Company Culture-Part One.

The-Importance-of-Maintaining-a-Positive-Company-Culture

“Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

-Herb Kelleher, Chairman, Southwest Airlines

“Nice work, guys. Excellent. Good team effort all around. Go us.”

-Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, Iron Man 3 (movie)

There’s a great deal of information available today on the topic of company culture.  Experts are popping up with a load of advice, do’s and don’ts, how to’s and what not to do, and lots of insights and examples to share.

You might already have this topic mastered.  If so – congratulations – and don’t feel obligated to read on.  If you’re like me, however, and you take an interest in what others have experienced and what they have to share, please continue.

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several companies here in Silicon Valley since beginning my career in Operations nearly 30 years ago (yeeowwch- that long?  Really?)….in the mid 1980’s I joined my first start-up company (kind of before “start-ups” was a thing), and received a first class education in business growth, basic economics and most importantly, the art of working with others.

Company or “corporate” culture has been defined as “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.” (excerpt from Investopedia).

In my experience, I’ve found that a company’s culture can directly influence the company’s success, employee participation and retention, and external marketing and awareness of both their products and their organization.  The company’s reputation is often directly tied to the company’s culture as well.  And a thriving, positive and engaging culture can even attract a higher level of talented team members.

Having made such a bold and yet obvious statement about company culture, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what a company culture is not as well.  The goal is simply to share my view on the topic.  In no particular order:

  • Company culture isn’t something that can be bought.  I know there will be those who disagree, but come on people, you cannot expect that simply providing treats, great coffee or even full-time chefs (been there, done that) who provide meals to your employees will earn a great company culture.  It’s much more than that.
  • Company culture isn’t defined by one individual.  As much as I have come to appreciate working alongside some great human resource people and business leaders, corporate CEOs and small start-up company presidents, they cannot be expected to single-handedly shape and direct the corporate culture.  By its very nature, culture is formed by groups of people.  Remember the saying – “it takes a village”?  Very true when it comes to company culture.
  • Company culture isn’t developed in a vacuum (at least, not a good, positive and engaging culture).  Great company cultures are grown over time, they are cultivated, they are fed, and they are managed.  It requires active participation by those interested in such a topic.  There needs to be a conscientious effort applied.
  • Company culture isn’t a “cure all” for whatever ailment your business currently suffers from.  This might seem obvious but I’ve experienced this first hand in more than one environment- the erroneous view that “if we could improve our company culture, we would improve the bottom line to our business”.   It just doesn’t work that way in the real world.  While a great culture can enhance and strengthen the business through motivating its members towards greatness, it should never be viewed as a solution to systemic business issues.  There’s no guarantee with respect to this idea.  Business is still- well- “business” at the end of the day so to speak- the rules around revenue growth, marketing spend and profit margins still apply.

Well- it’s a good start. Part 2 of this discourse will include a closer look into what a company culture is, what it can do, and how to affect it and promote it in a positive fashion, so stay tuned.  For now, give some thought to your role, your influence,  in your company’s culture.  Thanks for reading this short prose- onward!

You Be You – I’ll Be Me.

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime (at least, for some it would be).  I was offered a role with the world’s largest social media company, working in a special business unit within the company, to be a part of a team that is building a suite of products that one day soon are going to be available and truly amazing to all.

I took their offer, and on my first day of employment found myself on a plane headed to Hong Kong to meet with other members of my global team.  It was a real head spinner, and the trip was only a week.  Week number two was spent on campus in Menlo Park, getting acquainted with more of the team and acclimated to the product, the product plans and the current status, partnerships and challenges.  For the next three months, there were meetings, trips, lots of planning and strategy sessions, cross functional discussions with key partnerships, lots of legal documents to review, rewrite and refine, and defining of yet-to-be-created processes.  All good stuff, working alongside some very bright, energetic and talented people.  And then I decided to leave the company.

Why?  Why walk away from something this spectacular?  This could have easily been the pinnacle of my career.  It was the largest employer I’ve ever worked for- in a very desirable work environment- surrounded by intelligent, motivated and enthusiastic coworkers- so what’s wrong with that?

Probably the best way I could phrase my response to these questions would be to answer with something simple- “it wasn’t right for me”.  Here’s the thing- to use an analogy, let’s talk about watches.  Yes, wrist watches.

