This week I’ll have the opportunity to participate in an impactful event here in Irvine, CA covering women in medical device leadership. With this being the 3rd annual event the team putting it together was concerned primarily with how we would pull off the event and do so while keeping the content fresh and appealing. Needless to say when you’ve done something twice its really easy to have the 3rd end up on autopilot. Just ask Al Pacino, he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about as a result of Godfather III. (my first of many digressions in this article)
While we had a great topic to address, ‘Successfully Addressing Conflict Resolution & Crisis Management in the Workplace’, the team agreed we were missing something from the event. Missing something to make this 3rd event really special. It was during this time one of our strategic partners, Society of Women in Engineering, or SWE, suggested we offer a scholarship for female STEM students as a part of the event.
We loved the idea and since our organization, DeviceAlliance, had yet to do a scholarship program it was a great way to give back to the local community we serve while also providing a unique experience for the event attendees.
As we dove into the creation of this scholarship program, which would later be called ‘OC Exceptional Female STEM Student Scholarship Award’, we learned a lot of interesting stats having to do with our country’s STEM education programs. Some of those STEM stats were good yet many of them were disheartening to say the least.
While I knew what STEM education was I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the actual programs, how it operated and what the results were. As I began to dig for details to educate myself on this part of academia, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the information I was finding.
STEM education in the US is struggling.
I found this really hard to believe. How can such an amazing program have such mediocre to poor results. I learned things like:
These stats are frightening and only the beginning of the landslide of poor outcomes and frustrating data plaguing STEM education. One could easily deduce from this information our country’s efforts to produce a successful STEM education program for the up and coming generations is failing. Perhaps, failing miserably.
I wasn’t willing to accept that. Just because the stats may not be in our favor doesn’t mean STEM isn’t a good opportunity. In fact, I look at it the opposite way. Sure, STEM education reform would almost certainly help our country however in the wake of misfortune opportunity can always be found.
Fortunately, the future for STEM isn’t so doom and gloom, it’s all a matter of how we address the opportunity at hand. Let’s look at some other stats related to STEM:
Yes, the academic side of STEM may be struggling in the US. Yes, we’re pumping a lot of money into STEM and we’re still behind many 1st and even 2nd world countries in terms of our scoring and performance in STEM.
Yet there’s one thing for certain you just can’t argue – technology is only going to increase as time goes on. This means the demand for STEM educated students will continue to be both important and a key driver of our economy. Rather than focusing on the bad, I see it as a chance to focus on the good and the potential growth in STEM education in front of us here in the States.
So how do we address the issue of a struggling domestic STEM education program so that we can get more students through it and into the workforce?
The answer in my opinion is two-fold:
While those two answers may be wildly simple and perhaps naïve on a big scale it’s hard to argue one key fact: technology is here to stay; the jobs of the future will largely be focused and depend on emerging technology.
As technology continues to advance it brings us opportunity, how we and the generations to come choose to take advantage of that opportunity, well that’s still yet to be seen. It’s vital we act NOW to uplift our country’s STEM education programs while encouraging our youth to reach for those opportunities.
I’m proud to be a part of a non-profit team which recognizes the importance of STEM education and just as important is doing something in our local community to encourage and support those students who are chasing their dreams in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Key Take Away:
The US STEM education system is getting the pants beat off it by other countries which have placed a high priority in technology and science based education. While this seems bad on the surface it also reveals a lot of opportunity ahead of us, with plenty of employment opportunities with nice salaries and upward mobility. Industry and older generations (in particular parents) need to get involved earlier and more frequent to ensure the up and coming generations are able to take advantage of the opportunities at hand.
Think about how you land within these two areas: industry and adulting. If you don’t have kids how can you educate people younger than you about the opportunities STEM produces? If you do have kids introducing them at a young age to these possibilities is crucial, not just for their development but for our country as a whole. From an industry perspective, challenge yourself and your company to get further involved with the local colleges and universities in your area. Seek out STEM education programs to ingratiate them into your company, help to drive awareness, sponsor projects and competitions. The more we get involved the better of we and those to come after us will be.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away:
Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
The gig economy is growing. Growing rapidly!
I recently stumbled upon a publication put out by MBO Partners on an annual basis which compares the state of our economy to the rise and decline of independent workers. It’s a fascinating read, especially with the growth of the gig economy rapidly changing the face of the employment landscape as we know it. MBO indicates 52% of the U.S. adult workforce within 5 years of 2019 will either be working or will have worked as an independent consultant or contractor.
That’s huge! Literally half of those employed in the US in one form or another operates as an independent ‘gig’. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 90% of the US workforce says they would be open to the idea of freelancing or consulting.
In one way or another that just about includes everyone in the workforce, or close to it.
If almost everyone you and I know are, or are interested in being, a gig [consultant] it will only lead to one inevitable outcome. The gig space is going to start to getting highly competitive.
Being a freelancer or consultant isn’t uncommon anymore. Long gone are the days where an individual branding themselves as such makes a unique statement which in turn gives that person a competitive advantage.
We may not be there yet however rest assure that in the coming years the consulting, gig and freelance field will become much more congested with new players trying to take a piece of the pie. As such, it will be paramount for gigs to learn how to brand themselves accordingly to ensure they remain at the top of the pecking order.
Branding is crucial!
It’s more than adding a tagline to your business card which creatively says in a couple words what you do. It’s more than building a LinkedIn profile hoping it does the work for you with a serene picture of a bamboo forest behind your mug shot.
Branding, a crucial part to any business, is indeed the next wave of importance for the consulting and gig community.
What does branding do?
Branding does a lot of things. For starters, it helps to build an identify, one people begin to learn over time is synonymous with you. Branding is all about strategic messaging to an audience about who you are, what you’re all about, and how you make a difference. When branding is done right, it can take on a life of its own, far beyond the company, product and original intent.
Take for example the Q-Tip. The handy little cotton based product invented in 1923 by Leo Gerstenzang allows us the delightful pleasure to clean the crap out of our ears, keeping them nice and tidy to prevent health related issues and even perhaps hear better. What’s fascinating about Leo’s Q-Tip is that the word itself, ‘Q-Tip’, is a brand specific to one product now made by Unilever Corporation. The branding for this product has been done so well over the years that we all refer to every cotton swab based product as a Q-Tip, regardless of the manufacturer. This my friends is called an eponym.
In fact, Unilever even has on their website “Q-TIPS® is a registered trademark of Unilever and is NOT a name for just any cotton swabs. The Q-TIPS® trademark can only be used to refer to the specific cotton swab products manufactured and sold by Unilever and should not be used to refer to cotton swab products of other companies or to cotton swabs generally.”
Even Unilever is aware of how well their branding has done in the marketplace, giving credence to their competitors similar products. There are plenty of other products that fall into this category like Kleenex, Post-It Notes and Xerox.
Branding creates buzz while giving recognition to a person, company or thing that people can recognize and associate with. It’s powerful stuff these marketing genius’ have dreamed up and we as consumers just love to eat it up.
So here’s the rub and what this means you for, my wonderful Mrs./ Mr. Gig. It means you need to learn how to brand yourself asap, before the girl or guy next to you beats you to the punch causing you to become second fiddle in your own back yard.
Don’t have experience marketing and or branding yourself? Want to learn? Here are the seven (7) steps to successfully brand yourself as a consultant (freelancer, gig, independent consultant, etc.) in no particular order:
1.Tell Your Story
People work with people they like. This has been proven time and time again and I’ve seen it myself many times over throughout career. People also naturally gravitate towards a good story, especially if that story gives them a reason to ‘act’. Spend the time to think through and write out your story. This is the ‘WHY’ you’re a consultant in the first place. WHY you do what you do. What propels you to be you, the inner workings. Once you learn what this is write it down and develop a narrative that shares a story about who you are and why you do what you do. Once you have that done the next step is to share it with the world.
2.Know What Problems You Solve
Customers don’t want benefits or values. They don’t want long winded sales presentations that promise them everything under the sun. Customers want solutions! Once you understand what your customers problems are, you can then create information which talks about your ‘WHY’, mentioned above, along with your ability to solve your customers problems. As you start to brand yourself via social media, print, publications, website, etc. make sure this is one of the first things your customers see. It’s all they care about – how you can solve their problems.
When you begin to brand yourself through the various avenues of social media, web, print, etc. it’s vital all of your information communicates the same message, look and feel. This consistency gets viewers accustom to your approach, look and feel. If every time you put something out in the world it looks completely different from one to the other you’ll never get people to connect to your product, service or company. They’re to busy being confused and lost in the process. Keep your message and content simple, yet highly directed to your intended audience.
Consistency also refers to the amount you brand yourself. If you only do it once a month you’ll never get anywhere building a brand, however if you do one post, one article or one activity every day the results you’ll see are dramatically different. Just remember, it takes time, so invest in branding yourself now.
