Listen Up!

earphonesWe all know people who like to talk.  Talk, talk, talk. And then talk some more. Even the most eloquent orators are best advised to shut up and listen once in awhile. Sometimes silence really can be golden.

Opening Remarks

Listening can be hard work, so it’s no surprise that so few people choose to engage in this challenging behavior. It really does take practice, and after all, who has time these days to do anything but say what they need to say and then move on to the next task or one-sided discussion?

We just have too much going on to care about what someone else is saying. Unfortunately, all too many people see listening as a non-productive use of their time.  When organizational leaders feel this way, sub-optimization cannot be too far behind.

Soliloquy & Segue

Ask any good musician what it takes to be successful. One of the tips they almost always give is that the best musicians listen to what others are playing. That’s how the great bands become more than just the sum of their parts.  Sure it’s always about having the chops necessary to play one’s parts; however, an unwillingness to listen – by even the most naturally gifted and talented player in the band – will keep the overall unit from reaching its potential.

Corporations, small businesses, governments, and non-profits alike, as well as the organizations within them, all work the same way in this regard. The bully pulpit that often attaches to leadership positions and subject matter expertise is a bit like Eve and that apple. Tempting as it may be to push the agenda forward as quickly as possible, those who keep talking and don’t listen run the risk of missing things. Sometimes the devil really is in the details…details which only become known by listening to what someone else has to say.

Rambling On

The lost art of  listening can lead to better solutions to every day business problems.  In many professions, it’s not unusual to get caught in the middle between functional and business leaders. There seems to really be no shortage of those situations that put proverbial body parts of employees within the tight grips of proverbial vises.  Not a fun place to be, but hardly unusual or unique.

Both protagonists and antagonists of high rank often tend to be quite good at making the meek, humble, and occupationally-dependent feel overwhelming and unhealthy senses of personal responsibility/accountability for whatever the problem is in a particular situation. Usually the “science” of the competing arguments is clear and at least somewhat justified. However, it’s the lost “art” of listening that is a lot less obvious in its potential to help everyone move past apparent impasse and productivity loss.

Closing Arguments

In arguing its case through you, does each side make its point in a way that considers that there is an opposing view that could have some merit? Are they stopping to get your opinion or just telling you how it is and how it’s going to be? Is self-promotion and/or self-preservation behavior evident? Do tone and word selection convey emotion?

Depending on the answers to these questions,  there’s probably not much to be gained at any level from matching word count, volume, or apparent strength of conviction. Sometimes it’s best to just let it all go down and be the sponge. Soak it all in. Walk away. Think. Let things chill a bit – especially if there’s been a precipitating event that touched things off.

Now just might be the time for everyone to ‘Listen Up!‘.

True Dat

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                                                                                                                                                                                                             These 12 truths appear in no particular order.Their apparent simplicity belies their underlying complexity. 

                                                                                                                                                                                     1. Monetary incentives really can promote bad behaviors. This truth often appears along side of its “smart people do stupid things” corollary.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                             2. Selling on price really is easier. That’s why so many people do it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. Analysis really can lead to paralysis. At a certain point, it’s time to move forward.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 4. Self-interest really does rule the roost. People are rarely willing to truly take one for the team, especially when they know it’s really going to sting.
                                                                                                                                                                                                   5. Relationships really are important. They are arguably the best way to build something that lasts in an organization.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 6. Team building really does not effectively simulate real life to any great extent. The co-worker who catches your fall during the “trust exercise” may just be one most likely to throw you under a bus.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                7. Following the money really does work. This time-honored analysis technique is one you can always count on to more fully explain human behavior.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                8. Innovation, invention, and originality really are hard work. That’s why people often find it easier to copy rather to create.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              9. There are really only two kinds of people in a privately-owned company. Those who own it, and those who don’t.
                                                                                                                                                                                                               10. Customer service really is important. Remove it or compromise it if you want to see how quickly bad things can happen to your business.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        11. Occupational stereotypes really can and do ring true. Sales people are often outgoing, accountants-boring, engineers-introverted, scientists-meticulously methodical, IT folks-geeky, and so on….
                                                                                                                                                                                                              12.  There really is not enough credit to go around. That’s why people feel they have to steal it from others.

 

 

Taxman Cometh

 

 

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“Should five per cent appear too small. Be thankful I don’t take it all. ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman.” -the Beatles 

Deep sighs of relief abound as another Tax Day has come and gone. But if you listen closely, those sighs aren’t the only sounds you can hear. You can still hear the sounds of people grumbling about their taxes.

