25 lessons for work (and life)! — 3-minute coaching sessions

in collaboration with Ira Fialkow and Ivy Remoreras

” You can have as many mentors as you need – people that excel in different disciplines and that exemplify different values. In my career, I’ve learned that mentoring is a process of engagement and inspiration, in as much as it’s a process of learning from someone. Truly successful people raise others up. They don’t feel threatened. Instead, they find reward in seeing others succeed. “

Is there a secret formula for success in business – and in your career?  Probably not. But I believe it makes sense to learn from the people I respect and who have been successful themselves.

Case in point: Ira Fialkow was the Executive Vice President for Shared Services at CEMEX, until recently. His career spans 25 years and he is a highly respected leader in his field. I consider myself fortunate in having had the opportunity to work in his organization. Our collaboration continues, even today. I continue to learn from Ira, and he says he continues to learn from me! I believe that people thrive best, and succeed, when they have the opportunity to develop under the tutelage of those who precede them.

This series marks the culmination of 25 business lessons documented and developed by Ira over the past 25 years of his career. They were learned the hard way: through experience. Ira used to distribute these lessons to the team every year. The lessons changed slightly, over time, as new ideas emerged and new learnings were incorporated. In this series of 25 short articles, I will endeavor to share the 25 business lessons that I’ve learned from Ira and our shared services team.

The series is split across five sections.

  • Section 1 is about continuous self-improvement. In any endeavor, change begins with oneself. You cannot create a successful organization, nor be successful yourself, without the drive to do better and be better.
  • Section 2 is about creating a better work environment, and leads on from Section 1: Improving oneself means improving one’s professional atmosphere; no real change can be achieved without this.
  • Section 3 is about customer service: Every business unit has a customer, whether internal or external. And just because you don’t have direct dealings with the company’s external customers doesn’t mean you don’t have customers of your own. If you work for the payroll department of a large fast-food company, your customers are the employees in the payroll, and you need to know how to provide good customer service.
  • Section 4 relates to improving productivity. This includes eliminating bureaucracy and other things that hamper good service delivery. Let’s say you have great products and can provide good service. If it’s not affordable, easy to use, and timely to the customer, then it just doesn’t matter. 
  • Section 5 involves competitive advantage.  Much has already been written about competitive advantage, I know. But you’ll be surprised at some of the simple things you can do.

Section 1: Become addicted to constant and never-ending self-improvement

Each journey begins with a single step. In terms of change, this means starting with oneself. The six business lessons in this section suggest that everyone, irrespective of the successes already achieved, benefits from continuous self-improvement.


Business Lesson 1 : Have a mentor (even if they don’t know it). Be a mentor (someone is watching you).


Have a mentor (even if they don’t know it)

Most guides to mentoring start with advice on how to find the right mentor. This generally takes the following approach: (1) you have to look for a mentor with broad knowledge about the industry as well as expertise in the area you specialize in; (2) you have to find a mentor who is successful and on whom you can model your career; and (3) you have to formalize the relationship between mentor and mentee to make it long lasting and successful.

Given all that – how can you have a mentor(s), and they don’t know it?

Ira explains his philosophy: “Formal mentoring programs are great but why wait for one to come around? Mentoring is about  behavior. It’s about doing the right things in the workplace, because first and foremost, it’s about personal integrity and character – as well as the fact that someone is watching you, and will emulate your behavior. I was extremely lucky, early in my career, when I was able to work with some great co-workers and supervisors who had a solid set of personal values coupled with results-oriented work disciplines. I emulated many of these behaviors and they helped shaped my leadership style.”

What you do in the office is observed by the people you work with. Positive behavior creates positive impressions, which people will emulate. On the other hand, consistently below-par behavior can cause problems in the organization by creating dysfunctional teams.

Having a mentor means finding someone to emulate and learn from (even if they don’t know it). You can have as many mentors as you need – people that excel in different disciplines and that exemplify different values. In my career, I’ve learned that mentoring is a process of engagement and inspiration, in as much as it’s a process of learning from someone.

At its very core, mentoring (whether mentor or mentee) is about wanting to improve yourself, in alignment with your goals.

Be a mentor (someone is watching you)

The shared services organization that Ira established and led for many years was the first recipient of the SSON’s “Best Mature Shared Services” Award in 2003. How did the organization earn this prestigious award? Ira has always attributed success in shared services to excellence in providing service to customers at an overall value that is better than other options. We have a very strong customer service culture within the organization, and this culture actively encourages mentorship.

Ira explains: “If you choose a positive attitude, show respect towards your customers, and treat them as if they are the reason for your organization’s existence (which they are!), this behavior develops into norms and values and permeates your culture, subsequently becoming the core of your service culture.

“But creating an excellent service culture requires that you practice the positive behaviors that will govern the value system of all the members of the organization. Mission and values statements are all well and good, but it’s the consistent behaviors that are emulated and put into practice, that become the values of the organization.”

This lesson reminds me that I can become a mentor simply by doing the right thing. And I can do this in every aspect of my life, wherever I interact with people – in the office and at home. Mentoring is two-way, or multi-way, each individual learning from the other. However, if I want to be a mentor, I need to understand myself first. I have to work hard in pursuit of excellence and integrity, and I have to be generous in sharing my knowledge.

Douglas Lawson describes it well: “We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.”  I believe truly successful people raise others up. They don’t feel threatened. Instead, they find reward in seeing others succeed.

Being a mentor means inspiring commitment, building insights and motivating people to focus on the goals and behaviors that matter.

Business Lesson 1 Takeaways:

  • Mentoring is about behavior and doing the right things in the workplace; not just because it’s right, but because someone is watching you and will copy your behavior. It becomes the norm, and the norm underpins the values of the organization.
  • Positive behaviors create positive impressions and people emulate them. Consistently observed poor behavior, on the other hand, could spell problems in the organization and create dysfunctional teams.
  • Creating an excellent service culture requires that you practice the positive behaviors of the organization’s value system. “Customers” are the reason you are there! 
  • At its core, mentoring (or having a mentor) is about seeking inspiration to improve yourself in alignment with your goals. Mentoring is two-way or multi-way, each individual learning from another.
  • Whether you know it or not, you are a mentor to someone right now.

 We encourage you to write (as comments in the post) your own thoughts and experiences about mentoring (in business and life). This will enrich the topic and discussion for all the readers. Thank you.


About the collaborators:

Ira Fialkow is the SVP of Member Services at Peeriosity. Peeriosity is a confidential network of leading companies from across the world committed to collaborating openly with each other in a completely secure environment with interactions free of consultants and vendors. Prior to Peeriosity, Ira was EVP of Shared Services at CEMEX and Rinker Group (acquired by CEMEX is 2007) from 1990 through joining Peeriosity in October 2010. Rinker Group was the initial recipient of the Best Mature Shared Services Award in 2003. Ira lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and has been the champion of his fantasy football league in three of the past five years.

Glenn Remoreras is an IT Manager at CEMEX. He brings over 12 years of experience as an IT director, business processes manager, project leader, and consultant. He has focused on enabling business solutions through the use of IT capabilities. Glenn has been involved with various post merger integration projects. 
Ivy Remoreras is a marketing professional with eight years of extensive experience, particularly in product management, communications and promotions as a manager, university instructor and consultant. She believes in constant learning and has a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA). Having resided in Europe, Asia and North America, she speaks four languages.

Photos courtesy of www.ssonetwork.com.

Of Donuts and Pep Boys – My Most Bizarre Customer Experience Ever!

Can you remember your most bizarre customer experience ever? Let me tell you mine.  It just happened today! There are lessons to be learned in all experiences — even the most bizarre one. After reading this, I encourage you to write your comments or share your own customer service story. 

I went to a Pep Boys car service center for routine service maintenance today. I parked my car outside and immediately proceeded to the service counter. When I walked in, there was only one service staff member at the counter and he was busy assisting another customer.  So I waited in line. Soon after, he greeted me warmly and told me that he’ll attend to me shortly. As a customer waiting in the line, it feels good to be acknowledged. After a couple minutes, it was my turn. I told the service staff member that I was there for routine periodic maintenance. He asked me for pertinent information about my car, the mileage and went on to suggest maintenance work recommended for my car. He provided me with valuable information to help me decide on a service option. After that, we chose a service package. I didn’t have to spend time giving other additional information; they’ve got my data in the system from my previous visits.

