Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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  • On Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend The CEO Hour live, with co-hosts Bruce Peters and Diana Palotas.  The CEO Hour airs every Friday between 11am and 1pm on WCEOhq Radio.  The featured guest, February 1, was Laura Vanderkam, a nationally recognized writer, journalist and author.  Whether it is your morning, your weekend or your workday, Laura discussed strategies that help you make the best use of time – your most precious commodity.

    Each of us, periodically, wonders where our time went.  We did things we “had to do” but never seemed to get to the things we wanted to do.   In other cases we felt like puppets on a string with others controlling our time.

    Even though a week has 168 hours, time is a scarce resource and once it is gone, it is gone forever. Laura has written 3 e-books on the subject of time management and shared her insights and those of successful people she has interviewed. Here are my favorites:

    [1] Look backwards at your calendar.  During my career I have keep a time log, but the twist from Laura was to capture the data also by time slot.  That way, for example, you can discover that 2pm to 4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays are pretty open.  You can then choose to use that time slot in a constructive and purposeful way.

    [2] Have a plan for what you want to do.  Think about carpenters building a house.  They do not show up at a worksite and begin sawing and hammering.  First they look at the blueprints and understand the plan.  The same is true in life – do not just wake up and jump into the day without a plan.  Think about what you want more of and then build a plan around it. Doing nothing is impossible – you will do something.  If there are no plans it will not be as meaningful as you wish it to be.

    [3] Identify your time wasters.  Much of life is a choice.  Time wasters can be things that you think are important but not advancing you towards your goal.  Here are two some examples we discussed:

    1. Chores:  You can get sucked into the never-ending maw of work of be done around the house.  This is an area where you must really think about what you value.    When younger, I had a mental picture of a clean house.  A clean house was ‘spic and span’ and gleaming from top to bottom.  As time pressure started crushing me, I realized that I valued spending time with friends and the laughter of children.  I wanted my tombstone to say, “Marvelous Friend” not “House was Spic and Span”.  So, I adjusted my expectations and in this case it meant accepting a house with some clutter.
    2. Television:  There is most likely one TV program that each of us enjoys.  However,  we can also admit that once we sit down to watch our favorite show we get stuck in the chair and cannot get up for 3 or 4 hours.  So, one hour of enjoyment turns into 3 hours of guilt and self-flagellation.  We ask ourselves, “Why did I do that?”  The key is to watch the show we want and then quickly turn off the TV.

     

    [4] Plan things you really like to do into your free time.  Life cannot be all drudgery; build in some fun.  Studies have shown that anticipation is a significant part of mood boost and happiness.

    [5] Paying in.  To achieve your dreams you need a certain supply of career capital.  Ensure you are doing something every week that ‘pays in’ to your career capital account.  It can be networking, researching and learning new skills or getting out of your comfort zone.  Consider this your life-long garden. You must continually be planting seeds in order for the garden to grow. Keep in mind that some things that you plant may not bear fruit for many years.

    We each have time during our 168 hour week that can be repurposed to something we really want.  Think about who you are and who you want to be.   Think about the words of William H. Johnsen, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”  Make the commitment now to repurpose some of your time.

    Laura Vanderkam website

    http://lauravanderkam.com/category/weekends-2/

    WCEOhq Radio website

    http://www.wceohq-radio.org/#axzz2Jw15DMb9

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  • One Webster’s definition of aspiration is: a strong desire for high achievement.  We each have hopes, dreams and aspirations for ourselves.  We have set our sights on a goal that can take many years to achieve and the path is not always clear.  There are, however, some actions that can increase the likelihood of achieving your aspirations by allowing you to make significant contributions and thereby standing out from the rest of the crowd.

    On my personal journey, I have followed each of these tips.  I still remember, to this day, where I was when I clearly formulated my aspiration.  It took 15 years to gain the experience which resulted in the achievement of my dreams.   The 9 tips listed below are constant and perennial in a business world that is noted for change and following the latest fad.

    1. Get to know as many people as possible.  Early in my career, I made it a point to go to lunch with people in other organizations and in my department at least once a week.  It was easy to get to know them personally over lunch.  In addition, I learned more about the work they did.  Through the years I invariably needed help from people with other skills and knowledge.  Nurturing these relationships made it easy to call upon them when their help was needed.

    2. Know peoples’ names.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say, “I am not good with names.”  That really means, “I do not want to take the time to learn the names.”   A key lesson from one of the 1st training classes I took, the Dale Carnegie Course – How to Win Friends and Influence People, was, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”.

    3. Don’t talk; act.  Stop and consider for a moment how many people in meetings preface their comments with, “I think we should”, versus, “I will happily own that action item”.  By acting instead of talking you will stand out in the crowd.

    4. Do something unusual and lonely.  Getting out of your comfort zone teaches you that you have the personal fortitude to do difficult and daunting things by yourself. It is lonely at the top. You will get any number of opinions but you alone will have to make the decision.  Several years after starting my career in finance, I decided to run the Hamlin Beach Triathlon which consisted of a 13.1 mile run, 56 mile bike and 1.2 mile swim.  Although I enjoy sports, I had never endeavored to do such a thing at any time in my life.  The training was lonely and there was a lot of it; every day.  It was a test for me.  Did I have the tenacity to put in the sustained effort to reach my goal? On a Saturday in August, I started, finished and knew then that I could confidently face hard challenges head-on.

    5. Never criticize others.  Writing a nasty memo to someone saps everyone’s energy.  Focus on the positive.  The world is a small place and you never know when you will find yourself on a team or reporting to the person you criticized.  We are all human and have all made mistakes at one time or another.

    6. Know your customers.  No matter what position you hold you interact with customers.  In some cases, it will indeed be external paying customers.  However, if you work in HR, Finance or IT you have internal customers.  The same rules apply.  Get to know them.  Know what they want.  Know what problems they are facing.  Then work to ensure you solve their problems and provide your service on-time without errors.

    7. Put the dead fish on the table.  A friend, Lynn Dessert, writes a blog called, “Elephants at Work” and addresses similar topics. http://www.elephantsatwork.com/

    In any organization there are large smelly problems that everyone pretends do not exist.  Pretending does not help because eventually the problem becomes visible. These problems get in the way of finding real, meaningful solutions to operational issues.   You must have the personal strength to acknowledge the elephants and dead fish so that they can be diffused and resolved.

    8. No drama or panic allowed.

    Drama defined: A way of relating to the world in which a person consistently overreacts to or greatly exaggerates the importance of benign events. (Source: The Urban Dictionary)

    Panic defined: Sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)

    To solve problems in a crisis situation you must think clearly.  Drama and panic heightens emotions and makes it too easy to muddle your thinking.  The best action is to ban drama from the workplace.

    9. Execute flawlessly.  An average concept flawlessly executed will beat a perfect plan executed poorly every time.  Pay attention to the details, keep the plan on time and deliver as promised.

    In the final analysis, you and you alone own your career plan.  Know what you want and understand the technical and leadership skills required for success. Use the 9 tips above every day in your work to stand out from the crowd.  By doing so, you will achieve your dreams and aspirations.

    Call Judy for a complimentary consultation regarding the tough business challenges you are facing.  585.329.3754

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  • “Don’t aspire to make a living.  Aspire to make a difference.”  Denzel Washington

    In my very first job out of college, I vividly remember observing what was going on around me; how leaders treated their staff, how organizational goals were set, how performance appraisals were done and how budgets were put together.   I saw some good things, but mostly I saw opportunities for improvement.  Looking back, this set the stage for how I think about leadership and how I have personally led individuals and organizations.

    There are two prongs to my philosophy:  [1] always put your people and the organization first and [2] continuously look for improved ways to get the work done.

    Putting people first means that you work to help individuals grow and pursue their career aspirations in a way that is meaningful for them.  You should not assume that everyone shares your personal aspirations.  I have had staff report to me from both ends of the spectrum.  Some are extremely content with their current position and do not desire additional responsibility.  On the other hand, some wish to be CEO someday.  The coaching and mentoring you provide should be personalized for each individual.  The good news is that each individual is satisfied with achieving their personal goals.  The folks that wanted to hold the top jobs have gone on to become CEOs and CFOs.  Others have worked at knowing their specialties inside and out.  As a result they are highly valued team members and are sought out for their expertise.

    Putting the organization first means that you and the team objectively set goals for the year and throughout the year all your effort is focused on achieving the goals.  Do not allow yourself to get distracted by things that may be personally interesting but not relevant to the task at hand.

    Both of these things are harder to do than they may seem.   This is why I love the term servant leadership.  A servant is at the bottom of the pyramid supporting their team and organization, not the other way around.

