This is a guest post by TAPE CEO/President Louisa Jaffe.
This is a subject very much on my mind these days since we just lost a long-time employee who succumbed to bone cancer. Three years ago, we lost another long-time employee to another form of cancer. Such events are always devastating in our personal lives with family and friends, but as a business owner, there are other considerations.
To begin with, it is important to realize that there is a reason we offer HR benefits. Often among those are not only health care but also short-term and/or long-term disability, as well as life insurance. No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios in life but it is important for business owners to consider the impact of these benefits (or the lack of them) on the company and to the individual employee’s wellbeing should they need to use them.
Part of our responsibility as executives is to make sure that the pieces are in place to offer the best support possible within our planning constraints so that the professionals on the vendor side will be ready to step in and offer specific help to our employees and their families when the need arises. That way, as managers, we will not have to figure everything out at a time that likely we may be emotionally compromised ourselves.
Just as with the passing of a loved one in our private lives, the news that an employee has died, even if after a long illness, can feel shocking and unexpected. If we can be prepared as suggested above, then we can give in to the grieving process and deal with just that aspect of such a situation. And the “feelings” part of the whole thing is what this blog post is really all about. There are very important leadership actions that can greatly help your entire company if you set the example from the beginning.
My suggestion to executives is to prepare yourselves mentally in several ways. I am drawing on my military experience where the Service does things very well in terms of “taking care of their own.” If an employee becomes ill, we stay in touch with them personally to the extent we can. If possible, visit them and their families in the hospital or even at home, if the family welcomes it.
Going through an illness and death can be very lonely and alienating for an employee and their families. We go visit them, call them, and stay in touch with our personal support. It is both the least and the best that we can do. We can handwrite get well and sympathy cards with our own heartfelt and authentic sentiments.
Most importantly, when the person passes away, be sure to notify your entire company and subcontractors, where appropriate. Put out a message of farewell to the company, adding some interesting facts about the deceased for those who may be on a different project or live in a different place and do not know the employee. Announce the details of family plans, when known. We can attend memorial services and burials in person wherever feasible. It is the most powerful sign of respect for both the employee and the family to stand with them at the very difficult time of these “good-bye” ceremonies.
My own parents passed away many years ago. I well remember how much it helped my sorrow – how much it meant to me – that people came to both of their funerals and told me what my parents had meant to them. Before then, I might have been more inclined not to discuss with someone their loss of a loved one and to stay away from the process as much as possible, thinking I was respecting the mourners’ privacy. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
I have learned to reach out to the suffering people left behind, let them cry, let them reminisce, let them connect in whatever way they need to get through the otherwise saddest experience of their lives. It is a way to reach outside of ourselves to think of the needs of others. It is a way to do service. There are few things more empowering than giving service to those who have served you, in their time of need. When we do these things, we can feel proud to know we have conducted ourselves as leaders.
This post originally appeared on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/06/employee-passes-away/ and was reprinted with permission.
This is a guest post by Louisa Jaffe, CEO/President of TAPE, LLC.
Benjamin Franklin invented bi-focal glasses – do you know why? Because he said he wanted to be able to see his food and his dinner companions without changing glasses. Today I am encouraging you to channel your own inner Benjamin Franklin. That is to say, let your own innovative ideas out of your brain and into your business.
For many years, I have had an idea percolating about a training product and learning methodology. Recently, I asked myself how I could bring it into manifestation and now I am doing just that. It is still in the research and development stage so I will let you know more about it in the future. I only mention it to say do not think as I did for all of those years, “Somebody ought to invent something better.” If you have a better idea about how to do something, act now to create a new process or a new product or at least a new product concept.
The world has never been more starving than it is now for new ways to do things. And with technology, the possibilities are infinitely greater than ever before. America is a great place to manifest innovative thinking. The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the only Federal agency created in the Constitution. It may be tempting to think that the young generations coming up understand technology (and therefore innovation) better than those who have been here longer. But technology is a tool and not inherently innovative by itself.
