Unity

Unity to our forefathers was not just a trendy concept or a political ploy, it was a concept and a reality upon which a great nation would be formed and sustained.  They knew that united we would withstand great forces, but if divided we would succumb to the desires and control of others.  When, therefore, we began as “United Colonies” and in 1776 became the “United States of America,” a purpose existed behind the name of our nation.  At that time in history we stood together as a nation – united; as communities – united; as families – united; and within our faiths – united.  It was almost as if we were united by nature.

What, however has become of our “united” nature?  Our nation, our communities, our families, our faiths no longer exist in a state of “unitedness.”  This lack of being united affects our businesses as well.  We know unity still exists at some level because we see it in times of peril.  We saw our nation unite on 911.  We see our nation unite during each disaster such as Katrina and Sandy.  We see our family unite when a loved one is lost.  We see our community unite when tragedy close to home occurs.  We even see a rise in unity in our businesses when tough times arise.

But why does it take peril to force the unity?  Why are we not united every day – united in our nation, in our community, in our family, in our faith, and in our businesses?  Why have we traversed so far down this path to individualism, sometimes forgetting that there is a greater good and a purpose in life beyond that of keeping up with the Jones?

Our hypothesis is that we have all become too focused on “me” and quite frankly, too selfish; even that we may not remember on a daily basis the sacrifices of our past and current military who ensure we continue to enjoy our rights and freedoms.  We all have our reasons – our demons, our heartbreak, our doubt, our rejections, our fears, our perceptions, and our jealousies.  So what do we do to overcome and strive to become united every day – united in our nation, our community, our family, our faith, and our businesses?

First, we recognize that division tears apart what has been built and what we should be trying to sustain and grow; therefore perpetuation cannot occur.  Bickering, rivalries, and jealousy all lead to division.  Division prevents unity.  Without unity, we cannot progress; therefore we cannot be successful.

Second, we recognize that we all share a common purpose. As a nation, our common purpose is to protect our rights and freedoms; as a community, it is to stand together and help our neighbors; as a family, it is to support and care for each other, and to teach and guide our children; as our faith, it is to follow and live by its guidance; as our businesses, it is to care for our employees, and provide quality services and products to our customers.  Each common purpose also includes perpetuation – perpetuation of our nation, our community, our family, our faith, and our businesses.

Third, we take action – some of us may lead, and some may follow when taking action.  When we take action it should be in the direction of building and sustaining unity.  We may not always agree on the action to take or the path of which the action is being taken, but we must stand together and take action.  We may not always understand why the path laid for us has been so, but we must trust and unite together to accomplish the path.  Trusting, leading, following – just taking action – can be unnerving for some, comforting for others.  But when we choose our leaders wisely, trusting and following diligently throughout all actions is less unnerving.

 

Where do we go from here?

We remember that it is everyone’s responsibility to work towards unity.  As citizens, community members, family members, faith members, employees, and owners – we all have a shared responsibility to each other; and we must work together to be successful.  We cannot always choose our fellow citizens or our family members, but we can choose our leaders, neighborhoods, our employees, and our places of work.  Choose carefully – make sure a fit occurs from everyone’s perspective.  And don’t forget, with unity comes success; with division comes failure.  Unite, take action, and become successful.

 

© 2014 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

Slow Down

“We must have this out today,” “we gave this to you yesterday – why isn’t it done yet,” “we don’t have time to wait,” “we need to you to pick up a few more tasks”…  Rush, rush, rush – seems like all we do these days.  We are all connected 24/7 and most of us feel the need to maintain that connection – never powering down.  When we live and work like this, it takes a negative toll on our family, our life, our job, and our business.  As one who is very guilty of living and working non-stop, and pushing myself and others all the time, I often wondered “are we missing something by going so fast all of the time?”

The answer of course is “Yes, we are missing something.”  That something varies from business to business, and person to person.  Looking back, for our businesses, while we were working a steady 70-80 hours a week each a couple of years ago, we missed submission of a few very important documents that we didn’t learn about until too late.  Last year, we were so busy, we missed that we weren’t making any profit in one of our divisions.  This year we thought we were being smart trying to add a few extra tasks onto ourselves while keeping up with everything else we were doing – that didn’t work out so well either as we became spread too thin.  And those are just a few of the business things we missed.