    Critical to the long-term viability of any company is the ability to grow and adapt to the changing business environment. This is why continuous improvement is so vital to success.  As a leader, you have responsibility for some portion of the operations within your company.   Your unending focus on improving the customer experience [internally or externally] and eliminating defects and unnecessary work will create an organization that people are proud to be a part of and will significantly enhance overall performance.

    James Kouzes and Barry Posner say it eloquently in their book, “ A Leader’s Legacy”.   Here is a quote from page 18, “We’ll all be remembered for something.  The question is, for what?  What will others say about you when you’re no longer around?  Each of us live on in the memories we create, in the systems and practices we set in place (or don’t), and in the lives we touch.”

    What do you want your leadership legacy to be and how will you create it?

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  • Last week I had lunch with a wonderful work colleague that I had not seen in a while.  It is the type of relationship where you immediately start talking and it feels like only yesterday you were working together.  Sharon has always had a quick wit and as we were talking about an organizational situation she said, “They need more gas.”  Uncertain of what she meant, I asked.  Sharon said, “You know, goals, accountability and structure.  If organizations are not thriving and succeeding it means they need more G.A.S.”

    I loved the idea of G.A.S..  It is simple, easy to remember and gets right to the heart of leading an organization.  Goals are the starting point.  An organization needs to know where it is going and what it is aiming for.  The very best leaders set goals that are hard enough to be a challenge but not so hard that you feel defeated before you even start the journey.  Next the leader must make it very clear who is accountable for what.  Although teamwork is vital to the success of any organization, specific goals need to be assigned to specific individuals.  You cannot give individuals the opportunity to point at someone else and say, “It is their fault, not mine that the goal was not achieved.”  Lastly, but most importantly in my mind, you have to have structure to monitor progress and implement corrective action plans as needed.  The best structure is a periodic work session, at least monthly if not weekly, where the results are reviewed.  The work session must have a set agenda, an action item register and a dashboard that can be reviewed.   The meeting should be focused on areas that are failing to meet the goals.  Although people should be commended for meeting and exceeding goals – the real work must be focused on areas that are behind.

    If you have worked long enough, you will have experienced what it feels like to both exceed annual goals and fall short of annual goals.  The strength of a team is to rally together and help each other when needed.

    I had two key thoughts after my lunch with Sharon:

    1. When you find a team or organization not performing as expected, see if they need more G.A.S.
    2. Many times we look to the famous leadership gurus for the answers we are seeking; when in fact the people we work with daily have the wisdom and talent to solve the complex issues we face

    Note:  to learn more about Sharon Kruger visit her LinkedIn page;

    www.linkedin.com/pub/sharon-kruger/10/212/176

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  • Let’s start by acknowledging that it is really hard work.  At one point in my career I was on a leadership team that was created to transform a manufacturing organization of approximately 1,000 people.  A company officer gave us a pep-talk on what was expected:  you have one year to make this business profitable or else it will be totally shutdown.  Then he went on to say, if you feel you do not have the stomach for it….talk to me after the meeting and you will be reassigned.   The officer made his point – this is going to be really, really hard and the company needs you to be fully engaged to make it happen.

    The first task we set for ourselves was to quantitatively understand what we were aiming for; in other words, our crisp and concise goals.  We then made sure everyone in the organization understood what the organization needed to accomplish.

    Next we reviewed every manufacturing step, along with the financials for each step.  We broke all costs down into discrete elements.  We did not simply say that a roll of photographic paper costs $1000*** to manufacture.  Instead we looked at all elements of cost:  direct labor, indirect labor, staff labor, employee benefits, manufacturing supplies, depreciation, equipment maintenance, travel, utilities, and etc..  In addition, we tracked down external benchmarks.  All this data was used to analyze where the opportunities were in the manufacturing flow.  Transparency was the key in everything we did.  All team members got to see all the data.  In doing so we had the maximum brain-power working to solve the problems.

    In parallel to the work above, we also evaluated the organization structure, decision making processes, skills required to do the work and the overall culture.  We found opportunities to streamline the organization structure, speed decision making and enhance employee skills.  We worked diligently to move decision making closest to the individuals doing the work.  We also found that the culture needed to change from a traditional command and control style of management to an empowered workforce or people-centered style of management.

    With the difference between the As-Is state and the To-Be vision understood, we were able to prioritize our work and implement the needed changes.  In the end we reduced the overall product cost by 25% and improved the quality.  The journey took us one year.

    Significant change is possible when you know where you want to go and the entire workforce is engaged in helping to create and implement the solution.

    Do you have business transformation challenges that you would like to address in your organization?  Give me a call for a complimentary session to review the opportunities in your company.  Look forward to talking with you.  Judy: 585.329.3754

    *** $1000 is not the real cost.  It is used for illustration purposes only

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  • Before I became a supervisor, I watched and observed what supervisors did. Some things I liked and others not so much.  I vowed that when I became a supervisor, I would model the good actions I had seen in others.  One of the most important I felt was for supervisors to share, with their team, their personal operating principles.  By doing this at the first team meeting staff had the opportunity to learn more about you; it took the guess work out of getting to know you.

    Listed below are my operating principles which I have shared with multiple teams.  Even though I give the team the opportunity to suggest modifications, no team has ever done so.  I believe that is a reflection on the fact that these are universal operating principles.

    1. I will never ask anyone to do anything that I would not ask myself to do.  This means I am only asking for meaningful work to be done.
    2. If something does not make sense, ask a question.  Communication that is only one way is bound to end up causing confusion and wasted effort.
    3. When a piece of work has a due date, I expect it to be delivered.  I am not going to build in extra time into the due date.   I do not like to have to ask where things are.
    4. I like “net” communication.  Whether it is voicemail, e-mail or a face-to-face conversation, keep it short, sweet and to the point.  That means that you need to think a bit before communicating.  A stream of consciousness dialog is inefficient for both of us.
    5. I expect a high skill level in Excel, PowerPoint and Word.  As John Davidson said, “By not keeping PC skills current you are causing me to be more inefficient.”
    6. You need to demonstrate your understanding of and use lean/six sigma tools.  Defect recognition and correction are important.  If a defect happens in your process, I am looking for a corrective action plan.  A mistake is an opportunity to improve a process.  The same mistake happening over and over again is not OK.
    7. No whining: please bring solutions.  The complaint to idea ratio should be 1:10.  Everyone needs to vent now and again, but you earn the right to do so by bringing forward ideas and solutions.

    I am certain that each of you have a similar set of operating principles.  This is your opportunity to write them down and share them with your team if you have not already done so.

    If you would like to discuss them in person, I would be happy to do so.  Please call me:  1.585.329.3754.

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  • A couple of weeks ago, I assisted a local university with a leadership workshop they were holding.  While visiting the school, I came across a commemorative plaque that, to me, had a profound message regarding humility and giving life and your work the best you have to give.  I liked it enough to want to share it with you.  I was not able to ascertain the author, but it was a memorial to William D. Glasser, Professor of Accounting, by the class of 1977 – 1978.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    “Sometime when you’re feeling important,

    Sometime when your ego’s in bloom,

    Sometime when you take it for granted,

    You’re the best qualified in the room,

    Sometime when you feel that your going

    Would leave an unfillable hole,

    Just follow this simple instruction

    and see how it humbles your soul.

    Take a bucket of water,

    Put your hand in it, up to the wrist,

    Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,

    Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

    You may splash all you please when you enter,

    You may stir up the water galore,

    But stop and you find in a minute

    That it looks quite the same as before,

    The moral in this quaint example

    Is do just the best you can,

    Be proud of yourself, but remember,

    There is no indispensable man . . . .

    including me.”

     

    In memory of

    William D. Gasser

    Professor of Accounting

    1913 – 1977

     

    It was through his dedication and loyalty to the education of others, that we were inspired to travel the road of success.

    The Class of 1977- 1978

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  • During my career I have had the wonderful opportunity to work on and solve very complicated process issues.  My success is based on 8 steps that I follow when faced with a complex situation.

    [1] Have the knowledge and skills to pursue the problem.   First, be sure you have generic “lean/six sigma” skills. [My post next week will address what the key skills are and how to get them.] These skills are vital and transferrable from project to project.  Second, read existing process documentation.  Third, talk to people who do the work; leaders, experts and anyone else you believe can provide pertinent perspectives and insights regarding the overall process.

    [2] Create a business process flow chart or value stream map.  Using a white board, large piece of paper, Excel, Visio or any other flow chart software, create a complete business process flow chart. In one case, the company I was assisting had a very well written and thorough brochure which included terms and conditions.  By reading it cover to cover, I was able to accurately create a flow chart of the business process flow.  If you are the individual charged with leading the change, creating the flow chart yourself gives you unparalleled insight into the process.

    [3] Corroborate the business process flow chart with others.  Once created, review the chart with the people doing the work.  Almost always, you will find a few things that need to be adjusted.

