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.

The First Strategic Question

Why and which?” Rachel repeated. Come the first week in January, Rachel had to present her 2020 plan to the rest of her management team.

“How did you approach this plan last year?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, seems like we just got the group together and set some goals for the year.”

“Interesting. And, how did that work out?”

“It’s funny,” Rachel said. Her eyes wandered to the ceiling. “We never really looked at the plan again, until last week when I started thinking about 2020.”

“Did you accomplish any of the things you set out to do?”

“We knocked a couple of things off the list, but I have to tell you, some of the stuff didn’t even matter. It was really kind of vague.”

“So, why did you create the plan?” I asked.

“Because we were supposed to,” Rachel replied.

“So, you never really asked the question –why-?”

“Maybe, you are right, that is the first question.”

When You Cheat

“Everyone says they have integrity, but I have to tell you, when Roger talked about how he managed to skip out on the maintenance fee in that contract, I got a queasy feeling.” Alice had difficulty even talking about this. “I know it was only a $130, but he was so proud that he was able to beat the vendor out of his money, I don’t know, it was just weird.”

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you cheat other people, you ultimately cheat yourself. When you break a promise to yourself, you teach your brain to distrust your intentions and your behavior. You begin to sow the seeds of self doubt. You undermine your strength and integrity.

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you keep your agreements with other people, you teach your brain to trust your intentions and behavior. Agreements you keep with yourself, that are invisible to others, are the most powerful because they are pure. They sow the seeds of self confidence. You build on your strengths with a foundation of integrity.

Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your last post, Easy Now, Hard Later, you talked about the addiction curve, the procrastination curve and the busy curve. More, in depth, please.

Response:
The addiction curve, easy now, hard later works in several scenarios. It’s a simple principle to understand addiction recovery, but applicable to any situation where you need to kick the habit, replace a habit, or kick-start a new habit. The first step is hard, but what is hard now, is easy (easier) later.

The procrastination curve is identical. It’s easy now, to put off something difficult. Wimpy used to say he would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Easy now is the first step to procrastination.

But the busy curve is harder to get our arms around. Easy to spend our time responding to email (looking busy), checking off random items on the to-do list (thinking we are busy), when we are stalling on the most important projects that are hard now. Projects that require thinking, sharpening a skill, acquiring rare materials, enlisting the aid of others. A project is any task with more than one step. Get started. Next Tuesday, the hamburger will be gone, but the bill comes due.

Easy Now, Hard Later

From the Ask Tom mailbox –

Question:
I often think, especially in my coaching and team development but also in personal goals, about the hard part. I recently read another blog post about getting to the hard part in anything we undertake and how at times we can have the tendency to want to avoid it. How do we continue to enable or encourage the people around us to focus on the hard part. I want nothing more than the success of the people in my life.

Response:
This is a classic addiction curve. What is easy now, gets hard later. What is hard now, gets easy later. This is also the procrastination curve. The busy curve.

David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, provides a model to work an INBOX (or a to-do list). Work down the list, anything that takes less than two minutes, do now. If it takes more than two minutes, schedule it, delegate it or put it into a project loop. It’s a sucker punch model. It’s too easy to knock out all the two minute tasks and too hard to work on the stuff in the project loop.

Easy to understand, we know what we (and our team) need to do. We just don’t do it. It’s too hard.

Embedded in David Allen’s model, down in the bottom right hand corner is a piece of brilliance. It’s called next action. I call it robust next step, or robust first step. When I encounter anything that looks hard, I just ask, what is the robust next step? And, if I can do that step in less than two minutes, I do it now. Even if it’s hard.

Success and Personality?

“But, what about personality?” Emily asked. “Doesn’t personality have something to do with success?”

“What personality does it take to be an effective manager?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know. There are personality profiles, assessments we can take, that can tell us things about ourselves.”

“So, what is the profile of an effective manager?” I asked again. “I have seen hundreds of profiles of managers, different scales of dominance, influence, steadiness, compliance, introverted, extroverted, sensing, intuitive, perceiving, judging. I find little consistent pattern of what it takes to be an effective manager. In fact, I have seen unlikely combinations that yield high levels of effectiveness. I personally have submitted to those assessments, over time, decades, and while the output is always consistent (statistically repeatable), I would question there is a best profile to be an effective manager.

“The profile may indicate your tendencies in one direction or another, and that if you adapt away from your tendencies, you may place stress in your life. But who is to say, that one tendency is more effective than another. I am a visual person, quick to take in data, persuasive in moving people to my way of thinking. My brother is more kinesthetic, he has to feel something to understand, he listens patiently, subtle in his ability to gain willing cooperation and support. Dramatically different profiles, but it’s a thumb wrestle to determine who might be a more effective manager.”

Habits Determine Success

In a previous post, A Level of Competence, I ended with an unspoken question. What habits do you have that support your success? Here are the responses, manicured and edited. If you want to see the original responses with attribution (who posted it), follow this link.