Brands such as Rolex, Breitling, or Patek Philippe,  are known for their craftsmanship, and they are known throughout the world for making some of the finest and most expensive timepieces on the planet.  If I were in the market, and decided to buy a watch (I have too many watches as it is)- would I buy a Rolex?  A Breitling?  Maybe, or maybe not.  Suppose I did- knowing me, I’d probably not wear it.  It just wouldn’t be me.  Nothing wrong with the watch- it just wouldn’t suit my needs.  It wouldn’t feel right for me personally.   And I’m okay with that.

Same thing is true here as well.  Being a part of a mega company is a great opportunity for the right person.  The work could be rewarding, there’s a spirit of high energy all around, and the perks- chefs cook meals for you throughout the day (free), there’s a fully stocked “microkitchen” in every building with everything imaginable in it (free again), there are even free vending machines that dispense keyboards, mice, smart phone cables, power cords, ear buds, whatever you need- and on the main campus, it’s literally Disney-like in it’s layout and food and services offerings.  A couple of my older kids would probably love to work here.  We even had our own version of a free Uber-like service, where a car would pick you up at your building lobby and take you over to another building on campus whenever needed.  I could go on and on, but you get it.

So what’s my deal?  I‘m a true start-up guy at heart.  I’m underway now with another great opportunity with a small company that’s just starting to get off the ground and needs someone like me, with my experience and background, to help them grow and scale and get to the next levels of success in their particular industry.  I’ve been fortunate to work in several different industries, which, as it turns out, provides me with a great platform to help lots of different companies with their strategy, their partnerships and leverage my own network to help move them towards success.  I love what I do, and I enjoy the sense of reward and camaraderie that comes with working with start-up companies.  I’ve been fortunate in Silicon Valley, to have been a part of several successful teams and companies, all of which are still thriving here in northern California and abroad.  The “social media mega company” was a good experience for me, as it taught me more about myself and my values.  Although it didn’t work out as anticipated, I’m sure great things are ahead for the team I was fortunate to have been a part of – even briefly.  I’m anticipating great things next year as they get closer to launch with their new products (some very cool things in the works).

For me, I’ll continue to cultivate my passion for Operations and Supply Chain excellence, working closely with my new team- and injecting my experiences, my skill set and my personality into our business plans and future goals- we have some lofty ambitions here for the months ahead!

Jazmine



My wife loves animals. So do I, but for her, it’s an even bigger commitment. Our current household includes two dogs, five Himalayan cats, four more foster kittens, and two parakeet birds. We’re also feeding a flock of hummingbirds that consider our backyard to be their home. On any given day, home can literally be a zoo.

I’ve been observing one of our family pets lately. We’ve had Jazmine (pictured left) for the last 10 years or so. She was a rescue from the local shelter. One day my wife and stepson decided to go looking for a dog to care for, and Jazmine came into our lives.

Jazmine is a typical “Blue Heeler”, a Queensland Cattle dog (likely a slight mix, given her size). She’s a little bigger than most blue heelers, with a slender but strong build, but her markings and personality are heeler all the way. We all love her dearly, and as family pets go, she’s been the best ever.

I brought Jazzy to the office a few weeks ago, and she was well-behaved. In doing so, I started thinking about Jazmine, her character qualities, and how they relate to work life. You see, Jazmine would be an excellent employee. Here’s why

