated from night school. What questions could you have asked?”

“Well, I could have asked them if they were going to night school.”

I smiled. “You already told me you knew they were going to night school, so somehow you managed to ask that question. Think deeper. Think further into the future.”

Melanie’s mind began to crank. “I could have asked them what they were studying. I could have asked why that interested them. What they hoped would happen as a result of going to school.”

“And if you had known the answers to those questions?” I prompted.

“I guess I would have found out if what they wanted was something they could find here, in our company.”

“But you didn’t get that chance, did you?” -Tom

Listen for What?


If you are in sales, listen. Your customer will tell you how they want to buy.

If you are a manager, listen. Your team will tell you how they need to be coached. Listen for what is said and what is not said. Listen for what is confronted and what is avoided. Listen for context. Listen for what people believe to be true. Listen for what people believe is not true. Listen for assumptions.

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions. Then, listen. -Tom
Today, Wed, Nov 2, 2016 is the last day to register for our public presentation tomorrow –

Management Myths and Time Span
November 3, 2016
8:00a – 12:00 noon

Program starts at 8:30a sharp
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
4725 North Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale FL 33308
Register here.

How to Identify High Potential in a Team Member

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just finished reading your book Hiring Talent. As I finished the book, I thought about my evaluation of high potential internal candidates. How do I know if a team member has a long enough time span of discretion to be able to do the job at the next level?

There are two places to play. One is to climb inside the head of the individual, the other is to focus on the work. The Head or The Work? Stay out of their head. Focus on the work.

Step 1 – Define the work at the next level. What are the problems that have to be solved at the next level? What are the decisions that have to be made at the next level?

Step 2 – Create a project that requires solving a problem at that level of work. Create a project that requires a decision at that level of work. It’s just a project, no promotions, no raises, no corner office, just a project.

Step 3 – Evaluate the project. Did the candidate execute as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role? And in that half, top, middle or bottom? After the project, you should be able to answer those two questions in about 5 seconds.

Top – Top
Top – Middle
Top – Bottom
Bottom – Top
Bottom – Middle
Bottom – Bottom

If there is potential, there is always evidence of potential. Do not make this decision based on a hunch, a feeling or an assumption. Make this decision (on potential) based on your judgement of evidence of potential.

Work output from a person who has potential is almost always error-free and on-time or early. -Tom

Transition from S-II Supervisor to S-III Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I read, with interest, your description of the transition from a lead technician (S-I) to a supervisor (S-II). I find myself in the same situation. I was in a supervisory role (S-II) for the past six years, and now find myself in a managerial role (S-III), as a manager to a team of five supervisors, each with their own team. As a supervisor, when I struggled, I went to my manager. Now, I am the manager.

Not only are you, now, no longer doing the production work, you are no longer directly implementing the day to day, week to week or month to month production schedules, you are now a manager (S-III) of first-line managers (S-II).

You are still committed to two central questions, pace and quality, but your time orientation is, now, much longer. Yours is a system focus.

Take the concerns at S-II and change the outlook from 3-12 months to 12-24 months.

S-II – Right technician assigned to the right project (3-12 months).
S-III – Build a team of technicians, accounting for the lead time from entry level to working competence, so, when a technician is needed, there is a competent team member ready to step in. Workforce planning (12-24 months).

S-II – Safe working environment, proper safety equipment (3-12 months)
S-III – Create systems of safety, begin with a prevailing mindset of safety. Create a safety curriculum, including policies, procedures, initial and recurrent training programs. Track those training programs to ensure that all personnel receive effective and appropriate training. Review safety metrics to adjust the safety program (system) to be continuously more effective. Review, recommend, approve and implement safety budgets for equipment, to ensure organizational competence to safety related matters (12-24 months).

S-II – Right training for the right skill required by the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Identify necessary skills training, select appropriate training programs, both internal and outsourced. Assess the effectiveness (metrics) of those programs and adjust the training system (12-24 months).

S-II – Right tools used by the technicians required for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Review, recommend and approve budgets and acquisition of appropriate (state of the art) tools, including capital budgets for equipment investments (12-24 months).

