Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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  • On the surface it seems to be such a simple thing: set annual goals for work you do day in and day out. However, in my experience, many times staff struggle a bit with developing goals, especially when faced with a blank sheet of paper. Goals are a reflection of how individuals add value and make contributions to the overall success of their department and company. I believe strongly in letting staff take the first go at setting their annual goals. This gains their support during the year.

    With the help of my team, we developed 6 overarching categories to assist in the annual goal setting process. Every goal should fit into one of the categories.

    The categories that have worked well for me and my team are:
    (1) Cash-flow, cash-flow, cash-flow. Any action we can take directly or any action we can influence that results in an improved cash-flow position is critically important. (Examples: reduce bad debt expense, increase revenue, or implement an idea that results in lower costs.)

     (2) Process and quality improvements. Eliminating defects and reducing cycle time in business processes improves customer satisfaction and the bottom line. The relentless pursuit of improved quality is a highly sought after skill and allows any individual to make significant contributions to their organization.

    (3) Putting the customer 1st. Every individual has daily interactions with either external or internal customers. Treating customers well, solving their problems and creating a simple and efficient interface are all elements of enhancing customer satisfaction. This creates value. A satisfied customer is one that returns again and again.

     (4) Developing employees. Employees are the engines that drive all internal processes. They are a company’s most important resource. In order for any organization to grow, employees must grow also. Demonstrating the ability to help individuals grow and learn is a major contribution.

     (5) Implementing a major new initiative. Periodically a department or company will implement a major change. It could be a new ERP system such as SAP. It could be a new payroll system. It could be the implementation of a global shared services organization. Any of these initiatives require dedicated resources to implement.

     (6) Enhance internal controls. Internal controls are the mechanism by which a company safeguards its assets. Finding ways to improve internal controls in a cost-effective manner benefits any company. Not only can it prevent a future monetary loss, it can also result in improved information for management.

    When talking to individuals and teams it was important to note that for a given year you may not have a goal in every category; perhaps only 3 or 4. However, the categories allow staff to know what is important overall. We would share our individual goals in a team meeting so that everyone could see how collectively the goals allowed us to make significant contributions to the company. These 6 categories allowed teams to effectively set goals on an annual basis.

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  • As leaders and supervisors you have seen average work output and you have seen absolutely excellent work output. Why is there such a difference? I believe it has to do with how a supervisor sets expectations. Many times a person may know what the end point is but they do not always know how to accomplish it. For example – a business case. An individual may know the basics but has not heard clear overarching expectations that would result in excellence. I call these behavioral or operational expectations. They address how to go about doing the work.

    I developed these expectations as guiding principles for my staff. We talked as a group about what they meant and, in turn, they appreciated the fact that I made my expectations crystal clear. This conjures up the mental picture of bowling. Imagine a piece of black cloth suspended just in front of the pins. As you bowl, you do not know what the target is and you do not know how well you did.

    Whether you are a supervisor or individual contributor, my hope is several of these expectations will resonate with you and you can incorporate them into your daily work.
    Behavioral Expectations for Excellence
    (1) Does the question pass the logic test? Sometimes urgent questions or issues come up but they have not really been thought out. If it is the wrong question to be asking and investigating, stop the work quickly. Use judgment to decide if your supervisor should know about the work. In some cases, no matter how close the economics are, the decision may still rest with the manager of the organization.

    (2) Passes the logic test so on to the next step. Determine what you do not know. What other departments might be interested in the topic or have information that could be useful? Detailed information outside of your department or expertise may be required in order to make a decision or gain approval for an action. (Some examples of departments: insurance, compensation, internal audit, external audit, corporate communications, legal, tax, corporate financial reporting, business unit or manufacturing unit.)

    (3) Calculate the numbers. Go “crazy” on the analytics. Be data driven. Everything should be looked at with cash flow in mind. An economic analysis must include the impact on all financial statements – balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement.

    (4) Assess against the “red face” test. This is all about considering the unexpected and preventing unintended consequences. What could happen that would make this a bad decision? In what other way could people interpret the decision or action? How will we answer their questions? Three years from now will I still be proud of this work?

    (5) Volunteer for leadership. When you hear an issue come up that you want to take responsibility for, just say so. I am looking for people that step up to the plate even when it seems that their plate is full.

    (6) When you get a project or topic area to be in charge of you get the whole thing. You will have to coordinate the work of all groups and individuals that interface with the given topic. Personal power and networks are a must. I cannot stress enough the importance of continually thinking about all things that should be considered so that all contingencies are covered. The bigger the project the bigger the impact if something does not go as planned.

    (7) Exhibit calmness – be a duck. Above the surface of the water a duck always looks serene and in control. Underneath the water the duck is paddling intensely. People around you need to see you are confident and in control of the situation even though inside you may be thinking intensely about many things.

    (8) Written, oral and visual communication skills are essential. The ability to quickly use Excel, PowerPoint and Word, in a crisp, concise and artistic way, will make your job easier. Help each other out. Have someone else look at the work. Listen to their suggestions. Many times we only get one chance with our audiences. We want to spend it explaining content rather than format.

    (9) Figure out what issues are facing the department and company. Your ability to anticipate and be proactive will help you do this. Solving these issues and problems accomplishes two things: improves internal processes and makes your boss look good. Both will help you in achieving your career goals.

    (10) The quicker the better. Go talk to your supervisor early on with concepts and ideas. It is much better to have shorter and more frequent meetings. Avoid waiting for perfection. If you wait too long you may find yourself starting over. Exhibit high energy and urgency.

    (11) Pretend you are the CEO or CFO. What else would you want to know? Get the answer to that question.

    (12) It is better to actively decide not to do something than it is to never consider it in the first place. A passive decision is a lost opportunity.

    (13) Strive to reduce cycle time and eliminate defects in everything you do. Set ambitious goals. Learn from the past and apply it to the future. You can always improve.

    (14) A supervisor needs great breadth in their position. Therefore, approach your projects with great depth. If a supervisor feels they have to get into the details, then you need to improve. Ask for feedback.

    In today’s business environment we must strive for excellence. What was great a year ago is average today. Discussing these behavioral expectations with your team will allow you to achieve superlative results.

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  • During the middle of my career, I had the good fortune to work with Harry Kavetas, a capable and insightful CFO. One of our conversations focused on career planning. The insights I gained are timeless. So, I would like to share with you in the hope these insights might be beneficial to you and your team.

    (1) Have FUN. Fun is fundamental, universal and necessary. If your job is not fun, it is probably time for a move.
    (2) The distinction between your professional and personal life is not always clear. Know the tradeoffs that accompany your aspirations. Write them down on a piece of paper. (Unless you can clearly articulate them in prose, you probably have not thought them out thoroughly.) Share them with the significant others in your life. The career choices you make will impact people near and dear to you.
    (3) A core set of required capabilities are table-stakes for every job. However, two intangible criteria, reputation and credibility, are critical. Your personal credibility is built over time by doing what you say what you are going to do. To obtain jobs of increasing responsibility, you must have the confidence of the people in power. No matter how good you are, if they do not have this confidence in you, you will not be put into positions of increasing responsibility.
    (4) Never let your manager be surprised.
    (5) Dive into problems. Wade into the middle of thorny issues. Your job is to search for opportunities, economic value and “the truth”. Never pull back from an issue because it is difficult. You must share the “brutal, crystal clear truth” at all times. Remember, this is never anything personal…. just the truth and only the truth. Also, sometimes the truth is not self-evident. You will hear two sides to each story, and the answer is usually somewhere in the middle. Always listen to both sides.
    (6) Know if you are in the game or out of the game. Know if you have made it into the qualifying round. Know the competition – both internal and external. Be brutally honest with yourself about your shortcomings. Know how you can improve and work on it.
    (7) Get meetings with key clients. Ask them how they think you are doing. Know that every time you have a meeting with a senior person, not only are they listening to the specific job content, but they are also forming judgments about your broader capabilities. (Everything is a test.) Take every opportunity you can to seek performance feedback, especially when something does not go well. Always do a post-mortem. Ask what could you, personally, have done differently to change the outcome. Always have one idea and assimilate it into your future behavior.
    (8) No one will tell you, “You won’t get the job”. Ask. Know that as the number of jobs gets smaller, the odds of getting a particular job also get smaller. (Example: there is only one CFO position at a company.)
    (9) The most important criteria for determing your ability to assume and achieve greater responsibility are past outcomes. What tangible things have you accomplished?
    (10) Keep your options open. At some point, decisions become mutually exclusive. At that point, to take one path means that others close behind you. Once you are on a new path, other options open up that you may not have known ever existed.
    (11) What do you have a burning desire to do? You must have a passion about what you want to accomplish. It shows if you don’t.

    In the final analysis, your hopes, dreams and aspirations are personal. They are different for each of us; hence, there is no right answer. Follow the saying, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” — Shakespeare. Know what you want, let your supervisor know, and work together to achieve it.

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  • Empower employees by authorizing and investing power in them so they can engage in activities for and by themselves. The definition I like best states, “An organization empowers its people when it enables employees to take on more responsibility and to make use of what they know and can learn. Empowered individuals know that their jobs belong to them. Given a say in how things are done, employees feel more responsible. When they feel responsible, they show more initiative in their work, get more done, and enjoy the work more” ( Byham, Wellins, Wilson 22). Achieving a vision requires a lot of work. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

    Coach and develop employees so they gain the new skills and capabilities needed for achieving excellence. In many instances a new future requires new skills, knowledge or ways of working that employees may not have currently but can readily learn. Take the time to evaluate what new capabilities and competencies are required and provide the appropriate training and coaching. The added benefit is that individuals enjoy learning and growing which contributes to their spirit and enthusiasm.