4.Speak Like Your Customers
When you’re putting together content to put out in the world make sure you put yourself in your customers shoes. Think like them, act like them, be them. If you don’t know how to do that simply ask them. The more you communicate and speak like your customer the better chance you will have in getting their attention. If you’re trying to catch a whale, don’t pretend to be a shark. Instead, be plankton, that’s what whales eat. (I think)
5.Focus on the Solution
When branding yourself and or your consulting practice focus on what results you create, provide or give. The journey along the way is of course important however in the consulting/ gig world its all about execution. If you can’t execute and successfully complete a project it doesn’t matter what you may have done along the way. Results are all that matter, brand yourself accordingly.
6.Create a Website
I suppose this suggestion falls equally into the general marketing category however in this day and age if you want people to take you seriously having a website is a bare minimum. There are plenty of tools available to create cheap, or even free, template based websites that give any size business or person the ability to compete with the big girls and boys. Check out Weebly or Wiix. That said, keep the website simple and in line with your customers needs. Focus on your story and the problems you solve on behalf of your customers. Also, make sure you buy the online domain names of your consulting practice and any taglines you plan to use for branding purposes.
7.Create Visual Content
No one’s saying you need to turn into a graphic designer, but it would help greatly if you could quickly edit and adjust images with your logo and brand to reflect your consulting work. This can be easily accomplished via Microsoft PowerPoint and Paint programs. One can buy stock photos online from dozens of pre-approved imagery galleries and edit them to your hearts content. PowerPoint is a relatively easy to use program to do basic image editing with text, enough to at least get some content out to the masses that is custom and specific to your target audience. Paint is a dumbed down version of PowerPoint, yet effective for small projects.
Key Take Away:
Don’t wait until your field gets over saturated before you start thinking about branding yourself and or consulting practice. The best way to brand yourself is to start with you, your reason for being a consultant in the first place, and then the problems you solve on behalf of your customers. Your branding should reflect all of this and be consistent across any platform you put it on - your website, social media, print media, publications, etc.
Does this sound like a lot of work you aren’t interested in getting involved in? If so, don’t feel bad, branding yourself is no easy task. Find a local marketing and branding expert and get help. Ask them to work with you to develop your brand, your approach and customer facing appearance. The money you spend upfront for this help will be well worth it down the road. If you aren’t in a position to pay for help, set aside 3 hours a week to dedicate to your branding efforts. It won’t be much in the beginning but at least it will get you on the road to ingraining this practice in your weekly operating rhythm.
When we look at a how most businesses operate we learn there is a consistent and heavy reliance on external parties to help the organization operate effectively. The larger the business the more reliance they typically have on external people and or companies to help them achieve their goals.
For start up businesses it’s common to see them rely on external service companies and consultants which provide support in areas such as finance, accounting, HR, logistics, even sales. If you’re a product based company your supply chain inevitably includes people or companies which provide product support such as design, prototyping, packaging, raw materials/ components, etc.
Many of us rely on our suppliers to help us run our business efficiently, but are we truly maximizing these partnerships?
Lot’s of small company’s use ADP to process their payroll. ADP is considered the gold standard in payroll processing as they offer their service across a broad range of business sizes and industries, provide a thorough and well-crafted service which is customizable and affordable. For many small businesses it’s a no brainer to use ADP for payroll processing because ADP does it far more effective and at a cheaper cost than most small businesses could do on their own.
Here’s the catch – did you know ADP also offers support in talent acquisition tools, benefits administration, HR services (including outsourcing/ PEO), employee system integrations and even marketplace apps?
I didn’t! I always thought of ADP as a payroll provider, little did I know that ADP also offers at least five other major services, all of which carry the same ADP quality of service and support.
This is where we fall short in utilizing our suppliers to maximize the impact on our business. If we don’t know all of the services or areas of support our suppliers offer we can’t align those services with our business needs.
Last year a start up medical device client of ours came to us with a problem. They needed to do some concept feasibility research on a particular product idea they had which if it made it to market it would significantly aide them in completing against their two closest competitors. They contacted our company not to help them with the project, but to help them with a referral to a local Orange County, CA based company that specialized in designing and testing early stage concepts.
That was a hard pill to swallow. My company, through yours truly, had been working with this start-up for several years and this client, who we had a good relationship with, didn’t know all of the services we could and do provide.
That was an invaluable learning lesson. I had assumed all along that our client knew we also provided concept design and small stage prototype testing. I was wrong. As the old saying goes “when we assume we make an ass out of you and me.” That saying should be re-written to say “when we assume we make an ass out of me and me only.”
