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.

Four Power Questions Before the Interview

It’s all about the work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

  • How to know what you are looking for?
  • How to transform that vague picture into specific deliverables?
  • How to communicate that picture and deliverables to the hiring team, to make sure you are right?

I will know it when I see it, sets up the hiring manager for failure. Success is based on luck.

Work is a funny notion. Many managers focus on getting in touch with candidates, all warm and fuzzy. Not my purpose. Instead, get in touch with reality. The purpose of hiring is to get some work done.

Work is making decisions and solving problems. Few hiring managers think about the problems that have to be solved and the decisions that have to be made in a team member’s role. That is where it starts. The hiring manager is looking for someone to make specific decisions and solve specific problems. Until we figure that out, we will never hire the right person.

Here are the power questions to answer before you get into the interview room –

  • In this key area, what decisions have to be made?
  • What is the time frame for those decisions?
  • In this key area, what problems have to be solved?
  • What is the time frame for those solutions?

Nagging Questions Before the Offer Letter

You are ready to extend the offer letter, but there is this nagging hesitation in your mind.

  • Is this the right person?
  • Am I making a mistake?
  • What happens if I am wrong?

But, you have a 90 day probation period, so if it doesn’t work out, no harm, no foul.

And, you will have to start over again, 90 days down the road.

  • Why do you have to wait 90 days to find out if this is the right person?
  • How can you eliminate mistakes in your hiring process?
  • How can you up your batting average, reduce the times you are wrong?
  • What separates the average hiring manager from the few who most consistently make good hires?

There is no magic, no fairy dust, just a little managerial work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

Trust is a Choice

Based on truth, trust is a choice. Trust does not happen. Trust is not a feeling, it is a decision.

Trust cannot exist in a circumstance of deception or ambiguity. The choice of trust is always tested by the consequences of reality.

Trust can be broken. Attempts can be made to repair a broken trust, but its repair can only be chosen.

I can engage to earn your trust, but only you can choose to trust me.
—-
Taking a break for the US Thanksgiving holiday. See you back here Monday, Dec 2, 2019. -Tom

Pompous Poser, Wandering Journey

Much ado is made connecting success to the leader. But the effectiveness of a leader is dependent on the effectiveness of the surrounding team. Without the competent execution of the team, the leader is simply a pompous poser.

The most important contribution of the leader to the organization is to build that competent team.

Much ado is made connecting success to teamwork. But the effectiveness of the team is dependent on the effectiveness of the leader. Without the competent execution of the leader, the team will churn energy in a wandering journey.

Purpose. Picture. A sequence of steps. Observation of progress. Execution. A brilliant dance.

Instinctual Action, Rhythmic Reflection

Peter Schutz was clear about context and leadership. There was a time to floor-plan the responsibilities in the pit at Le Mans, and a time for the crew to execute in the moment. Effectiveness is determined by the deployment of appropriate leadership skills based on context. It is context that determines which must happen.

Leadership is not a simple checklist, or even a complex checklist where boxes are ticked off on completion. It is context that drives what has to happen.

And do not mistake this context for stimulus response, requiring high levels of improvisation. Context can be understood in discrete levels of time(span). There are, indeed, circumstances that require immediate, instinctual action, balanced against long-term trends that require rhythmic contemplation and reflection. Effective leaders must have a sense for both.

Flawless Execution

This continues a dinner conversation I had with Peter Schutz several years ago.

“How is it possible, as a manager, to operate like a dictator,” he asked. “The crew in the pit, in the midst of a race at Le Mans, could operate like a dictatorship, heated in the moment, because they had spent months planning democratically.”

“Execute like a dictatorship, plan like a democracy,” he continued. “The problem in business, is that most managers get this exactly backward.”

“To execute flawlessly (like a dictator) requires a planning process to support it. And this planning process must be created under a very different form of government, a democracy.” Peter acknowledged democracy is slow, requires participation, accommodation, discussion with divergent points of view, but it is absolutely necessary.

If you get this reversed and plan like a dictator, you will experience execution like a democracy, with much discussion (grumbling), divergent points of view and resistance.

No Pleasant Conversation

“Hey, you! They didn’t care who I was.” Peter explained. I was talking with Peter Schutz, former CEO of Porsche (1980-1988) about car racing. Peter’s stories always had a point.

Standing in the pit, as the car came in for fuel and tires, there was no pleasant conversation. All energy was focused on the flawless execution of the fundamentals. They had mere seconds to get the race-car out of the pit and back on to the track.

“Can you imagine,” Peter explained, “what would have happened, if the guy working on the left rear tire had pulled the wheel, set it on the ground and then started a conversation. -You know guys, I have been thinking about a few things that I would like to bring up to the group.-

Peter continued to explain that winning the race depended on the dynamics of a rather stern dictatorship. “How is that possible on a management team?” Peter asked. The answer was simple.

Remembering Peter Schutz (1930-2017)

Unpacking from my recent move, I found some old notes from a dinner with Peter Schutz. Peter was the CEO of Porsche from 1980-1988. He helped me kick off one of my executive groups in 1996. Peter passed away in 2017, but he was a person you never forget.

At our dinner he talked about the difference between the democratic process and a dictatorship in a management team. As CEO of Porsche, Peter attended many of the automobile races where Porsche had an entry. Le Mans was his favorite. He loved to visit the pit area, but even as CEO, if he got in the way or his assistance was needed to grab a tire or a wrench, the orders were barked and by golly, he complied. He didn’t just comply. He enthusiastically grabbed the tire and delivered it port-side to the car, and just in time, because there weren’t any seconds to waste.

Was the action in the pit a democracy or a dictatorship?

Not Just a Picture

“We have to find a purpose that has us?” Rachel was confused. “I’m not sure I understand. We are trying to do strategic planning for 2020. I get that we have to define our purpose. I know that purpose will drive the rest of the plan. But you make it sound like that purpose has to be some powerful compelling force. We bake bread.”

“Exactly!” I said. “What kind of bread do you bake?”

“Well, we bake all kinds of bread.”

“So, why do you bake bread?”

“I don’t understand.” Rachel’s head was moving from side to side. She wasn’t disagreeing, but she was having difficulty with the question.

“Why do you bake bread?” I repeated.

“Because our customers buy it.”

“And, why do your customers buy it?”

“Well, bread is consumed at almost every meal in some form or another. People eat a lot of bread. It’s a comfort food.” Rachel was trying.

“Why is bread so important to people?”

“It’s just part of life, bread goes with everything. It’s universal. Around the world, all cultures eat bread. When people get together, they break bread. It’s almost a bond between people.”

“And do you bake quality bread?” I asked.

“The best,” Rachel smiled. “Hot out of the oven, warm, soft, drizzle a little honey on it, just the smell of it makes you feel good.”

“Rachel, you are on the right track. Somewhere in what you describe is purpose. Somewhere in there is vision. Somewhere in there is mission.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” she said. “In the hallway is our mission statement, only it’s just a picture, of a steaming loaf of bread emerging from an oven door.”

Or, Let It Sit on the Shelf

“Why do you think you never looked at your plan this past year?” I asked. Rachel was quite interested in making her 2020 plan different.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “It was almost like it didn’t matter. We could re-read it and talk about, but it didn’t seem to matter all that much.”

“That’s why purpose is so important. That’s why purpose is the first step. Purpose drives the rest of the plan. Without a well defined purpose, your plan will be uninteresting and sit on the shelf.”

“So, we really need to have a purpose,” Rachel was nodding, enthusiasm creeping across her face.

“No,” I said. Rachel’s face turned quizzical. “You don’t need to have a purpose. You need to find a purpose that has you. You need to find a purpose that has a hold on you so tight that you can’t stop thinking about it. You need to find a purpose that captures you. When you find that purpose, you won’t have any problem pulling your plan off the shelf and working it.

“Find a purpose that has you.”