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Stories and Leaders

September 28, 2010 1 comment

The senior vice president of the shared service organization that I work with is retiring after 25 years of service to the company. In a farewell gathering last week to honor his years of service and great accomplishments, 25 selected employees (old and new) took turns to share 25 business lessons learned from our retiring boss. Many of those 25 employees who stood and spoke about the 25 business lessons accompanied them with remarkable stories. They were stories that in many ways embodied the values and meaning of each of the business lessons. Being relatively new to the organization, I felt that the hour and a half of stories and messages provided me a glimpse of the organization’s founding stories, its key tenets, culture and identity. I felt a stronger sense of belongingness and understanding that I know will only help me in how I interact and collaborate with my colleagues.

Stories are powerful messages that shape the organization’s understandings of relationships and of how members deal with the mix of harmony, successes and failures that are always present in the workplace. These are past events that people talk about internally—and even externally. In some cases, leaders choose what stories to tell and immortalize. They are stories that best represent the organization’s values and culture.

Stories can also be critical experiences, major incidents, conflicts and problems that the members of the organization experienced together. The way leaders and members approached, worked through and solved critical experiences help shape the group’s dynamics. The daily actions and decisions of leaders and managers signal appropriate responses to wide-ranging issues. Because of social influence, leaders are the single most important factors and determiners of organizational culture.

Organizational culture is influenced by the leadership style. In other words, the personality, philosophy and experience of the leaders get embodied in its group’s culture. Leaders facilitate the development of organizational culture through different embedding mechanisms that align culture with the organization’s common goal and strategy.

Seven Business Lessons from 7-Eleven

September 21, 2010 8 comments

I have long been intrigued by the series Undercover Boss (currently shown in CBS) but never got the chance to watch it— until last Sunday. I am so happy I did. I learned a lot of business insights from the one and only episode that I have watched so far. I just saw a replay of an episode that was first aired in February 2010. It’s the one where Joe DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven, goes undercover in his own company by working in different operations jobs. Among DePinto’s responsibilities were: working the night shift, making donuts, and driving a delivery truck.

DePinto tells his executive team before embarking on his temporary assignments:

“I’ll be focusing on spending time in the field, where the rubber meets the road. I’m going to see what we’re not doing well, and that’s only going to make us better in the long run.”

In the end, Joe DePinto witnessed a lot of great and inspiring things from ordinary employees of varying backgrounds and at the same time he saw some areas of opportunity. I think his undercover stint was a worthwhile learning experience for him and will only improved the way he manages 7-Eleven. Here are seven management lessons that I learned from this Undercover Boss episode: 

1. Know your customers 

DePinto’s first stint as undercover boss was in Shirley, NY where he worked the early morning shift at the store that sells the most coffee among all the 7-Eleven stores. He wanted to understand the secret as to why this branch was selling more coffee than other stores. Here DePinto met Dolores — 7-Eleven employee for 18 years. He saw her passion and dedication despite her sickness; she has only one kidney and has to undergo dialysis every single day. What’s amazing was how Dolores knew all the customers by name and greeted them affectionately. She showed an up-beat and positive attitude all the time. DePinto quickly realized that the reason why that store was selling 2,500 cups of coffee per day was because of Dolores and her relationship with her customers — definitely not just because of their coffee. 

2. Replicate what works

By going undercover, DePinto discovered what he set out to discover. He learned and observed first hand how Dolores’ personal relationship with her customers brought them back to her store again and again. DePinto wanted to replicate the success of Dolores’ store in order to improve 7-Eleven’s business in coffee sales. Duplicating what Dolores does is not an easy task, but if 7-Eleven can develop a customer service culture patterned after how Dolores treats her customers, it could work! 