Aside from taking my car for maintenance, I had another motive for going to Pep Boys today. I needed copies of my previous maintenance service documents. My car dealer, where I purchased my car a few years ago, needs proof of periodic car maintenance for a service warranty issue. So I asked the Pep Boys service member for my maintenance records in the last two and a half years. I was impressed on how he was able to quickly pull up information and print records. He even explained to me – one by one — the types of maintenance service my car has gone through. I thought it was really impressive service—above and beyond expectations. It was so much better than I thought it would be. I was a happy customer.

At the end of that initial interaction, the service member told me that my car will be ready in 45 minutes. I normally ask how much time it would take, but this time the service staff beat me to it. He gave the promise promptly and so I told him I will come back in 45 minutes.

When I left the service center, I was their happiest customer.  I walked to the nearby Dunkin Donuts store to get myself some breakfast. I was so overjoyed with the customer experience that I even bought a dozen donuts for the service staff member who assisted me and for the other service crew working at Pep Boys. I thought it was the least that I can do to express my appreciation for the excellent service they provide their customers. If I can’t give monetary tips—for sure a dozen of donuts will express my gratitude.

While waiting at Dunkin Donuts, I wrote a tweet on my Blackberry that I intended to send shortly after I leave Pep Boys. I was tempted to send the tweet right away, but decided at the last moment to save it as a draft and wait. The draft tweet went like this:

“Today I bought a dozen Dunkin Donuts as a gesture of appreciation for the Pep Boys staff and service crew for their excellent customer service.”  (Tweet that I never got to send)

I ended up staying an hour and a half at Dunkin Donuts as I enjoyed my cup of coffee and worked on my book. I got so preoccupied with writing that I lost track of time. I only realized that more than an hour had passed when my wife called me. She was at her baby shower, was packing up and ready to go. She told me that I could pick her up as soon as I was ready. Because I was so sure that my car was ready and waiting for me at Pep Boys, I told her I will pick her up shortly. It was almost two hours since I left Pep Boys and I was promised the car would be ready in 45 minutes.

I walked back with my dozen donuts and looked forward to giving it to the staff and service crew as a token of gratitude. Opportunities to affirm service personnel for their excellent service always make me happy. I always look forward to opportunities where I can affirm people for excellent work that they do. Upon entering Pep Boys, I noticed my car was parked just outside the store, so I was assured that the service was finished and the car had been waiting for pick up all this time.  So I walked to the counter where two service personnel were talking. They were not assisting anyone but I thought they were discussing something work-related. Unlike earlier that morning, no one acknowledged or greeted me. I thought it was a big difference from that morning’s experience.

I just continued standing by the counter and observing the personnel carry on their conversation, with my dozen donuts now on top of the counter.  I didn’t say a word. After a couple of minutes, I saw the same service staff member who assisted me earlier. He walked past me and went back outside. He didn’t acknowledge me and I thought that maybe he was just busy.

I decided to just stand there by the counter and wait (ever-patient customer that I am). Finally after waiting for several minutes, one of the service personnel (perhaps realizing that I have been waiting a while) at the counter finally asked, “Has someone attended to you already?” I answered, “No, but I am here to pick up my car that was serviced this morning.” She asked for my name and immediately tried looking for my paperwork. I had a feeling something was wrong when she could not find my papers on the pile of finished work. The lady started asking around if someone had serviced an Audi. It was only then that my original service person responded and told me that they haven’t even started work on it yet.

What?!  I had reason to be mad as hell but I wasn’t. I could complain to the manager but I didn’t.  Instead, I very patiently reminded the service person that helped me earlier that he promised the car will be ready in 45 minutes. It was now nearly two hours later. As a customer, I just expected an apology and explanation. But to my surprise, he became very defensive and explained that the service crew busy servicing other cars and 45 minutes was just an estimate, not a promise. He did not apologize and was very close to being rude.

I did not argue nor complained; I just told them that I will wait. So I took my dozen donuts and sat in the waiting area. I took out my tablet and proceeded to write about my experience – most of what is written here – and waited for another 45 minutes.