  • Read a book a month, a few minutes first thing in the morning, or over lunch.
  • Learn from experts that share their wisdom. Seek them out, pay attention.
  • Look down the road and ask, “Where do we see ourselves as a company in 10 years? 3 years? 1 year?”
  • Break the year down into quarters (quarterly leadership meetings). Break the quarter into weeks (weekly leadership meetings).
  • Given a task, don’t think what or how, think “who?” Delegation.
  • This year I picked a Word of the Year – PROACTIVE. Then I made a word cloud of all the words that came to mind in association with this word (e.g. take charge, adaptive, considerate, effective, willing, doing) and I posted this word cloud by my desk at work and mirror at home. I also had a bracelet made with the word on it, plus dog tags to pin on my purse or keys. I incorporated it into password phrases that I have to type daily. It has been a huge help to remind me to stop procrastinating and just do it – everything from Gantt charts to putting away laundry! I’m actually amazed at how motivating it turned out to be.
  • I use my calendar. As soon as I wake up, I take a quick peek as I prepare for the day/week ahead. My thoughts follow me through my morning routine and my drive to work. This helps me to prioritize my daily plan right down to how I dress. This is also a great opportunity to inspire others as I try to lead by example. I’m a firm believer in the old adage.. “An ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure”!
  • My day starts with a cup of coffee (or more). While drinking (my coffee), I write in my journal by asking this question – “What will I do today to use my gifts to make a positive difference in someone’s life?” At the end of the day I journal by answering this question. “What is the actual positive difference I made today in someone else’s life?” On occasion, I shake things up by asking and answering a couple of additional questions: “What is the one question if asked and answered that would make it impossible for me to remain as I am?” or “What would a person who truly loved themselves and others be doing right now?” or “What would I be doing today if I truly believed that my life mattered and that I could have anything that I want?”
  • I remain curious and I don’t quit.
  • I awake at 4:45am every morning. 4 out of 5 week days I go to the Orange Theory fitness at 6am where the thought train stops and I purely focus on what I’m doing and the energy of the people I work out with. It’s the 1 hour a day that my brain can take a break! I walk out spent, and focus on how I feel post workout in the car, stop and get my coffee on the way to work. While I’m still cooling down I check my calendar for the day, and then hit the shower; where my brain shifts gears. Yep, its convenient to have a shower at work. This is when I feel the uptick in energy and it feeds the energy throughout the rest of the day. Shower and a breakfast; I spend that time focusing on what I want to accomplish through the day. Most of the time that’s in coaching the team and development. I create that mental list that I can check off as I go through the day. For me, starting every morning I can with a clear mind and an intense workout feeds that energy and helps set up the day.

Habits of Success?

In my last post, A Level of Competence, I ended with an unspoken question.

What habits do you have that support your success? I am curious to hear from you, so post a comment or reply by email. I will collect, manicure and re-post.

Here are two of my habits.

  • Each morning, I fix a cup of coffee, and spend 60-90 minutes writing. This is where the blog comes from, as well as email correspondence with other thought leaders.
  • When I drive an automobile, I do NOT listen to the radio, only podcasts or I simply drive and think.

What are your habits?

A Level of Competence

“We all have habits that support our success,” I started. “We may have some habits that detract. It is those routine, grooved behaviors that chip away at the world. It is our discipline.

“Emily, why does a star quarterback throw more touchdown passes than others? Why does a singer perform so well on stage? Why does an Olympic swimmer break a record?”

Emily knew there was a very specific answer to this question, so she waited.

“They all do those things because they can. They spend great periods of their life creating the habits to support the skills that drive them to the top. They reach high levels of competence because they practiced, tried and failed, got better and practiced some more, with a discipline to master those skills. They perform at a high level because they can. The great numbers who have not mastered those skills, who are not competent, were eliminated in the first round.

“Those who achieve mastery are a select few. And that includes effective managers.

“It takes a discipline of habits to achieve competency. For a manager, these habits support the leadership skills necessary to be effective. And that is where we will start.”

What Determines Success?

Emily shifted to the edge of the chair in anticipation. “Okay, I’m game,” she said. “If I want my team to make changes, I have to look at myself first. So, I am willing to do that. I want to make things come out better, make my team better, make myself better. I want to make a difference. I want to change the outcome.”

“Emily, we don’t choose the way things turn out. I mean, we may think we choose our success, but we do not. The only thing we choose are our habits. And, it’s our habits that determine our success. What are those grooved and routine behaviors that chip away at the world? If you want to know how to influence others, you have to first understand how you choose your own habits.”

Causing Change in Others

“Sometimes, I think I have to force things,” Emily said. “And forcing things doesn’t last long. I want to know how I can get people to perform, to perform at a higher level.”

“You want to know how you can cause people to change?”

“Yes, that’s it. Exactly. How can I get people to perform better, to stay focused, to pay attention, heck, just to show up on time would be nice.”

“So, Emily, when you look at yourself, how easy is it for you to make changes about your own life, your own work?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she replied. “Things are going pretty well with me. For the most part, things are under control.”

“Interesting,” I said. “We think we have the ability to cause change in other people when we have great difficulty seeing the need for change within ourselves.”