3. Know your employees 

DePinto’s next stint was working at 7-Eleven’s largest bakery in Baltimore, Maryland.  Here he was trained by Phil, the shift supervisor and aspiring artist. DePinto was visibly impressed byPhil’s talent as he was shown a sketch pad-full of great drawings inspired by, what else, donuts. This casual encounter in the break room led DePinto to spot a talent that could be harnessed by the company’s marketing department. Just like DePinto, I think managers should seek to know more about their employees and discover their other talents and capabilities. They must be open to harness these talents if it creates mutual value for the employee and the company. Providing employees the training and opportunities to showcase their other talents is a win-win situation for the company and its people. 

4. Employees can inspire management 

The last day of Undercover Boss finds DePinto working with Igor on a delivery truck. Igor, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, inspired DePinto with his humble story. DePinto affirmed Igor for his hard work, can-do attitude, and passion for the job during their meeting at the company’s headquarters when he finally revealed himself as the CEO. Igor replied, “I can’t say anything, I’m just doing my job.” Igor talked passionately about his “American Dream” and how grateful he is to be living it. He told DePinto how he and his wife work only see each other during the weekends because of Igor’s night shifts. Igor’s inspiration and dedication was rewarded— he is now managing one franchise for 7 Eleven.  

5. Communication is key 

Remote operations and thousands of franchisees makes the communication of programs and messages challenging for companies like 7-Eleven. During the show, DePinto was surprised to find out that one store routinely trashed day-old bakery items which were supposed to go to charity. He was visibly disappointed that these items — that should have been sent to charities as per company policy — were being thrown into the trash. It showed his real concern for the homeless and hungry.  However, he understood that it was a case of miscommunication and it something that can surely be improved through better coordination and communication from the head office. 

6. Support your frontline 

In addition, the episode showed one store that needed to replace many of its lights in the store area and in the storage area.  It was one of the chain’s highest grossing stores and its lights had been out for some time. It  not only negatively affected 7-Eleven’s image to its customers (the store did not seem well-maintained due) but was also a potential safety hazard for the employees. DePinto, as “Danny” the entry level employee, was actually tasked to call maintenance and request for the lights to be changed.  As “Danny”, he was told that it was a low priority request and the store’s lights can only be fixed in 30 days during the monthly maintenance visit. DePinto had to call his chief operations officer to prioritize the maintenance job. How we support our frontline is important to our business. They are the people that serve our customers directly. Managers need to know the reality of what’s happening in the field in order to make more sensible decisions according to the situation in the frontline.

7. Great people make great companies 

While working on the donut production line, DePinto couldn’t keep up with the speed of the conveyor belt.  This was until his trainer, Phil, showed him the trick to doing it more efficiently. That’s the case with every task in business, no matter how big or small and strategic or operational. In another segment, DePinto asked Waqas — a young Pakistani who served as boss for the night — about career plans and discovered that Waqas doesn’t consider his job at 7-Eleven to be a “career.” Waqas works the night shift in order to finish his college education during the day. Despite earning a college degree, Waqas views his position in 7-Eleven as a dead-end job because there are no opportunities for him to move up in the company. DePinto was saddened to hear this.  The CEO felt that an employee who has already worked four years for the company and is working for higher education should feel that they have other possibilities and opportunities within the company. DePinto went to say, “Great people make great companies; we can’t let them think their jobs are dead-end, we can’t win without our great soldiers.”

Image courtesy of 7-Eleven.

CEMEX’s Innovation Through Collaboration

September 14, 2010 4 comments

 

“Self-organization, the most recent technology-fueled transformation. It’s employing technology to let people interact as they wish, with few or no workflows, rules, or hierarchy, then harvesting the good results that emerges.” – Andrew McAfee

Recently CEMEX was selected to participate in the Forrester Groundswell Awards for innovation in social media among employees. Learn more about what CEMEX is doing to leverage social tools for collaboration and its enabling platform called Shift. Participate in the Forrester Groundswell discussion online where you can vote, comment and learn more about Shift. 

CEMEX has embraced this Collaborative Revolution. It shows the commitment of the company to continue innovating for its customers. It demonstrates how it values collaboration without boundaries. CEMEX has joined the Collaboration Revolution by introducing an internal collaboration platform called Shift, designed to innovate and help make the company more efficient and agile by letting employees or groups of employees with similar objectives share opinions, thoughts, information, experience, knowledge and best practices. Since its launch more than 200 communities have been created and employees are sharing best practices across all operative units. The collaboration platform is also helping CEMEX to create new value propositions in order to maintain and improve the company’s competitive edge.

