Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire – Laura Dribin

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life. Terry Pratchett

Everyone wants to be a hero.  Children dream of joining the fire department to fight fires or police department to save a life.  We love heroes.  We give them awards, we sing their praises. 

Even when a business runs into problems, they look for some employee(s) to be heroic and save the day.  And often this is how large strategic initiatives are pulled out of the flames.  In fact, some companies are always in firefighting mode using their heroic employee(s) to “fix” the fires. 

Superhero Business Woman with tablet

Fighting fires is no way to run a business.  Putting out a fire is way more expensive than implementing safe consistent practices that utilize fire alarms and fire extinguishers to minimize risk.  Putting out fires is tremendously disruptive and the after affects can linger long after the fire is extinguished. 

Let’s use a scenario.  You have a wood burning fireplace in your house.  There is no covering over your fireplace to keep the cinders contained. One cold night, you decide to enjoy the warm, cozy fire, but you leave your house to grab some brandy for a hot toddy. While you are out, the cinders spread, start a fire and burn down your house.  Fire fighters come and put out the fire. There is quite a bit of damage.  No worries, your insurance help you to rebuild.  So you build a new house with a new wood burning fireplace. Do you use a cover to protect your house?  What about fire extinguishers or smoke alarms or escape plans for your family?  Or do you rely on your heroes, home insurance and fire department, to mitigate all risks?  It doesn’t make sense, right? So what sense does it make for a business to consistently rely on heroes to save the day?

I looked up the job description for a fire fighter and what I found was extremely interesting.  Out of 10 task descriptions, only 1 actually forces them into extinguishing a fire.  The remaining nine descriptions involve best practices, governance, continuing improvements and education.  http://hiring.monster.com/hr/hr-best-practices/recruiting-hiring-advice/job-descriptions/firefighter-job-description.aspx  

Firefighter and Lieutenant helmets

So why do so many companies rely on heroes to fix their problems? I know that every now and then, there is a fire in a company that needs everyone to scramble and may need that hero to successfully complete that task. But too many businesses make this the norm.  I believe that heroes become a crutch for businesses and a symptom of an organization in a reactive mode (of firefighting) rather than a proactive mode of driving the company’s direction. 

As I speak with my clients and potential clients, I am no longer surprised when someone conveys to me that their best project manager is hero-like.  I am often pointed to the heroes that seem to excel at getting the job done right.  The project they are running has a big issue that may result in the project failing and the “heroic” project manager ends up pulling the project out of the burning building. 

I am not a believer in heroes in business.  Too often I find that the “hero” might have saved the project from failure but what isn’t addressed is that they also may have caused the fire in the first place.  Leadership sees that the hero knocked down walls and moved mountains to fix the problem and saved the day.  Yet, at the time that the hero is saving the day, no one is realizing that if the hero had worked through their preventative process (better planning process and methodology), the problem might not have occurred.  (Remember, fire fighters have 9 process improvement tasks and only one firefighting task.)  When heroes are fighting fires, often someone will get burned.  Long hours, stressful periods of time, finger pointing….

One of the largest programs that I ever worked on earlier in my career was an eye opener.  The program was huge and budgeted at $100 million.  We worked hard to properly plan and then proceeded to a risk management plan.  We came up with contingency plans for the risks that seemed most likely.  We even put cut-over dates in our plans for the contingency plans.  Fast forward, this huge complicated program had some smoke alarms going off but any major fire was prevented by switching directly to the contingency plan with little fanfare.  If something happened, we already had worked through how we would deal with it.  (This versus the hero mode of something happening and then all hands on deck to try and figure out how to address it while the fire was burning.  )   In the end, one of the key stakeholders said that this program was so easy.  They didn’t see why they needed a program manager.  This effort was non heroic in their eyes because fire prevention is less visible than firefighting.

A well run organization should not be in a constant need for heroic actions.  It should be striving for a process that minimizes the need for heroes.  Consistency in how a company delivers.  Governance, process, thoughtful strategic execution.

So long story short, I challenge all C-Level executives out there to make a resolution for 2017 that you will focus more on creating best practices around how you deliver value.  You may be surprised as to your value proposition at the end of the year. Think of your business mascot as Smokey the Bear and remember, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”

Better a thousand times careful than once dead.   Proverb

 

 

The Remedy for a Sore Rump

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Fired

A few years ago, my team and I took the Strengthsfinder’s assessment by Tom Rath.  In a nutshell, it is a personality assessment that helps identify your strengths.  There were no surprises when I took the test other than one.  It put my “strongest” strength as Responsibility.  At first I thought it was way off until I started thinking about all of my behaviors.  The truth is that I take responsibility for pretty much everything around me.  Even if I have nothing to do with it.

So with the responsibility of the world on my shoulders, I am writing this blog to B^*&ch about the demise of accountability in the workplace and life.

I recently had the misfortune of having to pull one of my consultants from a client.  The consultant was not succeeding and it was evident that the project would suffer if they continued.  I’d love to say that I have a perfect record of picking strong, senior level resources, but no one’s perfect. (This story is a combination of a few similar situations over the last 27 years).   Here’s the difference though, my client didn’t tell us to pull the consultant.  They didn’t see the problems that we did.    We told them we needed to act.  We explained the reasons we were failing and how we would fix it.  I was reminded of the most important lesson from what happened next.   The client’s reaction? Gratitude and surprise.   They shared that they might have seen some of this but they overlooked some issues.  I even received a call from a client executive thanking me for the way that we handled the situation.  The executive said that in all their years, no other consulting firm had proactively taken action and pulled their own resource.  They’ve always waited to be told to remove someone. Once again proving to me that accountability is one of our most important differentiators.

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And therein lies my issue.  When did accountability become such an extraordinary expectation?   Or maybe the expectation is being met but the expectations are too low. Everyone seems to use the term responsible in place of the term accountable. I believe that is an error that sets up a series of unfortunate consequences.  Why?  In my 25+ years of work experience, I have only met a handful of people that weren’t responsible.  (I’ve dealt with a few con artists unfortunately).  For the most part, people want to do the right thing and will put forth the effort to meet expectations. The number of people I have met who take accountability for their actions and their work has been far fewer but much more important to an organization’s success.

From frivolous lawsuits to finger pointing to blaming our woes on another group of individuals…why is it so difficult to take ownership for our own decisions?  If you screw up at work, don’t point the finger at someone else! I’m always amazed at the strength of an apology.  I learned a long time ago that problems don’t fester when someone apologizes.  I think it’s because no one expects an apology so they prepare for a fight and then are thrown off when they get an apology instead.  An apology often helps people move on so that I can focus on how to correct the problem rather than spend time discussing the past.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t make it a practice of accepting other people’s mistakes but it does come in handy when I want people to focus on fixing something rather than being stuck on figuring out who can be blamed.

Studies show that when we set higher expectations and give our children opportunity and support, they will rise to meet those expectations.  Shouldn’t CXOs be setting higher expectations for their employees?   Shouldn’t we all be setting higher expectations for ourselves?   Until that happens, I will be happy to uphold accountability as one of our company differentiators.

 

Laura

 

 

 

A fish out of water. Well, a sea urchin, actually. Well, ME, actually

I just came back from a vacation with my daughter to Japan. It was her graduation present. She graduated 2 years ago but better late than never. It took me that long to stop nixing all of her choices. We finally agreed on Japan. Fast forward, even though I had set low expectations, I had a great adventure.