After I listened to our customers situation and the support they were looking for it was apparent we would be a great option for them. The conversation thereafter was rather amusing and equally humbling as our customer told us “oh really, I had no idea you also offered that service. We would love to work with you all on the project, you already know our system, product lines and the people running the project. How do we get started?”
I remember hanging up the phone and laughing to myself thinking, “how many other customers do we have that think of us in one way yet have no idea about the other services we provide.” The next several months after this realization I spent all my efforts educating our current customer base on our full suite of services, not just the one area of support our customers had grown to rely on us for. It would prove to be a valuable learning lesson on my end needless to say.
Seven months later we finished the concept feasibility project, three weeks ahead of schedule, for the customer I had mentioned earlier. At the completion of the project I asked our customers VP R&D for his feedback on the project, our involvement, our work output and of course “would he use us again for other development needs they had?”
His response, “you all did a great job. We honestly had no idea you did concept work. We would rather give the work to an existing supplier, like you, we trust than go out and start a new relationship with someone we have no history with. Interestingly enough, after we learned that about your firm and the other services you offer which we didn’t know about we went back to several other key suppliers and ask them for information on other services they offered. In one instance we ended up saving almost 19% on our annualized material costs because we shifted the majority of our material purchasing needs over to another existing supplier. We love working with them and their prices were very competitive, we just had no idea they offered other materials outside of what we were already purchasing from them.”
Here in lies the ‘Ah-Ha’ moment and perhaps the reason you’re reading this article in the first place.
Inevitably you are working with suppliers at present which you only have a narrow view of how they can help your business. Take a moment to reach out to those suppliers of yours and learn about their full suite of services and or capabilities. You may just find out there’s a handsome cost or time savings for you just around the corner.
Key Take Away:
Don’t assume you know everything about your supply base. Most likely you’re working with suppliers you don’t have a full understanding of their capabilities. Take the time to learn more about your supply base and how those existing relationships can further maximize the impact they’re making on your business.
Reach out to your best or favorite top 5 suppliers for the sole purpose of learning about their full suite of services and capabilities. Identify where you are presently working with them and the areas you aren’t. Does this supplier offer additional services that you could benefit from? Better yet, do they offer a service which you presently have contracted with another company you aren’t thrilled with? This is a great time to begin reviewing your supply chain to see if there are areas of your business that would be positively impacted by working with the suppliers you like working with? When you begin to ‘bundle’ more projects and opportunities with your supply base you stand to greatly reduce your time and cost associated with your supply chain.
The side hustle always sounds enticing.
Enticing because it’s fun, give us an opportunity to make extra dough on the side while doing new and hopefully cool work. Sound familiar?
I hear this all the time when talking with colleagues. “I’m going to start consulting. You can make some really good money on the side.”
The idea of consulting sounds fun because in our heads it is. Making money on the side doing what we love, of course that’s fun, yet we’re overlooking an important aspect of the ‘side hustle’ which often we don’t figure out until it’s too late.
Working outside of your 8-5 job is in fact a means to make more money. It can also be a means to do other work and expand your skills, but before you you jump in you’ll need to think about one thing:
How am I going to make money doing this?
It happens all the time. We come up with a great idea, get excited and off we go chasing our idea as quickly as possible to bring it to life. Along the way we’re thinking about all the fun aspects of our new idea or venture except the most important – how am I going to make money doing this?
Most people get into consulting (the side hustle, freelancing, moonlighting, gigging – it’s all the same) because we have a particular skill set and someone takes interest in it. For example, if I’m an electrical engineer and I’m really good at PCB (printed circuit board) design I can easily do this work for other people or companies on the side, often times without breaching any of my current employer policies.
We jump into the side hustle with an immediate project. It almost seems easy. The work is just coming to us and all we’ve got to do is uphold our end of the bargain and finish the task to get paid.
Inevitably we begin making the rounds to our other connections, picking up more projects that keep us going for a while. If we’re really lucky, we get busier than we could have imagined and as a result we take the leap into consulting full-time, leaving behind our 8-5 behind. We’re elated, encouraged and empowered all at once.
Until reality sets in – what do we do once we’ve exhausted all our networks and connections and there’s no more work?
Panic sets in and suddenly consulting begins to lose its enticing ways. It’s not fun anymore, this is a real job with a lot more responsibility than the 8-5 I was trying to get away from.
Whether you’re doing the side hustle or you’re full-time in consulting it can be really frustrating, and potentially scary, when all the projects dry up leaving you to scrounge up the next job to stay afloat, while keeping the green backs coming in.
Here in lies the key lesson with consulting and why it’s important we always think about how we’re going to get paid as consultants:
Consultants work themselves out of jobs – it’s a natural part of the process!
“Do this job”, “fix this thing”, “get us up and running here” our clients tell us, then once the work is done so are you as their consultant.
Therefore, one of the most crucial aspects of being a long-term successful consultant, which often times gets overlooked, is how important it is for you to continuously sell yourself. When we are constantly in sales mode our project opportunities flow in more consistently rather than a rollercoaster where the work is plentiful at times (the rollercoaster high of consulting) or work is scarce and you’re eating Top Ramen three times a day (the rollercoaster lower – really low).
For this reason it’s paramount we always keep top of mind ‘How will I make money as a consultant?’. The answer is ‘sales’!
If you’re considering stepping into consulting, freelance or full-time, make sure you consider how you think and feel about doing sales. How do you feel about selling yourself and your capabilities? Reaching out to people you don’t know to sell them on the fact ‘you’re the person for the job’. Going to networking events in the evenings. Pitching people in senior leadership positions. Overcoming objections, etc. This is the foundation for sales.
Sales isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a grind and it’s all about the numbers. The more you do it and the more consistent you are the better off you’ll be in the long run, with opportunities aplenty.
This doesn’t mean we need to forgo getting into consulting. It may just mean we need to slow down our excitement and think more strategically about what we’re about to go into and how we’re going to whether the storm should things get slow for a period of time.
The answers to those two questions will provide valuable insight as to whether or not consulting is the right career path for you.
Key Take Away:
Before you start consulting, regardless if you are freelancing for full-time consulting, you should spent time thinking about these two questions:
1.How am I going to make money doing this?
2.Can I sell myself and do so consistently?
If you’re on the fence about how you feel with your abilities and interest with sales, go do a test run. Go to a networking event and go alone. At this event your sole purpose is to sell yourself. Go prepared with an idea of the ideal person you want to meet – the customer you would do work for. Find those people and start off with your introduction, your elevator pitch. Follow this up with an explanation of your specialty and how you help solve people’s business problems. (if you need more direction here go read the cliff notes version of the book ‘Spin Selling’ by Neil Rackham) While you’re in these conversations at the networking event try getting wildly curious with your questions to better understand the challenges and work the person you’re speaking with has in front of them and how potentially you could be the solution to their problem, aka pain points. Smart sales is less about selling yourself and more about listening and discovering areas you can help people. Note – this takes time to master and won’t happen overnight however while you’re at the event testing out your sales skills you will at least get an idea for how you feel about your interactions and the actual activity of selling. From here you can digest whether this is something you want to do further. Lastly, be realistic. More often than not you aren’t going to land a sale or consulting project off the first discussion with someone. Yes, it does happen from time to time however the more realistic outcome is it will take you anywhere from 5-7 interactions with a person or business before you land an opportunity.
Interested in earning additional income? Looking to leave your full-time job to go it on your own? Maybe you just want to take on exciting, new work outside of your 8-5 job!
Join the Square-1 Engineering team for our morning coffee meet-ups to discuss the business of technical consulting, how to become a consultant and do so successfully on your own.
Recently I had an opportunity to get caught up with a friend of mine, and former customer, who I hadn’t seen in years. As we got reacquainted and talked about old times, corporate war stories and the like the conversation began to take a turn in an unexpected direction.
Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
Friend (F): “I’m working in IT now.”
Me (M): As I blinked with disbelief asking ‘Wait, did you say IT? What do you know about IT, you’re a purchasing manager – and a good one at that.” (we’re old chums, I can get away with crass comments like that)
F: Right. I started with this company and was turning around their purchasing department when out of nowhere they transferred me. We’re a small company and a vacancy came up in IT doing project management so my boss asked me to slide over for the year.”
M: “Slide over? Bet you enjoyed that nonchalant way of your boss saying “hey, the company needs help and we have no other options but you”.”
F: “That’s pretty much how it went down.”
M: “So how’s it been so far being in IT?”
F: “Awful. I feel like every day is Monday. I dread coming to work cause I don’t really know what I’m doing and haven’t received a lot of direction. It’s been a lot of fake it till I make it type thing.”
M: “Have you asked for help?”
F: “I have, multiple times but the problem is there isn’t anyone else to provide me with formal direction because others above me are trying to figure things out at the same time. I’m on Google all day trying to learn about IT project management, the lingo and work. Honestly, I’m not sure how much more I can take of this. I’m five months in and while I’m trying to be a good sport about it because I know the company needs the help this isn’t what I’m trained to do. Or want to do for that matter.”
The conversation continued with the two of us going back and forth on his situation, each time the picture of his job becoming gloomier by the minute. Two weeks after our conversation I found out my friend put in his resignation. Shocker!
So what happened here?
An employee was hired to do a job, things happened and the company asked said person to help them out by moving into a new role. Pretty straight forward, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, this type of unproductive resource alignment happens all the time. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Hiring someone who is an expert in one discipline to then transition them into another that is polar opposites of their skills is in my opinion a poor management choice, one that most often will lead to disenfranchised employees and of course employee attrition.
Let’s be fair here. There’s a measure of truth in that it’s important we challenge ourselves over the course of our career to learn new things, take on new roles, expand our capabilities. This is how we become a better, more well-rounded professional. With that in mind, it’s a delicate balance between expanding someone’s capabilities and forcing them into a situation because it’s what’s best for the company, not necessarily the employee.
If you’re in a situation where you need someone to be a good sport and pitch in to help the company out it’s advisable you approach them with the situation in tandem with a strategy to get them in and get them out. The must be a clear exit strategy to get that employee back into the job you hired them for. Transitioning someone into a role they don’t want, you didn’t hire them for and is a mismatch with their skill set is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps my friend could have been more flexible, or perhaps his employer should have realized the band-aid approach they used with my friend should have only been for a short time and not a long-term solution.
Back to our story.
I called my friend a week after I had learned about his resignation to ask him what happened. He then told me when he resigned his employer asked him in the exit interview why he was leaving. He responded saying “I’m not an IT person. It’s not my passion and I’m not being given any indication this situation is changing any time soon. I also have little support in my new role. I was hired to get our company’s procurement function online and effectively operating yet for the past five months I’m doing IT project management work that I have no experience in, or interest for that matter. I found a job with another company doing what I’m good at and what I love [procurement].”
It’s one thing to ask employees to be team players and have a company first mentality. It’s quite another to remove them from the job which was the reason you hired them in the first place to patch up a problem area that they aren’t qualified to handle. In this, we are setting up our employees to fail.
Key Take Away:
If possible, try not to position your employees in situation where they are doing the company a solid at the expense of their happiness or capabilities. If you must ask an employee to take on a task or job outside of their scope be prepared to have a strategic exit plan in place to get them back to the work you originally hired them for. The work they are best qualified to do.
You have no choice, you have to transition an employee into a role outside their capabilities and comfort zone. Sit down with the employee and explain to them the situation and why you are asking for their help. Explain to them it is a short term situation then lay out your plans to help them get up and running in the role or task, who they can go to for support and how you will work with them to ensure their success. Also outline their exit strategy to get them back into their original job so they know there is an end insight. Lastly, I would strongly suggest offering the employee a bonus or form of recognition as a result of their willingness to help out. This last piece should never be overlooked, otherwise you may find yourself without the employee in the near future.
Are your employees misaligned, doing work that isn’t their specialty? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges while helping to get your employees back to the work they love doing.
It’s inescapable. Inevitably many of us have or are at present spending time on work or projects which can be classified as busy work. We don’t like it, but we’ve convinced ourselves, or better yet someone tried convincing us, that the work or task needs to be done and done by us. Much to our chagrin.
Welcome to the trap of a nasty little productivity killer called non-value add work. Also known as mundane, tedious and even boring work.
Non-value add work takes on many forms and shapes depending on the business you’re in and your respective your role within the company.
If you’re an engineer tedious, non-value add work could include drafting, documentation and report writing. Your passion is designing next generation products but you’re inundated with a slew of tasks which are anything but new and exciting. Perhaps you’re in a leadership role and as such find yourself scheduling meetings, setting up company events, or ordering lunch for your team, etc.
While none of these tasks are of absolutely zero value, when you take into consideration the person doing them they all of a sudden fall into the category of non-value add work. An executive spending time ordering lunch for their team is a poor use of their skills, compensation and time. That doesn’t mean it’s below the person to do so, it means it’s a terrible measure from a productivity standpoint.
For example, if you’re a senior engineer making $125k annual salary and you find yourself doing documentation work periodically throughout the week in essence your company is now paying someone 2 or 2.5 times more to do the work than the person who should really be facilitating it. This of course only looks at the financial side of the equation, it’s also important to take into consideration how the employee feels doing work that is tedious or of non-value in comparison to their skill level.
The biggest fallout of employees being inundated with non-value add work is it takes times away from them focusing on core mission critical work that directly impacts the company’s bottom line and or has the biggest return on investment.
Most employees have an instinctive ability to know when they’re in situations of doing work that isn’t aligned with their skill set, it’s their managers that have a hard time recognizing it and therefore taking corrective actions to improve work flows and employees performance.
For all you managers who struggle with identifying when your employees are stuck with non-value add work, this one’s for you. Symptoms include:
1.Work or tasks they’re doing can be done by someone else at a significantly reduced cost
2.Your employee spends 80% of their time on 20% of their work responsibilities (Pareto Principle)
3.They become increasingly negative and withdrawn, displaying a cynical attitude and uncooperative team mentality
4.Your employee ‘mails it in’, meaning they do just enough to get by but their heart isn’t in it and as a result the quality of the output suffers
When your employees are happy they in turn will do their best work; much can be said for when they are unhappy or burdened with work they deem a poor use of their skills or time the output will often be poor. This doesn’t mean you have a bad employee or one that is incapable, it may just mean you have someone who’s heart isn’t in the work they’re doing. As a manager it’s ultimately your responsibility to identify this and do something about out.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Non-value add work leads to poor performance and unhappy employees. These two items lead to employee attrition which is a huge cost towards the company.
As managers, how do we go about combating situations where employees are burdened with work that isn’t in alignment with their skills and or isn’t a value add to the organization?
The two best answers to solve this problem are remarkably simple:
1.Shift the work to another employee who’s skill set is better aligned with the task at hand (ie – have a Drafter or junior engineer do drawing revisions, not a senior engineer)
2.Consider outsourcing work such as drafting, design, technical writing and document control to a reliable supplier
Both of these solutions can help you get to the promise land where your boring, tedious, non-value add work is done well and your employees can go back to being the happy go lucky people they’ve always been. When your employees are able to focus their efforts on the mission critical work you hired them for the company as a whole benefits.
Key Take Away:
Recognizing your employees are being burdened with non-value add work before it becomes a problem is key to keep your employees happy, working diligently and employed within your organization. No one likes to do work that isn’t of interest to them, at least for significant periods of time.
Read up on the Pareto Principle. Begin aligning your employees with the tasks that represent the highest and most valuable output to the company and in line with their skill set. Following the Pareto Principle, these tasks often represent 20% of the employees work responsibilities, yet attribute to 80% of their successful work performance and therefore company performance. When you identify tasks which are distractions for your employees and remove them from their workload you will see in short time your teams effectiveness soars in parallel with your employees general demeanor and happiness at work.
Are your employees burdened with tedious, non-value add work? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
When was the last time your team, or company for that matter, delivered a project or product on time?
Sounds like an easy and obvious question to answer however the reality would surprise you.
Failure to deliver the goods, on time and to expectation, happens much more than most of us realize. In fact, we’ve become accustom to our expectations not being met, so much so that we barely even notice it anymore.
UPS and FedEx are heralded as two of the best shipping and freight companies globally. The two combined do more than 24 million daily shipments on average. That’s a lot of Amazon orders. Did you know that a combined 19% of those packages don’t make it to their designation on time, or at all? That’s 4.5 million packages miss the mark, EVERY DAY!
You may be thinking, “Why should I care about what happens at FedEx, after all I don’t work there.”
Missing deadlines, or delivering the proverbial goods late, is more than just a shipping issue, it’s a global business issue and frankly it’s very bad for business.
When we miss deadlines, or customer expectations for that matter, we experience all sorts of negative exposure, including:
When UPS or FedEx misses a delivery or puts a package back in que which should have already been delivered the ripple effect created for that driver and route can impact an entire days’ worth of work, or more.
Same thing can be said for our customers. We got a call two weeks ago from a customer asking for help on a project of theirs which had already missed its deadline. Our customer, was two weeks past due on their product delivery date for their respective customer. Needless to say their customer was less then enthused. In fact, every day they fell behind in shipping their product they lost 11k USD in billable revenue.
With costs surmounting quickly eating into their profit margin their customer also became wary of their ability to execute as they had hoped and expected. Phone calls between the two companies became increasingly frequent with the client becoming increasingly upset. Threats of the white-collar kind became a start to each call.