There are over a billion users of social media sites on the Internet. Between Facebook and Twitter alone there are more than to 700 million unique user accounts. Companies have stepped up to leverage these new social tools to enable self organization teams in the business with the objective of encouraging more collaboration, information sharing and innovation. One of the defining principles of social media is collaboration. Groups of people and even virtual teams with members from different geographic locations and organizational levels can work together in a project. These new collaborative tools are designed to change the way we collaborate with our extended network. It is designed to provide less structure, simple mechanics, and allows users to lead the way. This approach requires employees to communicate, to share, to interact and to generate contents and value output.

Again, you can join in the ongoing Forrester Groundswell discussion online where you can read more about Shift, comment and submit your rating.

How Gerry Dasco Brought Us Together

September 11, 2010 4 comments

Our old alma mater is the only Catholic school in the small and quiet city of Catbalogan (Philippines) of around 90,000 people. Just like me, most of my classmates hail from Catbalogan and other surrounding small towns and barrios. Most of us spent our formative years together— a year in kindergarten, six years in elementary and four years in high school. We knew that our high school graduation was sort of our break-off point. From there, each one of us headed our separate ways, chased separate dreams. I went to Manila, the nation’s capital. It was common for people like us who grew up in the province to move to the big city to study and then work. A few would return home. I attended university at De La Salle University. Some chose to stay in Catbalogan and many of them now work and serve our hometown. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished individually. We are now successful accountants, engineers, doctors, nurses, pilots, educators, judge (youngest in the country), businessmen, politicians (vice mayor of Catbalogan) and many other professionals. 

Our Ultimate Social Media Guy

It is seldom that someone brings together 30 or more friends from 20 years back to reminisce the years spent together. That was what Gerry Dasco managed to accomplish for us, his high school batch mates of ‘93 from Sacred Heart College (now called St. Mary’s College). I see updates from classmates and old friends in Facebook almost everyday.  I am often just browsing and curious about what they do now and how their families are. From time to time I look at their pictures and am amazed at how older and mature we’ve become and how fate have brought us to different journeys. On a few occasions, when I am able to, I greet classmates on their birthdays and congratulate them on their triumphs. It was always limited, sporadic chance encounters and more often without  frills, without conversations… until Gerry brought us together! 

I remember Gerry as being a shy, quiet, simple gentleman in school. He was definitely not the type to gather folks together for a party with the promise of conversations, dancing and beer. Gerry waited for his moment and he did the most amazing thing— something most of us wouldn’t dare do or couldn’t do for many years now.

He orchestrated an event conceived so creatively. How he managed it with simplicity amazes me. First, Gerry posted old scanned pictures from his high school photo album in Facebook. He then tagged everyone, wittingly and knowingly inviting us to look.

That started the flow of conversations, sharing, questions, and remembrance. He didn’t stop there; Gerry made a collage of old photos and new photos (picked from Facebook) put them side by side — kind of showing the before and after photo of each one of us. The collage brought even more friends and classmates into Gerry’s organized (virtual) high school reunion. The beauty of it was that he even got us to take it to the next level… all the way to how we would organization the hosting of the alumni homecoming event in 2017. 

It’s amazing! A lot of us thanked Gerry for what he did; he clearly gets this social media thing that many of us are still just starting to grasp. Gerry is my ultimate social media guy! He understood that the key to successful social-networking and reunion is to be deliberate. 

He understood that the simple concept of  Web 2.0 and social media revolves around the convergence and interconnectivity between links, users, and information. 

He transformed interactions between his batch mates from just sharing meaningless frivolity to being purposeful and it naturally led to real-time conversations. Gerry was focused and thought about how to capture what is important from the network, and organized our interactions accordingly.  Most of all, he created for us our own social space. 

Thanks again, Gerry!

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