My favorite experience was when we walked into a restaurant in Kyoto thinking it was a different one. It was nondescript.  It was a tiny sushi restaurant with just a counter and 3 patrons. When we walked in, the kindly looking older sushi chef and his assistant had a look of fear on their face. We were about to turn around when the nice couple from Seattle sitting at the counter stopped us.  They explained that the chef’s fear was that they didn’t speak a word of English and it had taken them 20 minutes to decipher how their restaurant worked.  My daughter was all gung-ho to stay.  Not so much me.

Kid_Eating_Double

Full disclosure….I eat like a kid. Sushi has never been my thing.  I’ve gotten away with this as an adult so far.  Yet, I saw that I was about to be called out.  The couple said this restaurant came highly recommended by a friend. I was being triple dog dared.  My daughter talked me into staying (ok, belittled me into staying).  It didn’t end there.  My daughter enthusiastically shared my lack of adventure in eating with the Seattle couple so they decided to stay and watch me eat. (No pressure)

Long story short, I ate the chef’s choice (minus the sea urchin which no one on earth should have to eat that)… (if I offended any sea urchin lovers please forgive). It was an adventure and I am still standing. It wasn’t the best meal of my life but it was well done and beautifully prepared. So let me get to the other half of my story.

While I was freaking out about the sushi, it was obvious that the chef and his assistant were freaked out about us.  The restaurant didn’t have much signage and I’m guessing that their clientele are mostly locals. The chef was this kind older man. It was obvious that he took care and great pride in his preparation of the sushi.

This was not our first meal in Japan but we pulled out our dictionary at the end of the meal and told him in Japanese that “It was delicious”. OMG… The reaction we received was amazing. Now maybe they lit up because I said something funny but after many words between them, they came out from behind the counter and presented my daughter and I with a gift of two handkerchiefs.  The chef had a huge smile and kept bowing to us (a sign of respect).  He was genuinely thrilled by our compliment.  And here’s the thing….it didn’t take any effort. It was easy.  We gave him a genuine compliment given the love and care he put into preparing our meal.   3 words turned a concerned face into one of joy. So much that he followed us out of the restaurant and we continued to bow to each other.  A small moment made that meal one of the more special moments of our trip.

Gratitude changes everything

There are times I realize that I neglect to properly acknowledge the work that people around me do. I say thank you but don’t go beyond.

So this little lesson about a Japanese sushi chef, reminded me of the power of words. Most people are so busy that they forget to thank someone for putting in a little extra effort. It’s a simple lesson that we should all remember now and again. So reach out today to someone you work with or works for you and find something nice to say.  Make sure it’s genuine.  Look for those things that you always assume will get done since “that’s their thing.”   Those kind words will go a long way.

Laura

P.S. Thanks for reading this!

 

 

The Role Culture Plays When Managing Global Projects

Occasionally I will be hosting guests to post articles in this little corner of mine.  I’ve invited one of our very own from Peritius, Ricardo Viti, to share his thought on managing global projects and cultural differences. Welcome Ricardo!

Thanks.
Laura

A friend of mine, an Argentine woman living in France, shared with me something that happened to her in a business meeting. She was introduced to a couple of German meeting attendees. To greet them she kissed them on the cheek; this is a common practice in Argentina. The expressions on the poor guys’ faces were ones of disgust, surprise and horror.  I remember thinking that was not a correct move on her part, even if their reactions were a little exaggerated.  And although I have many years of experience working on multi-cultural, global projects to leverage, even I can be taken aback on occasion.  As a matter of fact, only one month later I was attending a business meeting in Buenos Aires and one the male attendees that I had met a couple of times before, greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.  It shocked me… and I was born in Argentina!

