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.

Friday at 5:00p

Kyle wheeled around into the sun, cupping his hand over his eyes to see who was calling his name. It was Barry, his manager. Friday afternoon at 5:00, and it was Barry. Again. Kyle already knew what was coming.

“Hey, Kyle,” said Barry as he stepped up his pace. “Listen, I was just wondering if you could do me a favor on Monday. I have this project that I’ve been trying to wrap-up and I am just jammed. I know it would be extra work for you, but I really need your help. It has to be finished by noon on Monday and I just can’t get it done.”

And Barry wondered why Kyle was never excited about things he tried to delegate.

There are two purposes for delegation. One is time management, the other is people development. Delegating for time management is okay, but short sighted. The longer term purpose for delegation is people development.

So, if the true purpose for delegation is development, it is important enough to schedule a real meeting, with committed time in an appropriate room over a conference table. Plan ahead.

If you haven’t planned ahead, and it’s Friday at 5:00pm, you already blew it. Just go home. Have a beer. Come back next week with a better plan.

Short List

I watched Vincent drop everything on his desk and excuse himself. From the corner window, he spotted the postal carrier bringing a bag of mail from her truck. Vincent was a senior partner in the firm and he was on his way to the reception desk to perform his daily ritual, sorting the mail. Twenty minutes later, he would return, announcing that eight clients had sent in payments that day. Sure enough, he had neatly stacked the eight envelopes for the receptionist to deliver to accounting.

Think about something you do that meets the following characteristics, make a quick list –

  • A task that you perform repetitively.
  • A task that you enjoy doing.
  • A task that is important to the organization.

I often hear the refrain, “I’m not really sure what I can delegate to someone else.” Now, take a look at your list. Any task that you perform on a repetitive basis is a candidate. You may have overlooked this task because it is something that you enjoy. You may have even justified this task as important to the organization. Look at your list again. What can you delegate?

Unofficial Whispers

All kinds of conversations occur about people and behavior in every company. These conversations will take place at the water cooler, the coffee break room, in meetings and in emails. They will occur in official communications and unofficial whispers. All of the conversations drive and document the culture inside the organization.

For the company that has determined its values mindset, actively talking about the positive aspects of people and their contribution (behaviors) is critical. The purpose is to identify those conversations and amplify them so they become the driving force, the tribal history.

These are the conversations that keep us alive. These are the conversations that distinguish one company from the next, one that is struggling and the other that sees success. What does yours sound like?

Drill a Hole in the Wall

I was walking the floor. The drone of the saws was dampened by my ear protection. The conversation with Lloyd could barely be heard above the din.

“What’s with all the green shirts?” I yelled.

Lloyd looked around. “It’s green shirt day.”

I nodded as we ducked around a corner where the noise wasn’t so bad. I popped out my earplugs. “What’s green shirt day?”

Lloyd smiled. “It’s like the difference between a light bulb and a laser light. 100 watts from a light bulb will light up a room, but with all the light beams focused together, a 100 watts of laser light will drill a hole in the wall. Same thing works with my team.”

What a Great Place

“Our culture?” Miguel stopped. “Well, there is the official story, and then there is the truth.”

I smiled. “Well, we all know the story is better than the truth.”

“Yeah, I know,” Miguel continued. “I mean, we try hard. We got the company mission statement posted by the front door. We got the teamwork posters on the wall. We have an employee newsletter, but you know, morale is still in the dumpster.”

“What do you think is the problem?”

“Don’t know. We try to get everybody on board, but the enthusiasm just isn’t there. It’s like they just don’t believe what a great place this is.”

“Who decided it was such a great place?” I asked.

Miguel was puzzled. “What do you mean, nobody really decided.”

“That’s the point. We, as managers, have manufactured the things you describe as culture. The mission statement looks like it came from some Mission Statement book. The teamwork posters were bought out of a catalogue. I have read your employee newsletter and all it talks about is how to make changes in your 401(k) plan and make a claim in the health insurance program. You have the tools to create and communicate your culture, but you are not using them.

“The biggest tool you have is participation. People will support a workplace they help to make.”

What Could Go Wrong?

Lonnie was working hard to change the way his team responded to problems on the manufacturing floor.

“I keep telling them that we need to be proactive,” he said. Lonnie wasn’t defensive, but you could tell he wasn’t having any fun.

“So, tell me what happens?” I asked.