It was so strange. My customer experience form earlier that morning to what happened afterwards was as different as night and day. I thought about how things could change so abruptly in just two hours — how inconsistent and how bad. But this is not the end of the story—you will be surprised at how it concluded.

My plan was to just get my car after the service, drive home, eat my donuts and post this blog. I approached the counter after 45 minutes and a different service person arrived with my car key. He sincerely   apologized. He told me that I did not owe them anything for the service and they were sorry for making me wait for so long. I thought it was a nice gesture. I surely did not expect to get something out of it because I kept my cool and did not even complain. How did they know that I was furious and so frustrated inside? I thought they read the situation well.  I also thought that the last service person I spoke with responded well and turned things around a bit.  I tried to explain to him what happened earlier that morning and even told him about the donuts intended as a token of appreciation for the excellent service I anticipated (but sadly did not get).  In the end, I wasn’t completely satisfied but decided to give the donuts to the hardworking service crew (that did the actual work on my car) and left.

As you can imagine, this was such a weird customer experience—a definite roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience what I went through today but I learned a lot. I took the opportunity to observe rather than complain. I did this with the intention of writing about it and providing customer service insights to my readers.

From today’s experience, here are my customer service takeaways:

  • Customer service delivery must be consistent. That is how you will win customer loyalty.
  • Don’t make promises unless you will keep them. Be careful of what you promise to your customer. That will create the expectation of the service. Reliability is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception. Try to keep your promise or exceed your promise as best possible. That’s how you wow customers with your service.
  • When you fail to deliver, it is very crucial to acknowledge, empathize, explain and give a sincere apology. More importantly, don’t be rude and defensive.
  • When a mistake is made, customers want it to be handled quickly and to their satisfaction. They want some kind of action that acknowledges a mistake was made and every effort is being done to correct it. When you recover, you may find that your customer is even more loyal than before.  

What do you think about my experience today? What would you have felt or what would you have done if you were in my situation? Have you had the same bizarre customer experience before? Would you return to Pep Boys if this happened to you?

Photos courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.

What Prioritization and Planning Can Do for You

Prioritization and planning are two sides of the same coin. Planning is thinking about the tasks required to achieve the desired goal on some scale . Prioritization is ensuring you are doing the right tasks. Planning and prioritization are two of the best skills a manager can have. They ensure good use of your own efforts and those of your team. 

Prioritization is making the best use of your limited time and resources when demands are seemingly limitless. Every single day a manager is bombarded with demands with “ASAP” written all over it. Unending meeting requests, continuous daily reports, pressing operative issues and urgent project tasks — you name it—the list goes on and on and on! If you get into that vicious cycle of trying to do everything, you’ll end up burned out, frustrated and unhappy.   

Prioritization in principle means doing “first things first;” as a process it means evaluating a group of items and ranking them in order of importance and urgency.    – Business Dictionary

Your day only has a limited number of hours, this is the same for your week, your month, your year etc. There is a maximum number of things that you can possibly do (with good quality) in a period of time— therefore you need to prioritize.

If everything is important then nothing is important. If you qualify the “not-so-important-tasks” as very important it devalues any other “more-important-tasks”. 

Start your day by devoting a fair amount of your creative energy to planing your day. This will jump start your day on the right track. You will know your action items (things that matter) and backburners (tasks that can wait).

Perhaps a year is a much longer period but even though, there is a maximum number of things you can do in a year—therefore, you still need to prioritize. Annual planning sessions are important endeavors for companies wanting to set priorities right for the year and align objectives with strategic goals. Nothing beats starting the year in the right direction; you have a game plan and you understand what needs to be done to accomplish your goals.

By planning ahead you are in the best position to adjust priorities. Proper planning is building enough room into your plans for additional demands. New demands pop-up and they may also be important. Adjusting priorities is commonplace; you should always assume that there will be unexpected requests. Set aside time for them. As long as they are important tasks that bring you closer to you goal, they must be done!

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Learning IT Organizations

We’ve all heard the saying that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership. But ironically, it’s often the most overlooked. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said.

The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. The most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions.  IT leaders should not limit their engagement with their employees with discussions about operation work. They should engage their subordinates in other meaningful ways so as to help them develop themselves.