  1. Jazmine always makes it to work.  She shows up, rain or shine- she is consistent and reliable in her attendance.  As Woody Allen is quoted as having said, Showing up is 80 percent of life.’  Her particular breed is considered to be in the working dog group (forgive me if I’m not completely accurate with my terminology here), that is, she’s basically wired to be busy, and thrives on active participation and getting things done.  I’ve watched her use her herding instincts to even round-up cats or other animals (even people) in the backyard when playing.  She is always up for participation.  Great employees are like that.  They understand the importance of participation in the workplace and communicate their commitment consistently by being there.  Even when you’re a member of a distributed team (in a previous role I had team members in California, Minnesota and Arizona) you still show up.  People know you’re around, available and involved.
  2. Jazmine understands her role and does it fully.  Noise in the backyard at 2 am?  She’s on it- out into the darkness she’ll go, fearlessly, to check it out.  Someone at the door we don’t know?  She’ll wander up to the door, at the ready, and generally can even let us know before we open the door whether or not we know the person on the other side (her tail and her facial expressions are tremendous communication tools).  Did you know that cattle dogs are fiercely loyal to their family?   Great employees tend to focus on their role first and foremost, and consciously pursue completion of their duties with a passion that shows they have some skin in the game”.
  3. Jazmine has great listening and learning skills.  She’s a smart pet, and knows several words we use around the home and what they mean for her.  “Do you want to go for a walk”? elicits an immediate lunge with two large front paws on your chest. “Treat”?  Yeah, you get the picture- eyes focused on you and she parks right in front of the shelf where they reside.  On and on.   Look at those ears- how could she not hear you?  Right?   The same is true for great team members- they typically have a similar character quality, that of great listening skills.  And more than just listening, the ability to interpret what is being communicated as well.  This cannot be over emphasized.  Too many leaders attempt to hire employees and build their teams with those that are already fully skilled at the requirements, when often what is really needed are those that have the ability to learn quickly, that display an aptitude for their role.
  4. Jazmine is generally optimistic in her role.  She is typically cheerful and happy- she has a mellow disposition and demeanor that is drama free.  We all have the capacity to have a bad day every now and then- but great team members are consistently positive in their outlook.  Don’t misunderstand me- I’m not talking about being blindly gullible in all situations.  Jazmine won’t run for a ball if you try to fake a throw.  She’s brighter than that.  But generally speaking, great employees throw themselves into their work fully, and they believe in their products, their team and their shared vision.  And that’s a great quality to have.
  5.   Jazmine understands the importance of forgiveness.  She doesn’t hold a grudge.  She moves on.  Yeah, you left her locked out on the back porch last night because you stayed up too late, binge watching season 2 of Prison Break and forgot to let her in (not that I’ve ever done that, mind you).  Great team members are ready to do the same (no, not stay on your back porch).  They are able to rise above petty behaviors, take a step back and look at the bigger picture to understand a different point of view,  and yes, even when wronged they can accept apologies and move past whatever conflict or issue has just occurred.

I could go on, but for now I’ll stop with these five qualities.  Time for some introspection– do you show up?  Are you the type of employee who is fully engaged in your role?  How are your listening skills and aptitude for learning something new?  Optimistic in your approach? And willing to forgive and move forward with others?  These are but a partial list of ingredients needed for being both a great employee and a member of any team.

It’s All about Attitude

attitudesmileySo much of what we experience in life cannot be controlled.  We have so many things that happen to us, and often circumstances that are completely outside of our ability to predict or persuade.  Life comes down to one simple “game changer” – attitude.

I went to lunch the other day, just to get out of the office, out from underneath the fluorescent lights, and to take a break from my work routines.  I hopped on my Electra Glide, cranked up the CCR, and I ended up at one of my favorite eating spots, a nearby Chipotle restaurant.  Their food is generally fresh, always with a consistent flavor and inexpensive, and their service (it’s pretty casual) is quick and reliable.  Then there was this one employee.

This guy was great– I observed him, a Chipotle employee, as he hustled between tables, picking up after others, wiping down surfaces and throwing away trash.  He was careful to work around those at lunch, making sure none of us were impacted by his movements.  He was polite- asking each of us there how our day was going, how we liked the food, and whether or not there was anything else we needed.  I was impressed by his attitude and his sincerity.

Here was a guy, I’m guessing in his early 20’s, working hard, working smart and working with a positive attitude.  He wasn’t complaining about his job, or his pay, or his hours.  He wasn’t necessarily giddy, but he was upbeat, personable and friendly- all great qualities, and qualities that are often no where near an hourly employee at a fast food establishment-it’s a tough, thankless job (a couple of my kids have had similar jobs, as did I during my college days-making sandwiches at the local Hickory Farms in Lynchburg, VA.).  As I departed, the guy saw me leaving (he was wiping down tables outside) and told me to have a great day- and thanked me for stopping in.  What? A thank you for eating there at Chipotle?  I couldn’t believe it!

The whole lunch experience was valuable to me- yes, I was hungry too, and Chipotle took care of that for me, but more than just the food- the insight I received from watching this guy was tremendous and really, for me, a good swift kick in my backside…  So much of life is all about our attitude.