Innovation requires perspiration
So much information is available to us at the click of a keyboard that sometimes we forget to access our most valuable knowledge base of all, our own imagination. Thomas Edison, the most patented inventor in the history of the US Patent office famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.” Flipping that around, imagination and a good idea are the one percent of genius. We should not tell ourselves that if we have a good idea that probably someone else has it too just because it came to our minds very easily, perhaps effortlessly. No one may have ever thought of our good idea or ideas before.
But don’t forget that 99% of genius is perspiration. That means that we also have to go through the mundane and, at times, difficult part of bringing the good idea into manifestation. That part can seem to stop us – it can be very challenging and, at times, seemingly impossible.
Walt Disney was a pioneer and innovator in the cartoon/film/entertainment industry. The story is that he was virtually penniless and had sunk his family’s fortune into making the first full-length feature cartoon film, Snow White. When released, it became a financial success and launched Disney’s business and his own “fairy tale” of a career, with Snow White becoming the first fantasy character to get her own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the movie winning an Academy Award. If he had given up in despair, deciding success was too elusive, just too difficult and too expensive, then the world would not have the entertainment giant that has made us all smile.
Innovation is up to us
We all have creativity. We all have good ideas. We were willing to put in the perspiration to start and develop our businesses. Let’s not stop there. Let’s look around our world and ask what would make things better and create the way forward? What steps would we have to take, what funds would we have to raise to manifest that idea?
When I was growing up, there was a single frame cartoon in the newspaper called, There Oughta Be a Law! Well if any of us have ever thought, “They ought to do this process a different way,” or “someone should invent something that could do this or that,” we might want to stop and ask ourselves, what exactly it should be that “someone else” should invent. “There ought to be an invention!” could be our new rally cry. We may never become as famous as Thomas Edison but if we can use our creativity to invent even one small new way of doing things, it is a start that could lead to a whole new line of revenue. Nurture that idea. It might become worth a fortune someday.
This post was originally published on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/05/innovation-act-now/and was reprinted with permission.
In 2007, TAPE won an Army support contract that catapulted our growth. It came out of work that our founders had done as employees of a large business, and built on that customer relationship when the Army decided to try a small business solution. After much travail and many late, sleepless nights, we found ourselves the proud winner.
During the transition, many of the same folks that we’d known since the 1980s proved to still be working the job, much expanded. This core group of folks has supported this contract for nearly 30 years, many of them first in uniform as officers, and then as contractors for the various primes and subs. Joel Fleck is one of the key people, who’s been Task Leader, Deputy PM, and now PM/VP of the Training/Optempo Sector. This is a little bit of his story.
How do you keep the perspective and enthusiasm fresh?
First off, the work is important; it has the potential to affect soldiers and units everywhere in all three components – active Army, Reserves, and National Guard. So at the end of most days you go home feeling good about what you did. Second, the people both within the project team and within the Army are so dedicated and appreciative. It is hard not to want to give your best all of the time.
Third, you have to read professional publications to stay abreast of what is going on in the Army and what is the senior leadership trying to do. You need to keep your language up to date, and your empathy fully turned on.
You cannot be a curmudgeon. You can not sound like you came from a different century. You can not become complacent. The longer you are providing them support the more careful you need to be that what you say and do is accurate. You cannot get lazy about fact checking. Credibility is your greatest asset but it is easily lost if you get complacent.
What have you found is the best way to adjust to changes?
Be part of it. Keep an open mind. Try to provide advice and assistance in implementing the change. Being part of it always allows you to lay out the potential challenges and mitigating solutions which helps maintain your relevancy and your credibility.
The focus has to be getting things done right for the Army and always making the client look good. Don’t worry about getting credit.
How do you maintain continuity in your work when new leaders come in at the client, with different leadership styles?
Adjust where you can. Continue providing the best support to those people under the new leader. Continue to build credibility and value. Most of the new leaders got to where they are because they are smart. Once they figure you are an asset, and that you can support and advance their goals, things get better.
Supporting the same client for almost 30 years – inside and outside of uniform – requires several different things: patience, flexibility, honesty, un-abrasiveness, high degrees of accuracy, great co-workers, responsiveness (sometimes 24/7), and assistance to not only the client but those around him.
This is a guest post by Keith Stadler of KSA, LLC.
Note from Bill: In last week’s guest post by June Jewell, we looked at project manager accountability. We’ll continue that theme with this look from Keith Stadler at the importance of accountability – authority and responsibility – across your company.
Straightforward organizational challenges can have well-defined solutions around which general agreements are easily made. But for serious matters, the challenges, let alone solutions, are rarely straightforward.
Problems like this are complex, difficult, mysterious, and sometimes require gut-wrenching choices, if properly addressed. This is where a clear understanding of the authority and responsibility to secure the right outcomes is essential.
Surprisingly enough, in many organizations, the matter of making clear in whom the responsibility and authority lays for tasks, projects, and processes is ambiguous; unstated and left to the imagination of the workforce, including the person who will ultimately be seen as the “responsible party.”
It’s not difficult to visualize the effects and results of this kind of arrangement. A consensus-based dynamic necessarily takes over:
- Outputs are the “lowest common denominator” outcome on which all can agree.
- Co-corkers minimize the impact of collaboration on their office rather than maximizing broader organizational benefits.
- Innovation, creativity, adaptation, critical thinking, and advocacy are discouraged, even punished.
- Outspoken personalities dominate collaboration.
- Everyone has a veto, knows it, and feels empowered to exercise it.
- Projects and processes can and do stop altogether when a single party refuses to act.
- It can be difficult to determine if a decision or outcome was reached at all.
- There are minimal or no sustainment of outcomes.
- People simply refuse to show up for planning sessions and meetings.
- Consensus accommodations are made to work around the personalities involved instead of doing what is best for the organization.
- The status quo usually prevails.
So much harm comes of this kind of gap in an organization, but it’s so simple to avoid. Here are 12 things that leaders at every level can do:
- Explicitly and clearly identify the person responsible and confer on her or him the authority need to complete the task, project, or govern the process.
- Make it known to all the participants and their bosses.
- Put it in writing.
- Empower the collaboration effort with your own clear intent. Tell the leader, his team, and their bosses, what is the purpose, a little about the method of getting there, and what the final product will be in your mind.
- Tell them what it is not.
- Be available for follow-up discussions and interim guidance as work proceeds.
- Ask how it is going.
- Make it evident to all that the person in charge is answerable for the final outcome by engaging them as the group leader.
- Ask how you can help the project leader, then do it.
- Precisely capture any decisions that are needed along the way and act on them.
- Follow up with the project leader to ensure that progress is being made. If not, find out why and help fix it.
- Publicly praise and thank the team and especially its leader. Tell their bosses too.
These things easy to do and will be appreciated by everyone involved. Over time, employees will embrace the company’s approach to authority and responsibility and it will become second nature.
Keith Stadler is the founder of KSA, LLC, a company dedicated to advancing organizational visions and fundamentally transforming how businesses everywhere are run. He has over 40 years of leadership experience in organizations from the very large and established to small technology start ups, and everything in between. Visit www.ksaintergration.com for more information.
This is a guest post by June R. Jewell, CPA.
While most project consulting firms expect their project managers (PMs) to deliver profitable projects, many have not put the appropriate measures in place to ensure that it happens. Accountability at the PM level is often vague and unstructured, which can lead to several different consequences – but not the ones we want!
Part of this issue has to do with the many responsibilities given to PMs, and a lack of true visibility into what they are really doing every day. This leads to PMs being given many tasks and little guidance as to how to be successful.
The other big challenge is measuring results. The majority of firms that we work with are not tracking individual performance, or worse, failing to implement consequences even if it is being measured. This has the unwanted effect of grouping good and poor performers together, and the less desired result of passive aggressive behavior on both the PM’s part and the firm’s leadership.
The following are practices that I often see in many project consulting firms that undermine their ability to achieve profitability goals. If you recognize any of the following issues in your firm, they could be costing you a great deal of money! Lost dollars can be found by ensuring that every project hits target profits. If you see any of these practices in your firm, they need to be addressed as soon as possible:
- PM performance is evaluated in an annual review – The annual review is a dreaded process in many firms. Even with top performers, many employees don’t feel adequately recognized, and feedback is often provided too late to make a difference to performance results. A more frequent process of project review can improve financial results and engage employees more in the process of improving their own performance.
- All PMs are given a raise and/or bonus regardless of performance – With the war for talent gaining intensity these days, many firms are afraid of “calling out” mediocre performance. This has the double negative outcome of dis-incentivizing both top performers who don’t see the benefit of going the extra mile, as well as not giving consequence to poor performers for failure to hit goals. Bonuses and raises need to be tied to financial results in order to impact behavior.
- All of our offices do things their own way – This is a common problem in firms that have remote offices, and especially when there has been an acquisition. Many offices take on their own culture, and create their own new processes – from proposals and estimating, to project budgeting and billing. This has the negative impact of making it difficult for leaders to compare one office to the other, determine what is working and not working, and share best practices between groups. It is critical to a profitable firm to get everyone following best practices and operating the same way.
- We never fire anyone – The combination of a family-oriented firm culture along with difficulty finding technical staff has created an environment where many firms tolerate poor performance. This leads to keeping PMs and staff that are actually hurting the profitability of the firm rather than contributing to it. The message that is being delivered to staff is that mediocre or poor performance is acceptable and the ultimate consequence – being terminated – is not a possibility. Without this consequence, it will be very difficult to change behavior or increase profitability.
- We do not have metrics to measure our PMs – How you report on performance is a big indicator of how employees will perform. Many firms choose to measure profit centers, business units, offices, etc. rather than focus on individual results. Without metrics and financial targets, it is much more difficult to evaluate PM performance, and hold them accountable for results. Looking at project profit margins is the most effective way to compare PM performance and the first step to holding them accountable.
All of these flawed business practices add up to lost dollars. So what is the cost of ignoring or even rewarding mediocre or poor performance? It may be much larger than you imagine. On top of the measurable costs of project overruns, rework and scope creep, consider the intangible costs of frustrated staff, unhappy clients and failure to retain your best PMs. This can add up to thousands and even millions of dollars per year in some cases.
Focusing on and improving your firm’s performance management practices can have a huge impact on all of the key metrics you use to measure the health and results of your firm. Special attention should be given to creating a regular rhythm of feedback, establishing clear measures for individual performance and implementing meaningful consequences for attaining financial targets.
This post was originally published on the AEC Business Solutions blog at http://aecbusiness.com/holding-project-managers-accountable-for-profitability-blog/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
June R. Jewell, CPA, is the president and CEO of AEC Business Solutions and the author of Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms. Her popular blog covers innovative ideas on business leadership, project management processes, business development and improved operational efficiencies. Register for one of her upcoming webinars at http://aecbusiness.com/webinars/.
If you’ve had no interface with the military at all, you may not realize that it’s where you find the best and brightest that the nation has to offer. As a norm, most veterans are very dedicated to what they do, have a high level of integrity, and will always put in their best effort. They’re used to a good, identifiable chain of command or organizational structure, and like working in that type of environment.
Keep in mind that veterans may not know the nuances of business. There will be a learning curve. In the military, people are used to going after a task and breaking it down. Using a distinct decision making process, they find the best people for the job and direct them to execute.
Mission execution is what it’s all about; financial considerations don’t come into place.
On the civilian side, the veteran employee has to learn to consider costs, understand people’s set roles and responsibilities and who’s doing what; work around the logistics of moving someone from one role to another.
Making the transition as a veteran
As one of TAPE’s own employees tells us, veterans facing this transition need to make a plan, upfront and early. Put a lot of critical thought into it, and then execute your plan.
He suggests a self-assessment – where you are, and where you want to be. The bottom line. You have some choices you need to make. First, when you get out, are you going to follow the job (move), or do you want to stay where you are? That’s your first fork in the road.
From there you’ll have other choices depending on which route you take. Of course a lot of these choices will depend on your family, for example wanting to let your kids finish up high school in the same place before you would consider moving.
TAPE, like all government contractor firms, is very veteran-friendly. But over and above the obvious legal and HR issues, our experience is that veterans, even with the direct-from-service learning curve, are trained in a particular way, and respond to direction by just heading off and doing it.
By the way, a similar experience comes from direct-from-the-retirement-pool civilian employees of the Federal Government. Both of these pools are also likely to have that magic word, relationships. And that will be the key to success, to utilize the skill sets and maximize the relationships.
This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.
Note from Bill: When I saw Staci’s recent Redmon’s Rules post on LinkedIn, I asked if I could share her first seven rules here with you. Staci offers a wealth of knowledge and experience as the President and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc (SAMS).
SAMS is a SBA 8(a) program participant, service-disabled veteran owned (SDVOSB), woman-owned (WOSB), small disadvantaged business (SDB) that provides a broad range of strategy, management and information technology services to the DOD, other Federal Government agencies, and commercial clients.
1st Rule: Communicating Your Vision
Actualizing a vision requires employers to communicate and set expectations for the outcome. Open lines of communication are key to employees understanding their purpose, performance expectations, and execution strategies.
To further accomplish this goal and achieve a supported vision, create an inclusive collaborative work environment conducive to employees having input.
How to reach the endpoint is tactical, but achieving the vision is strategic.
Note from Bill: What’s critical to getting employees to really buy in to your vision is to LISTEN when they have input!
2nd Rule: Leading a Multigenerational Workforce and Adjusting to the Arrival of Millennials
Changing the landscape of traditional corporate culture to adjust to the arrival of millennials starts by redirecting focus to attract and retain this workforce.
Recognizing longevity in a company isn’t the priority for millennials; they value transparency and meaningful interactions. This tech-savvy generation enters the workforce wanting to innovate and propel the company’s growth.
3rd Rule: Incorporating Community Involvement
An active presence in the community directly impacts the lives of community members and the reputation of your company. Social awareness plays an integral role in sustainability and corporate responsibility.
As we strive to affect change within our infrastructure, let’s not forget our community of strong advocates, championing our success because we directly affect them by giving back and providing resources to enhance their livelihood.
Note from Bill: Back to Rule 1 – Communicate to the employees about your involvement, and be authentic. At TAPE we continue to support many Wounded Warrior programs, including one started by a former employee of our subcontractor.
4th Rule: Building a Network
There’s a direct correlation between your network and net worth; as you broaden the former, the latter increases. A rich network is built by collaborating with individuals of diverse skill sets, cultures, and occupations; creating an ability to forge relationships and develop your network.
To spur growth, limit connecting with like-minded contacts. Participate in and leverage activities with individuals of uncommon interest at first glance. This spawns opportunities to meet new people and establish unforeseen connections.
How do you network?
Note from Bill: This is very important, and we’re seeing how all of these rules build on each other. For example, does your community work have a networking aspect? If so, that can really change the value and dynamic. Again, be authentic – your peers and subordinates are all watching.
5th Rule: Addressing and Communicating Your Weaknesses
A cohesive unit is developed during the discovery phase of analyzing strengths and weaknesses of your team. This phase births awareness and potential challenges; allowing an opportunity to eliminate single points of failure.
As a leader, communicating your weakness is a strength that reveals you are cognizant of your abilities, and focused on creating value by addressing incompetency and delivering solutions with the strengths of other personnel. Invest in resources about strength and leadership, such as the StrengthsFinder 2.0.
What other strengths and/or leadership books would you recommend?
6th Rule: Hiring Creative and Innovative Employees – Seeing Beyond the Resume
Contrary to popular belief, a resume doesn’t reveal everything needed to make a smart hiring decision.
To get a glimpse into the creativity and competency of a candidate you’re considering, test for ingenuity by allowing your prospect to solve a real problem. The results from the trial will allow you to look beyond the resume and accurately assess the prospect’s capabilities.
How do you look beyond the resume? Here are 10 tips from SmartCEO.
7th Rule: Differentiating Your USPs
Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the gateway to acquiring market share and potential financial success. Identify competitors and their products, then leverage your key differentiators to boost your position to become the market leader in your respective industry.
Have you studied the psychology of product differentiation? What does your business do differently?
These seven rules are just the beginning! To read Staci’s latest insights and join the conversation, visit the SAMS LinkedIn group.
In a small business like TAPE, our VPs need to be very hands-on in the day-to-day operations of the company. They’re responsible for business development, maintaining current customer relationships, building our repository of teammates and partners, and strengthening and maintaining those relationships, each for their specific line of business.
