4 easy-to-spot tell-tale signs you can save on headquarter costs (3)

In the previous posts, the oversized headquarters as one of the biggest organizational wastes was addressed. Oversized corporate departments are a black hole attracting valuable resources, scarce cash-flow and lots of energy.

I’d like to urge you again to consult your local managers and local HR. They can point to the waste in the organization in fine detail. But as I said, these good people are kept away from you by your army. Discuss the four topics in these posts directly with your local management. If they experience (one of) these, you know where to improve your organizational efficiency.

In this post I’ll address the third topic – data requests by corporate. You know you have considerable waste in your organization when:

corporate regularly asks for additional data that has to be gathered manually locally.

To give you a real-life example: in a big international organization, local entities get a new request for information from corporate. This request is outlined in a three-page email which:

  • explains in excruciating detail who has to submit what to whom before which date;
  • contains a 10-slide Powerpoint with intricately designed multi-colored pictograms showing how this data request fits in the global strategy;
  • lists instructions on how to fill the data request template containing detailed definitions attempting consistent data submission across all entities;
  • for that same purpose it also has elaborate scoring matrices to classify the data in pre-set categories, not allowing local entities to deviate, even if they don’t have the data available according to those categories, or when the categories don’t make sense for their local situation.

Most top managers like as much kpi’s and data as they can get their hands on. It gives an (often false) sense of control. Yes, you need the right kind of information to base good decisions on. But you need to weigh the amount of effort put into data gathering against the benefits. Often people don’t realize how much time and energy is spent on data gathering. Even when there’s a good ERP system in place.

To give you an idea of the time spent on a simple data request, know that for every hour per month that local managers spend on generating these kind of reports for various corporate departments, they need an exponential additional amount of time for:

  1. answering questions that come up because the data is being (pre-)analyzed by people who don’t understand the context;
  2. arguing to adjust the conclusions the analyzers wrongfully draw from data they still don’t fully understand;
  3. influencing the inevitable catastrophic decisions coming out of those wrong conclusions;
  4. when bad decisions are made on the basis of wrong conclusions, they need to adjust those decisions creatively, in order to implement something workable for the local organization;
  5. during implementation they need to have endless conversations with employees to keep them from becoming fully disillusioned with the useless changes, to keep attrition down, while maintaining focus on the business goals they have to achieve despite the new changes;
  6. reporting progress back, restarting the cycle at 1.

Solution

Check with your local management what kind of data requests they receive, whether they serve any real purpose, and if so, whether the time spent on it (both locally and corporate) justifies the benefits. Cut those requests out when:

  • they are even half as elaborate as the example above
  • local managers spend more than an hour per month generating data and reports for various corporate departments
  • you hear stories about managers who, with a tired voice, ask their people to just submit invented or senseless data, because otherwise their department will look bad when corporate shows red crosses in the overview report every month indicating they have NOT YET submitted the required data (and remember, don’t blame the managers for this behavior, blame the corporate departments that put this kind of pressure on local entities)

For other savings, keep your eyes peeled for the next and last post!

4 easy-to-spot tell-tale signs you can save on headquarter costs (2)

In the previous post, the oversized headquarters as one of the biggest organizational wastes was addressed. Oversized corporate departments are a black hole attracting valuable resources, scarce cash-flow and lots of energy.

I’d like to urge you again to consult your local managers and local HR. They can point to the waste in the organization in fine detail. But as I said, these good people are kept away from you by your army. Discuss the four topics in these posts directly with your local management. If they experience (one of) these, you know where to improve your organizational efficiency.

In this post I’ll address the second topic – corporate visits. You know you have considerable waste in your organization when:

local management has to spend more than 10% of their time entertaining corporate visitors, internal auditors and higher level managers.

Some might say, come on, isn’t that part of their job? Corporate people can’t do a good job without having valuable input from local management. Meetings on budgets and results are better done face to face, right? And corporate departments need to show their faces locally, to keep at least a little bit of credit.

True. I’m not advocating a complete stop to corporate visits. But keep them to a minimum. Check what kind of corporate visits local management needs to entertain, and what they have to do for these visits.

Because in the real world, the corporate army designs an interesting set of requirements for visits, leading to a lot of inefficiencies. Examples I have seen:

  • 100+ slides presentations have to be prepared three weeks prior to the visit
  • Many (more than twenty) people will work for hours, if not days, to give input for this presentation
  • Then the presentation goes through an approval cycle, so several people can adjust and sign off (meaning, the corporate army filters the information flowing to the top or to other corporate departments)
  • The personal hobby horses of the visitor need to be addressed, meaning work will be reprioritized to humor this specific visitor
  • Most people want to impress corporate visitors, so whole departments will stop doing their normal work during a visit
  • The organization needs a few days, sometimes weeks, to recover from such a visit. Especially if the corporate visitor blurts out uninformed untrue things about the local organization, or is unfairly critical, or overdemanding. The upset this creates, causes local managers to have to do repair work for weeks. This really happens much more often than people think!

Solution

Check with local management how much time they have to spent on corporate visits, and what they do to prepare (required by the visitor as well as on their own initiative). Reduce the visits as well as the requirements for preparation to a minimum.