From experience working with other organizations (both public and private), as well as our own experiences operating our businesses, we hypothesize that this is a common phenomenon.  We all get used to going so fast and taking on more and more, that we don’t even know what we are missing.  When we miss things, we cause a negative impact on our business, our employees, our lives, and our families – it’s all connected.  Also, we aren’t just “missing” things – we are not taking time to do the little things that keep our good employees loyal and motivated, keep our customers associated and engaged, and that keep our families connected.

So, what do we do?  We all need to make a living, run our businesses and build our businesses; and we can’t always afford to go out and hire ten more people to help out.  Here are a few things we are doing this year – we’ll let everyone know how they work:

  1. Put the phone down! We took out our Facebook… time and replaced it with family time and business development time.
  2. Don’t talk about it, do it.  Sometimes we find ourselves saying 10 times “we really need to….” instead of just taking action and doing what we know needs to be done.
  3. Finish what we start.  This one’s hard because it can involve not only personal time management, but the time management of others and factors over which we may have no control.  However, it is very inefficient to start and stop a task, so we are focusing on finishing what we start in a timely manner.
  4. Focus on what we can control.  This one is really hard as most of us who are business owners are control freaks, but we do know that it does us no good to fret over what we can’t control.  We need to figure out how to work with it or around it so we can keep moving forward.
  5. Close the door for some quiet time – sometimes we cannot close our door.  Other versions of this are possible – e.g., I started getting up and going in 30 minutes earlier three days a week so I can walk the job site and work a little before meetings start.
  6. Organize documents – email, computer files, paper files…  We found we were spending too much time looking for documents which was wasteful and frustrating.  Not to mention, we lost things because we put them in a “safe” place, and then could not find them again.
  7. Take a walk.  We need to be both mentally and physically healthy.  Exercise is shown to help in both areas – so we are making sure we take a walk.
  8. Spend more family time.  When we are happy, we are more productive.  When our family is happy, we are more productive.
  9. Hire someone.  We found that we were performing routine tasks that could be done by others saving us time, and allowing us to spend more time on billable functions.
  10. Streamline business and life – We are going through what we do and identifying what we can take off of our list.  We are taking off those things that aren’t critical for our business to succeed; and those things that aren’t necessary for our life/family to succeed.
  11. Don’t always volunteer – we are letting others have a turn.
  12. Don’t go to every event – we are picking and choosing.  And if we have to bring a dish, we don’t always cook something now – we just stop at the store and buy something!

Where do we go from here?

Our goals are to run an efficient and effective business to provide a quality service, to provide a good living for our family; and to enjoy ourselves and our family while doing so.  With that said, we, like many others need to slow down a little.  We need to find and maintain balance.  We have committed to take steps above to do just that this year.

© 2014 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

The Dangers of “I”

Human behavior is one of the most enthralling facets to observe, study, comprehend… in organizations. Observation of human behavior has lead us to the perception that although many organizations are strong in developing and maintaining technical skill sets, they struggle with understanding and addressing human behavior.  And not only struggle, but at times dismiss or reduce its value and impact on the organization.  It has also been observed that some organizations are faced with a particular behavior that causes significant impact both internally and externally – what we will call the “I” syndrome for our discussion today.

Past research and our mental models drive us toward the perceived need for teamwork in an organization and the demonstration of “we” behaviors and “we” speak.  Even with all of the efforts expended by organizations to produce “we” cultures, there are some individuals who see themselves as the “I” of the organization.  It is our hypothesis that the “I” syndrome leads to degradation of the stability or the organization.  When we say degradation, we mean the following:

The “I” syndrome can lead to:

  • Reduced loyalty by those who interact with the “I” possibly leading to turnover
  • Reduced communication with the “I” possibly leading to missed opportunities and rework
  • Reduced team work possibly leading to reduced participation, idea generation, and impact; and poor results
  • Increased frustration with the “I” by the internal customer, employee or co-worker possibly leading to refusal to work together and breakdown of teams
  • Increased frustration with the “I” by the external customers possibly leading to lost sales and refusal to work together
  • Decreased trust in the “I” possibly leading to rework and refusal to work together
  • Passover of the “I” for promotions and job enhancement opportunities possibly leading to missed growth opportunities and turnover
  • Credit taken where credit is not due possibly leading to misdirection of efforts/reward; and all bullets above

While we need to understand the potential impact of the “I” syndrome, we also need to understand what the “I” may be feeling/perceiving and what is driving this behavior?  Is the driver related to the actions of the organization or someone/some group, or related to an internal driver?  Let’s think about the possibilities for a minute.  The “I” might think or feel/perceive:

  • No one respects me
  • Someone is trying to take my job/credit for my work
  • I need to be recognized
  • I’m the leader
  • They can’t do it without me
  • I carry everyone
  • I’m the boss
  • This is my company
  • I’m the only one here who cares
  • I’m the only one here who does anything or knows how to do anything
  • I’m going to make myself look good no matter how my company looks
  • I need to showcase to ensure I have career security
  • I’ll show them
  • I’m proud
  • They work for me, so essentially, I did the work, so I’ll take credit for the work

What the “I” person is feeling/perceiving is a factor that should be considered in the determination of the root cause and the approach to address and remove the behavior.  Our premise is that no matter what the “I” person is feeling/perceiving, a need exists to thoroughly investigate to identify the driver of the behavior to ensure the “I” syndrome does not lead to degradation of the organization and become a systemic issue.

Our recommendation is it that is best to not assume that this is just that person’s personality, and to not assume this is an isolated incident that will have no impact beyond that person and ourselves at this point in time.  We recommend identifying the root cause(s) of the behavior by investigating both quantitative and qualitative data – asking questions to identify the what, when, where, how, why, who; while maintaining sensitivity.  We also recommend creating an action plan once identification of the root cause(s) has occurred.  An action plan should at least include the following components: conversation/discussion with everyone involved in the situation; revision/creation of new procedures, processes, and/or systems if necessary; reinforcement of desired behavior; evaluation; and assignment of consequences applicable to those involved for cases of non-alignment by employees; and documentation.

Addressing such a behavioral issue is sometimes difficult, but we’ve seen (with much diligence and wiliness of the “I” to improve) abolishment of the “I” syndrome.  We’ve also seen plans fail mainly due to poor approach by leadership,  improper identification of the root cause, lack of desire to work together to improve from the “I,” or lack of desire of other employees to accept the changed behavior of the “I.”  Remember, Lewin said we need to “unfreeze, change, and re-freeze.”  In these situations, the leadership, the “I” employee, and the co-workers/team members all need to participate in the behavioral change effort and contribute to the “unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.”

Where do we go from here?

We understand the impact of the “I” syndrome to our organization’s success. We keep an eye out for the “I” syndrome, and we recognize the importance of removing this behavior immediately.  We develop a plan to address the cause(s) of the behavior, and to evaluate the impact of our actions.

© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

Customer Conundrums

Day in and day out every business – large or small – ponders how to improve their customer service and customer relations.  Successful businesses are efficacious at maintaining customer service and relations.  They understand that their window to sell and promote their goods and services in the present, and in the future, depends on the service they provide to their customers and the relationships they build with their customers.  There are two pieces to customer service and customer relations however – one is the external customer; the second is the internal customer.  There is a significant body of research and practical applications on external customers; but not as much on internal customers.  My hypothesis is that businesses will not reach their full potential without focusing on internal customer service and customer relations; in additional to their focus on the external customer.

 

What is an “internal customer?”

An internal customer is any person/group/team/division who is the recipient of another person/group/team/division’s work product and/or service.  For example, in a manufacturing organization, the packing department is an internal customer of the process department who processes the product to be packed; in a financial institution, the customer service manager is an internal customer of the human resource department who hires the employees of the customer service manager; in a hospital, the billing department is an internal customer of the physician who documents the orders from which the billing department must code and invoice…

 

How do we focus our efforts on our “internal customer?”

To begin, we must identify all of our relationships within our organization where one person/group/team/division provides a product or service to another (all of our internally dependent relationships).  This will identify our internal customers and the internal service/product providers.  Once we have identified these relationships, we must develop an understanding of these.  We need to ask questions to identify the challenges, needs and values of each group – the internal customers and internal service/product providers.  Next, we need to work to resolve the challenges, and align the needs and values of each.  We need to stop along the way and evaluate our work to ensure we are staying the course.  We should regroup if needed and then go back to our task at hand.  Along the way, we need to ensure those involved understand the relationship between an internal service/product provider and internal customer.  We also need to ensure that their values align with our organization’s values.  All of the paths need to lead in the same direction.

 

What are the dangers of not focusing on our “internal customers?”

Businesses who do not focus on their internal customer service and internal customer relations experience:

  • Rework
  • Frustration
  • Disengagement by internal service/product provider and internal customer
  • Turnover by internal service/product provider and internal customer
  • Missed opportunities
  • Increased risk
  • Reduced efficiency
  • Reduced effectiveness
  • Increased expenses
  • Reduced profit

 

What are the benefits of focusing on our “internal customers?”