This “leaner, meaner” approach enables us to respond more quickly to opportunities and optimize our resources.
One of our VPs, Daria Gray, transitioned into this role from another leadership position in marketing and communications. I asked her to share her reflections on the challenges and opportunities of this type of change.
She says the internal transition happened quite naturally, “Once I’ve made up my mind to do something and am committed, I want to put in the time and energy to succeed.” Yet for some of the people around her, it took time to let go of Daria being in that former role, and to allocate her previous functions to others within the organization.
She says this is an example of a lesson that holds true in everything in life, and that is that you cannot change others. “They are going to continue to do what they have naturally done, but you can change your response or your reaction to their behaviors.”
Daria said that by being firm in her own mindset about the path she was on, she could gently remind others that she was no longer performing those capabilities.” For others in this same situation, she suggests you “stay focused on your new role and kindly redirect people to others who can provide guidance on matters for which they are seeking assistance.”
For Daria, this has been a really positive move, and she’s enjoying the responsibilities of her new role – managing not just the work, but the people and all the new endeavors that have come with it.
As many small businesses transition to a more lean/low-cost/low-overhead environment in the Federal sector, these kinds of transitions will become much more common.
It is much better to take a current, committed employee, who has demonstrated leadership, and train them in a few functions gaps, rather than go through the hiring process and then guess as to whether you were right or wrong on your choices.
As your existing customers are your greatest source of increasing growth and revenue, so too, your existing staff may be the best to fill new leadership roles. Reach out and see if someone wants to grow in a (sometimes surprising) new direction.
This is a guest post by Matthew T. Clarke, Vice President, Modeling, Simulation & Training (MS&T), Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE
Dr. Leonard Hobbs is a quiet professional. He seldom appears agitated and never raises his voice, but he easily stands out as someone of presence and authority. Within five minutes of meeting Leonard you conclude that he is competent, he is capable, and he is a leader. You understand you could follow him with confidence and that if you do, you will achieve something greater than selecting an alternate path.
There are thousands of books that explore leadership and attempt to produce the specific characteristics and practices of exceptional leaders. You could read them all, but at the end of the day, there is no cookie cutter solution. Leadership is an art and people are unique. You must find your own formula for success. Most never do.
Individually, Leonard’s leadership traits are subtle. However, he uses them with poise and élan that bring about a very strong cumulative effect.
- He is a compelling speaker. He is energetic, enthusiastic, and always well-prepared.
- He knows how to use humor and audience involvement to gain and hold people’s attention.
- He is an exceptional listener.
- He is a strong supporter and champion of people’s innovative ideas and works to secure the resources needed to achieve outstanding results.
- He is passionate about follow through and meeting commitments to ensure customer satisfaction, and expects others to be the same.
- He sets achievable but challenging goals.
- He is self-aware, with a clear understanding of what is expected.
- He is dependable. You can count on him to meet deadlines.
- He projects an enthusiasm that motivates others.
In October 2014, Leonard was named as a 2014 Leaders Portfolio Award winner, recognized in the category of Rising Business Leader of the Year – National. He also recently had his first book published at Xulon Press – Inviting Jesus Into Our Families Will Bring Healing and Restoration in our African-American Families.
He says that many of the skills he uses at TAPE – his interpersonal skills, and his management of personnel, skills and processes – can be linked to that part of his life. “In the book,” he explains, “I identify a bible-based foundation that has worked for thousands of years. Once you set a foundation from the Word of God you can do almost anything.
A company like TAPE needs and has unity, vision and purpose. If there’s no vision you won’t have success. How can people walk together unless they agree?
If you have a vision, you have to be able to share and articulate it to others so they can buy into it. When another person can understand your vision, they can comprehend their purpose in their company and how they can help you turn your vision into a reality.
We all have our individual goals, but they still tie in with leadership and the objectives of the company. There can only be one leader. When TAPE bought Strong Point Research, I had to understand Bill and Louisa’s vision and where they were headed. Ultimately I came to see that they truly did have our interests at heart.”
Leonard is capable, compelling, passionate and trustworthy. But even more so, Leonard understands that leadership is not the same as the authoritative use of power. He has that unique ability to get people to follow him even when they have the freedom not to do so.