Yearly Archives: 2015


Are Staff Leaders Strategic Assets?


While I typically focus my articles toward high-ranking profit and loss leaders such as CEOs and line managers, I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss Level 1 leaders for staff departments, including: accounting, human resources, IT support, corporate communications, and legal. Oftentimes, top executives struggle with determining these individuals’ roles and evaluating their contribution, as Level 1 staff members are often seen as costly necessities to the rank and file employees, and have little impact on the company. They can be seen as bureaucrats or policy gatekeepers living off the revenue execution talent of others, and are often known to make business difficult.

Level 1 staff executives are paid sizable salaries and often benefit from large bonuses immune from enterprise performance. They can be seen to have little direct effect on profit, and are not held accountable except by subjective opinion relative to “likeability,” or their relationship with the CEO. Because they lack direct ownership for numerical KPIs, mediocre functional staff chiefs can skate for years without much quantitative accountability. Many are perceived to contribute only as process advisors when a crisis occurs for the line officers and client servers.

In numerous companies, employees have a right in evaluating the functional staff leadership as ‘maintenance personnel,’ in that they do not have the long-term competitive impact to justify their costs. This leadership can have considerable authority, but little quantitative accountability. If their only role is proven to be only functional transactions, the positions would be cheaper being outsourced or even automated.

Despite this, Level 1 functional staff can be the most valuable business leaders in the organization, if they are talented and their position is clearly defined and regulated.

I believe the most successful chief functional leaders […]

By |November 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Going Beyond The Open Door Policy


Most senior leaders I know consider themselves to be far more accessible than they really are. They believe attending events such as weekly office meetings, the annual Christmas party, offsite planning meetings, and various office mixers makes them accessible. However, the truth is, they continue to be surrounded by the same group of 15 to 25 people who dominate their attention and skew their information base, providing them with a false sense of “unbiased” knowledge.

A leader’s ability to know what is really going on in a company has much to do with the breadth of their information sources. If the sources are constantly the same, a leader could miss what is really happening at the different levels within the company. This often results in an issue escalating into a crisis before an executive can even realize there is a problem.

Leaders fool themselves by having “open door” policies. They assume their employees will feel comfortable enough to walk into their office with pertinent information. An “open door” policy is fine, but in a decentralized office environment, only the people at that location have access, and those employees most likely would not feel comfortable talking outside the normal chain of command.

Generally, because of rank and title, leaders are perceived to be intimidating, and oftentimes even aloof. In addition, subordinate leaders often give directives such as “don’t tell the boss,” and punish those who express their ideas to a “higher chain of command” without permission. These types of unspoken or unwritten rules exist often without a leader’s knowledge.

I found that in order to get more clear and unbiased information, I had to adjust my methods to actively seek it out. With that in mind, I used three techniques: […]

By |October 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Winning Mega-Jobs Requires A Client-First Culture

You don’t win big without sacrificing your best talent for the interest of the client.
Throughout my career, people have told me, “When your company mobilizes leadership from the top of your organizational hierarchy to win a job, it seems to have an incredible batting average.” Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to this comment, considering it’s been conveyed both inside and outside my company. Perhaps the reason I have given it so much thought is because it consistently rings true. Throughout my career, we have watched ourselves and competitors win and lose mega-jobs and have learned from the experiences.

We have found that when a company really wants to focus on winning a large project, it is forced to make difficult leadership decisions. It requires a company culture that believes the client’s largest project is equally as important as the enterprise management. The most common prerequisite of winning a mega-job is re-assigning senior talent (often Level 1 or group/division presidents) to lead a project for up to several years.

Of course, when a company does this, the enterprise leadership is disrupted with the need to replace that executive while they are gone; however, very few firms have the courage and culture to do this. Companies rationalize that the leader is irreplaceable (which, in my opinion, is not true) and that removing them from their position would be too disruptive to the organization. Rarely does an executive volunteer, leaving it up to the company to make the decision. But in my experience, when a company truly wants to win a large project, it will find a way to provide the client with one of their most senior executives for the entire duration of the […]

By |September 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Tenacity Is The Key To Successful Marketing

Controlling your expectations and never giving up will produce marketing results.

In the world of selling consulting services, you don’t often have product innovation or technical breakthroughs that provide you with a compelling sales pitch for a new client. In fact, most clients are already well served by one to four other consultants who could be regarded as having equal expertise and have delivered past positive results. The incumbent consultants differentiate themselves by applying excellent service provider personalities and a track record of successful work. Rarely do technological offerings significantly differ, so it is always a challenge to figure out how to break through with a new client and be given a chance.

When opening a new geographical office, we used to sort the potential clients into two pools: ‘nice to have’ clients and ‘sustainable foundation’ clients. The former was necessary to pay the overhead while establishing our presence. But it was not until we won the critical ones that we gained office sustainability. Selling the first one was difficult.

When inexperienced marketers initially go after a client they visit the decision maker once or twice, submitting a proposal when asked. They pour significant effort into that first proposal to assure the best graphics and content. And most times, without fail, they lose. Many of these novices are surprised and go back to the client for a debriefing. The client will reluctantly give specific reasons for not selecting them, most of which are fictitious. I use the expression: “the winner knows exactly why they won, but losers will never know and probably will be misled by the feedback.” This is based on past experience that clients rarely reveal the truth of their inner thoughts to the losers […]

By |August 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Failing Your Way To Success

Enterprises evolve by being willing to fail on numerous initiatives in order to find the one or two that create competitive differentiation and transformation.
The job of an entrepreneurial leader is to improve their company’s value-added market position by creating superior competitive offerings for their firm. Succeeding in evolving successful initiatives with organic growth objectives is often the way you do that.

I have started 15 to 20 new initiatives throughout my career, in an effort to create new businesses or product lines. The success rate of those initiatives has only been about 30%, but thankfully; those few successes were triples or home runs that changed the competitive landscape.

If the probability for failure is so high, how could it be wise to pursue a new initiative? Is there anything that we could have done to increase the probability of success? Did we have a lot of bad ideas? This article is about what we learned.

Initiative failure is rarely about lack of quality of the idea or the dedication of the team. The reason for failure gravitates from too many, often uncontrollable, widely diverse issues. Some of these situations include:

Having the wrong leader
Losing the right potential leader due to early failure or disappointment
Investing too little money, time or energy
Having a non-supportive core business that protects the existing power structure
Wrong timing—either ‘before its time’ or during unexpected economic distraction
The wrong point of sale within the buyer’s organization
Conflicts with services of the existing brand in the eyes of the customers
Trying foolishly to get early synergy with the core business
Experiencing early quality control issues that were not expected or accepted
Possessing little ability to recruit the right supporting cast due to core business identity
Inappropriately trying to re-trend previously successful personnel to a […]

By |July 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Searching For Best Practice

The secrets to the best solutions are found where the greatest challenges of the world exist.

When our U.S. based company first contemplated global expansion strategy in the early 1990s, there stemmed an appropriate internal challenge from the senior management team as to why. The U.S. market was very large and profitable. At the time, we held a >5% overall market share of our water sector and the market was growing. Globalization seemed, to some, a difficult diversion to a proven domestic approach. The management challenges of differing currencies, cultures, contract styles and languages, in addition to the issue of management time required, seemed like a tall order. There was no indication that a non-U.S. market had any advantages in profitability, but certainly would add disproportionately to corporate overhead. We were inexperienced in transcontinental travel—we knew it and were not kidding ourselves—and we were unsure of the time dedication it would require of a few of us. So why?

The major reason for globalization was rooted in the conviction that the best technologies in the world are found at the location of most severe challenge. These challenges were often not located in the U.S. If we were a technology company, how could we detect and learn the best technologies without an international presence? For instance, the best dredging and pumping technology in the world resided in the Netherlands. The best desalinization technology existed in Arab countries and other places of severe drought. The best dam and reservoir technology was found in emerging countries harnessing large rivers for energy.

At that time, computer science was elementary and email was just evolving. Software compatibility was problematic and equipment costs were very high. There was no satellite or high-speed cable lines […]

By |June 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|0 Comments