Businesses who focus on their internal customer service and internal customer relations experience:

  • Engagement
  • Teamwork
  • Recognized opportunities for improvement
  • Ability to implement improvements
  • Job satisfaction for internal service/product provider and internal customer
  • Better resource planning and resource allocation
  • Increased effectiveness
  • Increased efficiency
  • Focus on the big picture
  • Reduced turnover
  • Better time management
  • Improved cooperation
  • Improved communication
  • Healthy negotiation

 

Where do we go from here?

We need to recognize that our internal customers are just as valuable (if not more valuable) than our external customers.  If our internal needs and values are not aligned and met, we will not be able to service/provide for our external customers to our full potential.  We need to work to identify and understand the challenges, needs and values of our internal customers and internal service/product providers.  We then need to remove the challenges, and develop and implement strategies to align values, and meet needs to improve both internal customer service and internal customer relations.

 

© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

Shoulder Up

People watching is one of my favorite activities whether sitting in the airport, walking through the store, participating in a meeting, or walking a job site.  There is just so much to observe and wonder about – not to mention, to try to make sense of.  For example, what does that person do for a living, how did he or she end up in that position, why does he walk so slow, why does she walk so fast, where are they going, where are they coming from, do they have a full length mirror, …?

Through observation, some commonalities arise including: selection of approach; tone of voice; hand motions/gestures; complexity of verbal skills/selection of terminology; posture while seated, standing and walking; and selection of attire.  All of which give rise to questions regarding the presence of a correlation between others’ perception of how a person carries and present’s themselves, and their success at work and in life.  I would assume that if I’m noticing these attributes of individuals, others must be too.

This isn’t just what our parents taught us – don’t judge a book by its cover; or what HR taught us in interviewing courses – don’t make judgments based on appearance or select people who we think are like us.  This is more than appearance.  This is everything about how a person carries and presents him or herself.  The question is, do people ever think about how they carry and present themselves, and how other’s perceive how they carry and present themselves?  Should anyone think about this?  Does it matter?

My perception is that it does matter, and we should think about this.  My hypothesis is that there is a correlation.  Why, you ask?  Several past experiences come to mind:

  • While walking many construction job sites, I have yet to find a successful supervisor/foreman who slouches or is nonchalant in his/her actions.  He or she is always aware of their surroundings, holding their head high, properly attired, and walking and talking with a purpose.
  • While working on an organizational development project, everyone in the office told me they feared talking one-to-one with the leader – this caused many issues in the company.  After having one-to-one conversations with the leader, I noticed why.  When the leader would ponder a suggestion, a certain “look” came over the leader’s face that was rather intimidating.  After gentle advisement of the presence of the “look,” the leader worked to change the “look.”  Follow-up conversations with employees ensured the leader that the “look” was gone resulting in open and frequent communication.
  • While working with a person in an organizational restructuring event, it was noticed that this person always talked at a level significantly higher than those around.  People did not understand what this person was saying a lot of times and felt belittled.  This caused the employees to lose respect for the leader, disabling the leader’s ability to make progress.  The leader refused to adjust their presentation, and eventually moved on to a more fitting workplace.
  • While working in a manufacturing plant, a young and attractive engineer would walk through with tight jeans and low cut shirts (left over college clothing).  The operators perceived the young lady in an inappropriate manner, and would not take her serious.  After advisement, she changed her attire to khakis and a nice polo top.  This led to a change in the perception of her by the operators, and was later followed with the completion of many successful projects.

Each of these examples illustrate the point at hand – other’s perception of how a person carries and presents him/herself impacts that person’s success. Successful people walk and/or talk with a purpose and with meaning; they stand and sit up straight (they are aware of their body language).  Successful people pay attention to their actions and their words, and understand the impact of their actions and words.  Successful people are constantly aware of their presence, and consider how others perceive their presentation of themselves.

Where do we go from here?

Recognize that others are processing everything about how you carry and present yourself.  Check yourself.  Pay attention to not just what you say, but how you say it from both the actual selection of words and the body language/non-verbal cues used.  Pay attention to your approach – stop and think a minute about what approach is best in what situation (remember that one approach will not likely work with every situation). Observe others and learn what not to do in certain situations.  Pay attention to how you dress – always dress the part.  Walk with a purpose, talk with a purpose and keep those shoulders up.

