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Robert Uhler

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So far has created 48 blog entries.

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

The “Leave Something” Rule

 

There are many great client relation tips in sales, but one of the best is, “Leave Something Behind (or soon thereafter).” Last year I wrote an article about how to “read a client’s office” to determine personal information about them but I never said what to do with it. “Leaving something behind” means that after the first visit, when you have had the opportunity to study the space and/or engage in client conversation, you always follow up that first visit by sending something relating to the personal background you discovered about that client. It could be a book, a research article, a magazine article, a small gift, a photograph—something small, but thoughtful. Send it with an old-fashioned handwritten note. It shows that you really listened and cared about what the client said.

The goal is to give you a memorable and personal point to pick up the next conversation with this individual where it left off in the last meeting. This symbolizes to the client that you not only listened, but were affected enough to continue thinking about them even after the meeting ended. Some time may have passed, but you remember where you left the discussion and are ready to re-engage. A physical reminder of your visit will linger long after your discussion. As you finish your second visit, study the office or that day’s conversation further to think about the third visit’s ‘leave behind.’ That’s right: it does not stop after the first visit.

I’ll give an example that occurred to me just the other day. I visited a well-known financial institute that I bank with, to review my investment portfolio. The meeting went fine and afterward, the senior officer of the bank joined us […]

By |May 1st, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Large Jobs Can Kill You

 

In the consulting services industry, companies are made up of a combination of a network of local offices doing recurring activity with repeat customers, with an occasional overlapping potential to perform larger and ‘one-off’ jobs. As companies grow in scale, they depend more and more on winning and delivering large jobs even if they come from different offices and clients. Large jobs are longer in duration and have more intense manpower loading that leads to higher chargeable time, and thus, much higher profit. Depending on the allocation process, they also absorb a disproportionate level of overhead from the regional and corporate levels.

If the company includes network of offices spread out geographically, one of the key missions of local offices is to detect and help sell large jobs through local relationships and knowledge. But those large jobs only come along occasionally for any given office. Therefore, the more geographical offices a company has, the greater probability of finding the next large job.

For larger jobs, companies often combine known local trust relations with corporate level delivery capability. Many clients would prefer to give their work to local qualified companies and known client server relationships, in order to reduce performance risk.

Branch offices, which routinely live off small and medium projects, occasionally discover and bring projects to the attention of the corporation that are above their usual scale to perform. In fact, a common strategic role of the corporation’s branch offices is to cover their costs with routine business and serve as “watch towers” for larger jobs.

When a large project is detected, the marketing resources, expenses and required systems are too much for the branch office to handle, resulting in corporate having to step in, if not take over […]

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

The ‘Stallion’ Dilemma

 

In every company, there are a few very fast rising executive stars with what I like to refer to as the ‘stallion syndrome.’ Why do I call them stallions? Well, they are people who are very impressive in appearance, very strong in performance results and very hard to manage. These stallions stand out from the crowd. They have extraordinary talents in a few critical areas that result in successfully reaching the number goals. They are driven, ambitious, fearless and cocky, and often disregard failures by not taking responsibility. The stallion usually makes or exceeds all of his numbers, drives followers to high levels of performance and innovates amazing concepts and products. Promotions come fast and the stallion moves up in the organization quickly.

But very often, stallions also have huge blind spots to their deficits.

It is almost as if a well-rounded executive must possess twenty different important traits with a passing grade in each area. These characteristics often include:

Integrity
Sensitivity
Emotional maturity
Competency
Quick intelligence
Great instincts
A team first loyalty
Trustworthiness
Ability to articulate clearly
Kindness, etc.

 

On the other hand, there is the stallion, which is extraordinary in three or four of these realms, but can be abysmal in many others. It is almost like God said: “If I give you an exceptional talent, it is a zero-sum character game and for every great trait, there is an offset of weak traits.” History has shown that extraordinary talent often comes with significant quirks.

Because the stallion is stroked for their numerical accomplishments, they are uninterested in working on their weak points. They tend to be extremely difficult to coach, and often are in denial that the weaknesses are important to correct, or worse yet, even […]

By |February 20th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments