Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • As leaders we are a model of inspiration for our staff. How do we find constant renewal to keep us fresh when it is so very easy to fall into the rut of comfortableness? How do we push ourselves to remain on the steep part of the learning-curve.

    For me it has always been about reading books. While I do have all-time favorite leaders, bloggers and courses, books can be savored at my pace. They also allow me time for personal reflection. As I read concepts, I ask myself how I measure up. By being brutally honest with myself, I discover opportunities to improve. Books are the best way for me to keep my knowledge fresh.

    While I think most of the books I read are good, every once in a while you discover an absolute gem. In those cases, I have purchased copies for my leadership team and we have discussed the chapters together during staff meetings. The biggest lesson we learn is that we are in charge; we need use our knowledge and judgment to determine the best path forward. We hold the answers within ourselves and do not need to turn to the “experts” or “teachers”.

    Another huge benefit is engaging with the team and individuals. Sharing the key points and concepts with others brings them into the decision making loop and demonstrates that you value their opinions. It also role models the critical behavior and responsibility of “keeping yourself current” and up-to-date. A leader’s role is not to tell people what to do, but rather help them discover the right path on their own. Or as Galileo said, “You cannot teach a man or woman anything; you can only help them to find it within themselves.”

    In the end, my dilemma is not finding a book to read, but choosing a book; there are so many great ones to choose from. Here are some of my recent favorites:
    Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success: 12 Lessons for Extraordinary Performance and Personal Excellence, by John Wooden, Steve Jamison
    Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, by Don Tapscott
    Being Strategic: Plan for Success; Out-think Your Competitors; Stay Ahead of Change, by Erika Andersen
    Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, by Dennis Snow, Teri Yanovitch
    Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, by Leonardo Inghilleri, Micah Solomon, Horst Schulze

    Share one of your favorites.

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  • I love to read books and always have two or three in progress. The last one, “Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success”, was filled to the brim with leadership lessons. It reminded me why coaching is the vital element of success for leaders. You cannot do the work alone. You need the hearts and minds of everyone on your team. Coaching becomes the method for providing continuous learning and growth for all staff.

    My favorite quote from the book is, “Never be satisfied. Work constantly to improve. Perfection is a goal that can never be reached, but it must be the objective. The uphill climb is slow, but the downhill road is fast” (Jamison, Wooden 53). It illustrates wonderfully the work of a coach.

    As leaders, we have the power to provide the best learning experiences for our staff each and every day. They are not classes and seminars, but rather the time that a supervisor or colleague takes to show you how to improve a task you have been working on. It is also the opportunity you take personally to ask for feedback. Constant learning, woven into the fabric of your daily work, makes it exciting. You are personally growing and can take on increasingly complex challenges.

    Doing an excellent job and being satisfied are two different things. My staff was highly capable and delivered exceptional work. We all know, however, that the business environment and competitive landscape are constantly changing. In order to adapt, every day must be seen as an opportunity to learn something new about our processes, outputs and our client expectations. This is the work of continual improvement. It means having confidence in the quality of your work but never being satisfied. It means knowing improvements can be made and constantly searching for them. The staff took advantage of all conversations to ask what would have made the output even better, the process easier or made it possible to further reduce defects.

    Improvement is a daily habit. It is the sum of paying attention to the details and little things discovered every day that point to improvement opportunities. The end result was a team that was enthusiastic and delivered outstanding performance. They enjoyed learning and expanding their horizons every day. They knew they would make a significant difference.

    If you are looking for an inspiring leadership book, pick this one up. I’d love to have you share your favorite leadership book.

    Works cited:
    Jamison, S., Wooden, J., Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success. San Francisco, California: McGraw-Hill., 2009. Print.

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  • Many times when teams work on solving challenges, ideas are put forward that can be polar opposites in many ways. As a result the team divides and cannot create a workable solution. As a leader, the way forward lies in finding a middle path between opposites.

    As a member of over 15 leadership teams during my career I have experienced times when teams were divided over certain issues and required actions. The differences can be summarized as follows: more control, less control; in-source, out-source; centralize, de-centralize; include more people, include fewer people; skill required, skill not required and more policies, less policies. Although there was validity to each side of the issue, you can see they were polar opposites. As a result the teams found themselves unable to move forward due to lack of agreement.

    At this point, let’s recall the story of Goldilocks. Goldilocks finds the all the items of Baby Bear – much too small, she finds all the items of the Papa Bear – much too big. Then looking at Mama Bear’s items – she finds they are just right. Use your imagination and consider the analogy to business. Goldilocks found a workable solution in the middle; one that was just right. In business, a leader can assist a team to find the right answer by blending and balancing two opposing points of view.

    Let me share an example. At one point, Travel and Expense Accounting reported to me. In my company there were 8,000 travelers, which resulted in many expense reports every year. The process was audited annually. During a visual inspection of perhaps 1,000 expense reports, one report with an inappropriate expense of $100 was found. As a result the audit department stated that it was mandatory that all expense reports be reviewed by the Travel and Expense Accounting group, of roughly 2 people. Our company had automated the entire expense report processing and required the supervisor’s signature prior to payment. Our supervisors did a pretty good job in “policing” the expenses. Expenses from the air carriers and AMEX pre-populated the expense report. Exception reporting software was also used. Although we knew errors would never be 100% eliminated, we knew they were minimal.

    The recommendation of the auditors would have required that we hire additional people. However, we knew that the cost of the salaries would exceed the savings of “inappropriate expenses”.

    Theoretically, the audit recommendation was correct. However, practically it made no sense. In the end, the middle ground agreed to was that bi-annually we would send out a gentle reminder note to all supervisors regarding their responsibilities relative to checking and approving expense reports. This made a lot of sense since you have new people joining the company and individual’s becoming supervisors during the year, who may not get the training needed.

    In summary, my role was to work with the internal auditors, Travel and Expense Accounting and Controllers to come up with a workable solution that everyone could agree to. When you recognize the validity of everyone’s point of view, you can help the team find a solution that is “just right”.

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