Grumble, Grumble

People grumbling over taxes goes way back. Yes, even before 1966 when the Fab Four’s George Harrison penned his critique, aggrieved parties in Boston held their tea party and sent a tax message back accross the pond to England. While the issues have changed, it remains true that no one really likes paying taxes. Nor thinks all aspects of the U.S. tax code make sense.

Tax Day

April 15th is a day that almost everyone knows to be an important one. It is arguably the most known date that is not a national holiday or one that appears on a religious calendar. For sure, it’s also a date that’s much more important for those who owe taxes versus those who by this date have already spent their tax refunds on consumer electronics or otherwise put the funds back into the economy.

But one thing that has changed is what Tax Day looks like at the local post office. Remember when there actually used to be traffic jams around U.S. Post Offices on Tax Day?  Youngsters will someday find this hard to believe. Local news teams covered the annual ritual with gusto. For those trying to get anywhere by car, it was necessary to select alternate travel routes.  I think people even sold coffee and donuts out front. These days, not so much.

Sweet Redemption

Another reason that April 15th stands out is that it is that one day in the year where the tables get temporarily turned. It’s a bit illogical, but it’s a day where events that seemed bad when they happened now become worth something financially. Did you sell your house or shares of stock at a loss? Or maybe cringe as you wrote out those alimony checks? What about paying mortgage interest, PMI, and real estate taxes? Perhaps you awoke to find your pockets empty after a long fuzzy night in the casino? Or maybe even experienced something as terrible as death in the family.

But Oh Mother of Mercy and Sweet Redemption -these decidedly negative events may have positive value on April 15th! This could only pretty much be true in the topsy-turvy, upside down, mixed up shook up world of tax. Of course, deductibility of these events and any associated positive tax value may be subject to this, that, and the other limitation, exclusion, or exception. So check the code first, as should always be the disclaimer in the wacky world of tax.

Kramer : It’s just a write off for them .

Jerry : How is it a write off ?

Kramer : They just write it off .

Kramer : Jerry all these big companies they write off everything

Jerry : You don’t even know what a write off is .

Kramer : Do you ?

Jerry : No . I don’t .

Kramer : But they do and they are the ones writing it off .

No Taxes

Once upon a time, I had a job as the top finance person in a company. Accordingly I took great pride in the profitability and balance sheet strength the company had built. For as long as I live and probably even a bit longer, I will never forget the retired company founder, who had just returned from Florida one spring, telling me that I was not doing a very good job at all when it came to taxes.

At first this puzzled me, but then retired owner dude made it crystal clear that we should be paying a lot less in taxes. Retired owner dude apparently had met another similarly retired owner dude who had done quite well but paid very little in taxes each year. Right in line with our CPAs who had been similarly charged in the allegations, my response was to point out that since we were making money, we should expect to be paying some taxes. Silly me.

If you lock in on the mental imagery, you can surely picture these two retired owner dudes talking tax (or lack thereof) while feeding the sea gulls down in Florida- Gulf side of course – in their black knee socks, sandals, and Bermuda shorts!

Bad Policy

I’m no different from anyone else when it comes to having a few pet peeves around taxes. First and foremost, I tend to be critical of what I call “bad policy”. Simply put, this is what results when the tax code discourages the right behaviors from happening, or encourages the wrong behaviors, and in general does not serve the greater collective good of our great nation.

In my opinion, one excellent example at the federal level is found with the alternative minimum tax or AMT. Attempting to ensure that those at higher income levels take their share of the tax burden does not seem like such a bad thing. However, above a certain income level, several overly nasty, almost punitive, tax penalties kick in that discourage the right behaviors from happening. At least in some cases, folks wishing to avoid AMT magically seem to earn right up to the limit and then stop earning (and paying in additional funds to the tax kitty). Bad policy.

We should want these relatively successful individuals and small businesses to “keep going”, earning more and creating jobs as they go. Which obviously would be good for the greater good.

More Bad Policy

Another example is found in at least one state’s capital stock franchise tax. What it does is tax the retained earnings of a business. This is analogous to the government taxing the entire balance in an individual’s savings account. This does not serve well in attracting new corporate residents. Bad policy.

