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.

Unconscious Skip

The problems you have with other people will largely depend on how you think about other people. If you think about people as obstacles, you will have obstacle problems. Solving an obstacle problem gives you a way-different result than solving a people problem.

It is an unconscious skip from people-as-people to people-as-obstacles. You end up there so quickly, you are unaware of the skip.

Becoming genuinely interested in other people requires conscious thought, effort. It is a subtle shift that does not happen by itself.

A Subtle Shift

Who you are is largely shaped about the way you think. If you need to make a small shift in who you are, you have to make a small shift in the way you think.

In a leadership role, your effectiveness will largely be determined by the way you think about people. If you think about people as obstacles –

  • The guy who cut you off in traffic
  • The person with three kids whose shopping cart is blocking the aisle
  • The co-worker in the next cubicle who you have to go around to get to the coffee machine

Your behavior will follow.

It’s a subtle shift to think about people as people (and much more difficult than people as obstacles). Your team members are not direct reports, you are not a manager so people can report to you. Your effectiveness will only be as large as the people you personally invest in.

Double Edge of Knowing

Habits are routine, grooved behaviors based on what-we-know. What-we-know is always based on the past.

Habits are a two-edged sword. Habits help us understand the world quickly. What-we-know creates patterns we can use to solve problems efficiently using a minimum of brain power.

Habits can prevent us from clearly seeing the present. What-we-know may not be accurate or lead us to mistake reality as a previous pattern (with a mistake).

Habits are part of who we are and resistant to change, because they are based on what-we-know. Habits are more powerful than reality, because reality is always new. Knowing prevents learning.

Four Levels of Knowing

What-we-know is a mental configuration. The way we configure what-we-know extends along our timespan of intention.

Most ideas exist independent of each other. If our timespan of intention is short, it is a perfectly good way of organizing what-we-know. We can rely on what we see, hear, touch, smell. Life is relatively simple. We can choose this idea OR that idea. This is the world of trial and error.

But, we wake up one morning and see ideas that are connected together. Our timespan of intention extends further into the future. What we see, hear, touch and smell is organized by ideas that are connected. This is the world of best practices, connected to our most common problems.

But, we wake up one morning and see ideas that are caused by other ideas. There is not only a connected relationship, but a cause and effect relationship. Our timespan of intention extends even further. Best practices help to solve problems we have seen, but are useless to problems we have never solved. What-we-know comes from root-cause analysis, the basis for creating a single serial system, a series of ideas sitting in a sequence of cause and effect relationships (critical path).

But, we wake up one morning and what-we-know includes more than one system. We see multiple systems sitting side by side. Each internal system has its own constraints, but some of those constraints now sit outside the system. Each system has an output which becomes the input for its neighboring system. Defective output from one system wreaks havoc on its neighboring system. And some systems outstrip the capacity of neighboring systems, crippling overall throughput of the entire enterprise. If our timespan of intention extends this far, our problems exist in the hand-off between systems and in the output capacity of one system to the next. The organization of what-we-know comes from systems analysis.

We can only know (what-we-know) what we are capable of knowing.

Timespan of Intention

Jordan was quiet. “So, it’s just a matter of what you know and what you don’t know?” he asked.

I lifted my head, “It’s what you know, what you don’t know and what you need-to-know. What you know is based on what timeframe?”

“Only the past,” Jordan replied.

“And what you need-to-know is based on what timeframe?”

“It’s too late for the past, it must be now.”

“You are correct. What do you need-to-know to help you understand the present? How does that understanding help you in the future? And, not the future of what will inevitably be, but, the future of your intentions? There are two timelines of the future, one is based on elapsed time, the other based on your intentions.”

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.