    [4] Identify where problems occur in the process.  In a facilitated discussion with staff, using the flow chart, identify where problems in the process occur.  Every time I have led such a session, numerous problems were identified.  Then prioritize the list to determine what the most pressing issues are.

    [5] Understand current written work instructions, policies and procedures.  During this step you may find inconsistencies that must be rectified.

    [6] Identify root cause for the top issues.  Uncovering the issues is just the first step.  Now you and the team have to dig into the detail [peel the onion] to determine what the true root cause is.  You must do this for all the key issues.  In this step it is absolutely critical to get the data.

    [7] Develop potential solutions.  With the root cause of an issue clearly understood, the team can create potential solutions.  It is important to have several to choose from because the perfect solution may be too costly to implement.   The team should then select what they believe to be the optimal solution.  Gain approval as needed.

    [8] Implement and monitor the solution.  Once the green-light is given, plan out the implementation.  A robust project plan will ensure success.  [Note: trying to implement a change without a project plan is a recipe for failure.] Be sure to create the appropriate process metrics so that the team can track how well the process is doing after the changes are implemented.  Nothing is ever perfect.  It is likely that the team may need to make some slight modifications.

    You can see how this becomes a continuous cycle of improvement.  Select the most pressing process issue.  Fix it.  Then select the next process issue.  Fix it.  Repeat this again and again.

    Call me if you would like to discuss the 8 steps in more detail:  585-329-3754.  I love discussing operational excellence and continuous improvement.

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  • Recently I have attended several meetings and conferences and observed that many people wanted to express their point of view and be heard; but not so many were interested in listening to what others wanted to say. I recalled a class devoted to listening skills which I attended early in my career.  I believe the lessons I learned helped me become an excellent leader.

    To listen is to hear something with thoughtful attention.  It is the ability to understand what is being said.  Giving the speaker your full attention and consideration makes them much more open to sharing.

    The 5 key points to keep in mind when listening are:

    [1] Focus on what the other individual is saying.  This means that you cannot be formulating a response at the same time you are listening.  When you do this, expect to have some silence before you can respond.

    [2] Share some gentle reminders with your team periodically.  At least twice a month, I remind team members that listening and hearing what someone is saying does not mean you agree.   A team has an obligation to hear everyone’s point of view.  When individuals feel they have been heard without prejudice they are much more willing to accept the team’s ultimate decision.

    [3] Ask clarifying questions.  As the conversation develops, ask questions to fill in more detail or clarify what is being said.  Questions should not be confrontational in nature.  For example, “Why do you think that?” can be seen as judgmental and may cause the speaker to close down.  On the other hand, asking, “What types of experiences or data have led you to those conclusions?” allows the speaker to provide more supporting facts.

    [4] Be conscious of your tone and body language.   If you have a scowl on your face or your voice is extremely terse, the speaker will pick up on those cues and feel you are not listening to what they are saying.

    [5] Paraphrase the key message back to the speaker.  We each have a very different, but valid set of experiences.  Unless we repeat back to the speaker what we heard and receive their confirmation, we cannot be certain that we understood correctly.  It is too easy to filter the comments through our life experiences which can lead to misunderstanding.

    If you would like to refresh your own listening skills I recommend the following book: Listening – The Forgotten Skill”, by Madelyn Burley-Allen.  It contains both concepts and exercises for the reader.

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  • “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

    Getting outside of your comfort zone improves your confidence.  It is easy to look at something you have never done and shy away from it.  We all want to succeed at what we do, so trying something new may seem too risky.  However, there are some simple steps to follow that allow you to approach something new with confidence.

    [1] Spend time to really define the situation.  Know what the task really is.  You can do a great job but if you are “addressing the wrong problem” then your work is for naught.

    [2] Ask yourself what information or knowledge you need to solve or address the situation.  Allow yourself some quiet time to really think about the situation and figure out what will be needed to adequately address it.

    [3] Set and communicate a realistic timeline.  You do not want to commit to a timeline that you know from the outset you cannot keep.   Display a sense of urgency but do not rush.  The goal is a lasting solution not a short-term fix.

    [4] Gather the data.  Talk is easy and cheap.  Finding and analyzing the data is more difficult but it allows you to draw conclusions based on information.  It also allows you to do sensitivity analyzes around key variables.

    [5] Involve others.  The more people that help and are behind your effort, the more likely success is.

    The best by-product, of following the 5 steps, is the knowledge that you can face the unknown and find a successful solution. Your confidence will soar.

    If you would like to explore the steps in more detail, give me a call [585-329-3754].

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