I know of a small businessman who is engaged in what is primarily a service business. His mistake is that he keeps some taxable retail stock on hand to service a very specialized and often medically referred subset of his clientele. He is quick to point out that he pays the same tax bill twice if the specific unit of inventory is on hand at the end of two successive tax years. Bad policy….Maybe he needs to winter in Florida to get some tax tips.

Real Alternative?

There’s a Stanford professor named Joseph Bankman, who advocates that the IRS should prepare our tax returns. His logic goes that employers and financial institutions are already sending the IRS our tax information, so why not let the IRS do the work for us? Critics point out that this reduces the involvement of taxpayers in the tax process, which then starts to sound like that whole taxation without representation thing all over again.

It seems that there is also a strong lobby against Bankman’s thinking. It turns out that the company Intuit thinks the IRS preparing our tax returns is a bad idea. Their product portfolio includes Turbo Tax.

As with most things, it pays to follow the money!

 

Build Something!

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Why not build something?  Something that will last.

Out there in the streets of corporate America, life seems to be getting tougher with each passing day. The pressure to achieve short-term results has never been greater. In fact, this pressure seems to be increasing exponentially.  Perhaps it is an idealistic delusion that tells us that by now we should be much further beyond where we are in this regard.  The good news is that each and every day places us at a series of crossroads. This is precisely where we can make choices about how we go about doing what it is we do.

While top-level objectives, especially earnings targets in public companies, are best and more safely viewed as fixed, there is probably greater latitude to build something that will last than first seems apparent.  There often exists some amount of room for artistic freedom, individual conscience, and long-term thinking in how we choose to go about meeting the top-level requirements.

Build products

Not everyone gets to play in the product sandbox every day when they go to work. However, those who do are in a great position to literally build something that will last rather than just build something that gets out the door quickly, works for a while, and then falls apart or stops working altogether. Engineers, brand managers, and ultimately production organizations collectively decide how long a tangible product that we as consumers buy will last.

Even with cost and go-to-market constraints, the decisions these folks make determine how long your car, refrigerator, or cell phone will last. Not that everything can or should last forever.  But building something that will last is ultimately good for a company and its stakeholders.

Build experiences

On the service side, sales representation, delivery, technical support, and customer service go together to define what is commonly called “customer experience”.  Depending on the business, billing, credit, and collections are financial areas that enter into the experiential realm.  And these days, who can deny the role of web sites and other IT services in building experience?

Building customer experience is not a slam dunk. It’s hard work and involves many pieces and parts of an organization. Applied to tangible product or services, for-profit and non-profit, building customer experiences that will last leads to market differentiation which ultimately builds brand equity. Building customer experiences that last is ultimately good for a company and all its stakeholders.

Build processes

Processes are the support systems that hold together entire product and service experience structures. Arguably the first two “builds” above are not likely to happen without first building processes that last. This is an areas where organizations who choose the easy short-term answers get burnt in the long-run. It is easy to build a process “house of cards”. It takes less time and costs less. Is it any great wonder that they fall apart just as easily?

Processes involve many people and departments throughout an organization.  As a result, they are very vulnerable to short-term cost pressures. Downsizing, reorganization, and ill-advised tinkering works against strength in process. When processes fail, entire companies, or at least businesses and individuals within them, fail because customers, products, and services are impacted. Building processes that last is ultimately good for a company and its stakeholders.

Build bridges

Regardless of what job we hold in our organizations, we all have the opportunity to build relationships that last. Always important but often overlooked as aspect of organizational life, this “build” becomes even more critical as our work forces take on greater cultural, generational, and geographic diversity. Acute short-term pressure for results in our Darwin meets Dilbert organizational lives makes this at the same time both more challenging and more important. In the end, it is people who make the product, experience, and process “builds” possible.

Building relationships that last is not about co-workers and colleagues wanting to become life-long friends. Some of that happens, but by odds and necessity, it will always be the exception rather than the rule. What this “build” is really about is having more people within the workplace actively trying to find the spans of understanding that add up to a better set of sustainable working relationships with which to accomplish the organization’s work. Building relationship bridges that last is ultimately good for a company and its stakeholders.

Build futures

Mentoring and helping others to become better future contributors to building things that last may indeed be reaching lost art status in today’s workplace and maybe even the greater world at large.  It is highly likely that the whole short-term pressure thing is causing this organizational casualty. Overwhelmed people in overwhelmed organizations find it next to impossible to take the time to develop people. Everyone is fully occupied trying to manage their own short-term issues in order to meet their own short-term requirements and needs. Who has time to worry about building others beyond the short-term need?

