Tag Archives: planning

How to Troubleshoot Productivity

I don’t know what happened.” Marcus grimaced. “Sure we were working under some tight restraints,” he explained. “During the first part of the contract, things were going well, but by the end, the wheels were coming off.”

“What do you think happened?” I asked.

“The contract called for several thousand feet of installation. We hit it with enthusiasm, high energy, everything clicked. I don’t know, but midway, we began to fall behind. Because of the working conditions, we could only work eight hours each day. Maybe we got sloppy, in the end, trying to finish, our quality got so poor that we had to go back and re-work several sections. First our margins disappeared, then our budget went completely underwater.”

“What do you think caused the erosion?”

“I don’t know. It was like we ran out of gas. I mean, everyone knew what to do. Technically, everyone was trained. The daily punch out was identical from start to finish. In the beginning, it was easy. In the end it was impossible. We just couldn’t keep up the momentum.”

“So, it wasn’t a matter or know-how or training. It wasn’t a matter of external conditions. Was it a matter of incentive or motivation?”

“No, you could see it in the eyes of the crew. They were in it, they were with it. They just could not produce.”

“Tell you what,” I interrupted. “Let’s pull the production records of the crew for the past six months and see what we find.”

Marcus went silent. I could tell he had mentally stumbled upon the reason. Before he left the room, he said he would have the records by the next morning.

Working Leadership Course – Fort Lauderdale

Aug 6, 2013 kicks off our next Working Leadership Series in Fort Lauderdale Florida. This program contains twelve modules in six classroom sessions. The program instructor will be Tom Foster (that’s me).

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

Schedule (All sessions – 8:30a-noon)
Session 1 – Tue, Aug 6, 2013 – Orientation, Role of the Manager, Time Management
Session 2 – Mon, Aug 12, 2013 – Working Styles, Communication
Session 3 – Mon, Aug 19, 2013 – Positive Reinforcement, Team Problem Solving
Session 4 – Tue, Aug 27, 2013 – Planning, Delegation
Session 5 – Wed, Sep 4, 2013 – Decision Making, Accountability
Session 6 – Mon, Sep 9, 2013 – Effective Meetings, Coaching

Location – All classes will be held at Banyan Air Services in Fort Lauderdale FL in the Sabal Palm Conference Room.
Banyan Air Services
5360 NW 20th Terrace
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309

Tuition – $1600 per participant. Vistage member companies receive a $100 discount per participant. This includes all books and participant materials.


Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and managerial roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Two
Working Styles.
Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement

This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving.
Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effective delegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making
. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings.
Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

All This Work, Wasn’t For Them

“What was the major benefit of this exercise?” I asked. For the past week, we had been planning intensive. Every meeting with every company was about their plan for the year. It was over. The confetti was on the floor and all the marching bands had gone home.

Last week, I met with three different groups, each group member presenting their plan they had worked so hard to create. The groups had ripped them apart and put them back together.

I was packing my flipchart. Emily was hanging around. I stopped packing and asked her again, “What was the major benefit of this exercise?”

“You know, at first, I thought I was preparing this plan to show my group how smart I was, how I had everything together. Everything was geared toward this meeting, but now that it’s over, I realize, all this work wasn’t for them.”

“No, it wasn’t,” I confirmed.

“It was for me. It was for me to get my head straight for the year.” Emily smiled and tucked her plan under her arm. “Gotta, go. Gotta go, get’er done.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Make Me a Promise, and Keep It

“Where’s the beef?” Marilyn shouted.

Paul was standing at the front. For the past ten minutes, he had been explaining his plan for the year. At the end of his presentation, I broke the group into four teams of three. Each team had two minutes to prepare three questions. His presentation had been nice.

“Where’s the beef?” repeated Marilyn. “You say, this year, you are going to try to become the premier service provider in the tri-county area, by exceeding the expectations of your customers. But I don’t know what that means. It sounds like the same thing your competitor is saying. It’s all fluff, meaningless. If I was your customer, (and, by the way, I am), and you told me that, I would think you are full of crap.