S-II – Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Material contracts with suppliers, negotiate favorable discounts and terms. Identifying critical order quantities, lead times and stock to meet production volume based on sales forecasts (12-24 months).

S-II – Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Review, recommend and implement annual and capital budgets for equipment. Anticipate end-of-life for existing equipment, improvements in technology and capacity to meet production volume based on sales forecasts (12-24 months).

Work Environment
S-II – Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height (3-12 months).
S-III – Work flow layout, time and motion studies, sequence of production, system constraints and strategic constraint (12-24 months).

S-II – Corrective feedback for mistakes and positive reinforment for performance (3-12months).
S-III – Conduct effective coaching 1-1s with supervisory team, model coaching sessions, set context. Ensure that supervisory team conducts effective coaching sessions with production team. Act as manager-once-removed to production team, review training, assess capability for advancement, set context.

All of these issues have long term impact on pace and quality. Your tools are no longer simple schedules and checklists, but work flow diagrams, schematics, time and motion studies, sequencing and planning.

As a supervisor (S-II), you relied on best-practice solutions to identified problems. As a manager (S-III) you will be asked to solve problems that have not been solved before. You will employ root cause or comparative analysis to examine difficult problems, to generate solutions based on cause and effect.

The value-add at this level of work is consistency and predictability. As a supervisor (S-II), it was your role to make sure that production was accurate, complete and on-time. As a manager (S-III), it is your role to ensure that the product or service is effectively delivered, AND that delivery was completed efficiently, yielding a reasonable (consistent and predictable) profit for the time, effort and resources required.

Welcome to the world at Stratum III. -Tom

Missing Stratum III

“I am not sure what is happening,” Monika said. “We have three supervisors, all of them have been here for five to seven years. Up until about six months ago, they were all doing just fine. Now, they are struggling. Not just one supervisor, but all three of them.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a meeting to discuss a new problem area. Our work order volume through the shop has increased from twenty work orders a day to fifty work orders. We promise our customers a delivery time, then we find out there are problems with their order, delays in getting some of the special items. We put people on to fix those things, but then that delays other work orders. The white board we use for scheduling can’t handle all the things that change during the day. There is an industry scheduling software, within our budget. We decide on a course of action to find out more about the software, if it will work for us. Each supervisor has their assignment to examine the software. We break the huddle and nothing happens.”

“What do they say?” I pressed.

“We get together a week later. We still have the same problem. One supervisor says they talked to their team, but got push-back. Their team likes the white board. Then they got busy, and here we are, a week later. Another supervisor just stares and says there is too much work to get done, to spend time looking at the software. All three supervisors admit that it is very important to solve this problem. They suggest we hire some assistant supervisors.”

“What happens if you don’t solve this problem?”

“Nothing immediately, but we have some signature projects coming up and if those get delayed, we could lose the projects. And if those projects push other work orders, we could lose other customers.”

I let Monika slow down and stop.

“Have you ever considered that the level of work in your operations department has increased,” I asked. “The way you handle one project, or two projects or twenty projects is different than how you handle fifty projects or sixty projects. If I told your supervisors, tomorrow, would have to handle 100 simultaneous projects, how would they respond?”

“The whole department would implode,” Monika replied.

“But you have the floor space, you have capacity, it is just a matter of handling the complexity created by the additional volume. It’s a higher level of work. And, hiring assistants will not solve your problem. You have to change your system. Do you have the time to work on this?”

“Nope,” Monika was quick to respond. “I have seven departments to keep moving. I can’t get bogged down in this one. It’s almost like we are missing a manager to direct my three supervisors.”

S-IV level of work – Monika
S-III level of work – Missing level – system work
S-II level of work – three supervisors
Clarification on levels of work in Australia, from Adam Thompson at the Working Journey
In Australia, Supervisor usually denotes the S-I role Assistant to Frontline Manager (FLMA, S-II) role, your Leading Hand.

Team Leader is the role that may denote either the FLMA role or the S-II Manager role.

Str-III sits uncomfortably between Manager / Senior Manager / General Manager and sometimes even Director.

Str-IV is reasonably consistent – General Manager. I think that’s a VP in your world. -Adam