Yearly Archives: 2017

/2017

The Importance of Reading Offices

When I first entered the consulting world in the mid-1970, there was a process in my company where new junior project managers were indoctrinated into the company’s client service culture. They didn’t learn this information via a class or some literature, rather, through on-the-job training. You would be paired with a more experienced project manager, who acted as your mentor and trainer for six months to a year. Your role as a junior project participant was not only to assist on assignments, working with others as a team, but also travel and meet clients with your mentor. Your role in these client visits was to stay quiet and observe how the senior colleague handled clients.

In this article, I want to share one of the invaluable lessons that I learned from this training experience, which has served me well throughout my career. I call the lesson: “reading a client’s office.” (Later in my career, as I became more senior, it led to reading my colleagues and employees’ offices.)

To learn this skill, you must visit a client in their personal office or space. As I was in the midst of this training, the car ride to the client’s office generally served as my preparation time from my senior colleague and the return trip was used as a debriefing. In the debriefing session, I was grilled on what I saw and was asked to think about what it meant in both developing a relationship and delivering the project. The practice forced me to become much more observant about my client’s personal life.

Your client’s office is a physical reflection of their value system, their points of pride, their interests and hobbies, their families, their accomplishments, their organizational […]

By |December 11th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Weinstein’s Lesson

The newspapers are alive with increasing details about the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Although most will have a racy fascination for a case of celebrity downfall due to possible illegal and egregious behavior, I see it as a way to reinforce the business principles of an article I wrote several months ago entitled “The Stallion Dilemma.”

In “The Stallion Dilemma” I discussed the challenge of managing high performers who become vital to our business success, but lose their moral way. It is the issue supervisors face in managing egocentric subordinates who are good at business goal achievements but ever increasingly violate rules and ethical boundaries. The stallions feel “deserving” of behaviors not accepted within the boundaries of others, because of their success and the accolades of followers who depend on that success. The Stallion Dilemma is also about the gradualism of the slippery slope of decay when these inexcusable behaviors are not confronted early and firmly.

Weinstein was a very high performer for several decades. The success of a movie producer is dictated by their ability to raise capital from investors, gather the best talent, obtain the best scripts and create a box office anticipation of every next project. It is the power to get the best approach in a very competitive and high-risk environment. Admittedly, Weinstein’s track record as a producer is not in dispute. He was a stallion.

He also was an employee of a corporation that carried his name and of which the outside owners of the business were represented by a board of directors. The board’s duty was oversight of management and legality of its practices. As the details come out, it is apparent that the board was well aware for years of Harvey’s sexual […]

By |October 23rd, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Best Client Service Advice

The best client service advice I ever received was given to me by a colleague 20 years my senior. I’ve always admired the quality and depth of his business relationships. His clients had a tendency to be demanding, but they were also his personal friends. One day, I asked him how he did it, and his answer stuck with me.  So, what was it?

His advice: Always work to get your client personally promoted to a higher job level, study what their bosses or organization value and then help your client deliver impressive on-target results.

Now, at first glance, one might say that this concept is no different than delivering the scope of work on time, on budget and with good quality, but nothing could really be further from the “promotion theory.” Over the years, I’ve found that my clients  get credit by solving issues or enhancing an image outside of the scope of work.

Finding the necessary characteristics that lend themselves to your client’s success takes work. You cannot initially be so direct, but by building a relationship and studying the way others get promoted, you can better understand the values of the individuals within the organization who are responsible for promoting.

For example, one project I worked on was relatively straightforward in scope, but I realized that my client’s boss wanted to be recognized in the industry for innovation. As a result, I wrote a technical paper on the project and convinced my client to jointly submit our paper into a professional conference. We then asked his boss to also co-author the piece, eventually convincing him to attend the conference and present it. It was no surprise that the boss thought it was a fantastic project and […]

By |September 5th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Slippery Slope of Integrity

When you see lists of the most important personal characteristics in a CEO (or senior executive), the most common criteria is impeccable integrity. Integrity is more important than past performance and/or future vision, and it is easy to understand why.