    Measure your progress and reinforce desired behaviors so that you know when you have arrived at the targeted destination. When developing your strategy and tactics, you would have created goals and timelines. Use data to monitor the organization’s performance against those goals. Take corrective action as needed. In addition, by providing positive consequences to the team and individuals when desired behaviors and results are achieved, you increase the probability of attaining the vision.
    In summary, leading change is a journey with many participants, each playing a critical role. Before you launch a change initiative, you and your leadership team will need to think carefully about each step, develop an action plan for each step and document it. Use the roadmap as a check-list, to be sure you have covered all the critical elements.

    Imagine then, when you share the vision and the 10 steps with your organization, they may not initially agree, but they will know two critical things for certain. First, you and the team have given it careful thought and consideration. Second, you want and need their individual input; they are involved and part of the solution. The journey will not be linear or smooth. There will be bumps in the road. Your frequent communications will keep the organization up-to-date on progress. Soon, you will find the organization aligned and the vision achieved. Then it will be on to the next big thing.

    Works cited:
    Byham, W., Wellins, R., Wilson, J., Empowered Teams: creating self-directed work groups that improve quality, productivity and participation. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1991. Print.

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  • Continuation of Monday, Feb 13th discussion

    Any organization is made up of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. While this is a great strength, clarifying desired values is required. Stated values provide common nomenclature and expectations for everyone. They are standards of behavior that guide decision making and assist in identifying priorities in the workplace. Once the values are agreed upon, communicate these values through words and actions, every day. (Note: examples are easy to find. Google corporate values and the name of a company you admire. Almost always a link to their values appear.)

    People will never follow you to the future if you cannot show them the path of how to get there. Saying, “Trust me, let’s go” just does not cut it. At this point develop an effective strategy and tactics for moving the group from the current state towards the vision. Put it on paper; then position the path forward with the organization.

    Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Organizational change is typically monumental, something big, something new. For an individual to embrace the new, they must let go of the old. That is hard and does not happen overnight. Use multiple communication modalities to build a common shared understanding of the vision, the mission, the strategy, the tactics and the values. Always remember the first time you ever heard a really big new idea. My guess is you did not believe it. Just like Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, c. 1895, stated, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” Help your staff and the organization through all the questions and concerns they have. My rule of thumb: you need to communicate 7 times, 7 different ways before people begin to assimilate the new concepts.

    Spend time to build alignment in the organization. By engaging with staff you will create a personal interest and willingness for investment in what needs to be accomplished. Doing this builds alignment and fosters harmony. Think about the sport of sweep oar rowing, which is done in pairs, fours or eights. If the rowers do not pull in concert with each other, the racing boat (or shell) gets off-course and slows down. The same holds true for a work team.

    Build an environment which creates spirit and purpose. The workplace must be one where individuals know that their thoughts, creativity, feelings and personal determination are valued and required as the organization moves toward the vision. The work place should be filled with enthusiasm and excitement directed and aligned towards achieving the vision. Everyone must get in on the action; there must be no passive watching from the side-lines.
    To be continued.

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  • One of the most daunting tasks facing any leader is leading change. I think about how hard it is to change a personal behavior. Ponder for a moment all the New Year’s Resolutions you have made. I congratulate you if you scored 100% but many of mine have fallen by the wayside once the initial excitement dies down. Charles Kettering’s quote puts it in perspective for us, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” Trying to bring about comprehensive, lasting change to a large organization requires purposeful intent and a roadmap. You may see your destination clearly, but the roadmap gets you there step by step.

    In this series of posts, I will lay out the roadmap I have used to lead global change. The roadmap is meant to be a high-level guide and by no means does it imply change is easy. Change is complex, sometimes messy and requires a constancy of purpose, day in and day out, for a significant period of time. In my repeated experience, it usually took 7 months before I started to see the organization embrace the new direction.

    Below you will find the 10 elements of the Leading Change Roadmap. I describe each one in a little more detail and then close with a summary.
    Leading Change Roadmap
    1) Create the vision
    2) Develop the team
    3) Clarify the values
    4) Position the path forward
    5) Communicate
    6) Build alignment
    7) Create spirit and purpose
    8) Empower employees
    9) Coach and develop employees
    10) Measure and reinforce

    Creating the vision entails constructing a crystal clear view of the desired future and then communicating in such a way that everyone understands it. It always starts with dissatisfaction of the current state or status quo. A vision can apply to a work group or an entire company. It could focus on any number of areas: dysfunctional silos in the workplace, market share, cost, product performance, advances in technology, and many, many more.

    Nothing happens without effort so you must develop a team of highly qualified individuals and give them the responsibility of achieving the vision or goal. This team is a pivotal element in leading change. They must have broad knowledge of the business, the processes and be respected by management and staff. This team must also be given the time and authority to work on the change.

    End of Part I.  Two more to follow later this week.

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  • Recently, I have had the opportunity to fill several interim management roles and in each case they were a bridge to the future. The assignments lasted between 3 to 6 months and I enjoyed them immensely. Let me share with you what I see as the critical factors for success.
    Before I start, here is a great definition of interim management on WIKI.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interim_management

    The genesis of each of my engagements was the fact that a company found themselves with a gap in a key position. It can take a significant amount of time to hire a replacement and in the meantime a department can feel rudderless, even though it may have many highly capable people.

    The initial contact was made by the CEO who knew my work. We talked a roughly about what was needed but then it was up to me to put pen to paper to ensure we had a common understanding of what was to be accomplished and set objectives.

    Once the engagement started it was important for me to deliver quickly, reliably and be accountable for the outcomes. My success was a result of the following critical factors.
     [1] Leadership experience: You have all heard the cliché, “Been there, done that.” It applies in the case of interim management. I believe you must have significant leadership experience. You do not have the luxury of pondering and investigating a particular topic. You have to rely on your broad and deep experience to know how to handle various situations immediately. It may appear initially that the interim manager is over-qualified but that ensures rapid results.
     [2] Gain credibility immediately: As a leader you do not have all the answers, so you must listen, listen and listen. The answers are on the “shop floor”. Initially, I asked a lot of questions and did much listening. Eventually the puzzle pieces started to come together with the help of the staff. It is essential to recognize that I could not have done the job without them. By engaging the staff immediately and getting their thoughts, I earned their confidence.
     [3] Business Process Understanding: All quality training, regardless of name, has a key focus of understanding the end-to-end processes. Many issues arise, in any company, due to misunderstandings of how any given process works. This is not the fault of individuals but rather leadership. One of the things I was able to do was create value stream maps, where none had existed before, with the help of the staff. The added benefit was sharing this knowledge so the staff could do it on their own the next time.
     [4] Take accountability and be reliable: Even though this is a short-term assignment, an interim manager takes operational responsibility. They assess the situation and define objectives with the CEO. They create and implement the action plan. They monitor and verify the results with the CEO. They bring their personal experience to the assignment. This is the PDCA cycle made popular by Dr. W.E. Deming.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDCA
     [5] Leave a legacy: Although no one ever stops learning, as an individual you have gained much knowledge during your career. Leave some of that knowledge with the staff and organization you have been supporting. Help individuals grow. Provide coaching whenever possible. I believe that to be truly successful you must ensure the on-going success of the organization when you leave. Make a difference.

    By stepping into an organization and providing leadership, business process understanding, solving problems and coaching, you will provide management a bridge until a permanent solution is found – a bridge to the future.

    What traits do you feel are important for interim executive managers?

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  • A while ago, at a family gathering, one of my nieces or nephews was expressing disappointment with something that happened at school. It certainly sounded familiar to me – the growing pains of a teenager in high school. My brother-in-law, John, quipped in reply, “You are over it.”

    My mind immediately shifted to the workplace and the many people in the organization I led. This time, instead of a teenager, it was employees who would express disappointment or concern over various issues. Many times the disappointment or concern was the same one, over and over again.

    I decided to adopt my brother-in-laws comment, “You are over it”, as a way to respond and start a meaningful dialogue. My intention was not to be flippant, but rather to create a coaching opportunity. Over my career, I have found if you dwell on things you cannot change or you complain without taking action, your energy can be depleted quite quickly.

    The coaching lesson for everyone was simple. Here is what I would say, “I understand you are frustrated. Is there any action you can take to resolve the situation?” If the answer was yes, then we would discuss how to actually go about it.

    If the answer was no, we would talk about how nothing in life is 100% perfect or happy. It is also helpful to remember that in baseball a good average is 300 not 1000. When you are doing hard work and driving change, you cannot expect agreement every step of the way. My personal rule of thumb is 75%, intuitively not mathematically derived. Together, we would talk about where the individual felt they were. Were there a lot of good things they just were not recognizing or did they feel thwarted at every turn? Regardless of where they were personally, each conversation ended with a positive path forward. Each conversation was a start of a dialogue and got everyone understanding that when faced with an obstacle you either figure a way to get over it or get around it. It does no good to stand there, powerless, and complain about it.

    I tell my brother-in-law that I quote him frequently at work and it generates positive energy and direction for the team. He laughs, stating he did not realize he was famous. I continue to look for life lessons no matter what I am doing, because great advice can come from anywhere.

    What is the best advice you have every received?

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