 

© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

Experience + Education = Success

As we all go through life, we learn many lessons that we apply to our life.  One lesson I have learned is the necessity to have both experience and education to be successful (i.e., to produce results).  My journey has been quite arduous in that it has taken many paths including experience in large and small private and public companies, and many levels of government – at times as a consultant and other times as an employee; teaching from junior high school through PhD programs; and education from undergraduate through PhD.  Along the way, evidence mounted that having just experience or education was not enough – both were needed to be successful – whether as an employee, a leader, or in the makeup of a team.

In today’s world, having observed or participated in an event is not enough.  One must also have participated in some type of educational process by which an understanding of the “why” was gained.  That is, performing a task is not enough – it is necessary to know why the task has to be performed that way, the impact of doing so and not doing so; and having the ability to think about different ways to improve task performance including understanding the big picture impact of making the improvement.  Education does not necessarily need to be formal college education – it can be training, mentoring, coaching… and, it can occur in a formal, technical, or workplace learning environment.  However and wherever it occurs is a moot point for this discussion – what is relevant is that it must be applicable and must occur.

The proposed model for this concept is: Experience + Education = Success, or E + E = S.    For the model, experience is defined as “the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation;” education as “the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process;” and success (desired results) as “favorable or desired outcome” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/).  The concept is that E ≠ S; only E + E = S. As statisticians and researcher’s know, this relationship might be a mediated relationship, and technically we would need to do some testing to determine which E should be placed first, or if we should say E * E = S; or even what contribution does each bring (e.g., 1E + 2E = S….).  We can have those discussions later; for now, let’s just focus on the original concept – the need for both.

Within this model one person does not need to possess (and likely will not possess) all of the experience and education to be successful in all situations.  A team of people can make up the necessary combination of these two variables.  For example, during a recent work assignment, the COO and I realized that if we teamed up – with the COO’s operations experience and my knowledge of organizational behavior and process improvement / management – we could increase the success of the company.  Team up we did – we learned a tremendous amount, instituted new systems, reorganized, and implemented process improvements that resulted in streamlined processes, reduced overhead, and increased sales revenue; thereby helping the company increase success.  Individuals can possess the necessary combination of these variables as well.  For example, while working with an individual with both experience and education in the area of sales, it was evident that possessing both variables assisted in revitalizing the sales team, driving change in the team, improving customer relationships, and increasing sales; therefore being successful.  It was the combination of experience and education in each situation that brought about success.

When a person or team has education without experience, success is not achieved to the level desired; i.e., results are not achieved as efficiently and effectively as if both were present.  Things are missed because there is a theoretical perspective applied without understanding of the impact of the actions and difficulty of execution.  Misdirection is caused – sometimes without even realizing it is being caused.  Unrealistic expectations are created.  Rework is caused.  Results are diminished.  Success is reduced if not removed.  For example: a few years back, I observed a new engineer at a company.  This person came to the company after have a successful academic career – graduating at the top of the class.  This person was placed on a project team in a leader role and caused utter chaos due to a grave lack of experience in the work world.  The chaos ranged from implementing new processes without understanding the operational, logistical and financial impact; to ordering staffing changes to the team without understanding the balance that had been created by the out-going engineer.  No results, lots of rework, no success.

When a person or team has experience without education, success is not achieved to the level desired, and results are not achieved as efficiently and effectively as if both were present.  A prevalent lack of “why” exists, as well as the lack of impact from an organizational and human behavioral side; and lack of impact from a big picture perspective – i.e., impact on other departments, business units…  A reduction in creativity and thinking outside the box occurs.  Process improvement opportunities are reduced or missed all together.  For example: a little while back I worked with an organization where everyone had lots of experience – many years in the same jobs.  There was a phenomena that began occurring periodically causing a negative impact on productivity.  The organization when into “react” or “firefighting” mode.  Researching the occurrences, and applying statistical and analytical knowledge allowed the root cause to be identified.  A new process was then developed to level the work load, and alerts were put into place to ready the staff in the case the phenomena re-occurred at a later time.  Without having the knowledge of statistical and analytical techniques (and being so task driven), the staff were not able to produce the results desired.

Where do we go from here?

Recognize that Experience + Education = Success.  Partner experience and education in your workforce.  When selecting someone for an independent role, ensure he/she has a combination of experience and education.  When building a team, ensure the team has have a combination of experience and education.  At the end of the day being successful (i.e., achieving desired results) happens with a combination of experience and education.

© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta