Commitments: Leading Change Within My Organization

So often in my career, I have seen the best ideas get sidelined, smart risks not taken, and current organizational inertia stop the momentum of truly important business initiatives.  I sit here wondering what makes this happen, in hopes to prevent it in my current organization.

A story tells way more than me pontificating on the philosophy of change.  When I worked at Procter & Gamble, in our Cosmetics division, being a brand manager required a heavy dose of analytics and core business strength.  I had recently moved over from a finance background, so this played to my strengths.  Several months into the job, as I was learning more about the business, and felt more comfortable about understanding my new job, I realized that the sales trend in one of our product lines was dismal.  Given the complexity of our business, this wasn’t an obvious conclusion.  We had been shipping in product to our retailers, and sell-thru was horrible.  The product had been on the market for about a year, and we needed an intervention, and quickly.  The great thing about being a marketer is that it is my job was to figure out and recommend how to fix it, in partnership with my sales peers.  I knew it would be an uphill battle to invest more behind the product, but despite that we came up with a strong marketing plan with general advertising, retail promotion and a sampling plan.  And, after proposing a relative affordable and conservative plan to our executive leadership, we got the fastest no that I had ever experienced.

Why?  I am sure there was a lot to the “no” that I couldn’t see, but as I reflect on it, much of it had to do with organizational inertia.  We did not make investment decisions lightly as a company.  The degree of analytical rigor needed to gain alignment, and proof in return-on-investment, made most initiatives get stopped in their tracks.  Our then president, had built a number of systems and process stage-gates that decisions must move through.  In the process, needed change didn’t often happen.  The organization was brilliant at change management, but in an effort to “manage” the change, great decisions were getting left behind.

It is so easy to fall in this trap as a leader.  Sometimes we want to control things versus empowering ideas.  The more I am in my current job, the more I find myself spending my free time thinking about how to unleash ideas.  My organization is built to deliver results, and sometimes we hold ourselves a little too accountable, with a little too much rigor, and thus miss the creativity and the idea flow needed to drive future success.

At this stage in my career and my job, I recognize both the strength in the “change management” skill but also the need for “change leadership.”  John Kotter, the resident expert in the topic, describes the difference in these two skills in an article that i read years ago.  One of my favorite quotes in the article is about change leadership as an engine.

“Change leadership is much more associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently.”   – John Kotter

As leaders, if we think of our role in change leadership as finding the right change, and adding the engine through our people, we will accomplish so much for our teams and our companies.  With this will come failure, and lots of learning, but hopefully a lot more success.  So, my commitment for this evening is to lead change within my organization.

Commitments: Help Utah Female Professionals Succeed

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Recently, my friend pointed me toward an article in the recent Utah Business magazine that gave the facts on the employment of women and men in Utah and their current wages.  The data was sourced to the U.S. Census Bureau 2008 – 2012 American Community Survey.  And, it made me sad.  Out of just over 1.2 million employed, civilian workers females made up 44.4% of the workforce and earned a median $20,053 per year (compared to males at $39,880).

In doing some follow up research, I got a lot more sad at the current state of affairs in Utah for female professionals.  It ultimately makes me worried for my daughter, wanting to figure out a way to help her lean to navigate the workforce reality.  USA Today stated in a recent article that Utah is the #1 worst state for women.  The methodology for their rating looks at wage gap, women in private company leadership, women in state legislature, poverty rate and infant mortality rate.  The article even noted that in Utah, women are holding less than 1 in 3 management positions.

I have been a resident of Utah for about 10 of the last 13 years.  I never thought I would live in Utah.  I met Jon at a wedding in Ohio, and I vividly remember him telling me he lived in Utah.  Utah?  I knew California, Las Vegas, Yellowstone and the Colorado rockies, but Utah?  Weren’t people from Utah either Mormon or ski bums?  Jon didn’t seem like either when I met him, so I went with it.  I was simply a love-struck 20 something, wondering more about where our next date weekend would be than the state of the workforce for female professionals.  I ultimately moved here, have fallen in love with the place, and have led about half of my 16 year career in the state.

Now, I consider myself a Utah local, a professional woman, and one of the apparently few female company executives in the state. I sit here thinking about how my role as a female executive can help drive change.  It is ironic to think this way, because I rarely, if ever, think about being a woman at work.  Over the years, I have come to work, tried my hardest to succeed every day, looked for opportunities to stretch myself, learned a lot, and ultimately tried not to take no for an answer.  By not defining myself using my gender, I have never seen professional boundaries.  This boundary-less world view has by its definition opened up my eyes to opportunities that I would otherwise never have seen.