Trust is a huge factor in granting responsibility and fiduciary obligation. Most CEOs have little direct daily oversight and must be trusted to set the tone of integrity for all others in the company. The consequences of dishonesty can destroy a brand reputation, and eventually, the entire enterprise.

What is integrity? 

Integrity is far more complex than the dictionary definition of “adherence to ethical and moral principles.”

Each time I find myself losing trust in someone, I ask myself, “are the symptoms an indication of incompetence or a lack of integrity?” The actual outcome might be the same, but in my mind, a flaw of integrity is a more unforgivable sin. And rightfully it should be, because integrity issues result in problems continually being repeated and lack of a learning curve. Integrity, or lack thereof, is an embedded issue that is extremely hard to change.

My “integrity ladder” rates this trait in executives from fatal to marginal.

Stealing or direct lying for personal gain: This is a no-brainer—there is no reason to spend a large amount of time trying to figure out how to fix this issue even in the most talented individuals. Regretfully, there are organizations that value the individual’s results more than this moral principle; however, it eventually catches up with them.

When Justice Department investigators create sentencing guidelines, they often rate ‘tone at the top’ highly, which is the executive tolerance to dishonesty in return for profit. Not only should you avoid promoting this behavior, but you should also get rid of […]

By |August 4th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Budgets are Fake News

I reviewed another corporate budget last week and it reminded me how much I don’t like the activity. In my 40-year career I have probably reviewed, negotiated and approved 300+ budgets and have felt, in retrospect, like my teams wasted hours and hours of valuable time. I often ask companies what their philosophical accuracy of the percent of the budget they expect to achieve is, and I get answers from 75% to 100%. But never over 100%.

So, what is the real purpose of the budget?
Budgets DO NOT:

Pay any bills
Pay any bonuses
Buy down any debt or provide any additional capital
Add to stockholders’ equity
Have much to do with the services you sell that clients want.

 

A budget is a ‘one point in time’ mental exercise that involves draining emotional interactions and often subordinate gaming for the lowest acceptable number. Management teams struggle with different techniques of bottom-up or top-down styles in repeated iterations to derive desired results.

So why do we spend so much time (and energy) on budgets and their iterations? Isn’t this really a topic where IBM’s Newton (or computer automation) could do well without much distraction, to leave you to lend your attention to more important company activities?

If I were to automate anyone’s budget, this is the analog I would give Newton: Start with the last year’s gross revenues and increase them by the sum of the growth rate of last year’s industry competitors plus additional 5 %-points. So, if your industry competitors grew by 4%, the top line revenue would increase 9%. Why? First, in a labor-based business, you should get +3- to 4%-point growth just from annual cost of living salary increases. The logic being this revenue level is level […]

By |July 7th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

A Destructive Start

 

Often when I see top leadership succession within companies, there seems to be an incredible urge to immediately execute one, or both, of two destructive things: Rebrand and Reorganize. Both create internal commotion that distracts from outside focus and usually, the company does not recover to full efficient functionality until about two years after the fact. Let’s look at each of these scenarios.

Rebranding: Often the new leader feels that they need to take charge and make an impact immediately. Changing brands is one way to say, “there is a new sheriff in town with better ideas than the last yahoos.’’ They claim the new brand will impart momentum, freshness and add strategic clarity. In reality, it is a psychological way to ‘mark their territory,’ like dogs to fire hydrants. It establishes the new leader applying new “varnish” at the expense of momentum of the enterprise.

The fact is that the real brand loyalty for a service company is not a logo or a color or a symbol, but instead the identification to the individual company representatives the clients depend on. Take that representative away and those clients are more likely to follow that person to the next company, rather than ogle and admire the new brand. Brand changes don’t make new clients; in fact, they create uncertainty in the clients’ eyes that then needs to be overcome. Internally, brands are more sacred and emotional. Changing the brand usually comes with more employee criticism than praise for the wasted transition costs and distraction of attention to more pressing internal—and client—issues.

In the product industries, there are countless cases where a product-based company has changed brands without much negative impact. But service companies are people and they are different. […]

By |June 2nd, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments