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.

It’s Probably Not Important

“How do you know what-you-need to know?” I asked. “You lost the contract, because you understood the problem, had a great solution, but did not know how the decision was to be made. How do you know what-you-need-to-know?”

Jordan thought for a minute. “I guess, the first step is assuming we already know everything we need-to-know. It’s easy to get suckered into thinking that what-we-know matches the reality of the situation. We have to get really clear on what-we-know and what-we-don’t-know.”

“And, what do we assume about what-we-don’t-know?” I pressed.

“We assume what-we-don’t-know is probably not important, that if it was important, we would already know about it, and included it as part of our understanding. That was our first mistake.”

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Hiring Talent – 2020 was released on Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.

What You Need to Know

“Unbelievable,” Jordan shook his head. “We thought we had it nailed. We knew what the problem was, had a great solution. We were so confident this project was ours for the taking.”

“And?” I asked.

“What we didn’t know was our competitor had a relationship with their corporate attorney, who whispered in the ear of the CFO, who controlled the budget for the project.”

“So, what did you learn?”

“Sometimes, what we know about the problem and the solution to the problem isn’t what we need to know about how the decision will be made.”

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Hiring Talent – 2020 was released on Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.

Which Hat Do You Wear?

Hiring Talent – 2020 will release today, Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to pre-register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.
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I am a bit overwhelmed with the quality of responses to the dilemma posted by Exhausted this past Friday. There are some very thoughtful suggestions at both ends of the spectrum.

Recap:
Exhausted is faced with a decision about a team member who is resistant to his management of her work behavior.

My response:
As I listened to your description of events, I only heard about your efforts and your failure to manage this person to your way of thinking and behavior.

People don’t want to be managed. You can manage a process, you can manage a machine, but you cannot manage a person. Which is kind of weird, because we think that is what managers are supposed to do.

You are wearing the hat of the critical parent, she is wearing the hat of the petulant child. Your goal is to move the conversation to adult-adult.

You see, the only way to manage people as a critical parent is with pressure tactics, control systems, threats of punishment, verbal and written warnings. You have tried all of these and you are left with a poor attitude and a resistant direct report (petulant child).

If you take off your critical parent hat, what are the new tools you have to build trust and gain commitment. People will sign-on to a world that they help to construct.

  • Alignment. Ask questions about personal goals and organizational goals to find the common ground. These are discussions about purpose.
  • Challenge. Ask questions about the work, related to decision making and problem solving. Uncover areas for skill development, difficulty and competence.
  • Managerial relationship. The reason people stay with or leave companies is, most often, dependent on the relationship with their manager.

Here is the bad news. For the past four months, you have managed this person into a state of resistance. You may have ruined her. And you may not have the patience or the time to repair the damage. And the damage may not be repairable.

By all appearances, this person may be headed for an inevitable separation. And separations happen. You will then get a chance with a new person. You will get a second chance. Take a look at your hat, make sure you are wearing the right one. Whenever I hear about this kind of situation, all crumbs lead back to the manager. That would be you.

Verbal Warning

Hiring Talent – 2020 will be released on Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to pre-register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a new manager in this company, but I have 6 years experience in my field, so, technically, I am qualified and have the drive to be good at anything I do. I have 2 employees that work directly under me and consistent problems with one. I feel like she resents me, she believes she was overlooked for my position several times because she is a female. I sympathized at first, but after 4 months, it is very clear that her attitude and lack of drive to go the extra distance has been her problem. After one month in my new position without making any significant changes, I sat down with each of them and created in writing what I expect from them. They both signed, agreeing the terms were fair.

Yet, even after our talk, she has been resistant to anything I have asked her to do and continues to argue with me about the way we do things.

I verbally warned her that this behavior is unacceptable, but I feel I need to write her up so it is on record that she has been warned. She wants more money (not the opportunity to make more, but to be GIVEN more) but I am ready to get rid of her. I am a very tolerant guy, but I feel that her resentment is causing her not be able to change her attitude. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I am exhausted. I want to praise her for doing a great job, but I can hardly get her to just do what I expect, much less exceed expectations…I NEED HELP!!!

Response:

I will hold my response until Monday. I am curious what my readers think. Has anyone ever had this person work for you? What were the symptoms? How did you handle it?

Having a Cause or Being Had by a Cause

So, I left Shannon to ponder why. Why was she drawn to be a manager? Late in the day, I got this email. I asked her if I could share it.

“I thought about what you said. I guess being promoted to manager was just the next thing. This is different than I thought it would be.

“You asked me why? I think I just wanted to be more important. I think I wanted more responsibility. And now I have it.

“But you were right. It wasn’t really for the money. It wasn’t so I could order people around. I just want to make a difference. A difference for the company, a difference for the people on my team and to make a difference for me.”

I think Shannon is on the right track. It seems that she has a cause. But having a cause is not enough. To be a truly effective leader, Shannon has to be had by the cause. And right now, I don’t think she understands the cause enough to be had by it.
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Hiring Talent – 2020 will be released on Mon, Jan 13, 2020. Limited to 20, participants must be part of the hiring process, as either hiring manager, part of the hiring team, human resources or manager-once-removed. Program details are here – Hiring Talent – 2020. If you would like to pre-register please complete the form on the Hiring Talent link. The first 20 respondents will receive a discount code for a $99 credit toward the program.