The best IT teams must have a culture of continuous learning.  In IT organizations, developing employees is not optional, it is a necessity. Development is necessary to acquire the skills and learn the knowledge needed to keep up with new technology and processes in order to achieve business goals. Additionally, development programs in volatile and competitive organizations like IT are important in attracting and retaining employees. 

Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and most innovative area of the company. If the CIO is not forward-looking, IT will most likely neither be as competitive nor at par with competitors who are relentlessly pursuing innovation. IT leaders are fascinated about the future. They are relentless about change and impatient for progress. CIOs should always be looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, searching for new processes, tools and methodologies and experimenting how it will make sense in business in the future.  

  • How many types of developmental conversations occur in your organization?
  • How can you create a culture of learning that goes beyond traditional classroom training?
  • In what ways do your communication tools and practices help build your team’s skills for participating in conversations about goals, changes, and barriers they face?

Photo coutesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Architecture of Performance Measures – When Are There Enough Performance Indicators?

If you are running a business, having a big set of performance measures is a good thing. But a set of measures by itself isn’t enough. Having performance measures is one side of the coin.  The other side (and what counts) is the application of those measures for its fundamental purpose — that is, to improve business performance. 

Technological advancements in business analytics makes it much easier to collect and report data. This causes a tendency for business users to demand excessive numbers of performance indicators— in some cases, even more than needed to monitor, control and manage their business. Performance measures are worthless and counter productive unless used for a specific purpose such as to track work and achieve better results. 

When are there enough performance measures?

This question can be answered only by you as users of information. Review what you have and analyze each performance measure. You’ll never know.  You might have in excess of some types of measures and lacking others. Let’s understand the different types of performance measures. 

Performance measurement is the regular collection and reporting of data to track work produced and results achieved. Performance measures can be applied in any organization, regardless of size, type and structure.

To illustrate the different types of performance measures and how they are used in different levels of the organization, please refer to the figure below. 

Architecture of Performance Measures

I like to use the Deming circle based on the principles of W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician who argued that supplying products or services require activities, and the quality of a service depends upon the way activities are organized. The Deming circle demonstrates a system of continuous improvement, with the appropriate levels of quality delivered by adhering to the following steps: 

  • PLAN: Design or revise components to improve results.
  • DO: Ensure the plan is implemented
  • CHECK: Determine if the activities achieved the expected results
  • ACT: Adjust the plan based on results gathered during the check phase. 

When you talk about performance measurement, the most important element of the Deming circle is the “check” element. That’s where you apply performance measures,  “check” or measure in order to “act” and change the “plan”.  Consequently, you adjust what you “do” in execution. 

The nested Deming circles represent the levels of the organization and the different types of measures used at every level. The first circle denotes the corporate or strategic cycle. The performance measures in the “check” component in the strategic cycle are composed of strategic performance indicators. They are usually a high level aggregate of data consolidated in summary, graphs and dashboards. Performance measures at this level are usually a small set of key performance indicators selected by top management.

The second circle represents the business unit or tactical cycle. The measures in the “check’ component of the tactical cycle are composed of tactical performance indicators. They are usually a drill-down of the strategic measures and used to manage and control the business operations. Performance measures at this level are usually a small set of key performance indicators selected by business unit management. Tactical measures are an important link to strategic and operative measures.   

The last level is made of the process indicators or operative measures. They are measures that are embedded in each of the end-to-end processes, within or across departmental boundaries. These are the lowest level measure use to track work on a daily basis to improve process efficiency and performance. 

Now that you know the different types of performance measures depending on different levels of the organization, examine your existing metrics.  Do you think you have the right quantity and quality of performance measures at every level?  

Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.

Stories and Leaders

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

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.

How IT Leaders Transmit and Embed Culture

The group’s culture provides structure and meaning to its members—in many ways it controls members’ interactions with one another and with external parties.  In this post, this concept is applied in the Information Technology (IT) group setting. The IT group culture can influence the success of the IT organization. Culture is socially constructed through leaders that embed their beliefs, values and assumptions upon the group that it leads. The culture of any IT organization is formulated and impacted by several variables. The strongest and the most obvious is the influence of its leader. According to E. H. Schein, leader’s primary embedding mechanism is seen in how they pay attention to, measure and control aspects of organization’s operations and decision making. They initiate great conversations that tie cultural norms to the organization’s goals. If the current culture is not aligned with the new realities, leaders need to be the catalyst to create new understanding and help individuals select new behaviors and, eventually, beliefs. Leaders must also define, clarify and reinforce understanding of the actions and beliefs that build the desired culture. 