International business man travel with trolley, global business concept

So, I guess we all have things to learn… Below are the aspects of managing global projects that may be more understated, but nevertheless are key to the successful management of outcomes when working on global projects:

  1. Establish relationships. Yes, establishing strong relationships are always important when managing any kind of project, but it is even more important when working with Latin cultures. They are more relationship oriented and you will be rewarded by spending time attending to that orientation and developing a strong bond with your team members/stakeholders. If you are able to create that type of working relationship, you will be repaid with loyalty. This will help to ensure a quick response during a crisis and the determination to do whatever it takes to deliver.
  2. ‘Second class citizen’ syndrome. You will no doubt be working for the corporate headquarters and often priorities/compromise/objectives are acted upon based on the size of the local office. Always show respect for their demands and follow up on their requests, they will respond to you in the same manner.
  3. Face to Face meetings. Although they can be expensive, they can in the end reduce costs and avoid conflicts. In one of my recent global projects I met a very demanding executive. He was not collaborative and his attitude was passed down to his employees. I traveled to his office, met with him, discussed the issues and… just as important… I socialized with him. From that moment on things changed! The project began to progress and flourish in a more active and positive environment. There was one small sacrifice though… I had to eat a maguey maggot (a nutritious delicacy in Mexican cuisine) to win him over.

To summarize, do not take for granted that people from other countries/cultures will react to a situation the same way that you would. No matter how broad your experience. Understand that with different cultures come different understandings.  What may seem innocent to you may result in discomfort for the other individual, but sometimes it can be far more serious.  Do your homework.  The best rule of thumb is to observe and remain respectful.

Ricardo

 

The Brady bunch of Strategic Execution: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

I often feel like Peritius is the Jan Brady of the business world:

  • Highly ignored,
  • always getting blamed when something goes wrong,
  • not glamorous and
  • getting the “left over” attention.

Peritius works on the execution side of strategy. We take the pretty, highly coifed strategy and we drive out the desired results.  I know that sounds like I’m whining but…. I’m JAN.

Marcia is strategy.  Sexy, smart and people are always throwing attention (in business…money) at her. If you are a successful strategy consulting company (you know who I’m talking about), money flows at your feet to help organizations define their strategic vision.  Money is no object.  Don’t forget…Marcia is sexy. Everyone wants to be Marcia.  She’s exciting.

MarciaMarcia_Large

In Jan’s world, she is often overlooked. Jan is dull.  Just a necessary evil in drafting up that wonderful Marcia strategy.  A cog in the wheel.  In other words, “Jans” are considered a dime a dozen.  Who cares about Jan? Jan’s role plays a far second to Marcia.  If Jan doesn’t get the attention she needs and  people don’t understand her role in the whole scheme of things, it usually translates to a poor implementation of the strategy.

Without an effective implementation of the strategic plan that your company spent so much money on, it becomes a futile exercise. Seen that too often.  Millions of dollars spent and results that never got companies where they expected.

Yet, here is the newest rub. Some of the Tier One strategic consultancies are now getting more involved in execution.  Marcia sees that to grow, she needs to branch out into Jan’s space. (See what I’m saying???)

But these are two different skill sets that aren’t easily translated. Strategy has the attention of executive management.  This  small group spends millions and freely gives the consultants the latitude to do their thing.

Implementation is more about working with the lower echelons of the organization.   The Jans.  People skills become much more critical in this world.  You don’t have carte blanche to make things happen because you have the masses that don’t always play along.  Implementation is more about making your way into everyone’s life when they don’t “see” you and finding a way to still get what you need to happen.  We have seen organizations try and play in each other’s space and seldom succeed.  Marcias make things happen by dating the football quarterback.  Jans get things done by pushing harder.

So I’m okay remaining Jan. Look how she came out.  In later years, Jan was a smart business woman and held her own.

They both have their own roles in life and business. Face it.  Where would Marcia be without Jan?  Without both of them in the picture, there would be far fewer good story lines.

Laura

Life Lessons from the Magic Kingdom

I just got back from Disney World with my fiancé. He had never been to Disney in his life and didn’t take his children as they were growing up.  His excuse is that he took them to Space Camp.  I wasn’t buying it.  His punishment….a few days at Disney.  So we packed our bags and bought our Disney tickets (due to the latest increase, we used our retirement IRAs to pay).  Our mission: (which he had no choice but to accept) find anything with the Dopey character on it.  See, I love Dopey.  Though as I’m getting older, I’m starting to have a thing for Grumpy too…but I think that has more to do with my age and the loss of my remaining filters.  But I digress.

