Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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  • It seems that you can find many lists of what it takes to be a good leader.   While surfing the web I discovered a self-assessment that you can take on the KORN/FERRY INTERNATIONAL website.  http://insight.lominger.com/insight/

    These are my 5 favorites out of the 21 mentioned:

    [1] Able to make complex decisions.  Simple decisions are easy to make.  Decisions with multiple variables and external considerations are orders of magnitude more difficult.  The key is intellectual curiosity and honesty to seek out and understand all the quantitative and qualitative variables that will impact a decision.

    [2] Organizationally Savvy.  Many folks say they do not like politics.  Leadership is all about understanding and navigating the organization structure and matrix because that is how you get things done.  Knowing how decisions may impact various people and organizations allows you to work with them to gain their full support.  It is about creating win-win situations.

    [3] Face Trouble Head-on.  A staff member once told me that she would not take my job even if she was paid $1 million dollars.  First, I said that was good, since I was paid well below that amount.  Her comment, however, was really one about the fact that all day long people brought problems to my desk that they could not figure out how to solve.  She could not see how that would be enjoyable.  The fact is, the more senior your leadership position is, the more complex the issues are that cross your desk.  You have no control about what it will be or when they show up.  You have to love solving complex problems and embracing issues that others avoid.  I find it fun and rewarding.

    [4] Focus on the bottom line.  When running a business you must focus on the bottom line.  Every action you take must be understood relative to the impact on the bottom line.  This does not mean that you will not support employee recognition events, your local community or not-for-profit organizations.  It does mean you know what level of spending you can afford.  You know your bottom-line.

    [5] Manage Diverse Stakeholders.  As a leader you need to use your personal power rather than your positional power.  There are many internal and external stakeholders in an organization and each have their own set of unique goals.  Some of the stakeholders are: customers, investors, lenders, employees, suppliers, government regulators, the media and local communities.  To be successful you need to understand their point of view and know when to seek their involvement in various business challenges and decisions.

    These characteristics can be learned and refined.  Please feel free to call me for a complimentary discussion of how you and your team can take these skills to the next level.  Look forward to talking with you.  585.329.3754

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  • I recently joined a Board of Directors which got me thinking a lot about leadership and teamwork.  A refresher was in order so I decided to read, “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork”, by John Maxwell.    Here are my 6 favorites from the book.

    [1] The Law of the Catalyst:  Winning Teams Have Players Who Make Things Happen.   Any successful team that I have been a part of has a couple people that get things done.  They are willing to do new things and reach across functional boundaries to engage all the right people.  They are individuals who can get extra effort from people who already have too much on their plate.  They can do this by prioritizing the work, helping others and breaking barriers.

    [2] The Law of the Niche: All Players Have a Place Where They Add the Most Value.  Supervisors spend a lot of time working with staff to improve “weaknesses”.  I think it is far better to focus on an individual’s strengths and create world-class talents.   Know what your team needs to accomplish and then get the players on your team with those skills.  Everyone wins.

    [3] The Law of the Chain: The Strength of the Team Is Impacted by Its Weakest Link.  The challenges facing teams change over time.  As a leader, your responsibility is to look at your team and determine if you have the right players for the challenge facing you at this point in time.  If not, work quickly to make the changes that are necessary.  Stronger members of a team eventually come to resent the weak member and question the leader’s ability when the leader does not take action.

    [4] The Law of Significance: One Is Too Small a Number to Achieve Greatness.  Complex challenges cannot be solved by one individual.  For leaders this means understanding that solutions will be found only with the engagement of the entire team.  The people closest to the work will know what is not working and what the best solutions are.

    [5] The Law of the Compass: Vision Gives Team Members Direction and Confidence.  The visual picture that sticks with me is one from a class I took years ago.  Imagine bowling.  Picture a black cloth that covers the pins at the end of the alley.  When the bowling ball reaches the end of the lane after you have thrown it you do not know how you did.  That is what it is like to work on a team that does not have a vision and mission.  You are doing work but do not know if what you are doing is important or if you are achieving the goals you set.  As a leader, be sure your team fully understands the mission and vision.

    [6] The Law of the Bench: Great Teams Have Great Depth.  Everyone on a team should want to grow their skill and talent.   There will always be some people leaving the team periodically, so it is vitally important to recruit talented new staff to the team.  Foster an environment of learning and growth for everyone on the team.  This way the team improves continually, year over year.

    If you are a member of a team, I highly recommend this insightful book.  [Maxwell, J., The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2001.  Print]

    Please call me for a confidential and complimentary discussion on how to improve the effectiveness of your team.  585-329-3754.

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  • My previous post talked about the steps you would follow when attempting to identify process improvement opportunities.  When doing something for the first time do not jump into the hardest stuff immediately.  Try out some of the basic tools first to build your knowledge, confidence and success.  Mastery of any topic is a journey.

    Based on my experience of leading and implementing significant process improvements you need a quality toolbox that contains tools, techniques and concepts.   Below you will find key elements of process improvement work and the list of tools/concepts that will help you get started.  [Note:  there are definitely more tools that are not mentioned.  For a full description, of the tools, refer to the books I have listed at the end of this post.]

    [1] Working with numbers and analyzing data:  You need to be able to count things, identify and track trends, measure relationships, summarize data, recognize the source of variation, present frequency distributions and pinpoint key problems.   These tools provide the ability to analyze the data: tally sheet, histogram, pareto analysis, run chart, scatter plot and control chart.

    [2] Generating Ideas: To improve you need to generate a high volume of new ideas, gather/group the ideas, find relationships, identify root cause, visualize the process, understand the positive and negative impacts of change, weigh your options and rate organization performance.  Here are the tools to use when evaluating ideas: affinity diagram, brainstorming, cause and effect diagram or fishbone diagram, flow chart, value stream map, radar charts, force field analysis, 5 whys and prioritization/voting.

    [3] Working together as teams.  Idea generation and the creation of solutions can only happen with a team.  The process improvement team will need at least one person skilled in facilitation and conducting effective meetings.  Energy is drained from a team that is not focused and efficient.  A good facilitator understands many of the lean/six sigma tools and when/how to use them. They are trusted by the team and support/manage the group’s social and cognitive processes so that the team can put their full energy into the issue at hand.  [Note: Much has been written on conducting effective meetings so I will not duplicate that information here.]

    [4] Concepts of Lean: Tools and techniques are necessary, but so is a belief in the concepts of lean. My favorites are:

    • Genchi Genbutsu:  to best understand an issue go to the place where the work is done.
    • Kaizen: change for the better requires a focus upon continuous improvement
    • Muda: all processes contain waste.  A key element of improvement is the elimination of waste in all of its forms.
    • Poka-yoke: fail-safe your processes to prevent mistakes.

     

    There are many wonderful books where you can gain significantly more insight into the tools, techniques and concepts mentioned above.  Of course, Wikipedia is also a wonderful source of information as well.

    I would value the opportunity to have a confidential and complimentary discussion of your company’s situation.  My phone number is (585) 329-3754.

    References:

    Brassard, M., and Ritter, D., The Memory Jogger II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement & Effective Planning. Methuen, MA: GOAL/QPC., 1994. Print

    Crosby, P., Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York, New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1979. Print

    George, M., Lean Six Sigma For Service. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2003. Print

    Ishikawa, K., Guide to Quality Control.  Tokyo, Japan: Asian Productivity Organization., 1984. Print

    Keller, P., and Pyzdek, T., The Six Sigma Handbook. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2010. Print

    Liker, J., The Toyota Way. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2004. Print

    Wikipedia Lean Concepts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lean_concepts

    Womak, J., and Jones, D., Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.  New York, New York: Simon & Schuster., 1996. Print

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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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  • What is operational excellence?  I think Swati Ranganathan’s definition states it well, “Operational excellence is executing in an efficient and effective manner across the value chain with a focus on delivering value to customers.”  Appropriate metrics will assist you to monitor your progress and successes.

    If you are not sure how to start on your journey of operational excellence, here are 6 steps you can take as a leader to get started.

    [1] Review your work flow and processes.  Lean work flow and processes mean that you have minimized waste of all types.  Teams are then positioned to focus their efforts on adding value.

    [2] Ensure fluid communication flows.  To produce exceptional results you need to have the appropriate and most current information to do your work.  Assess how your current communication flow works.  Undoubtedly you will find a way to improve the timeliness, effectiveness and completeness of your organizational communication.  Then implement the appropriate changes.

    [3] Create a culture that values continuous improvement.  Very few processes exist that cannot benefit from improvement.  No one should rest on their laurels and accept the status quo.  Staff should be encouraged and reinforced for seeking out process improvements.  A very effective way to accomplish this is to include it in individual’s personal goals.

    [4] Leverage and value diversity of thought and experience.   Solutions to problems are a result of creativity and thinking outside the box.  A team with diverse experience and thinking will be able to innovate more quickly than other teams.

    [5] Think like a customer.  A customer can be internal or external to your company.  The best solutions come when you “pretend” you are a customer and think about the problem from their perspective.  This approach helps to minimize re-work.

    [6] Look at and listen to the data.  You must spend the time to define the standards and measures of goodness/excellence.   Data is impartial.  When you measure the result then everyone knows what actions need to be taken.

    Operational excellence is critical to the success of any business.  If you are not sure how effective and efficient your work flow and processes are follow these 6 steps and address any improvement opportunities you discover.

    If you would like to discuss how to use these steps in your organization, please call me at 585-329-3754.  I would be most happy to have a conversation with you.

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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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  • When a team or company grows, at some point they find themselves asking the following questions:  Why are we not making as much forward progress as we think we are capable of?  Why is performance stalling?  Why are we operating in silos?  Why are we not moving in the same direction?  At the heart of these questions is the notion of values.

    As leaders, we are just one of many people in a company.  We certainly cannot be part of every discussion or decision, nor should we ever want to be.  Rather we need to cultivate a culture to nurture and foster the behavior that is needed for personal and company growth and success.

    Developing a set of common values provides both a common vocabulary and understanding of the expectations for each and every employee.   Values provide individuals with a framework for approaching day-to-day responsibilities and decisions.  Eventually, it becomes the way in which individuals respond to any challenge.

    So how do you get started?

    [1] Do a little research to understand how other companies use their values to enhance success. Before you engage in the effort of developing values for your organization, you need to really believe they will be beneficial.  Many company’s values are easily accessible on-line.  Here are some of my favorites.  Check them out and see if they resonate with you.

    YAHOO!:  http://docs.yahoo.com/info/values/

    Gemma Power Systems:  http://www.gemmapower.com/index.php?id=26#/

    Zappos:  http://about.zappos.com/our-unique-culture/zappos-core-values/

    Google:  http://www.google.com/about/company/philosophy/

    [2] Pull together a group of employees to create the values.  Creating a set of values for an organization cannot be done by one person.  Let the entire organization know that you are launching the effort.  Be inclusive and allow feedback.  The more you involve others, the more support will be given by all employees.

    [3] Once developed communicate the values constantly.  In order for the values to become part of an organization’s daily culture, they must be discussed continually.  This can be achieved by leaders explaining actions in context of the values.  This makes the values come to life.

    [4]  Do not accept behavior that is in conflict with the values.  In order for a culture to truly develop you must praise desired behavior but most importantly you must confront behavior that is not consistent with the values.  To respect an individual’s dignity, this may be done in private.  Leaders lose their effectiveness if they do not address behavior that is at odds with expectations.

    [5] Periodically seek feedback on the values.  Feedback allows leaders to make course corrections as necessary.  Ask a diverse group of people for input.  It can be very instructive to ask customers or vendors what they perceive.

    The biggest benefit of a common set of organizational values is to build a culture that allows employees to approach issues and decisions with a common set of ground rules.