To examine how IT leaders influence the IT organizational culture and IT branding let’s use some of E. H. Schein primary embedding mechanisms and apply it in the IT perspective. Each one comes with a set of questions you can use to assess the impact of such embedding mechanism in your IT organization right now: 

What Leaders Pay Attention To, Measure, and Control on a Regular Basis  

Although performance measures presented in the leader’s reporting dashboard change from time to time, most of the leaders that I know only pay attention to a small set of key performance indicators. IT leaders rely on a subset of key measures that they believe is the best indicator of the overall performance of the organization. As an IT manager, you know what your CIO is looking at and controlling most of time. Your CIO gets your attention and tracks certain aspects of operations based on these key performance indicators. In some instances, the CIO will try to drill down and find more information about a perceived problem and base his request for action on this. The performance measures that IT leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis dictate the importance given by the organization to a service, a problem or a project. 

It is but a natural tendency for managers, staff and different groups within IT to keep track of the performance measures that IT leaders are more attentive to. More likely, these people discuss these controls in daily IT operations meetings. Some will even set alarms so as to act swiftly on incidents before they become major problems. Performance measures and controls are powerful mechanisms that IT leaders use to forge a working culture based on what they think is important. How current are your departmental metrics? Do they measure against your current organizational objectives? Do they reflect the coming changes and help prepare your team for new ways of working? 

How Leaders React to Critical Incidents and Organizational Crises  

Companies in this day and age rely on an integrated set of digitized platforms and infrastructure to run and manage its business operations. When a critical IT incident occurs, it often impacts mission-critical systems and processes that affect business operations. These days, it is not hard to imagine how something like this can directly impair the ability of the company to serve its customers. These kinds of problems could unfavorably hurt the company’s profits and reputation in the short term. When a major IT incident disrupts most critical processes of the company, the credibility and reputation of the IT organization is heavily dependent on their perceived preparedness and responses during the situation. The CIO is at the forefront of disaster recovery measures and business continuity management and continues to work hand-in-hand with business managers. For mature IT groups, the planning, work and infrastructure that that is used to run disaster and business continuity situations are completed way before major incidents occur. 

Business continuity and disaster recovery is part of an organizational learning process. In the wake of a crisis, IT leaders adopt a learning orientation and use prior experience to develop new routines and behaviors that ultimately change the way the organization prepares and responds to crisis. The best leaders recognize this and are purposeful and skillful in finding the learning opportunities inherent in every crisis situation. Is your organization proactive about problem management, disaster recovery, and business continuity preparedness? What can you do to better build your team’s capabilities to manage critical incidents and crisis situations?   

How Leaders Allocate Resources

IT leaders have control on the allocation of resources in the organization. This applies to operational and projects resource assignments. The CIO controls the budget allocation to key projects, resource assignment to operations areas, and the time IT members spend on certain initiatives. On the other hand, the CIO also controls how and where to slash resources during budget optimization. How leaders allocate the resources of the organization creates a natural signal to its members about their priorities and what they think creates more value to the company. His or her interpretation of the business strategy and the expectations of the company’s shareholders impact the leader’s decision making process. Resources mean money and time. Therefore, when the CIO decides on the operating and capital budget portfolio allotment, this provides managers an indication of where in the organization best efforts and priorities are expected.

Another strong indication of the CIO’s priorities can be observed on how he spends time. To better understand the job of the CIO, Peter Weill, MIT profession and co-author of the book IT Savvy, examined how CIOs allocate their time. CIOs allocate time in four major areas: managing IT Services, working with non-IT colleagues, working with customers, and managing enterprise processes. Time allocation varies a lot because of individual management style but in most cases, where the CIO spends the most time sends a strong message. As an IT leader, examine how you spend your time. How do you think it impacts the desired cultural values of your organization? In what ways should you change your managerial regimens to better present, explain, and reinforce the desired culture?