I want to help, and take a purposeful role in making the future better in Utah for women.  But, I feel stuck.  Due to the fact that I am a working mother of two, and have the job that I have, I have little time to give to anything beyond my family and my job.  I feel guilty and sad to see this state of affairs and not be able to give more to help change it.  That said, this reality I live in of having to forcefully prioritize the time that I have, has been one of the things that has made me successful over the years.  So, my game plan is to help in the way my schedule and life allow.  I figured writing down a few commitments would help me to remember to stay accountable.

  • Raising strong-willed, independent children with Jon who see professional women as the norm;
  • Helping people in my team succeed as female professionals (in particular working moms);
  • Continue building a culture at CHG Healthcare where it is possible to be a successful working mom and a working dad;
  • Mentor people whenever I can find a spare moment helping to guide them through the choices that they need to make;
  • And, most importantly, never give up on my own dreams.  Shape them to be what I want them to be, not what others think is the right answer.

A short but important list that will hopefully help make a difference.

Commitments: Continue To Grow As A Leader

I have had one of the hardest weeks of work in my career this week.  It has caused me to look internally, and to evaluate myself in earnest as a leader.  I don’t know what it is about the work issue that made this self evaluation come in, but it made for a few nights of little sleep, a strong need to get my workouts in, and now a need to write a blog about it.  What I have been spending time evaluating is my strength as a leader.  I am good at some things, and not so good at others.

So, here are my top five leadership commitments for 2015:

  1. As a leader, give your time to developing the strengths in others.  As we grow in our career, we are often valued for the individual contributions that we make.  In the transition to a leader, the value you create has less to do with your personal contributions and more to do with your team and what they can deliver.  This shift from an individual contributor to a leader takes time to learn, and forces purposeful reallocation of your time.  Instead of your time being about you and your work, it is about your people.  If you are taking up the majority of your time, or the limelight, your team isn’t, so change it.  Allocate your time to the development of others and you will succeed.
  2. When helping a team member develop, keep the end goal in mind.  Sometimes when you are actively coaching an employee to help them improve, it is easy to get so granular in your coaching that it feels to them like you are unsatisfied with their every move.  Often, you see “your way” as the only way to do something, and your coaching is working to shape their behavior to “your way”.  As the leader, if you focus on the end goal for the individuals development, instead of the specific gaps you see in their daily work, you will bring your feedback in effectively as versus on every small thing that they may be doing differently than “your way”.  And, in the process, you may find new ways.
  3. Listen to truly understand.  Allow your point of view to be molded.  Just because you got to your position of leadership, doesn’t mean that you know everything.  To get the best out of your team, spend your time truly listening to the perspective of your people.  Their practical experiences and creative thinking may bring out a better solution than you ever could have determined on your own.
  4. Focus on alignment.  Being misaligned, particularly on some of the most fundamental things in your business, is a poison.  When I say alignment, I mean alignment upward within your organization, sideways, and downward to your direct reports.   Your job as a leader is to bring things into alignment to drive the most effective results.
  5. Recognize when you are in over your head.  Every leader, and every employee in an organization, gets in over their head at some point.  It is inevitable in a changing workplace and helps us to grow and stretch.  The key is to recognize it, accept it, and deal with it by building capability around you.  You show strength by giving in to this, and partnering with people around you to develop a solution.

My commitment for the week has less to do with this week, and more to do with the next year and beyond.  Based on what I learned in my hard week at work, it is even more important.  I commit to continue to grow as an individual and as a leader in the hopes that it helps those around me.

Commitments: The Pursuit of Clarity

The power of clear thoughts, words and writing.  As a marketer,  I have built my life’s work about making words (amongst other things) work to drive a purchase or a response.  That said, almost every day I feel as if I learn about how to make my words more effective.  Much of this learning comes through the pursuit of clarity.  In every facet of my life, clarity is critical and difficult to achieve.  As a constant learner, I feel like it is something at which the learning will never end.

In marketing:  Often times when we are working hard so create the most effective marketing, we miss the obvious.  You can get too close to the work, review the copy too many times, overthink the headline, or forget to look at the marketing exection with your customer in mind.  Just this week, I was looking at an email campaig where we were trying to be too cute with a headline, and it just wasn’t clear.  A lack of clarity is often driven by not stepping back and looking at your work with fresh eyes.