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  • I have just finished a marvelous week of bicycling in the Finger Lakes.  Camped with 8 friends at Taughannock Falls State Park and cycled 40 to 50 mile loop rides every day.  The leadership lessons found on vacation and in everyday life are abundant.  Being able to create metaphors and analogies from common experiences helps leaders communicate more effectively.

    [1] Find common ground:  This is an annual event for us so we all meet about 5 months before the trip and decide upon what we want to do.  This includes timing, location and length of rides.  By doing this we all have a common set of expectations.  In the workplace, common expectations helps a collection of individuals evolve into a high-performing team.

    [2] Play to and value everyone’s strengths:  Each of the riders/campers has a strength.  We play to each other’s strengths.  In this way, everyone is a full participant.  It also lightens the load of preparation since we all share in the work that needs to be done.  In the workplace, everyone needs to feel they are making a meaningful contribution.

    [3] Create detailed daily plans:  One of the riders is really good at creating cycling routes.  It involves ensuring that we stay off of heavily trafficked roads, do not have excessive elevation gains and have a convenient place to stop for lunch, even though we do make our sandwiches every morning.  Map sets and cue-sheets are then created for each rider.  This comes in handy when something unexpected happens, such as a significant detour due to a bridge being out.  Which in fact happen on the trip we just finished.   When working on a project it is also important to lay out the steps or map to be followed to get to your destination.

    [4] Recalibrate:  At the end of each day, we ask ourselves if there is anything we need to change to make the daily tours better.  Modifications are then made as needed.  This is also critical in the workplace.   Nothing can be planned to perfection ahead of time.  You need to create a decent plan and then get on with the work.  However, on a daily or weekly basis, monitor your progress and make course corrections if required.

    The skills of life and the skills of leadership are interchangeable.  Use your life stories to create leadership lessons that will resonate with you and your teams.

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  • In today’s business world, almost every organization is a matrix.  This structure provides both benefits and frustrations to staff.  The benefit to an individual is that they get to participate more broadly in a business. This makes work much more interesting and creates a learning environment.  The frustration comes when, as an individual, you are responsible for getting a piece of work done that requires input and participation of others from different organizations.  Many times it feels like your work is not very high on someone else’s to-do list, even though you are being held accountable for the result by your boss.

    Here are 4 tips that have worked well for me and my teams.

    [1] Give something to get something.  With deadline pressures constantly looming, it is hard to think about carving out time to help others.  Whenever you ask someone for their input or participation always follow up with this question: Is there anything I can do to help you?   By asking you acknowledge that their time is valuable.  You show them that if they need help you are there for them.

    [2] Let managers participate in prioritizing the work.  The best example of this is the time when the finance team I supervised supported a large manufacturing organization.  The organization had 10 departments, one superintendent and one assistant superintendent.  All day long people would walk into our finance office and ask for information and analysis.  The deadlines  would always be tomorrow.  None of it was superfluous.  However, it absolutely overwhelmed the finance team and the manufacturing organization felt finance was not supporting them properly.  So, the finance team and I made a wall chart that listed all the items on the to-do list and their deadlines.  Then we asked the superintendent and assistant superintendent for help prioritizing.  By having a visible list, everyone finally saw the entire picture.  The manufacturing leaders helped us set priorities.  As a result, the client got the information and analyzes they wanted and finance had a balanced workload.

    [3] Communicate realistic deadlines and provide as much lead-time as possible.   There is a cartoon periodically circulated that goes:  Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.  Way too often, an individual waits to the last minute to ask someone for the information or participation required.  You owe it to anyone that is helping you to give them as much notice as possible.  That allows them to work it into their schedule easily.

    [4] Know when to play the help card.   Every so often, you know will need your supervisor’s assistance.  For example, asking finance for help right in the middle of quarter close will not result in finance dropping everything to help you.  In this case, more senior leadership needs to be involved to either get the help that is needed now or re-set the timeline to a later date.

    In a matrix environment, I think the benefits outweigh the frustrations.  A few simple guidelines make  it  possible to be efficient and effective.  What has helped you personally to manage in a matrix environment?

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