Deliberate Role Modeling, Teaching, and Coaching

We all naturally know that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership, but ironically it’s often the most overlooked. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. I think the most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions.  Leaders should be engaged with IT operations but their engagement in it should not be limited to supervising and running operations but also guiding, teaching and coaching managers.

Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and fast innovating area of the company. If the CIO is not forward looking, it can’t provide the business with a platform to continue to be competitive and at par with competitors who are relentlessly pursuing innovation. IT leaders are fascinated about the future. They are relentless about change and impatient for progress. CIOs are always looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, looking for ways of plotting a course of new processes, tools and methodologies and experimenting how it will make sense in business in the future. How many types of developmental conversations occur in your organization? How can you create a culture of learning that goes beyond traditional classroom training? In what ways do your communication tools and practices help build your team’s skills for participating in conversations about goals, changes, and barriers they face? What can you do to better build your team’s capabilities for participating in transformative conversations? Is learning embraced at all levels?

The values and priorities of the IT leader- may it be the CIO, CTO, IT VP or IT Director— are reflected in the culture of the information technology (IT) organization. This is true also for other organizations, big or small, that has its members working together for some time. A positive organizational culture reinforces the core beliefs and behaviors that a leader desires while weakening the values and actions the leader rejects (Kaufman 2002). A negative culture becomes toxic, poisoning the life of the organization and hindering any future potential for growth. Obviously, there is an inevitable bridge joining organizational culture and the level of success it enjoys (Peters and Waterman 1982).

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Business Lessons from My Wii Fit Plus Experience

I have gained some extra pounds since the beginning of this year and this has hurt my right ankle a bit. For the past 3 months, I have been planning but failing to have a continuous physical regimen that will bring my body to a comfortable weight …until I found my new buddy – my Wii Fit Plus! It has been more than a week of Wii Fit training and I have not missed a day of fun workout. I definitely feel much better now. There is no hidden secret why Wii Fit has been so effective. What keep me coming back are the daily body tests that allows me to monitor my progress as compared to the goal that I set. The Wii Fit performance dashboards are amazing control measures! 

If performance measures are so effective in driving personal results, how does it relate to business? This is what this article is about — my reflections on the business of my Wii Fit Plus experience. 

Set Your Goals and Charting Progress 

When I first played Wii Fit Plus, I was asked to set a goal for myself concerning my Body Mass Index (BMI). So I set where I’d like to end up — including the timeframe. Goals and graphs appear on the calendar so it’s easy to visually see my progress towards my goal. Another fun thing was receiving feedback from my personal Wii trainer – giving me pointers and encouraging me towards meeting my goals. 

In business, this can be likened to the combination of your strategic objectives setting and performance management system. Normally, you start the year off with a planning session. This is the time when you lay out your strategic plans and goals. Once you have those strategic plans, they are translated to tactical objectives and then into operational goals. Most organizations have multiple business units, divisions and departments, each with their own responsibilities, processes and applications. Those tactical and operational goals trickle downward to individual employees. As you can imagine, in such a complex organization, the question is: How can you monitor and measure your progress towards the organization’s business goals? How do you encourage each department to continue working towards meeting those goals? 

Business Intelligence and Performance Dashboards 

Wii Fit Plus provided simple graphs detailing my progress with my BMI, weight, Wii Fit Age and Fit Credits, as well as a calendar to monitor my training and goals. I was able to compare the calendar and graphs with my wife’s on the same Wii Fit Plus game, so both of us got involved. 

In my opinion, the graphs represent the Business Intelligence (BI) and Performance Dashboard. The BI and Performance Dashboards are part of the company’s performance management system and is also the organization’s magnifying glass. It is composed of anything from daily operational reports to weekly tactical analysis and a single-screen cockpit that provides Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the business. Business Intelligence and Performance Dashboards allow the business to: 

  • Monitor – supervise key processes using key performance indicators that prompt alerts when potential deviation and problems arises.
  • Evaluate – analyze the possible causes of the problem by exploring relevant and timely information from different levels and multiple perspectives.
  • Manage – direct organization and processes to improve decision, optimize performance, refine strategy and steer the business in the right direction. 

