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.

Back to Work Velocity

Let’s get back to work. Unlocking the door and greeting your first customer feels positive, but is it enough to sustain?

As the business leader, more importantly is understanding the viability of your re-opened business operation.

Total Throughput
As operations resume, parts will come humming back, but in the background will be friction. This is not a game of spinning plates. One or two high performing departments won’t cut it, you have to look at total throughput. Restaurant kitchens always have output capacity, but throughput is constrained by the dining room. People only eat so fast, tables turn only so many time during a meal period.

Velocity
And, in the near term, dining room capacity will artificially be constrained by 75 percent. How fast does profit travel through your output system?

It feels good to open the doors, but there will be new constraints imposed that have to be accounted for in your business model. Those that survive will figure this out, now, and make appropriate adjustments.

Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Yesterday, someone asked me, as we move from shelter-in-place to a re-open of the economy, what should a CEO think about? Of course, there is work to be done, and we will bring people back to do that work, but what should the CEO think about?

  • What does my market environment look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time? This includes market demand, regulations, capital requirements, availability of labor and technology.
  • What should my company look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time?
  • What are the internal functions necessary to support my product or service in that market demand?
  • Inside each function, what is the level of decision making and problem solving?
  • What roles do I need to make those decisions and solve those problems?
  • Do I have people on my team who can effectively play those roles?

There are two concepts embedded in these questions.
Necessity
Levels of work (levels of decision making, levels of problem solving)

Necessity
If your company considered the purchase of a $100,000 machine, and it was NOT necessary, would you buy it? That same decision has to be made about the roles inside the company. Now, is an opportunity to examine your organizational design and ask, is this necessary?

Levels of Work
Most CEOs do not think about the work necessary to make the product or provide the service. Understanding the level of decision making and the level of problem solving are specific clues to the talent you need. Now, is an opportunity to examine the levels of work and ask, do I have the people on my team who can effectively make those decisions and solve those problems.

Time to Re-think is Over

The time to re-think is over. The time to adapt is now. Actually, never too late to re-think.

  • Employee shuttle buses will have spaced seating, one person for every six seats.
  • Employees will wear face masks, take the stairs and walk one-way around the office.
  • Lunchrooms will have only 25 percent seating capacity.
  • In-office meetings will still be virtual.
  • Larger conferences are canceled through 2021.
  • New budget lines for PPE.
  • Building admittance will see temp screening and self-declared wellness protocols.
  • Flying will be more rigorous than entering a building.
  • Shopping inside a store will see a transformed retail experience.
  • Cash and checks will disappear, in favor of touch-less (NFC) digital transactions.
  • Drive-thru shopping will see re-marked traffic lanes around stores.
  • Restaurants will shift from dining rooms to take-out and delivery.
  • Arena sports will yield to open-space sports.
  • Movie theaters may never re-open, throwing film distribution a curve-ball.

All of these things will impact your business model, the way your customers interact with you, the way team members interact with each other. Intrinsically, we are social animals who want to be together.

These permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

In Three Months Time

Things look dire. We are on the precipice of disaster. Twist of fate with permanent consequences.

All these headlines are designed to hijack the primal brain. The primal brain only asks this one question – Is what I am about to hear going to kill me? If it is, then I will pay attention. And, it does.

The leader has to engage beyond the primal brain. But, how? We cannot deny the primal brain was stimulated to cry out an extreme warning. We simply have to thank the primal brain for sharing, “thank you for sharing.” And, move on.

It’s not a matter of what is happening now. The leader has to think, how will things be in three months time? How will things be in six months time? This emergency will be over, and then what?

The Crisis is Over (Soon)

We created our crisis response. Uneven across the landscape, some more affected than others. By now, we are doing what we thought prudent. For some, that will necessarily be maintained, others may see dramatic shifts in the next four weeks.

Get Ready
While your crisis response is set (one way or the other), it is time to plan for a transition. It is time to blend your crisis response team with your transition team.