Lonnie shook his head. “It’s just day after day. The problems jump up. You know, it’s not like we don’t have a clue. We know what problems customers are going to have. Heck, we even know which customers are going to call us. We just don’t ever get ahead of the curve.”

“Lonnie, being reactive is easy. It doesn’t require any advance thinking, or planning, or anticipating. Being reactive just happens. Being proactive, however, requires an enormous amount of conscious thinking. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen. You have to make it happen by design. At the beginning of the day, I want you to gather your team together. Show them a list of the work you are doing for the day and for which customers. Then ask these two questions.

  • What could go wrong today?
  • What can we do to prevent that from going wrong?

Lonnie smiled. “That’s it?” he asked.

“That’s it.”


You will never ever get what you want!!! You will only get what you focus on.

At first I am disappointed, because I really want what I want. It makes me feel bad to understand that I will never get what I want.

If I really want it, I have to focus on it.

If you tell me – “It is really hard to find good people these days. We just never seem to hire the kind of people we really want.” My response – You will never get what you want! You will only get what you focus on.

It’s not that you can’t find good people out there. You just have not focused your concentration and energy to find good people. So, what does focus look like? Think about finding good people, talk about finding good people, have meetings about finding good people, plan a campaign to find good people. Roll out an action plan to find good people.

You will never get what you want. You will only get what you focus on.

Translator Role

The planning session was almost over. The team energy was pumped up. Well, all except for Audrey. Her expression was only remarkable in contrast to the upbeat tempo of the rest of the team.

“Audrey, what do you think?” I asked. She was startled, the question was unexpected.

“What do you mean?” she said.

“You are a senior member of this team. You have been around. We have been working on this plan for a couple of hours, what are we missing?”

Though Audrey had been thinking, she had not prepared herself to share these thoughts.

“You are right. I think we are missing a big step here,” she finally said. “I have seen plans like this fail before. Here. In this company. The plan sounds good. It is a worthy target, but we have to get there. We can get all excited, give stump speeches to all of our work groups, but until we translate.” She stopped. “Yes, that’s the word. Translate. We have to translate this plan into the things we do every day to make this happen. If we don’t figure that out, time will go by and we won’t see the progress we expect. We have to connect our everyday disciplines to this larger plan. If we don’t the plan will fail.”

What Question Should We Have Asked?

Trevor was puzzled. On Monday, his new programmer, Dennis, arrived at work. Trevor waited for HR to fill this position for three long weeks. The backlog in programming the CNC machine was building and Project Managers were getting testy with the delays.

But Dennis had been working all morning on a program that should have been completed in twenty minutes. It became clear that something was wrong.

“Hey, mate. How’s it going?” Trevor asked.

Dennis looked sideways to see if anyone besides Trevor was around. “I have to tell you,” Dennis started, “I know it’s my first day, but, I’m struggling. When I finish this line of code and write one more, I will have two lines of code.”

“I thought you were a CNC programmer?” Trevor was kind, but, direct.

“Yes, I programmed CNC machines, but the code was always written for me. I mean, I can copy existing code, but writing it is a little beyond me.”

“But, didn’t HR ask you about coding in the interview?” Trevor wanted to know.

“Of course. They even asked me to bring in sample printouts of code from my previous job. So, I brought the code we used. I showed them several setups.”


“But, they never asked me who wrote the code,” Dennis looked sideways. “I just assumed they knew.”

Trevor grimaced. “What one question could we have asked in the interview so you could more clearly describe your background?”

Mind the Gap (Analysis)

The meeting took a sudden turn for the worse when Emil stood up, walked over in front of Sharon and slammed down the report. Up to then, things had been ambling along with the usual finger pointing, back biting and general nastiness. Now, there was real confrontation.

The GPS Project had been off track for several weeks and the whipping post of every department meeting in the past 14 days. As I listened, it occurred to me that, what had been said, was true. The problem was in the structure of the conversation, or the lack of it, that prevented the team from making progress.

“What did we expect?” I asked the group.

Susan pulled out a project plan with a summarized list of milestones. “This,” she said. “This is what we expected.”

“And, what did we get?” I wanted to know.

Roberto shuffled some paper. “This is a report of the actual costs to date and the percent of completion. We spend 60 percent of our budget, but we are only 25 percent complete. I want to know whose fault it is.”

“Okay, look around the room. We are all here. Instead of looking for fault, let’s look for accountability. No single person, or one department accounts for the shortfall in productivity. Right now, we have two things to examine. We know what we want and we know what we got. In what way can we get from here to there. That is what we are going to talk about today.”