“If you are going to exceed my expectations, I want you to define your service level. How long will it take for you to respond on-site? To what specifications will the work be done? What kind of written guarantee will you sign? Will I pay exactly what you quoted on the phone for the work?

“Get specific. If you want to become the premier provider, you can’t just say it; you have to get specific about your level of service. You don’t have to exceed my expectations. Just make me a promise and keep it.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Calling an Audible on Every Play?

“So, it’s January 10, and you are all assembled here to present your plans for the year. First, I want you to know how unique this is. Most organizations, in spite of the push for planning, are still in the writing process and will likely never finish their plan. This means they will continue to run their companies without any strategic direction.”

This is my speech today to an executive group assembled for the sole purpose of grilling each other about their 2013 Business Plans.

“These companies will be subject to the whims of the marketplace. They will react as best they can without a plan. It’s like calling an audible on the football field for every play of the game. Without a plan, you can’t exploit a market, wear down a competitor, take market share, open a new line, create a new department, establish a new branch. You can’t do any of those things calling audibles.

“It’s ten days into the new year and you know what you want. Today, you will likely get beat up by this executive group. Tomorrow, you will be ready to present this plan to your teams back at the office. You are ready to be a more effective leader.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Not Sophisticated, but Effective

“It seems we just get so busy that we forget to have follow-up meetings about our annual plan,” said Joyce. “We get busy, and before you know it, summer’s almost gone.”

“Do you have a 2013 calendar?” I asked.

“Well, yes, I think I have three.”

“Well, pick the one you are going to use this year and call a meeting,” I said. “And tell everyone to bring their calendars. This is not a very sophisticated management skill, but it works every time. Right, now, while your annual plan is fresh on everyone’s mind, schedule your follow-up meetings.

  • April – half day to review first quarter.
  • July – half day to review second quarter.
  • October – half day to review third quarter.

“Get them on the calendar, now, so as time marches on, those dates are already protected.

“Schedule one to two full days in December to review the fourth quarter and to finalize plans for 2014. That’s it. Now, you have a follow-up plan in place. You will get busy, that’s why you have to schedule this stuff, now.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is open now.

Grooved Habits

“Where we drop the ball is follow-up.” Nathan shook his head from side to side. “We are pretty good at setting goals, but as soon as we’re done with that, life goes on and we forget all the hard work and time we spent planning.”

“What habits do you need to create,” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Nathan looked puzzled.

“Follow-up is not just a ball that gets dropped. As a management skill, it is a way of life. I always look for habits. What are you not doing as a routine that stops you from following up?”

It was like a smack in the forehead with a beer can. “I see where you are going with this,” Nathan said, still shaking his head. “We usually have a short huddle meeting every Friday to follow-up on the promises we made to ourselves. Ever since the holidays crept up, we just stopped having the meetings.”

“What’s on your schedule this Friday?” I quizzed.

Nathan was quick to respond, “I think we should have our regular Friday huddle meeting.”

Sometimes effectiveness has nothing to do with being brilliant, but only in continuing to do the things that work.

Hiring Talent 2013 kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is open now.


“What do you think is stopping you from creating a plan for this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Dawson. “Sometimes, it seems like just an exercise that we go through every year. You know, it’s January, we have to have a plan.”

“I don’t think you know what you want,” I challenged.

“That’s not true!!! I know what I want. We have a new product we are trying to get out of the ground and a new branch we want to open in the north part of the state. There is a new market we want to go after by repackaging one of our existing services. There is a lot of stuff we want to do.”

“Good,” I said. “Now, draw 3 pictures for me, one for the new product, one for the new branch and one for the new market.”

Have you written down your action plan for 2013? What is the benefit of writing it down?

Planning Perfect

Last year, they spent $12,000 on a planning consultant to help them put together a business plan that included Carl’s division. Since it was delivered, last February, only three people have even looked at it. No wonder Carl was reluctant when I asked for this year’s plan.

“Why the sad face?” I asked.

