Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Increasing the Productivity Yield from Your Employees

In many of the articles that we have published here, we have commented on the need to have the right business strategy. While that is true for the overall business, it is equally true for how companies use their resources and in particular, their most critical resource, their people. Yet, all too often companies either simply promote people who are doing well in their current job or in these days of layoffs and job cuts, move a manager from one job to another. Both are often done without sufficient reflection on the how the talents of the manager match up with the new responsibilities or how the talents fit with the overall business objectives. It’s important to stay smart in the current economy. You must have a talent strategy aligned with your business goals to increase leadership effectiveness, improve team performance, and stay competitive.

How do you develop that strategy? Cathy Hammer, a fellow Principal in 4Views, has some thoughts based on extensive experience and success.

How is talent strategy related to business strategy?
One grows directly from the other. You start by looking at the overall business strategy and identifying the skills, relationships, and global knowledge needed to execute that strategy in the short and long term. The idea is to make sure you have the talent to cover where you are going. For example, there is a company in the Silicon Valley hiring more engineers than they currently need because of the shortage of major talent in that sector. They’d rather spend money now than be caught short. But having a strategy isn’t just about new hires. Gaps can also be covered with additional education, networking exposure, mentoring etc.

What can be done to keep the talent budget in check?
With the need for quality managers vastly outpacing available talent, it’s critical to identify and grow a solid percentage of your next generation of leadership in house. Having a clear articulated leadership pipeline has the added benefit of improving the retention rate of quality employees. They are more certain they have a future with you. In terms of outside recruitment, identify great potential employees and sources of potential employees even when they aren’t needed right now. Stay in touch with them and woo them so that they will be available to you when you are ready for them. This will save you opening a lengthy expensive new search every time you have a key opening.

What should people do about their training and development budgets in this economy?
It’s tempting to cut back on development in tough economic times, but look at it as an investment in your people rather than as overhead. People want to do a great job but may lack some of the skills or experience that are required to maximize their performance. The new generation of workers is more likely to stay in positions that value their professional growth. Find a means to give it to them. Reduce costs and capitalize on your own talent by implementing facilitated mentoring to transfer knowledge to the next generation of leaders. You don’t have to have the training function in house. The ROI on training can be significant if it’s the right training.

How do you know if you are getting this ROI?
It’s important to have an appropriate tracking mechanism for professional development that matches your business goals. Creating a simple chart matching what each candidate is learning to a specific business goal is a start. Having a replacement plan that clarifies your leadership objectives is another important tool. This way you are more prepared if someone in a critical role leaves unexpectedly.

How to put it into action?
Often the decision on talent management is held by the executive team alone. This misses the critical group of implementers the managers. Make them part of the process. Take a look your direct reports as a start and determine how they are matching up with the performance expectations you have set together. Then find the means to fill in the gaps either through training or if needed replacement. One weak performer can dramatically slow down an entire team.

Cathy has expertise in this area with executives and managers, as well as with their teams. Contact her if these ideas resonate with you. She can help you put this into action and increase the productivity yield of your employees.



John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Urgent and Important

People today are overwhelmed with information. It comes to us in many ways because of today’s technology such as email, Instant Messenger (IM), or messages on multiple devices. We hear people ask the rhetorical question “where do I start, what should I do first”. Their rhetorical answer is always, “I do what is most important first.” But do they know what that really is?

Dr Margery Mayer is one of the Principals in 4Views , a consulting group focused on Planning, Process, People and Profit, a group in which I am also a Principal. In addition to having first hand business knowledge as a CEO and COO she is a behavioral scientist with a number of book publications. She has written a thought provoking piece that asks some additional questions about what we do and why? We are publishing it here but feel free to contact her directly to share your thoughts about this subject. It faces all of us.

"If you ask someone the difference between urgent and important generally people will say urgent needs to be addressed now but important is also important, hmmm. Compound that indecision with the fact that technology has blurred the lines between urgent and important. When that mobile device rings or sounds, we pay urgent attention. So let’s start with what is urgent, anyway? The Oxford Dictionary states that urgent means needing immediate attention, action or decision. It also states that important means having the ability to have a great effect. These two words seem to have different meanings, so why when a wireless device sounds do we consider it urgent and needing immediate attention?

It is amazing that even in critical meetings people take calls or check email. Why is the call or message more urgent then what is occurring at the moment? Have we allowed this technology determined our definition of urgency and importance and if so, why?

Perhaps it is because we are always on. Like it or not communication technology means that we are always on whether we use wireless or wired technology. We not only have access to information, but are also expected to be available 24/7 or have read emails or text messages that were recently posted somewhere. In one sense this is good because we can find critical information whenever we need it but it also means our companies know they can contact us any time as well.

How has the always on technology encroached on our work/life balance? Do we know where the line is between work and personal time? Has this been a personal choice or an unstated mandate from the company? What does this mean to the quality of our life and our ability to deliver to expectations? When do we take the time to recharge much like our devices do?"

Are you focused on what is important or are you swayed into handling what is urgent? Clearly urgent and important is number one. Just be careful about how much time gets sidetracked into what is neither urgent nor important. Share your thoughts with Margery.



John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cost Cutting Best Practices in a Tough Economy

When times are tough, companies want to cut expenses to help profitability. The measure of their business acumen during these difficult times, however, will not be the size of the cuts made, but the wisdom employed in making them. Companies often become “slashers”, cutting spending in just about every area and penny pinching their way through the downturn. Random slashing, however, should be cautioned because it could lead to a paper-thin workforce with limited resources, organizational “depression” that lends itself to a culture of fear and irrationality, and loss of the company’s strategic focus as a necessary stabilizing force.

Here are some best practice tips recommended by the Maver Management Group to our clients and used by many successful businesses.

First, it has to start with a sound business plan. Revisit the organization’s strategic plan to re-examine the future direction and the manner in which resources, such as capital or people, will be allocated in light of the current economic times. Most organizations develop a business plan that includes plans for resource allocation over time, as the organization becomes more financially sound. The right plan is even more important during the downturns as it will determine not only the success during this period but also the future success based on the decisions made. Maintain strict focus and avoid distractions. Be prepared to allow for a certain degree of tweaking, tinkering and testing on an ongoing basis.
There are some common techniques which can be used for strategic analysis. These include a SWOT analysis, which serves to detail the organization’s strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T). Having an outside perspective can help companies see the big picture before they get deep into the details. Maver Management can help!!!

Second, the organization needs to communicate the strategic plan. This communication must be clear and concise. If business leaders are feeling very stressed about the company’s future, every employee will feel it too. Employees may start worrying about the stability of the company and will start looking for other job prospects. Covering up the situation only serves to push employees away even faster. Share the financial and let employees feel some “ownership” for the business.

Third, change the way people work. Instead of just cutting, look at the way people work and change the processes. The business plan can provide direction of what is actually needed NOW and not what was thought to be required in previous times. Identifying and focusing on the top priorities can reduce costs significantly. Since the employees understand the plan they can be significant contributors to the cost savings ideas. They may have ideas that will save costs by working in a different manner and not losing the impact of the work.

Fourth, outsource non core functions. According to a survey by Accenture, 80 percent of executives said their companies were able to cut costs, improve efficiencies, enhance customer service and revenues, or improve competitiveness with supply chain management initiatives. The survey revealed the integral role the Internet plays in supply chain management success. More than 70 percent see the Internet as one of the most important factors in facilitating greater collaboration with key trading partners because of the visibility it provides upstream and downstream in the supply chain. Creative partnering agreements that move beyond traditional time and materials agreements can be a means to identify more cost effective solutions. Suppliers can bring new expertise and insights.

Fifth, look at the proposed projects in a different way. A good project, plan or program is good even if you cannot afford it right away. Cut up a major project or program into more manageable bits, or less expensive steps. This strategy allows the company to stay committed to the program in a changed environment of cost containment. It may be possible to add ROI to a stalled plan or program from elements such as lower insurance, lower liability, less overhead and-hardest of all, lower losses. Companies often forget that a fully cut program takes with it the expected revenue and that hurts profitability too.

Sixth, reductions in force or staffing cuts are often necessary based on all of the elements above but should never come first. Look at the other elements first. The replacement costs and the lost IP from staffing cuts can be enormous. Lay-offs or salary reductions can definitely reduce overhead. The million-dollar question is: whose salary is the first to go? Strong-willed companies often realize that high executive compensation just doesn’t make sense during an economic downturn. This will be a thorny issue and can best use some unbiased help.

Finally, look to a reallocation of some of the costs to counterintuitive spending on the revenue side. Increasing expenditure when everyone else is rationing may seem contradictory to the recommendation of traditional cost-cutting. On further analysis however, there are three specific areas where increased spending is actually investing in your business’ future and can keep the organization stable. First, use technology to reduce overhead; second, invest in your employees and last, increase your marketing expenditure.

Here is a summary of costs you should be wary of cutting:
Accounting and audit services. In tough times, you must keep on top of your cash—and to do this, you'll need top-notch financial reports, timely tax filings and solid trend information.
Advertising. Advertising is your lifeline to sales. It helps keep customers informed about what you have to offer and helps you turn over inventory.
Collections. Turning your receivables into cash is one of the best ways to weather a cash crunch. Many of your customers may be short on cash too, and may want you to wait for your money longer than usual.
Customer service. Never skimp on relationship building. Decide how you can make your service more personal during hard times and you'll build a following of loyal customers when you need them most.
Information systems. Whether manually operated or computerized, good information systems help you monitor the health of your business, the work of your employees, the movement of your products, and much more.
Insurance. Insurance protects you from a wide variety of catastrophes, human and natural.
Intangible benefits.. Be wary of cutting relatively low-cost benefits that have high symbolic value for your employees.
Marketing. Marketing more broadly attempts to help you match existing and new customers to your products. Aggressive marketing might be one of the few ways you'll attract new customers during hard times.
Training. Unfortunately, managerial and employee development is often among the first expenses to be cut when money is tight. Yet, if you carefully select training programs, seminars, college courses, books and tapes that focus on business growth and productivity, you may find these training resources becoming one of your best survival tools.

If you are struggling to keep profitable, or frustrated by the cost cutting that you have to make, or wondering “now what” after the fat has all been trimmed, call us. We can help you meet your goals. We have helped many other companies and they sleep better at night now.


John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Leading and managing your remote workforce

By 2009, one-quarter of the world’s working population will be mobile workers, according to a July 2007 study issued by Cisco Systems Inc. That estimate is probably out dated and an underestimate with the rise in gas prices over the past year. Most of the clients we have at Maver Management Group have some form of telecommuting within their organization.

What are some of the best practices for leading and managing this type of workforce?

The process actually starts with hiring the right type of manager for mobile workers.
* They must be results-oriented rather than process-driven. That is, they need to be comfortable seeing only what mobile workers get done and not what they're doing moment to moment.
* Managers must be at ease with email, instant messaging, video conferencing and plain old phone calls as their means of communicating with mobile workers. They can’t walk down the hall and see what is happening.
* Managers must also be able to empathize with workers whom they don’t see often in order to know when someone is under stress or is feeling isolated from the team and in effect provide the management touch to them..
* Managers must know how often and in what tone to communicate with mobile workers. E-mails and text messages are flat and don’t often convey the right tone, if any.

Managers who are new to supervising telecommuting employees may have a tendency to micromanage. It can be due to a sense of lost control. Remote employees, in turn, can misunderstand this as a lack of confidence in their performance. With little face time to resolve misunderstandings or to address questions from either side, such issues can quickly cause tension in a company. Those in charge need to make sure all employees are delivering on their responsibilities and meeting deadlines, in a way that makes sense to managers who don’t get a chance to know them well in person. Managers have to become comfortable managing by end results, rather than by face-to-face interaction.

As for the workers, there are also some characteristics that lead to increased success. The Cisco Systems study identified several critical traits and of course it helps if there has been previous telecommuting experience.
* Independent decision-makers, like to work without supervision.
* Disciplined achievers, conscientious and self-motivated.
* Emotionally stable, with low levels of neuroticism and the ability to cope well with pressure.
* Creative, open-minded and seek a variety of experiences.
* Organized with an ability to put their fingers on what is needed without outside help..

Too often, however, companies have allowed or encouraged telecommuting without even considering several important questions that this practice raises. These include:
* How does having so-called virtual employees change the nature of your business?
* Who makes a good candidate for telecommuting?
* How do you supervise such workers?
* What other adjustments must you make if your business is to work most efficiently?
* What are the technological capabilities of their home office?
* Are there any limitations to the time the employee can spend at their desk and when can they be available for communication?