For other savings, keep your eyes peeled for the next two posts!

4 easy-to-spot tell-tale signs you can save on headquarter costs (1)

I’ll begin with a warning. This post (and the next three follow-up posts) is only for the brave. If, as a manager, you have a strong tendency to overcontrol, micro-manage or have a deep need to know everything that is going on, this won’t be useful for you.

One of the biggest organizational wastes is to have an oversized headquarters. This black hole vacuums away valuable resources, scarce cash-flow and lots of energy. Unfortunately, most big international organizations seem to default to eternally growing headquarters. Top management likes the feeling of having a whole army at their disposal, an army they need close by.

But realize: this army, and the false sense of security they provide you, costs an arm and a leg. Not just in direct costs. The indirect costs of the inefficiency created by corporate is huge! As your army likes their comfortable seat, they will completely take over your interaction with the local offices. And there starts the problem, as you will not be made aware on the immense efforts needed to sustain the insatiable appetite of your army. Even worse, paradoxically, your corporate army (who you designed to be able to control the executive parts better) ensures you are out of touch with that crucial execution part of your organization. But how to know what you can cut, and what not?

It’s actually not that difficult! Consult your local managers and local HR. They can point to the waste in the organization in fine detail. Unfortunately, these good people are kept away from you by your army.

In this and the next three posts, you’ll find tips where to cut overhead. Discuss directly with your local management whether they experience these. If they do, you know where to improve your organizational efficiency.

The first topic is complexity in the hierarchy of the organization. You know you have considerable waste in your organization when:

employees in your organization have more than 2 official reporting lines.

Yes, there can be very good reasons for people to have two reporting lines (instead of the usual one). For example when a content specialist works in a business unit. Like HR. A local HR manager often reports to both the local business manager, as well as a regional (or corporate) HR manager. The local HR manager needs to support the business, while at the same time s/he needs to follow the strategy the organization has for HR needs. Fine.

But three, or even more, official reporting lines? I have never seen a situation where this makes sense. Coming back to the example of HR: sure, an HR manager can serve several business managers. But they shouldn’t all be official reporting lines. Make the reporting line to either a business manager higher up in the organization, or just to the HR manager. The same in a matrix organization. A local manager can support several business line owners, but again, that’s not the same as an official reporting line.

What’s the problem, you might ask, with more than two reporting lines? Well, managers responsible for different area’s in an organization, consequently have different priorities. Sometimes, inevitably, even conflicting priorities. Now, with several reporting lines, in reality, where lies the responsibility of juggling these conflicting priorities?

Right, with the employee who has these different bosses to serve.

But that responsibility does not belong there. Primarily, the managers who encounter a conflicting priority should resolve it themselves. If absolutely needed, they need to escalate to their bosses. But NEVER should they pass the buck to someone who is not in the position to resolve these conflicts. Someone who neither has the responsibilities, nor the means to do so. That employee will waste at least a third of her time on resolving the priority conflicts, apart from the time her line managers waste in turf wars.

Solution

Check your organization for employees with more than two reporting lines. If you find these, simplify the organizational structure. Employees can go back to the work they were actually hired for. And you can probably cut a few management positions, saving even more money.

For other savings, keep your eyes peeled for the next three posts!

What do we need from female role models?

Women still face a seemingly unsurmountable backlog in business. One important cause is scarcity in female role models. Having only people you don’t identify with as example, can have a lasting impact.

Like in my first job. A female in my business unit had just gotten into a management position no woman had held before. I looked up to her: I wanted to reach that too!

However, I soon learned everyone avoided her whenever possible. If we had to communicate with her, we would first check in with each other. Did her mood allow for a “hold your breath and give it an adventurous try”? With colleagues anxiously on stand-by for life-support if needed? Or was the air around her so charged you’d get electrocuted even walking up to her? In that case, we’d postpone discussing even urgent matters with her to a moment with lower volcanic activity.

She yelled at everyone. I was no exception. However, unlike my male colleagues, she also occasionally seemed to consider me a friend. She gave me well-meant advice and told me personal stuff. Such as, she liked to have children, but her boyfriend not so much. To be precise: he would not mind children, but she would need to take care of them. He didn’t want to be bothered. So she had to choose: a career, or children (apparently she didn’t consider a third obvious option: getting rid of the boyfriend).

Looking back, I realize she must have been under enormous pressure, as the first woman in such a demanding job. She was probably torn between ambitions, private life and society’s expectations. She must have felt so lonely, without peers in a similar position and a non-supporting partner. From her behavior it is now clear to me that she was insecure on several levels, and probably frightened of the consequences of her choices down the line.

But back then, I wasn’t able to see beyond the surface. She scared me. The only woman in the company that had achieved what I wanted to achieve, was someone I passionately NEVER wanted to become. Which raised the question: should I maybe stop wanting that job?