I know that most people think that I’m nuts (I prefer “special”) but fairy tales do in fact teach you about life. Being the project manager I am, my perspective is that it teaches you about maneuvering life in the business world.  For instance, fairy tales teach kids (and enlightened adults) about the benefits of diversity.  Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes.  Take the seven dwarves.  Each dwarf is a caricature of the team members you work with.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Take Doc.  Doc was the (self-appointed) leader of the group.  Think project manager/department manager.  He/she doesn’t always have the right answers, often has to deal with some aberrant behavior but uses leadership skills to take control when the going gets tough.

Bashful.  This is your introvert.  This may be a tech resource that would rather be working on the computer than working with the people in the room.  They know what they are supposed to do but don’t like to be in the spotlight.  They don’t like when you ask questions or put them on the spot.  They prefer to be a wallflower.

Grumpy.  We often call them the Doubting Thomas on the team. Grumpy is the first one to grumble about a new project or a change in the organization but when tragedy hits, he/she is still waiting to charge in to help.  Yet, as a whole, the doubting Thomas is too often ignored.  Sort of like the boy who cried wolf.  But if you listen, you may realize that there is some truth to their complaints.  They are often the best risk managers in the organization.

Sneezy.  The sick day team member.  The one whose slack the team has to pick up because Sneezy is (either legitimately or not) out sick.

Sleepy. This one makes me personally nervous.  You know the one.  I look over during a meeting and find Sleepy asleep.  Not fully engaged, Sleepy has a hard time keeping up since THEY AREN’T CONSCIOUS!!

Happy. The team member everyone wishes for.  No matter what the task or the workload, they always have a smile on their face.  The Zen Masters of the team.

Dopey. Dopey tries hard and is always positive.  Dopey has the right attitude so may be the best team member to mentor.  When given Grumpy, who may be smart but have a lousy attitude or Dopey that may not be as smart but has a desire to learn, I’ll take Dopey every time.  Not sure that my fiancé likes that fact too much.

sevendwarves

As diverse as the dwarves were in their thinking and their personality, they worked together as a team. Each dwarf added something to the total household and they came together in the mines and in their rescue of their houseguest.  Face it.    Where would Snow White be without them?

So, I think I’m going to make an annual trek to Disney going forward. It is amazing the type of insight fairy tales can bring to real life.  (Plus, I am still looking for that perfect Dopey t-shirt.)

Laura

Having It All

There are times that I feel old.  I know, I know…you are as young as you feel, yet there are times that my age is thrown in my face…like when peasant shirts and bell bottoms are back in style again.

And the whole discussion of Women’s rights.  I just finished reading one more story about Women’s Rights and the need to be Superwoman.  It is interesting to me since I have two daughters that are launched and at the beginning of their careers.  They have both started out recently, and I started to think about what they have to go through as they progress in their career.

arnoldwomanOrig

When I started out, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing and I proudly wore that trademark.  I was a bona fide women’s libber.  I admit it. Even when it was considered a bad thing to be a women’s libber.  I was not going to let any person tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted.  I dressed like a man (even had those ties that women used to wear that “supposedly” looked cute); I had aspirations like my male counterparts, and I started my career in a male dominated industry (IT).  I ignored obstacles and kept pushing.  Later in my career, I made a life choice and decided to open my own consulting practice when I got pregnant the first time.  That was 25 years ago.

The other day I read article on the age old question, “Can women have it all?”  I have to say that I got a little melancholy when I read it.  The topic of women in the workforce doesn’t seem like it’s progressed much.  The young women of today are claiming that their issues aren’t the same as the previous generation, yet the article seemed like same topic….different spin.

There is still the ever present problem around gender pay equity. Women still get paid less than men for the same job.  Women have been fighting that fight for 40+ years.  Women are still trying to move up the corporate ladder and not get derailed when they choose to have children.    And the most painful topic is about women having it all.  I would hope that this topic would have been resolved by now.   I would love to see this generation figure it out once and for all.

Back when I decided to have children, I was forced to address it. I lived in a bedroom community where the majority of households consisted of stay-at-home Moms.  So when I got pregnant, I decided to leave my job at Microsoft to get off of the road.  When I had my first daughter, I started a consulting practice, and once my second daughter started school full-time, I took the opportunity to work on growing my business.

It was hard.  I felt guilty on a regular basis.  If I didn’t feel guilt on my own, my girls would innocently pile on the guilt when they wrapped their arms around me when I left.  I had a few friends that worked but we were not the majority.  Therefore, I didn’t have the working Mom network that I think is much more prevalent for the women in this generation.

Yet, I learned early on that I was not as “put together” when I wasn’t working.  I was a better Mom for my children working than I would have been as a stay at home Mom. Work was important to me and made me a happier person.   So I decided that I had to figure out what was most important to me and stick with the highest priority items.

I kept my office out of the home so I could still be around for my daughters as often as possible.  I made time and volunteered to be room parent every year for both kids as they grew up.  I took them out to children’s plays, playgrounds and museums every weekend.  And I avoided women networking events.  Back when I started, it seemed like all of the women networking events focused on how to figure out work/life balance.   I figured that with my limited time, I was better able to balance my life if I stayed at home with my kids in the evenings.

Fast forward today, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Both of my daughters are wonderful, smart, beautiful young women making their own way in the world and I couldn’t be prouder.  I believe I “had it all.”

So, after reading that article, I realized that this never-ending topic of women “having it all” is missing the point.  I believe I did have it all and I’m not superwoman.  The real question that we should be asking is….what is your definition of ALL? What does it mean to you personally?  Not every man ends up as CEO and neither will every woman.   I felt that I had it all because I defined “all” at the beginning.  I wanted to have children and be there for them but I also wanted to continue working.  Staying in a corporate role wasn’t right for me since I was a little more of a renegade.  By starting my own business, I was able to manage my own time.  Once the kids became school age, I focused on growing my business.  I still wanted to be a room parent so I made time.  By making time, my business didn’t grow quickly.  That was okay for me at the time.  It gave me a chance to better fine tune the company and myself as a leader as well as fine tune my skills as a parent.

Be aware that I made compromises (on both accounts).  My “all” did not include housecleaning, cooking and I never did learn how to sew from my Mom.  I had to prioritize and those things weren’t high on my list.  I had someone there to help with my children, which makes me more fortunate than many, but I also gave up other things so that someone could in fact be there for them.  I didn’t do “all” by the textbook definition.

Did I miss out?  Maybe… When my oldest daughter first came back home after going away to college, I was so excited, I told her that I would make her a home cooked meal….anything she wanted.  Her response was, “It’s not as if you cooked enough for me to have a favorite.”  I will not deny that her comment cut me hard.  In fact, I still find that I am pulling out the blade years later.  But in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t part of my “all.”  My children didn’t starve, they both have a healthy work ethic and I know that they can do anything they set their mind on and they will always be able to take care of themselves.    To me…that’s having it all!

Let’s stop agonizing over theory and start being practical.   Men don’t have it all and neither will women.  You make compromises in your life and you live with them.  If it is important enough, find a way!  If it’s not that important, let it go!  I could never have stayed on my path in corporate America and had my all.  So I came up with a different plan.  Let’s change the conversation and start talking about having MY ALL.   Whether your ALL is to stay home and take care of children full time, or skip having children and have the career you want or trying to mix the two, define what it looks like to you.  Then stop beating yourself up over not having it all!  It’s ALL relative.

Laura