The Coach's Corner

Archive for 2018

The Stack 9 Hard Questions

December 3rd, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

In my last post, I summarized highlights from The Great Game of Business, written by business owner Jack Stack. In this post, I’ve listed nine tough rhetorical questions that remind me of Marcus Buckingham’s 12 (now 8) Questions. Here goes:

  1. What are you personally giving to the people you manage?
  2. Do you spend as much time thinking about your team as you spend thinking about customers?
  3. Do you share your problems, or do you keep them to yourself?
  4. Do you, yourself, operate with an open book? Do you let your people know everything that you know?
  5. Are you getting the benefit of your team’s intelligence, or do you still think you’re responsible for coming up with the answers on your own?
  6. Do your people know what to do without being told, or do they wait to get a list from you? Is everybody working toward the same goal? Does everybody know what it is? Do you let people figure out the best way to get there?
  7. Do you know what gets your people angriest? Have you ever asked them about their frustrations and their fears? What keeps them awake at night?
  8. Have you talked to your team about your own fears and frustrations? Can you let down your guard enough to do that? Are you willing to make yourself vulnerable? Do you have enough self-confidence to take the risk to be transparent with them?
  9. Most important, if the answer to any of these questions is no, do you really want to change?

I’m guessing Marcus Buckingham would love this list.

Consider doing a self-assessment first. Then, have your leadership team members complete a self-assessment, followed by a company assessment.

For those of you who are nervous, I’ll quote my dad once again: “It is what it is.” Take the risk and, if you’re not where you could be, do something about it.

The Great Game of Business

November 12th, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

In my recent post, I mentioned I was going to read The Great Game of Business, written by Jack Stack. Although it’s a book about Open Book Management (OBM), it was way more than that. Stack details what happened when he and his buddies —non-college-educated, blue-collar people —  purchased a failing International Harvester plant where they had worked for years.

In the first third of the book, Stack provides his thoughts on OBM, and shares his leadership philosophies. As my dad would say, “He has a lot of common sense.” To whet your appetite for his book, here are a few of my favorite takeaways (of course, with my editorial comments):

  1. The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad.
  2. Middle managers have the most difficult role in the company because they have to please many masters. (Editorial comment: At my former firm, there’s a position called “In-Charge.” In my opinion, it was — and probably still is — the hardest job. The In-Charge must supervise the team, keep the client happy, keep the partner happy, and complete the work assignments accurately and within budget.)
  3. There’s a reason you get paid more when you become a manager. You’re taking on more responsibility, and you’re giving up some of your freedom. (Editorial comment: Wow, I’ve never seen this in writing, but I used to say those exact words to our partners. As a leader, in public, you surrender some of your personal points of view or opinions. This was very hard for some, including me, at times.)
  4. “That’s why I get angry at the loudmouths who talk about winning through intimidation. Not only are they dead wrong, but they are promoting one of the most destructive myths in American business.” (Editorial comment: Need I say more?)
  5. Tunnel vision is a big problem in business.
  6. Too many goals are useless.
  7. Bad housekeeping is frequently a sign of trouble. (Editorial comment: Japanese manufacturers have taught us about the importance of adopting the 5S workplace organization method.)
  8. No matter how hard you try to be open, people are still intimidated by the title, the door, the desk — all symbols of power. (Editorial comment: This is so true. So, realize it and don’t make it worse.)

There are many more great recommendations, but I’ll stop there.

In the balance of the book, Stack provides many practical, detailed ideas for implementing OBM. Just a warning: He also offers some (just a few) political points of view, and isn’t shy about his support of capitalism.

Stack also has a very strong point of view when it comes to his belief that associates should receive stock in the company, and he makes a very good case for his position. I happen to disagree with him, and believe you can accomplish the same goal with deferred compensation or phantom stock pegged to the company enterprise value. In this area, I would strongly suggest you seek outside counsel from your advisers, including your attorney and accountants. As always, I’d be happy to discuss my views, if you’d like to talk about it.

In my next post, I’ll share one last list of rhetorical questions that Stack provided that might be worth asking yourself and your leadership team. The list reminded me of Marcus Buckingham’s 12 (now 8) Questions, which I’ve discussed in the past.

It’s All About Jobs, Part 2

October 22nd, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

In my last blog, I discussed the commitment Barbara and I have to helping business owners create good jobs. I mentioned Defending The Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, written by Rev. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and co-founder and president of The Acton Institute. Fr. Robert comments on many topics, but here are some takeaways specifically related to jobs:

  1. The expression “to make money” is a very good description of the process in a free market. It all begins because people are making things or creating things (it may be a product or a service). Before the taking comes the making.
  2. An increasing number of experts from the developing world have come to recognize the pitfalls of government-to-government aid. (Editorial comment: Barbara and I have observed this firsthand in many countries.)
  3. The countries that have found ways of unleashing creativity through economic freedom have lifted millions out of poverty.
  4. Capitalism is fueled by human creativity in a system that rewards people for serving the wants and needs of others.
  5. In summary, the identification of greed with business profits and generosity with not-for-profits is too simplistic. As tempting as it may be, we cannot demonize profit and canonize poverty. (Editorial comment: Fr. Robert does a wonderful job of making this point. I can add that, for years, I’ve observed business owners do many wonderful acts of kindness for their associates and for the poor in their communities. I will continue this series and share some of my favorites.)
  6. The entrepreneur in a free market, far more than the government bureaucrat or central planner under socialism, must submit himself to the wants and needs of the consumer if he is to profit.
  7. What tends to make people happier is earned success — in other words, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a job well done, a job that others find valuable.

Fr. Robert provided many references to credible research studies and wonderfully explained many different dynamics of a “free market” approach versus the alternative.

For those interested in learning more about this subject, I would recommend reading Fr. Robert’s book as well as a number of the books he references, such as The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek.

It’s All About Jobs, Part 1

October 8th, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

I love working with owner-operated businesses competing in the free market. They develop an idea for a new product or service and then take it to the market, where it’s either accepted (like the iPhone) or rejected (like the Ford Edsel). Recently I finished reading Defending The Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, by Rev. Robert Sirico. Fr. Robert is a Catholic priest, and he’s also the co-founder and president of The Acton Institute.

Before I lose you, bear with me.

From 1998 until 2012, Barbara, my partner, and I led more than 30 humanitarian mission teams all over the world. We visited the continents of Africa, Asia, Central America, Oceania, and South America. Our teams provided medical services, worked on construction projects, offered an educational program, and conducted a children’s ministry and marriage enrichment classes. As we looked forward to what we now refer to as our “Last Life Marathon,” we decided we were going to invest our time in a combination of work and mission. If you check out our website, you’ll find our Mission Statement:  “Doescher Advisors was founded to help businesses increase profits and jobs through practical and sound advice.”

As our economy changes due to innovations, the industrial jobs that once provided wonderful standards of living for so many hourly workers for almost a century no longer exist. Barbara and I are committed to assisting business owners find success so they can provide good jobs to these workers.

To make this point really clear, let me tell you a story. We had a client who found himself in the middle of the perfect storm. As we assessed the situation, we believed we could help “right the ship,” so to speak, but we also realized the client was in no position to compensate us for our extra assistance. We decided to help, anyway. I went to the business owner and said, “I think we can help you through this situation. I understand you won’t be able to pay us now, but we’ll keep track of our time and you can decide what you want to do when we get through it.” You can imagine the gratefulness of the client. I acknowledged his comments, but then I pointed out toward his shop floor and said, “I’m doing this for those 40 families. I cannot effectively help them, but I can help you. And if we’re successful, everyone wins.”

In my next blog, I’ll provide some of my takeaways from Fr. Robert’s book.

What Financial Information Should I Share with My Associates?

September 24th, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

This was actually a question posed to me by one of my clients. To be perfectly candid, I didn’t give him a very good answer. Thinking about how I could have responded better led me to purchase an old book, Open-Book Management: The Coming Business Revolution (Open-Book), written by John Case in 1995. I also bought The Great Game of Business: Unlocking the Power and Profitability of Open-Book Management, by Jack Stack, and I intend to study the Scanlon plan. So far, here are my takeaways from Open-Book, along with some editorial comments.

  1. I would lean toward sharing information. In my experience with all types of businesses, the associates generally seem to think the company is more profitable than it really is. For example, if everyone hears the company has been awarded a million-dollar contract, they may think the owner will get $500,000. But if the company’s EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation & Amortization) is 10 percent (a pretty common result for a good company), the actual profit is far less.
  2. Start out slowly and share just a few metrics, like sales/revenue.
  3. Before getting too deep into sharing, think about reporting when you have either a world-class year or a near-bankruptcy year, and anticipate questions. Sharing too much information could become a slippery slope that results in unnecessary concerns or expectations.
  4. NEVER FUDGE THE NUMBERS!!!! Rather than fudging numbers, it would be better not to share at all.
  5. Open-Book appropriately describes the old Industrial Revolution command and control management styles versus today’s knowledge workers, even on the factory floor. Have you been on a shop floor recently? Most machines today are computer-controlled and the operators are required to be very skilled to diagnose issues and/or problems. Command and control would never work.
  6. Open-Book also recommends that owners view their associates as “partners.” I can relate to this because that’s how Frank Moran, founding partner of Plante Moran, made me feel from the day I started there as an intern.
  7. Open Book suggests rewarding people for making money. In other words,  teach them that profit is necessary to maintain a sustainable business.
  8. “What gets measured gets done,” according to Open-Book. Louis Gerstner, former IBM CEO, loved to say, “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.”
  9. Keep it simple. People don’t trust what they don’t understand.

The last half of the book provides specific examples of private companies that have adopted some type of  open-book management style.

When I reflect upon today’s workforce, I think some version of open-book management makes a lot of sense. I would probably suggest reading up on the subject, attending some seminars, and getting outside help to get started. A misstep could be quite painful for you and your associates.

The Advisor’s Corner

Tom DoescherYou’ll find stories from the trenches, business lessons, and pertinent questions to help you find inspiration, professional growth, and leadership savvy.

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