Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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  • “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

    - Harvey S. Firestone

    In the day-to-day rush of meetings, e-mails and unexpected requests, it is easy to postpone coaching.  You promise yourself you will get to it tomorrow but it never happens.   I overcame the same problem by following the “keep it simple” principle.

    As leaders we are given multitudes of opportunities during the day to interact and observe staff.  It could be in group meetings, one-on-ones or through e-mail.  Each of us has thoughts during those times about something an individual could have improved upon.

    By following a simple approach to identifying and utilizing teachable moments, you greatly increase your ability to find the time to provide frequent coaching.

    STEP ONE:  Crystallize your thought into a positive one or two sentence observation.  Think about it in terms of what one thing could have made the work even better than it was.  Do not forget that this can also include how individuals interact with each other.

    STEP TWO:  Find a quick way to engage with the individual within twenty-four hours.  It can be a phone call, a brief discussion walking out of a meeting or an e-mail.

    Lastly, commit to providing one piece of simple feedback every day to one person.  By doing so, you will develop the habit.  Remember the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”   With practice you will get better.  Staff will appreciate the fact that you are giving them actionable feedback.  In the end, the best part is that your team will be absolutely fantastic.

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  • My last post outlined 6 steps for developing a strategy. To have meaningful discussion and develop a robust direction, data is required.  Data helps you get the full picture. If developing a strategy is a relatively new undertaking for you and the team; start with what you know. A word of caution at this point, do not fall into the trap of trying to get every single last piece of relevant data.  You will find it a never-ending quest which distracts you from the real purpose and value of a strategy.

    Advance preparation essential.  Assign data categories to various individuals and have them bring the data to the meeting, or better yet, provide it in advance.  Identify an individual to take ownership for planning and leading the strategy work.

    Listed below are the 7 data inputs to strategy that have worked well for the organizations I led and supported. [Note: sample questions are provided but by no means consider it a holistic list.]

    [1] External Realities: What is going on in the economy?  What are the trends for our specific industry?  How do governmental regulations impact our business?

    [2] The Competitive Landscape: Who are our competitors?  How is the market segmented?  What are our strengths and weaknesses and those of our competitors? What are our core competencies?

    [3] Our Customers:  What are their wants and expectations?  How well are we meeting them?  What is the customer experience when interacting with us, for example, customer service, sales, website, and other forms of communication?  Are we “user friendly”?

    [4] Our Products and Services:  What is the range of products/services we offer?  What is the geographic scope of our offering?

    [5] Human Capital and Organization Structure: Does our culture support our vision? Do we have the right people in the right jobs? Are there impending retirements of key resources? Do we have an excellent employee development process? Are we relentless in the pursuit of putting the customer 1st and driving operational excellence?

    [6] Internal Operational Excellence:  How are our internal functions performing?  Are they supporting our end-to-end business process effectively? Who are our suppliers?  Do we have too many or too few?  Are there any risks associated with them?  Are we successfully eliminating defects and reducing cycle time in our operations?

    [7] Success Factors and Business Results: How do we measure success?  What are the financial outcomes of our business?  What is our market share?  What are our customer satisfaction scores? Are we measuring the right things?

    In summary, to launch a strategy planning effort, collect the data you already have, and follow the 6 steps listed in my prior post.  You and your team will find the strategy picture crystalizing in a way that allows you to create a clear path forward.  Along the way, you will discover additional data you want and will need to make minor course corrections during the year.  Your strategy should be a living process that provides overarching guidance to real time decisions.

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  • Have you found yourself wanting to work on the strategy for your department, organization or company but not knowing where to start?  It is a common dilemma and easy to procrastinate when you do not know where to begin.  Here is an approach that I have used to help myself and the team set off on the strategy journey when we were initially unsure of how to do it.

    Before starting there is one critical paradigm you must buy in to.  Strategy work is not linear. That means that periodically you may have to circle back and revise an assumption or two.  You and your team know your business better than anyone else.  Be confident to make changes and adjustments through-out the process.  Aim to be roughly right; not at perfection. Striving for perfection only slows down the process.

    6 Simple steps for developing a strategy:

    [1] Define the challenges facing your organization. You and your team are in the best position to know what these are.

    [2] Clarify the current state.  The prime rule here is you must be intellectually and brutally honest with yourselves.  If not, you will not uncover  the elements that can lead you on the path to excellence. [Note: It is important to have data regarding the business.  My next post will discuss the data that is relevant.]

    [3] Envision the future.  Articulate and picture the future state. Develop the metrics to understand your progress going forward.

    [4] Face the obstacles getting in the way of your vision.  Describe the obstacles but be ready to course correct, if proven otherwise.  Listen to the data.

    [5] Determine the path forward. Create an action plan and set future meetings to ensure you are on track.  This is where many plans falter.  The devil is in the detail and the follow-up.

    [6] Monitor your progress. Dedicate the time to periodically review your progress and make course corrections as needed.

    There are many excellent books on strategy. You may want to consider reading one or two books prior to starting.  This allows you and the team to have a basis for commonality, instead of starting totally from scratch.

    By following these 6 steps you will off to a great start on the creation of a strategy for your business.

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  • A very dear colleague, David Pollock, gave me a wooden sign for my desk that said, “No Whining”. It became a great conversation starter for individuals that walked into my office. The purpose of the sign was to encourage folks to think about what and how they described issues they were facing before they began the discussion.

    It is very easy and sometimes cathartic to whine or whinge about problems or people. However, it is never productive. As a supervisor hearing people whine, it sends the message that you do not know how to solve a problem on your own. In essence you are dumping the problem into the lap of your supervisor.

    The key coaching points of my “no whining” philosophy are:
    [1] Be able to succinctly describe the situation or problem in one or two sentences.
    [2] Briefly describe the impact if not remedied. This helps prioritize the agreed upon next steps.
    [3] Talk about alternative approaches. At this stage you are not presenting a formal path forward or asking for a decision to be made, so keep it simple and at a high-level.
    [4] Describe what actions you personally need to take.
    [5] Describe what actions you want your supervisor or another individual to take.
    [6] Discuss other groups or individuals that should be informed about the situation.
    [7] Anticipate questions that your supervisor may have. Either have the answer or acknowledge that additional information may be required.
    [8] Jointly agree on a path forward.

    Overall the message is, “Be prepared and keep it simple”. I told people that roughly every 10th time a problem was brought to me, they were allowed to whine. However, the rule was, they needed to tell me before the discussion started. I would listen but we would not spend time on figuring out to do. This allows an individual to vent in a safe environment, since we all need that once in a while.

    As an individual, you have to understand that your supervisor has a bias for action. As a result, listening to whining can be dangerous, because your supervisor may take action relative to a problem that was not well thought out. No one wants to find themselves tilting at windmills, like Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It destroys your credibility and that of your supervisor.

    Supervisors want and need to hear about potential problems in the workplace.  Before bringing one forward, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts relative to points one through seven above.  Your supervisor will appreciate your organizational discipline and the problem will be addressed effectively.

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  • Through-out my career I have been a mentor, coach and supervisor to many people. The most common piece of advice people seek goes like this: “I am on the senior leadership team of my company, and I have really, really good ideas, but no one listens to me. Why are the other people on the team not smart enough to see the value of my ideas? It is my biggest frustration.”

    When you are young and in school, the main focus is on you the individual and how you specifically did on the project or test. In the working world the emphasis moves to the team. There are several fundamental points which can help individuals facing this dilemma. Here are the 5 main concepts discussed in my mentoring and coaching sessions:

    [1] See the issue from the other person’s point of view. The world of business is gray, not black and white. It is critical to ask others for their perspective. When following this guidance myself, I have always uncovered something I did not know, which allowed me to improve on the idea.
    [2] Understand the team will always outperform an individual when facing complex and interdependent issues. To develop a lasting solution, the knowledge of everyone on the team is essential. You must never believe you are smarter that everyone else. That will only set you up to be unhappy time and time again.
    [3] Be conscious and purposeful in choosing the actual words used to convey an idea. You must believe in your heart that everyone on the team adds value. When you share your idea, you cannot brag about yourself. The idea must be described in a way that shows how it addresses a problem facing the company or team.
    [4] Be able to clearly articulate the priorities for the team. Ask yourself how your idea fits in. Your idea may be great but if it is addressing priority 10 rather than 2 or 3, people are not going to pursue it. It is never possible to do everything on the priority list at the same time. The team has to pick and choose carefully.
    [5] Be humble and sincere. To be effective and get things done, people must want to work with you. People will pick up on the fact that you feel you are “smarter” than they are. In the end that destroys trust. Bring your idea to the team and ask them how it can be improved or if there are obstacles in the way of implementation. Only with that information will you be able to move forward.

    In summary, although you may have a really good idea, you need to involve others in helping you to create solutions. The focus must be on the critical issues facing the team, rather than who had the best idea. Remember the line in the poem, Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” Each of us brings a unique talent to the table. Take time to discover everyone’s gift.

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