In leadership:  My most difficult work experiences have been times where I wasn’t being clear to my employees.  The worst of these has typically been whe an employee is underperforming, and I needed to let them go.  This is never a situation you want to find yourself in, as either a leader or employee, but it happens.  The first time I had to do this, I thought I had been explicitly clear with the employee both verbally and in writing of the gaps in their performance.  The day came that I was going to fire them.  They were shocked, angry and sad.  Angry and sad were to be expected, but SHOCKED?!?  We had been having conversations for going on six months about their lack of performace.  I was taken aback, and decided to just ask why they felt so surprised.  Verbatim…”You never told me that wasn’t doing what you wanted me to.  Isn’t that unfair?”  Ugh.  Despite my best attempts, and even a belief that been clear, I hadn’t.  A lack of clarity is often driven by not confirming that what you think you said was heard.

In being a mom:  The power of words.  In no place in my life is this more apparent than with my two year old Matthew (and prior to him, Katharine).  Matthew is learning words everyday, and it is so refreshing to be able to communicate with him.  Only a short 3 months ago, he was getting frustrated all the time because despite what he was thinking, he couldn’t form the words to tell us what he wanted.  Now, the smille on his face when he tells a little joke, or can tell us he loves us.  Priceless.  A lack of clarity is often driven by not understading each other.

In being a wife:  In my life, everything seems to be planned.  So, a moment without a plan typically means something is wrong (unfortunately!).  One morning as I was running out of the house to work, I yelled back to my husband, “You are picking up the kids from school, right?”  To which he responded with, “I can’t, I have an appointment.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear him.  I had asked a question without listening for the answer, and thus our kids were awaiting a pick up at daycare with no parent headed that direction.  After a few calls from the teacher, we got it figured out.  But, a lack of clarity is often driven by not listening.  Particularly detrimental if you were the one who asked the question to gain clarity (and when your kids end up stuck at daycare!).

So, the pursuit of clarity is my commitment for the week.  In the way that I communicate and in the way those around me commuicate with me.

Change in My Job

This week at work I had a few meetings centered around technology choices to set up our company (and our marketing team) up for success.  It dawned on me how much being a marketer and a marketing leader has changed.  When I started my marketing career in brand management at Procter & Gamble I thought a lot about brands and products, offline marketing, and connecting with consumers.  Occasionally, I would think about websites but at that point it wasn’t a big focus for me.  My leaders and I reviewed marketing plans, revenue results and return on investment of our programs.  We were traditional marketers at a best-in-class marketing company.

There was a marketing manager on our team called the “interactive marketing manager.” It seemed so novel at the time.  We staffed this role to begin to test programs that included web microsites, social marketing ideas and email communication plans.  We were trying to figure out if investing human resources and money in this digital marketing thing was worth it.  Irony.  Today, my team builds marketing programs with digital tools at the center of what they do.  In my job, I think and discuss technology options daily.  Based on this difference, you would think that my P&G experience was decades ago and not just the 10 years that it has been.

Beyond the shift toward digital and social, another massive change in the job of the marketer today is the ability to leverage data in our marketing planning process.  There is more data available than most marketers know how to use.  My experience is that often too much data is worse than none at all.  With too much data, many of my team members get stuck in analysis paralysis versus idea generation and marketing planning.  Often times my team members don’t have the experience and skills to be effective at drawing conclusions from data fast enough to build great marketing.

As a marketing leader, these two shifts amongst others have caused me to change how I approach my job.  I believe that my core functional objective is the same.  What has become different is how I do my job, how my teams bring our marketing to consumers and how I lead my people.  I have had to become more connected both in my own life (social marketing, blogging, reading business and marketing news) as well as in my work life (listening more actively to the consumers of our companies services, being online and available more often to my team).  I have had to put myself in a frame of mind to constantly learn and ask questions.  With the technology changes and the willingness of consumers to go with the change, marketing teams have to be change agents and risk takers within their companies.  As a marketing leader, I have learned to encourage and teach this behavior to my team many of whom don’t come to this naturally.

P&G’s cosmetics interactive marketing manager was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the evolution I have experienced in my marketing career.  I am counting on the next decade to be even more filled with change.  It makes me excited about what I can learn, teach and contribute.