The best way that executives can drive their business today is through an interactive dashboard that contains both historic and forward looking measures. Using performance dashboards, executives can view and analyze information about business results and the activities they manage. For middle managers, it will help them view departmental business metrics at a glance and drill down quickly to smaller segments of actionable information. 

Business Intelligence and Performance Dashboards are powerful agents of change. They help business reach their goals. This is much like how my Wii Plus charts has helped me achieve my personal targets!

Photo courtesy of Wii Fit Plus and SAP Business Suite.

Project Management Discipline – Key Component of Any Business Process Initiative

The project that I am currently involved in has been very successful. Unfortunately, I can’t give you many details about it, except that the team is tasked to implement a new business model. It involves blueprinting the new model, construction, organizational transformation and implementation in a multinational company. We are not even finished with the project yet but the business return on investments has been unprecedented. In projects as big as this, you can talk about many success factors. The common clichés are senior management support, adequate change management, good business model design and construction, excellent resources, etc. However, I would like to single out one success factor that has inspired me to write this article—project management discipline.

Project management has been practiced since early civilization.  It began with engineering projects and it was in the early 1950s that companies started systematically applying project management principles and tools in complex business projects. It could be the oldest trick in the book.  But it is still a key element to any business integration initiative. 

Steve Small is a colleague of mine. He manages Project Management processes. I would like to quote him about his views on project management.

“I look at Project Management as the force that provides the structure, framework, and guidance for all the participants, activities and deliverables; however, the ultimate success factor for any project is the strength of the team you have in place. I know it is a cliché but it is really all about the people!”  

 Let’s analyze Steve’s quote and from it, derive key points of project management concepts. 

Structure, Framework and Guidance 

Let’s start with structure and framework. There are many project management frameworks and methodologies out there but there is a common theme in all of them. They all contain the traditional sequence of steps. They are typically comprised of the following stages: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Completion. These steps tell you what you have to do – how to manage your projects from start to finish. It describes every step in the project life cycle, so you know exactly which tasks to complete, when and how. Whether you’re an experienced project manager or a novice, it guides you in administering the project.  

Activities and Deliverables 

When it comes to explaining activities and deliverables, the PRINCE2 diagram and approach is my favorite. Why? It is because the framework provides the life cycle based on the project processes with clearly defined inputs and outputs. 

  • Starting up a project Inputs: Project Mandate; Outputs: Project manager and project management team appointment, business case and project brief
  • Initiating a project Inputs: Project brief, business case and approach; Outputs: Project plan, refined business case, project controls, project initiation documents
  • Directing a projectInputs: Project plan, project controls; Outputs: Authorized initiation and stages, day to day project management and controlling.
  • Controlling – Inputs: Status reports, alarms, issues and risks; Outputs: Issue resolution, reviewed project stage output, issue escalation.
  • Managing stage boundariesInputs: Project stage progress; Outputs: Planned next stage, updated project plan (if necessary), updated business case (if necessary) and Stage end reporting.
  • Closing a project Inputs: Overall project results / output; Outputs: Project decommissioned and project evaluation reviews.

People and Other Resources 

Resources are essential to carry out the project task set forth by the project mandate. They can be people, equipment, facilities and financial. When you lack a project resource, it becomes a constraint that might affect the completion of the tasks. Resources need to be managed and balanced through project management so these are adequate in any given time to complete project activities. Normally, resource assignment considers how each task is prioritized. Resource scheduling, availability and optimization are considered key to successful project management. 

I spent a good portion of my work experience in projects. I had the privilege to work with people from different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and process areas. I like participating in projects because it gives me an ever changing set of opportunities and challenges. As they say, no two projects are the same. It is mainly because of the temporary nature of a project — having a defined start and end date. It is a complete contrast to business-as-usual operations, where individuals and groups have predefined, usually repetitive tasks and goals to achieve value. 

To be continued…

In my succeeding post, we will discuss program management. Viewing program management as just administration of a collection of projects is a mistake. Program management is more than that. It is more involved with the firm’s over-all Process Culture. Vaughan Merlyn has written extensively about this topic in his blog IT Organization Circa 2017. Let’s see what we can draw up from his ideas and discuss it in the next article.