Listen, there’s no way for you to change what you cannot control- that’s a universal truism we can all relate to.  The only thing we can do is continually dial up our attitude-when times get tough, crank up the positivity and focus on solutions.  When customers complain, address their need, and dialog with them (and listen, really listen), and win them over.  Something needs to get fixed “now” at work- roll up your sleeves, build a solution and get it done.  Stay positive, be thankful, look forward and not behind-make a difference with all that you do, and by all means, help others around you to do the same, and you’ll experience amazing results.  Thanks Chipotle guy- for sharing your attitude!

Face (to Face) Time

Jetson imageI’ve had the benefit of living through some glorious times, in terms of technology.  And I freely admit that I am a bit of of a techie nerd (it’s a good thing) when it comes to trying new things–I’ve never shied away from exploration of the “latest and greatest” in the world of technology.

I remember back to my childhood, and the first microwave oven my parents brought home.  It was huge, had large dials on the front, and had a definite humming noise when in operation.  Unlike most of my family members, I relished the chance to use it and cook the “heck” out of anything that need to be heated.  I can also recall the first time my family had cable television, our first VHS tape player, and hours spent playing Pong (the original upright video arcade game, as well as the cool, black and silver home unit with the built-in large dials, which my parents still have tucked away for me in their attic–what is it about dials?)…later, during one of my brief stints working for my father’s printing company, I remember convincing (arguing?) him into purchasing his first ever fax (“facsimile”- love that word) machine for his business, and why it was important to have one–true story.

I’ve always enjoyed getting to know technology and how to use it.  Of course, in more recent history, we’ve become accustomed to much better (maybe?) technology, right in our hands, with our smart phones and tablets.  One of the apps, Apple’s “FaceTime”, with its ability to allow the user to have video enabled calls between each other, is such an example.

Recently, I found myself, along with a colleague, on a quick trip to El Paso, Texas, to visit with one of our key partners that assists our company with the management and distribution of our products.  It’s a relatively new relationship, borne out of necessity at the start of this calendar year, and we wanted to tour the facility and meet with our account person and his company president.  We had an opportunity to view our inventory, look briefly at their processes, and discuss future business requirements.  More importantly, though, in my mind, was the need for real, in-person “face time”.

Having a discussion, or meeting, directly with those involved in any particular aspect of your business is key to successful communication.  Video calls, emails, text, even telephone calls, cannot substitute what I refer to as “the intangible nature of being present“.  The value of such activity cannot be measured.

If you simply don’t agree with me on this point, so be it. But before you dismiss my statement entirely, consider these aspects of direct communication and it’s impact:

  1.  Direct, personal communication conveys an element of importance to the parties involved.  Our time is limited in this incredibly fast paced world today, and anyone that carves out a piece of their schedule to do this activity effectively states “this is important stuff”.
  2. Some elements of communication cannot be conveyed by emoticons.  Hopefully I’m not offending my millennium generation coworkers with that statement, but it’s true.  Body language, tone inflection, visible facial expressions, etc.- all small things that together can assist in good, clear communication.  You can’t do that through a text message or email. It’s just not the same thing.
  3. There’s a human aspect to real, face-to-face time.  You get to know the people better, and at the end of the proverbial day, with all our discussion about process, system integration, big data analytics, blah, blah, blah- it’s still about people.  Don’t lose sight of that, please.  Technology can and should provide us with lots of great and insightful tools to improve our lives and our businesses, but it’s the people behind those tools that really move us forward.
  4. You learn new ideas and information by meeting in person with someone.  There’s a three dimensional aspect to this type of communication and sharing of information that doesn’t always happen when using the two dimensional tech as a replacement.  I’m not sure how to fully describe this other than to say that being in communication with another individual or team, “in person” opens up a larger, more creative flow of information–new ideas come about, people key on each others thoughts in the moment, there’s a synergy (sorry, but I had to use that word) that truly occurs.

Before you run off to a business trip, consider your goals, consider your timing, consider your budget and consider the impact to your schedule (or that of your team), but by all means, please consider making full use of in-person communication when possible and practical to do so.  Putting effort into our level of communication, our investment in those around us, will help to yield tremendous results for us both personally and professionally.

 

 

Learning to Change

embrace-change

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”George Bernard Shaw

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”Rumi

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”Wayne W. Dyer

Change is one of life’s most common denominators. Along with Benjamin Franklin’s famous “death and taxes” statement, you could add change to the list of those items in life that are predictable, that are certain.

