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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