Time Frames and Scenarios
Look at the extremes that may happen in your what-if scenarios. Look at the time frames

  • April 30 will see the expiration of current “essential services” guidance. Some places will see continued guidance, other places will see re-definition.
  • Four weeks out, there will be some re-mobilization, and that experience will teach us more about how we will proceed (or retreat).
  • Two months out, we will begin to understand our companies in the midst of this chronic condition. And we will learn more about what is possible and not possible given the circumstance.
  • Four months out (August), we will gauge our ability to cope and determine how to leverage our assets in the face of circumstances.
  • Eight months out, we should see what we will look like going forward into the future, however modified, however different.

This is not something that will just get fixed. This is more likely a chronic condition we have to adapt to. Even if herd immunity kills off COVID-19, you can rest assured there will be a COVID-20.

Why People Don’t Listen

“They just don’t listen,” Roy complained. “You would think they would have some respect. After all, I have been doing this job for more that 15 years.”

“It’s because they have a dot,” I replied.

“What do you mean they have a dot?”

“A dot. Everybody has a dot. Your team members, each, have a dot. You have a dot. Only your dot doesn’t match their dot.”

Roy was quick. “Okay, but if their dot is wrong, why don’t they listen to me?”

“I don’t know, why do you think?”

Roy was ready for bear. That’s a Texas expression that means Roy wanted to argue. And he was perfectly willing to go first. “Sometimes, I think they are just pig-headed, stubborn. My logic is easy to see, but if I point out they are wrong, it seems they cling to their ideas even harder.”

“Imagine that,” I pondered out loud.

Here is MY Position

This pandemic is not simple, it is incredibly complicated with tons of uncertainty surrounding it. And, I observe a deepening divide between medical conservatism and getting the country back to work. Some of these discussions are emotionally heated, vociferous.

Some have asked about my position. The instant we take a position, we stop listening. When we stop listening, we stop learning. You may think you are listening, but you are listening with bias, selectively seeking out only what you want to hear.

In our dramas, there are three groups of characters, heroes, victims and villains. One cannot exist without the other two. It is a co-dependent relationship, they draw and feed on each other. For any of the three characters to win in the drama, the strategy is NOT to be a more vile villain, a stronger hero, or a suffering victim. The winning strategy is to get off the stage.

Levels of Listening

  • Ignoring completely.
  • Pretending to listen.
  • Selective listening.
  • Listening to respond.
  • Listening to understand.
  • Listening for intersection, where we have common ground.

It is only when we find common ground that we can build a relationship.

Emerge As a Better Company

How will your business emerge as a better company?

What elements of your business need to be retired? What processes should be eliminated? Reminds me of Tim Ferris‘ five step program, with my extra credit step.

  • Eliminate what is not necessary.
  • Simplify what is over-complicated.
  • Combine things that should be done together.
  • Outsource those things that are not part of your core.
  • Automate (digitize) what is left.
  • (Extra credit) Employ humans to do only what humans do best.

This is a time to accelerate the steps. Perhaps, your business will emerge as a better company.

This is Not a Pause and Restart

One month ago, perhaps we thought this would be a V shaped recovery. Pause, restart. With 6.6 million unemployment claims this week, we are in for a longer haul. In the midst of damage control, if you are the leader, you have to think a bit further out.

Now is the time to plan out some variations in your what-ifs. April is gone. What if May? What if June?

What if June sees a relaxation and there is a resurgence in cases? What if additional government intervention occurs because of case resurgence?

Think about the variables and the combination of variables. We will emerge from this pandemic, we will. This is not the time for despondent thinking. This is the time for resourcefulness in the face of uncertainty. Think beyond emergency measures. What will life be like in two months time, three months time?

COVID-19 is Shattering Your Culture

Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior, in the work that we do together. If it was written rules, that would be your standard operating procedures. Culture is largely unwritten.

It’s all about behavior. Of course there are ideals, beliefs and assumptions we hold that drive those behaviors, but culture is all about behavior.

Culture (ideals, beliefs and assumptions) are reinforced through customs and rituals. COVID-19 is shattering your culture, throwing you out of your rhythm. Look at your customs and rituals. Perhaps, now is the time to double-down on your customs, examine your rituals. What are you doing to hold your team together?