From a broad organizational sense, this has significantly weakened bench strength everywhere and has led to increased hiring from the outside when positions requiring experiences not found internally do open up. While it may be too soon to know the long-term impacts of all this, it seems likely that it will become even harder to build products, experiences, processes, and bridges that last. Building futures that last is ultimately good for the organization and its stakeholders.

Build something that will last

The good news is that it is definitely not too late.  Everyone just needs to become a bit more of a builder by trying to do just a little more with this one each and everyday. Even with today’s mountain of short-term pressures, individuals making the right choices collectively can build something. We can build something that lasts.

014“You may say I’m a dreamer. 

But I’m not the only one.” 

-John Lennon

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Alone

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I alone can’t do it.  Can you? 

After all, it’s hard to have diversity without people. Not even the most adept cost cutters and top-tier value engineers have figured out how to achieve diversity without people.  Not to put it past some to try…but everyone needs someone to help them succeed. 

Adaptive Behaviors

Differences in people and between teams within organizations should be embraced.  Awareness, adaptation, and inclusion are the catalysts through which the raw materials of diversity are set in motion. No amount of stand alone best-in-class attributes will yield an advantage for your company or organization on its own. Someone still has to put it all together. Or at least try.

Adaptive behavior has become a mode of corporate necessity. Survivors at all levels of the organization’s hierarchy continue to exhibit remarkable adaptability. It has become considerably more difficult to navigate within organizational waters. Like never before, survival out in the swirl and white water chop of Corporate America requires not just having the right set of paddles but constantly finding new ways to use them.

This illustrates both the spirit and essence of adaptive behaviors. If individuals can do it, why do many organizations come up short in this area? Maybe organizations do not automatically equal the sum of their parts?

Definitional Subjectivity

Despite attempts to standardize, defining diversity remains a relative and subjective pursuit. Taking a closer look at diversity through a lens that sees beyond the word’s most obvious and traditional definitions is a necessary first step. The main point here is that the definition of diversity most often depends on who is defining it.

For example, Augusta National Golf Club’s diversity for years has been and perhaps still is best defined by its exclusion. With the exception of a few notable inclusions, Augusta has somewhat infamously been able to rest on its status as a private organization as it defines diversity or its lack thereof. Each and every May, TV cameras, spectators, and advertising dollars still flock to these sacred grounds of golf. Membership must have its privileges after all.

In relative obscurity when compared to our Augusta National example, business owners, organizations, and leaders within them also tend to define diversity in their own terms. I guess that’s how they know when they get it right. While they get some help from the legal system and regulatory agencies, diversity that goes beyond the tenets of the U.S. Constitution is definitionally inconsistent and subjective.

Broader Context

There are many aspects to diversity, inclusion and adaptability. And with these aspects come implications for organizational effectiveness and corporate life.  While the Augusta example walks along the cart paths of race, ethnicity, and gender, issues of diversity in organizations are characterized by more subtle and in many cases less fundamental differences.

After all, it’s not enough just to hire people whose presence on the employee rolls allows HR to check off the necessary boxes on EEO reports. Thinking that employing the best and brightest from every walk of life and a variety of different cultures is the end is like thinking that  the world’s finest food ingredients will magically assemble themselves into the perfect meal.

Obviously, it just doesn’t work that way. For as a chef must do in the kitchen, an organization must similarly take proper care and measure to achieve the successful blend of its handpicked ingredients. Without careful attention, the result ends up being something  less than the sum of its parts.

Inability to Blend

It can be argued that most organizations demonstrate an inability to optimize blend. And that failing to do so hurts organizational effectiveness.

Do employees receive the right diversity cues from their organization and its leaders?

Is there organizational acceptance for sharing ideas that may differ from the organization’s conventional wisdom? 

Does the organization stand by as managers consistently fill their teams with people just like them?

Are employees allowed to be themselves?

When enough of the answers to these questions or questions like these turn out to be, “no”, “never”, “not enough”, or “not really” , the resulting environment is almost certain to carry with it a real or perceived political risk associated with engaging in behaviors that can actually strengthen organizational effectiveness.  It is downright ironic from an organizational behavior point of view because the enterprise essentially robs itself of basic connections needed to make its diversity current flow.

Consequently, the collective sum in organizations like these will not add up.

Diversity Disconnects

Some amount of diversity leakage occurs when employees feel that they are not allowed to be themselves when performing their particular work role. If employees do not feel comfortable being themselves at work, the organization loses potential contribution and connectivity. In a classic statistical sense , over-constraining variables results in suboptimization of the output variable.

If the organization does not send a message that it values some amount of constructive differences within its walls, then the individuals within these walls will be unlikely to value differences. They will become less likely to express themselves or interact with those who they perceive might be just a little bit off the corporate mark. Consequently, the connections that trigger the sparks of innovation remain disconnected.

Rolling It Up

Diversity disconnects like this very naturally and effortlessly roll up to departments, business units, and divisions. They parallel organizational structure with uncanny accuracy. If one functional discipline or business unit always dominates, the attributes of others are suppressed. The largest animals in the jungle continue to be fed while others possessing other very useful and adaptive attributes are left to compete for the scraps.

In the animal kingdom, these may include possessing lightning speed, having acute night vision, or being able to fly.  In a corporate sense, these attributes may center around technology, customer service, or market adaptations. If budget dollars and other resources always flow to the department or business unit with the biggest clout or most current success, the environment becomes primed for complacency and stagnation.

Myopic self-imposed barriers become limiting factors for organizational adaptation as the big dogs keep doing the same things and fail to innovate. This becomes extremely dangerous because this is exactly when disruptive market behavior of competitors can go unnoticed. Ostriches with their heads in the sand have trouble seeing what’s coming at them. By the time they look up, it may well be too late.

Benefits of Blend

All this said, it is obviously extremely difficult to run an organization in a way that maximizes diversity through adaptive behaviors at individual, department, business unit, and enterprise levels.  After all, this must be achieved while at the same doing such mundane and existential things as protecting market share and delivering required financial returns. It becomes a full-time job on top of what already is one.

For a corporate culture to even make any movement toward this idyllic amalgamic state, its leaders must nudge it forward. To do so requires some key people at the top holding the belief that the “benefits of blend” outweigh homogenous efficiencies. After all, business does not and should not see itself primarily in terms of a social mission. To be sure, business is a capitalist pursuit, and success is its imperative.

In the end, this really is what we’ve been talking about here all along – corporate success achieved through organizational effectiveness. Diversity is not an end state. What’s important is getting the benefits of blend. I alone can’t do it. Can you? 

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Got Feel?

Are you just going through the motions in your job?  Or do you feel it…you know, really feel it?

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Mixed Bag of Feel

Many people go to jobs each day that they outright hate or at least really don’t enjoy very much. Some people awake daily in pre-dawn hours and commute great distances for what – to basically be unhappy for eight hours plus. Each and every day. For various reasons, they do it – day after day, week after week, year after year.  Before they know it, they are locked into a seemingly unbreakable routine for their entire careers. Yes, doing jobs they don’t really like. For a lifetime. What gives?

Fortunately the opposite is also true. And quite often.  Real life people, with whom you come in contact and who seem to really enjoy what they’re doing, really do exist. Think about the guy takes your favorite deli sandwich to the next level.  What about the yoga studio owner who seems totally on this earth to be doing exactly what she’s doing? Then there’s that starving artist-type musician who effortless conveys  a sweet vibe of contentment with his or her art form.  Yes, these people are really out there.

And do you know what?  These people all have something in common. They got feel.

First Level of Feel

And what is this feel that these people got?  Well, for one thing – it is in knowing in their hearts and minds that they’ve picked the right trade, profession, or career.  Square pegs don’t fit in round holes, and when they do, we can see right through it.  As difficult as it was to say, I once counseled an exiting employee not to seek employment in another financial position.  Sometimes disconnects really are that fundamental and irreparable.  Fulfilling this first fundamental of feel requires having the natural talents or acquired learning to even get on the map of occupational or professional competency.

You won’t see this type of feel in a customer service representative who doesn’t enjoy helping people. You won’t see it in a sales person who doesn’t enjoy the challenge of overcoming objections and providing customers with solutions. You won’t see it an engineer who doesn’t have a natural inclination and facility around math and the applied sciences. And you won’t see it an accountant who isn’t good with numbers, the litigator who doesn’t enjoy persuasive debate, a veterinarian who doesn’t like animals, or the actress who shuns the camera.  You get the idea.