No matter where you find yourself today, no matter what path you may be on at this moment, one thing stands true: it will change at some point in time.

I’ve spent more than twenty years in Silicon valley, working with start up companies as well as more established, mature organizations. In every instance, change was present. I’d like to share some thoughts with you regarding change as it relates to life and career.

1. Change happens. As previously stated, I can guarantee you that change is coming to your life. Lest you believe that what you are doing today, and how you are doing it, will (or should) never change, let me assure you–it will. Change is inevitable; it is a part of our lives, both as individuals as well as with our organizations.

2. Those who handle change well can thrive.  Think of it as an evolutionary skill.  Adapt and survive, or stay put and don’t survive.  My experience has taught me that if I want to be successful, no matter what the job may be, I need to be able to adapt, to learn, to change.  There’s a proper time and place for consistency, for predictability, for routine–please know that I value these as well, and I understand their place in our lives, as well as within our organizations.  But in addition to those things, the ability to handle change is what allows us the maximum opportunity for success.  It’s not merely having an open mind, but more so the ability to perceive the needs present within change, and determine the best corrective route to address and respond to change–to be responsive.

3.  Get creative quickly.  In my previous couple of roles I was in a traditional office environment–I had an office, and had the ability to close my door for meetings or telephone calls that required my attention or a focused conversation.  In my current role I am in a start up organization–housed in a vintage historic building that was once a movie theater.  It’s an open air seating arrangement, with common areas for collaboration or ad hoc meetings.  Even our CEO doesn’t have an office.  When I first arrived, I’ll admit I was thrown off by the noise and activity levels swirling around me.  Since then, I’ve learned to focus, leaning heavily on my earphones, and I have a seat near a wall and window which affords me a compromise between my new surroundings and my history.  I hardly notice the difference today, but getting to this point required me to adapt, to change.  Not that I don’t miss my offices from time to time (well, okay, I DO miss my plants, and my treasured artwork from my kids on my office walls) but I’m okay with the relatively new environment.  And I’ve learned to use the outdoors for telephone calls, or duck into the local coffee shop below our office to break up the day when needed.

4.  Learn from those around you.  I can’t stress this one enough.  No one fools themselves  more than the person who believes they alone have all the answers.  You really don’t believe you know everything, do you?  The longer I live, the more I realize how much I don’t know.  You need to be ready to learn new concepts, new ideas, from those around you.  I’m in the middle of a very talented group of people, both here and at home!  I learn new things everyday from my colleagues, my boss and my family members, and I’m thankful for the inputs.  I’m responsible for my role, both with the Operations team of my company, as well as husband and father at home, but I can become so much better at whatever I’m doing when I am willing to learn from those around me.  No need to “go it alone” with respect to change.

If you’ve gotten this far through this brief post, I’m going to lose your attention soon.  I understand, and I won’t even take it personally.   Be ready for change.  It’s coming.

“I wanted to change the world.  But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”Aldous Huxley

Hamster wheels and Marathons.

hamster-wheel-03.600If you read any of my blog posts and have wondered why I disappeared, I apologize.

I enjoy writing as it allows me to express myself and put “on paper” a fair amount of stuff floating around in my head (and heart) at various points in time.  But over the last couple of months (since January, really) I’ve been busy…too busy at times even to write.  And it seems, each time I try to carve out some space to be alone with my writings, I have been either interrupted or mentally challenged and unable to focus.  I know you know exactly what I am talking about…we’ve all been there.

Work and life in general can get to a crazy level of busyness at times.  I transitioned in my work life from a smaller, consumer goods start-up that I had been with the last three years, to a high-tech, “Internet of Things” company on a fast track with a major corporate parent company this past January….and life’s been a little crazy in the process.  I’m working with some genius level people with great ideas (product ideas) that will make life as we know it change dramatically over the next few years.  It’s pretty cool tech and some forward (almost Orwellian) thinking about our quality of life, what we do and how we live life.  In the not too distant future (aka this year) you’ll likely see products that I’ve had a hand in bringing to market appear on your television sets and in your local electronics retailers…very cool stuff that can improve your life, ease some every day stresses and will merge technology with your physical world.  Enough said–it’s exciting stuff.