This clearly isn’t as easy as it may first appear. Here are a couple of additional tips on the human side of managing this workforce.
* A sense of camaraderie can obviously be difficult to maintain when workers are in different locations. Email and Instant Messenger are important communication tools, but they certainly don’t substitute for face-to-face interaction. Schedule face to face as often as practical. If possible, have employees come into the main office on a regular basis. If this isn’t possible use vehicles such as Skype, MSN or other face to face opportunities.
* Make sure to include work-at-home employees in career training and long term planning. Solicit their input in creative decisions. Most importantly, communicate often.
* Have remote employees participate in regular staff meetings by telephone conference call. And send frequent email updates to all parties involved in a project, so everyone remains in the loop. It can be very lonely out there.
* Recognize that there are going to be time differences, cultural differences and language differences, so be prepared to understand these in advance to avoid the pitfalls.

This is the way of the future and the successful companies will learn to handle this well. Let us know how we can help.



John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Project Management That Works

Companies translate their business plans into a series of projects. Some of the projects are relatively simple and others quite complex and involve multiple departments, activities and suppliers. But all need to be led and managed. Most companies have project managers to head up these projects. Actually, what is really needed to lead teams and manage projects are project leaders. Leaders who have the responsibility to make the team effective in delivering the objective of the project, solving the problem that has been identified and delivering the results that compensate for the expenditure of human and financial resources. Leaders!!!

The reality is most projects have become administrative nightmares for the project managers and team members. Instead of having a laser sharp focus on the project and what needs to get done, the focus has blurred and is buried in layers of administrivia. Gantt charts, status reports, teleconferences, updates, meetings and forms have become the norm. Some of these are necessary but are they effective? Tracking projects is taking up too much of the leader’s time. Often progress is less than originally expected and costs are higher.

So how do successful companies utilize project management effectively?

We have been working with a colleague who has a great deal of experience in leading projects and with project leaders. Dr. Margery Mayer is part of the 4Views, a consulting group, in which we also are Principals. She created a simple form that forces the thinking up front and keeps the daily focus on the action that needs to take place and not on the massive reports.

Margery created and has used the ONE PAGE Project Charter found below. It is developed by the Project Leader and Sponsor before the project gets started and is used by the leader, the team, the sponsor, the finance organization and anyone else involved up through the executive team, if need be, to drive action and maintain focus. You will note the emphasis on ONE PAGE. This forces crispness of thinking and keeps the team from being led off track by “add ons” or other distractions. It provides a snapshot of what is expected, when it is expected and the progress being made. If the team should fall behind, the appropriate action and effect on the project are clear. The team time is spent in thinking, and taking action for success and not in administrivia of report writing or updating. This does not replace Gantt charts as they have a more granular level of detail. This is a quick snapshot of how the project is progressing.

Feel free to copy the format and use it on your next project. We have seen success with it across a broad range of industries. Let us know how you use it.



Project Charter © Dr Margery Mayer
Project Name ________________ Date____Revision # ____

Project Objective
A concise simple statement of the objective of the project to ensure that everyone is clear and the information is consistent. This object should support the goals and objectives of the company.

The Problem
State EXACTLY is the problem that the project will solve.

The specific revenue, profit, cost savings, efficiency increase etc that will result from this project

What is going to be included? This also may detail what is not included. The more extensive is the scope, the greater the cost and risks.

Completion Criteria
Clearly specify what will be achieved, what is the expected result or outcome.

Deliverables and Major Milestones
# ......When............... What............................. Date complete

This could include among other items:
* What resources will be provided and by whom? Availability of members, etc.
* Changes to scope or resources may incur additional costs
* Turn around time for approvals must be stated
* Escalation process might be identified

Responsibility .....................Name .........................Contact Info
Project Leader
Customer Service

For example
· Revisions – reexamine, alter or correct existing work
· Change orders – substitute one thing for another, add new ideas or concepts, variation on original work or idea.

Scope Changes
Changes bring costs and these are to be documented.
Change Orders
Change Order # ...................Date .....................$

John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

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