Second & Third Tier Feel

A second distinguishing characteristic of those who got feel is that they have a real connection to what they’re doing.  They aren’t just going through the motions.  It’s not just one size fits all, parts is parts, and doesn’t matter to me whether I’m selling refrigerators, automobiles, or timeshares kind of thing.  Ironically this lack of feel has a certain transparency about it that allows us to see right through it.

Some might refer to the feel of connection as passion, but it doesn’t even necessarily have to go that far.  That word can be a little strong at times and is often overused. The feel of connection can be as simple as a natural affinity for a particular industry or product group. For example, a high school drummer friend of mine has made what appears to be a pretty good career working for a cymbal company.  From his Facebook posts featuring outright stars of percussion and his product informational videos, you can tell he’s got feel.

Feel can also derive from cultivated interest or appreciation in what’s going on around you.  In other words, the attributes or foundational characteristics of those around you in the workplace or the business at hand can lead one to feel it.  Maybe your workplace is a non-profit that really makes a positive difference in people’s lives.  Or maybe your business provides a life-sustaining product or does research that ultimately increases our quality of life.   Perhaps you work for architectural firm that specializes in commercially unique design.  Even if your job is not directly involved in product or service delivery in one of these situations, you can still feel it. If you do, you got feel.

Do I got feel?

So, do I got feel?  Yeah, I got feel.  First off I picked one of the professions to which my natural aptitudes and abilities were well-suited.  You see, generically speaking, I am an accountant. There I’ve said it –  an accountant. You know, those folks who are routinely accused of not feeling anything let alone feeling it.  Those born without emotion, compassion, or ability to feel close to anything or anyone.  But it’s not that simple ever, is it?

Signing on to an accounting career pretty much involves agreeing that you will never be the star of the show. If you do become a star of your employer’s show, you either work in public accounting or your company has big problems.  Accordingly you agree to serve in a support role to the primary activities of your employer.  For me, it’s been a career that’s consisted of strong, relatively long runs with only three different employers.

The Wheel of Feel

So let’s spin the big wheel of feel, and we’re only going to need to spin it three times. But nonetheless, around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody knows…..

On our first wheel stop, feel came for me from the perfect corporate culture at the perfect time within which I very naturally cozied up to the company’s noble calling of digging limestone out of the ground, mixing it with specialty polymers, and creating the stunning visuals of resilient vinyl flooring.  Strange as it sounds, my feel for this particular business came from knowing that chemists, engineers, production crews, and product stylists knew how to generate market-leading floors that consumers really wanted to buy.  At least part of this theme would reprise.

Next stop for the wheel would be a marketing services fulfillment business where I never fully connected with the culture.  Because I was Controller and then CFO, there was a certain built-in professional feel for me because I was for the first time in my career able to call most of my own shots in a financial sense.  That part was a lot of fun.  So there was some feel in this respect, but the pick, pack, and ship mantra of the fulfillment industry left me less than fulfilled.  Ultimately in this case, feel and fulfillment did not go together in the final analysis.

As the third wheel stop clicks into place, my connection of feel emanates from an association with an electronics business whose stars are smart in ways that I am clearly not and never will be. To me, it’s hugely impressive (in similar fashion to the aforementioned vinyl mine) that electrical engineers, product managers, and sales/marketing folks can go from design to build to market with solutions that are truly cutting edge from a technology point of view.  To these stars, the products and their own accomplishments are not necessarily anything more than “what it is that we do”, but to me and to others in our larger corporate family, what these people do has a certain geek is chic mystique to it. And it is very impressive.

Huge non-financial dividends of feel exist for those in support positions such as mine who go beyond the sea of mind-numbing part numbers to really feel what is all around us.  On the functional side of the organization, there’s the additional feel kicker of being part of a very highly accomplished and skilled corporate finance team that keeps me on my toes and engaged.

So oh yeah baby, I got feel. Do you?

Can’t Refuse

When Don Corleone is talking to you, sometimes what follows is an offer that you just can’t refuse.  Often the smart money says to take it. Otherwise you could end up like Luca Brasi. You know, swimming with the fishes! 

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Opportunity Knocks

This is true even in Corporate America.  A Godfather-like opportunity came my way about a year and a half ago.  It was truly an offer I couldn’t refuse. Fortunately it was in a corporate setting and didn’t carry with it the full and final existential impact of a mafia movie plot.  It was much more subtle, but a top company official took the time to call me several times to provide counsel and input on a job opportunity that had rather suddenly come my way within the company.