Why Did You Become a Manager?

Shannon stared at her desk. She didn’t look depressed, but certainly not happy.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Not much,” she replied. “I was really ready to come back to work from the holidays, but yesterday was a barn burner. Ever since I was promoted to manager, things have been different around here. It was so much simpler when I just came to work and punched a clock. Most of the time, it’s great, but there are times when things are just so frustrating.”

“So, why did you want to become a manager?”

Shannon furrowed her brow. “I don’t know. I just got promoted.”

“Why didn’t you turn it down?”

“I never thought about it. It was a promotion, I got a raise.” I could see in her face that she had never explored this question before.

“That’s the reason most people become managers,” I said, “for the money. But if that’s the case it never lasts. The second reason is ego, you know, all the authority to push people around. But that doesn’t last very long either. Management is hard work, times get tough and if you are going to survive, you have to discover why you are drawn to be a leader.”

And so I left Shannon to struggle with the same question I am asking you. Why are you drawn to be a leader?

Merry Christmas

Originally published December 23, 2005.

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch and the lights went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

We hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Management Skills Blog will return on January 6, 2020. We will be checking email over the holidays, so if you need us, you know how to get us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Mental Fitness

Five miles into the ride, the warm-up is over, we turn south on A-1-A and set up the pace line. Today, we have five riders. It was a weekday, so the ride will be a quick 28 miles.

Mike takes the lead, Scott follows, then Rob, Henrik and me. There is a southerly flow in our face, so Mike pulls an easy 19-20 to the first set of buildings. The route ducks behind some condo towers and in the swirl, the speed climbs to 21. By now, the gaps are closed and the line becomes efficient. To be a part of this team, each member takes a turn on the nose, maximum effort into the wind. Macho and ego may play a part (of course it does), but it is the responsibility of the lead bike to keep up a respectable pace. If the leader on the nose sees the speed drop off, it is time to move left and signal the pace line up. A short respectable pull is more appreciated than a longer pull that slows down the line.

As the leader moves off the nose and back to the rear of the pace line, it is important to maintain enough speed to hook on the back and close the gap. A brief lapse in concentration and the pace line can run right past. If too much space opens up, the last rider might lose the wheel in front and suddenly find themselves off the back.

If I could only catch Henrik’s wheel. Four feet, three feet, two feet, hold the gap. Don’t lose the wheel again. Mike comes off the front, Scott moves up, Mike will hook up in another 30 seconds. Close the gap. If Mike hooks up and I lose Henrik’s wheel, we will both be off the back.

The interdependence of the team requires each member to show up rested and fit. Each team member is responsible for conditioning, nutrition, overall aerobic fitness and strength.

When you look at your team, do they show up rested and fit? Does each team member take responsibility for their own conditioning, to support the interdependency of performance? Business projects often require long hours, focused concentration, dogged determination, stamina. Success requires a clear head. It takes more than a willingness to close the gaps. It takes fitness (mental and physical) to execute, to move the bike (project). How fit is your team? What does fitness look like for you?

Vision is Where Enthusiasm Lives

When I trained for a marathon (at the ripe age of 39), Thursday would arrive at 3:30a. The alarm clock would ring and I had a decision to make. I could throw it against the wall and return to my slumber, or I could put on my shoes and head out the door.

At 3:31am, I put together the connection between vision and motivation.

The goal was clear, 16 miles, in the cold. But for some reason, that goal did not get me going. In fact, counterproductive reality. The only thing that got me out of bed was the vision at the end of the marathon. My vision was a slow-motion movie-like first-place finish breaking the tape, wind in my hair, looking sharp in my fancy running togs. It was only that clear and compelling vision that got my feet on the floor.

Here is the truth. Your team doesn’t care about your goals. They are not exciting. The only tool you have, as a manager, to get your team juiced up, is a clear and compelling vision of the future. A vision complete with vibrant color, exciting sounds and the smell of success. It is a description of the details that breathe life into a project. Vision is where enthusiasm lives, energy, drive and inspiration.

Who Did You Walk By Today?

Most managers are unaware of the fishbowl in which they live. Years ago, I received some sage advice from one of my scoutmasters as a young patrol leader. “When you look at your own behavior in front of the other scouts, remember, you can’t go take a pee without everyone knowing about it.”

Every move a manager makes is amplified and remembered. If a manager arrives at work and walks past the receptionist without saying, “Good morning,” well, then, the business MUST be going down the tubes.

Jules Pfeiffer, a famous cartoonist, used to have a series, based on his play, Little Murders in which he depicted the little murders we each commit every day. Little Murders we commit, often without intention or even awareness. We may not be aware, but it is still a Little Murder.

Who did you walk by today, without stopping, without a cheery remark, without a smile? How many Little Murders did you commit today? Remember, amplification works in the other direction, too. A few moments, a kind word, a warm handshake, a listening nod may make all the difference in a team member’s day.