At times, life in a start-up can feel very much like a perpetual hamster wheel...a lot of movement, without necessarily getting from point A to point B.   There are many (too many at times) “cooks in the kitchen”  and everyone offers their take on the latest project you are working on.  The office environment is wide open, and at times the noise level, given the activity level, can get downright crazy (thank God for noise canceling headphones).  In my particular case, I work in a renovated old school theater from the 1930’s (I’m guessing), in a downtown area about 3 or 4 blocks from the Stanford University campus.  It’s a busy place, to be sure, and the demand and pace of such an enterprise isn’t for the faint of heart.  I’ve done this kind of thing now for almost more than 25 years and plan to write a book about my experiences, all of which have been in Silicon Valley.

Given this pace of recent months, I have had to learn (anew) how to “gear down”, slow my own pace during my off hours, to try to balance life a little.  In my younger days, I’d just continue to run, but now, at this stage in life, I’m starting to appreciate more the journey than the arrival destination.  That’s important for me, personally and professionally, as it should be to you also.

Learning to appreciate and embrace where you are while you are there can tremendously improve your outlook on life.  I had this thought recently as I arrived home to find my wife attempting to build a security gate for our dog (something to keep Jazmine further in the back area of our home with less access to the front gates of the house).  I jumped on this project to relieve her struggle (my wife will take on just about anything–she’s pretty handy with most power tools) and because it provided me with a complete diversion from my day-to-day duties in the high-tech world.  I thoroughly enjoyed the project and the gate worked out well (great design by my wife, and I’ll take credit for the installation and locking mechanism)…and I can incorporate a piece of my company’s tech into it as well, just for fun and to keep tabs on Jazmine (sorry Jazzy–really, I do trust you).  And the life lesson is simple–find ways to keep a balance in your life.  Busy is fine and needed at times (busy and productive, not just busy, by the way, but that’s another topic)–but it’s good to balance life, to enjoy the journey and to pace yourself.  The longer I am here the more convinced I am that we are all in a long distance marathon, not a sprint race.

Having a Mentor

mentor

Taken from Wikipedia:

“Mentoring” is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is:
“Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”.
Fairly early in my career in Operations I had the benefit of reporting in to a tremendous mentor. I was working in the video game industry, and was hired by a local third party game products company to manage the supply chain activities, much of which revolved around strategic partnerships with several large Asian suppliers.
Although my mentor didn’t necessarily have to do so, he made a point of involving me in many high-powered meetings and trips abroad, both to Europe and the far East, as a part of my role within the company. It was a first hand educational process for me, and over the course of a couple of years the insights, discussions and training that I received were extremely helpful and shaped both my professional career as well as my professional ethics and conduct. The experience of working with this particular mentor (I’ve had the privilege of a couple of such relationships in my career) proved to be both immediately rewarding and valuable later in my life as well.
Recently I made a career move, heading back into a new tech startup full of bright, energetic engineers and staff that are now forging a new wave of technology and products that (I think) will soon shape everyone’s lives in one way or another—it’s just that big…anyway, upon leaving my former employer I wondered if I’d made any impact on my coworkers. A couple of days following my departure I received a card in the mail (very old school), from one of the young guys I had hired there, thanking me for my leadership, training and input in his life—and for getting him started, not only at that particular company, but with respect to his career as well. Without realizing it, I had been a mentor to him. Not only that—I had also yet another mentor in my own life while there—even in a smaller company, still a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Are you mentoring someone now? Making an impact in their life? Here are some suggestions for elements of great mentoring:

1. Great mentors are good communicators. They know how, when and why to communicate. They are generally easy to speak with, to ask questions, and they take time in their responses.
2. Great mentors have something to share. They are knowledge experts, not on every topic, but certainly on some topics. Through their own experience, education and career growth, they can offer insights not always found in the more mundane ways, such as a classroom setting. You can learn something from them.
3. Great mentors are reasonably humble in their approach. They don’t seek to be seen, or necessarily heard, they are sought out. Their wisdom becomes somewhat evident as you get to know them, not due to their own self-promotion.
4. Great mentors are an asset to their organizations. Fairly easy to understand this point—they make a positive difference in the lives of others on the team.
5. Great mentors are great people (based on my experiences). This will usually be the case—part of being a good mentor involves character qualities that are good and positive in other areas of life, not just while at work.