After some internal turmoil, I decided one scary female role model would not change my plans. Instead, I turned to men as role models. All my life I had competed with men anyway, so maybe they could provide inspiration? I observed them, talked to them, tried to find out what worked for them. I did learn many things. Above all, I learned that every single one of them had a wife that had taken a step back and took care of most things at home. And most men looked at me through those glasses: a nice and capable colleague, but above all, a future supporter of another man. A woman who would eventually get other priorities. So although I was doing a good job, my bosses felt no need to bother about my career planning.

I started to believe that to succeed in business, you have to put full focus on your career and have support at home. I had many internal debates on toning down my ambitions. But I was lucky. I then got a boss who advanced my career. He restored my energy to give ambition a try.

Once I achieved a management role, I was acutely aware of having become a role model. At first, I didn’t want to show my insecurities. I worked hard, also out of office hours. After conversations with younger colleagues, I realized it was now me who was scaring younger women into thinking this is only achievable for the very tough. I started to show my insecurities a bit more, as well as the struggles I felt doing the job and juggling priorities. However, that sometimes worried the younger women as well. It then dawned on me I didn’t have to be the perfect role model for all women out there. As long as I gave people an authentic picture, next to all other examples they saw. Letting them see you can achieve what you want walking different paths.

That’s why we need many more female role models. People are different. Young people (both women and men) need lots of examples. They shouldn’t have to draw implicit conclusions from seeing just one or two females in the job they want. Or only have men as role models. They should see different behaviors, and find out what works for them.

Think about it. For whom are you a role model? And what part do you want to play in the development journey of younger people?

Today the world lost a great manager

It has happened too often in my HR career. Someone enters the organization: a great guy, a smart girl. After the first few years of dedicated hard work they climb to the next level. Sooner than others, but as everyone understands why, they don’t encounter much resistance. They deliver good results, are quick learners and are great with their peers. Senior managers eagerly take them on as mentees, accelerating their career even further.

Of course these great potentials make the occasional mistake. But they learn from it – keen as they are to keep improving – and move on to become an even better manager. As HR, I love to watch them, and if necessary be with them, every step of the way. To coach them on their first people issues. To counsel them on dealing with their first big disappointment. To share their joy over a well-deserved promotion. To protect them from being crushed by politics, when they first join the big league of top-management.

As HR manager I go the extra mile for them. Because I know that person is worth it. Because I see they are able to do what is needed for the organization. Because they will make this a better place for their colleagues. I want to help them unleashing that valuable potential.

But sometimes, that dreadful day comes. The day that I find that person is gone.

That keen, eager high potential is no more…

Instead, I suddenly find myself talking to an over-confident, pompous, self-righteous, run-of-the-mill manager embracing no other ideas than his own. Someone who pulled up a powerful reflective shield resisting all criticism, regardless of how well-meant or to the point it is.

Gone are the days of growth. Of continuously developing into a greater leader. Of hope she can become the next CEO who I’d be so proud to work for.

When a high-potential choses to give up on the powerful gift of self-reflection, he loses the potential to become a great leader. A leader who has the power to fuel a great team, or lead an organization through a necessary transformation, or sustain the organizations’ incredible growth.

When giving up on self-reflection, inevitably, potential turns into mediocracy.

On such a day, a little piece inside of me dies…

The budget games

Ever noticed how much budget discussions between corporate and local managers resemble a sports game? Let’s analyze an average budget meeting.

Game kick-off

Local management kicks of the game with a predictable first move: they propose a slightly improved budget compared to the current year forecast. A safe and predictable move, not drawing admiration of the other party or the onlookers, but not putting them at risk of an extreme counter move by top management either.

Now it’s the other party’s turn. No suspense yet, as the move by top management is just as predictable. They lay down their expectation of less cost and more turnover, increasing profit by 5-10%.

The middle part

Now that both teams have had time to warm up and get used to the arena and each other, the real game begins.

Arguments go back and forth, pulling the budget a bit down here, a bit up there. Now and then both parties score a point by having the stronger arguments that seem to convince the other team, at least temporarily. Often the game gets stuck a bit as we enter the phase that both parties aren’t inclined to budge to the other party.

In this phase the onlookers can spice it up for themselves by:

Playing budget bingo

Before the meeting, make a list with phrases such as ‘low-hanging fruit’, ‘efficiency’, ‘built-in fat’, ‘entrepreneurship’, etc. Please add the current buzz words for your organization, and leave room for some interesting new phrases or words to note down during the game. For these, the onlookers afterwards can place bets on which phrases will become new buzz words in the aftermath of the budget meeting. Add columns for how long it took before the phrase was mentioned the first time, and score the number of times it was used.

Closure

After a while one or both parties will start to feel worn out. Now you know the game is coming to an end. The discussion will go back and forth a bit more, but soon parties grudgingly agree on a compromise. Almost always the new budget is the average of what top management set and local management proposed. A result that could have been simply calculated within 15 minutes of the start of the meeting.

Now note the number of people around the table on your budget bingo sheet (13 the last time I did this), estimate their average salary (in my case 150k annually, conservative estimate) and calculate the cost spent on reaching this budget. One day budget discussions easily costs 5k. Not counting the rework finance and the budget holders have to do.

Then sit back and let the irony of talking about low-hanging fruit fully hit you.