It was clear that I should take the job, but it wasn’t very clear as to why I should take it or what would happen if I didn’t.  Despite rumors, rumblings, and other innuendo on the corporate street corners, information was sketchy out there in the land of organizational ambiguity. Clearly others knew more about the situation than I did, but perhaps an organizational omerta kept them from talking.

After I had accepted the new job and after the passage of some time with little to no action to fill my prior position, I realized that I had indeed accepted one of those offers you really just can’t refuse.  Rather suddenly or so it seemed, I now had two jobs!

Two Jobs & Quick Math

When confronted with confusion, chaos, and/or crisis, most people naturally revert back to their innate strengths.  For me – a guy who has demonstrated some facility with numbers over the years – this meant that situational clarity would be attained via some quick math.  As it turned out, I didn’t really need excel to perform the arithmetic functions to yield the result that having two jobs was considerably better than having no job.

You see… sometimes out there in Corporate America, top executives see opportunities for cost savings. Often the people who get to be high-ranking corporate executives are really good at this.   It’s almost like a golfer who can hit a wedge that lends on the green and backspins to the hole not taking that club out of the bag when they need a good shot to keep pace or exceed the competition.  It’s an everyday go-to must-do can’t-pass it by kind of thing.

So by now we all should see it very clearly.  Having two jobs really was an opportunity.  The organization and its leaders had expressed considerable confidence in me or had concluded that the downside risks were manageable.  You know, how much damage could this guy with two jobs do in a year’s time?  So, it was with great enthusiasm and gusto that I moved forward with this new dual role gig.

First Responders & Roadside Assistance

Because people not positions make up organizations, boxes on an organizational chart are simply empty shapes until someone breathes life into them.  Enter the human and organizational aspects that became so much a part of what developed into a great learning experience. The dual role assignment became nothing short of a fantastic vantage point in the human behavior laboratory.  As is the case at most accident scenes, first responders are the ones who get there first. Unlike most accident scenes, first responders in Corporate America aren’t necessarily there to provide roadside assistance.

“Boy, you really got screwed.”, was the commentary vocalized by several first responders. Interestingly, several of these folks later (through no action of mine) became cost savings. Others said, “Wow, how are you going to do all that work?”… “You’re going to have to sleep here.”…  Also interrogatively whispered from the shadows on more than one occasion was, “Now, what are you going to do?”.

Get the picture? It was definitely a “good luck with that, buddy” kind of vibe.

Rugged Individualism is Human Nature

True to human nature and the rugged individualism that often governs survival in Corporate America, not offering to help is actually not about wishing ill will on a colleague.  It is also a huge difference from people who thrive on throwing others under buses.  Not offering to help is about self-interest . From a very early age, people are conditioned to take care of number one because no one else will.  This starts as children. Children eventually grow up to become coworkers.  It’s life’s natural order.

No one really ever assigned me hero status or knighted me for agreeing to take on the dual role challenge.  Nor were they willing to cut the guy with two jobs any slack. It really was at times very cold and thankless. Not to mention lonely when the building routinely cleared out at night and was otherwise empty on weekends.  Everyone still expected all of the previous deliverables from both positions even though it was now only one person fulfilling them.

I’m sure someone somewhere wanted to me fail or at least struggle mightily, but I must say indifference and/or self-absorption were the most prevalent themes. There are a lot worse parts of human nature that could have surfaced but didn’t. For this, we give thanks.

Opportunities & Rewards

The dual role situation became an excellent opportunity to improve processes.  Necessity became of the mother of invention. Financial positions offer very little latitude on meeting deadlines.  You either meet them, or you’re gone.  Controllers keep the trains running on time and get their passengers from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.  To do this in dual role mode required new approaches and fresh thinking.  And not just on my part.

This again brings us back to that inescapable factor in organizations -people.  The dual role situation required that people change what they were doing if the collective was to succeed.  This may not have been initially comfortable for all. However, embracing new ways of doing things and actually doing more and different things became SOP within the work group. Moving beyond comfort zones brought with it accelerated employee development.

In the final analysis, my single biggest reward from the dual assignment was seeing an employee who knew they would be exiting the company through related organizational change get a very good next position with a new employer. Accountant II easily moves to Accounting Manager in new position – in good part the result of experience gained from….well….an offer I just couldn’t refuse.

Sometimes when you pick up the phone it just may be an offer you just can’t refuse.  You don’t ever really know, do you?

 

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