“Planning is one of those management skills that I always seem to put off,” Carl replied.

“Carl, at the end of this year, do you want your division to be exactly as it is, now?”

“No way, there are several things I would like to change.”

“Good. Carl, here are some questions for you:

How can you design those changes so they are well thought-out?

How can you communicate your ideas clearly to other people?

How can you bring people together to discuss your ideas so they have a better chance of getting done?”

Carl thought for a minute, then finally spoke. “I guess I should write down my ideas, to make sure they are clear in my own mind, then I can send them around to the other people on my team.”

“Would you like a small planning template to help you get started?” I asked. Carl’s eyes got wide as his head moved up and down.

If you would like a copy of the template I am sending to Carl, just ask.

A Plan is Not a Goal

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Background (Tom):
So, now we are left to think about your target completion time. If you truly believe that Stratum IV capability is required for success in this project, then I must assume the real “by when” of this goal is longer than you have stated. We need more data to see more clearly. Give us some more clues.

More Clues (Reader):
I have tried to tackle the clues, below, as a task assignment using CPQQRT (Context, Purpose, Quantity, Quality, Resources, Time) hopefully alluding to the longer term focus.

  • Task: Develop a comprehensive plan to ensure the pool of labour we draw our staff from continues to provide the capability we need.
  • Context: Our current labour pool is shrinking. Baby boomers are retiring, competitors using the same labour pool, increased community expectations around diversity hires.
  • Purpose: Without the labour, our operations will grind to a halt, or become nonviable due to increasing labour costs.
  • Quality/Quantity: A comprehensive plan – ie One that contains clear actions across a timeline extending out a further 12 months. This needs to also tie into our 5 year plan + take into account the expected changes in our industry and society over the next decade. I expect the plan to include the development of the labour pool through schools, universities and other external means, which by implication requires connecting with people in those institutions as well as various government departments. I would also expect you to conduct some external research into best-practice, population economics, intended changes in legislation.
  • Resources: You personally develop the plan and you make decisions on what to include/exclude. You may make use of a researcher/assistant to gather and interpret data as necessary. You have full access to anyone in the business, especially the senior leadership team.
  • Timeline: The plan is due by end Feb 2013. You will be expected to present it to the Executive Leadership Team and handle any questions from that team.

Is the capability required to complete this task assignment S-II, indicated by the six month Time Span of the Target Completion Time? Or is the capability required higher than S-II indicated by the likely State of Thinking (Declarative, Cumulative, Serial or Parallel)?

As I read your narrative, it becomes clear that this is a writing assignment to produce a written document. It appears that actual execution is NOT part of this task. But what is the goal?

If the goal is to simply write a document, collecting all these elements together into a coherent narrative, then I lean toward S-II, Cumulative processing. But I don’t think that’s the goal. A plan is not a goal. A plan is a tool, the design phase of a longer task assignment, and will require a higher level of capability.

The goal is actually to execute the work designed in this document, to create a labor (American spelling) pool in the face of shifting labor pool obstacles. I believe the document is the work design step in a much longer task assignment.

Given the challenges faced, what is a reasonable amount of time you (as the manager) would give someone to create this stable, predictable and available labor pool? You already stated that “clear actions extending out further than 12 months, expected changes in our industry and society over the next decade” would be a required element of this design. I suspect that a reasonable amount of time is 2-5 years plus, easily extending this task assignment to S-IV Parallel processing.

An example. In South Florida, we are seeing a modest and slow recovery in the commercial construction sector. And we are hiring. However, our pool of unskilled labor disappeared during the recession. Many returned to their home countries, others found work in other sectors. Available workers do not possess the skills required to complete the available work.

This is a tough problem, even beyond the scope of a single company. Contractor associations and trade groups are attempting to grapple with the same issues you describe. This will be a long term challenge, not solved within two years. It will require the development of skills training programs, recruiting unskilled workers into those training programs, creating conditions for workers to return from foreign countries. This is clearly a 2-5 year problem, will require a minimum of S-IV Parallel processing.