Are you mentoring someone now? Do you have a mentor in your life that is helping you grow, learn and become better not only as an employee but also as a person? We should all cultivate a spirit of mentorship within our lives and work communities. Education and experience are important attributes towards building a strong team, but do not lose sight of the importance of mentorship in your work and your life.  Have a relationship with someone who will teach you, lead you and help you to grow as a person–and do the same for someone else!

Housekeeping??

housekeepingI still laugh when I think about that scene from the movie “Tommy Boy” with the late Chris Farley and David Spade. If you don’t know the movie, and want some light, mindless fun, watch it some night, it’ll make you laugh.

Recently we conducted an end of the year physical inventory and while going through our records and reconciling all the data, the word “housekeeping” came to my mind. Housekeeping is an important part of a good operational plan–a very important part. Let me explain further.

Within Operations, and more specifically Supply Chain Management, we often focus on supplier qualification, capacity, lead times and costs. All of these are important ingredients that need our constant attention when it comes to producing a great product. Redundancy within the supply chain is another area of focus that we spend efforts with, to ensure we have adequate capacity in place as well as contingency plans for any changes or disruptions in our supply chain.

But what about housekeeping? Does your supplier (or contract manufacturer, or 3PL distribution partner) keep a clean house? When was the last time you visited them–possibly even unannounced (or perhaps with a short notice)? And I’m not referring to the cleanliness of their conference room or restrooms, but of their operational areas. This is a facet of supply chain management that is sometimes overlooked. Are materials properly inventoried, labeled and stored? Is it evident through looking at the various areas the type of work that is underway? How about documentation? In order and aligned with reality? These are just some of the questions that come to my mind when thinking about housekeeping as it relates to Operations.

I grew up in a household where there was much routine and order. My parents (although not from a military background) instilled in their children at a very early age the importance of keeping your room clean and in order. We had certain days of the week that were earmarked for certain activities, whether it be laundry, vacuuming, trash duty, etc. and we all had our chores assigned. As a teen it was a royal pain in my backside, but later in life I realized the importance of staying organized, both personally and professionally, and I came to appreciate the values I was taught. The concept stuck with me and grew with me, from just my room, to my house, my personal things (such as my vehicles), my office, and my operational responsibilities (suppliers, warehouses, etc.) in my career.

Great housekeeping can help your organization avoid issues such as incomplete or erroneous data, poor or inefficiency in space management and inventory management, slowed or difficult processes (such as inventory counts) and delayed or ineffective distribution of products through your fulfillment activities.

As you begin the new year, give some thought to housekeeping, and you’ll be rewarded immensely!

Fruitcake.

Fruitcake

I enjoy fruitcake.  There…I said it.

Don’t get me wrong–I completely understand why people don’t like fruitcake.  Some hate the little jellied cherries, some dislike the nuts or raisins, or maybe just the combination of ingredients.  But I like fruitcake.

My mom used to make fruitcakes around the holidays–maybe that’s the connection.  For me, eating fruitcake reminds me of some great family holiday time, growing up in a large family such as mine.  It was something that happened in our house every year.  Over time perhaps, I came to recognize the fruitcake as just a part of the holiday festivities and something my mom did for us.  Even later, after I’d moved out, gotten married, and started my own family, mom would send me some of her fruitcake around the holidays.  No one would dare touch it–nor did they want to.  But no matter, I enjoyed it every time.  My brothers and sister never developed the same taste for fruitcake as I did.  So, it sort of became my thing.  Even my wife and kids, to this day, have no interest in the fruitcake.

The comedian Jim Gaffigan  incorporates fruitcake into part of his monologue….he talks about it, wondering to himself why it is so disliked…he muses that “fruit is good…cake is great….fruitcake = nasty crap”…

Truthfully, fruitcake can be an analogy for many things in life.  We all have stories, we all come from various walks of life, each with our own unique qualities.  Separately, we are all various “ingredients” if you will indulge my thought.  But together, we create something.  Putting together a great team of people is very similar to making a fruitcake.  And with the right combination of ingredients, something unique and yet wonderful can happen, in your home, your company, your team.

Yeah, I know, it’s not a really deep concept, but it works.  And besides, we’re in the holiday season–so please excuse the shallow nature of this short prose.  I hope you’ve had a great year in 2014, and here’s to an even better 2015.  Happy holidays, enjoy some fruitcake, and thank you for reading my posts!