Not a good position to be in. [thanks Captain Obvious]
Our customer asked us to bring a team in and offload some of their work, mostly protocol and process related, so they could focus all their efforts in satisfying the commitment they made to their customer. Our team was to alleviate the bottleneck of work they were experiencing so other internal projects wouldn’t keep backing up as they had already begun to do. Once the bottleneck begins its incredibly challenging to get out of that rhythm and back on track without extra help.
These types of moments are highly intense and stressful. One of the things our customer did with their end customer, which I found to be of high integrity and good professionalism, is they painstakingly told their customer what had happened to make them fall behind, apologized and took ownership for the failure to deliver and immediately shared with the customer their course of action to solve the problem. While their customer was rather upset along the way they did acknowledge the apology and things seemed to get underway shortly thereafter.
The product ultimately was delivered 3 ½ weeks late of schedule costing our customer close to quarter of a million dollars in missed revenue. Tough lesson to learn on the importance of hitting deadlines and meeting expectations.
Key Take Away:
A wise person once said, “sh** happens”. A profound statement to say the least yet certainly true. Sometimes things do happen that are out of our control, taking ownership of the situation and asking for help can be the best two decisions we can make in these moments.
Don’t decide to ask for help when you’re already in hot water. If you’re watching your project timelines begin to slip immediately put in a plan of attack to lean on your suppliers for help. If your relationship with your customer is on good footing still you can try to proactively ask for an extension on the delivery date with the hopes that will provide some cushion to get work done on time. Note – don’t get in the habit of asking for deadline extensions. Once is fine, but to ask that of a customer often signals your company is unorganized and lacks leadership to meet it’s obligations.
In need of someone to help you climb out of your project bottlenecks? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help your solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
You’ve got all the work in the world and not enough hands to complete it. Sound familiar?
This situation plagues all companies, large and small, tenured and brand new alike. No company has endless resources, especially not on the employee side of things and as a result it’s a constant consideration for every company balancing work output and the resources needed to do so.
When we’re buried with work most of us are fond of deploying the age old strategy ‘do more with what you have’. We ask our peers and employees to roll up their sleeves and put in the hours. Come in on the weekend. Camp out under your desk for a couple nights, it’ll be fun. Burn the midnight oil, so to speak. Kaplan Business School hit it on the head when they described this situation as “unrelenting, incessant amounts of work, which seems like there is no end to”. An important notation here is that this situation differs greatly from periodic times throughout a given year when work may increase for short spans. (ie holidays for retail businesses)
While the ‘roll up your sleeves and do more with what you have’ approach may work in a pinch it’s a strategy that can have disastrous unintended consequences, consequences that far out weight the value received by stretching your resources to meet demands.
When we load up our internal teams, employees and resources with heavy workloads it is common to experience:
-Increase employee stress and health issues like depression and addiction
-Business overhead costs soar exponentially due to overtime expenditures
-Even unnecessary legal and human resource expenses can occur if an employer isn’t following their States laws which address required breaks, meal times, etc; this also includes situations where employees feel they are being mistreated as seek legal protection as a result
What’s incredible is the cost that is associated with long term unrelenting amounts of work. Stanford University Graduate School of Business estimates burnout cost the US upwards of $190 BILLION in healthcare costs in 2015. During which it’s further estimated 120,000 deaths that year were attributed to workplace burnout and stress.
If you’re looking for the problem statement in all this, well there it is and its about as tangible as it gets. Work overload at the office is a direct contributor to employee burnout, rising business and healthcare costs, and even death.
While the stats may be disheartening on an initial pass the good news is there’s a solution to this business problem we all face.
Solution to work overload & burnout = utilize outsourcing solutions!
Outsourcing comes in many different forms. It can be as simple as having a supplier pick up additional projects or as complex as completely remoting work offsite as many companies do with shared service business functions like accounting, customer service/ call centers and shipping/ logistics.
Our company recently got a call from a medical device customer asking for our help with a concept design project. We learned their internal team had been at max capacity for several months trying to meet a deadline and were struggling to get to the project. It was technically within their capabilities but would take their main designer several days to get up and running as he hadn’t done this type of work prior. Could their designer have figured it out eventually? Sure, he’s a smart bloke, certainly capable. However, the time it would have taken him to learn how to do the project versus the time our staff could handle it were two different things. It’s the difference between something we do everyday and something they do once in a blue moon.
The customer made a smart business decision in looking at the work they had in front of them and identifying pieces of it they could outsource to be handled by someone else with the right expertise. The mini design project, as we’ll call it, took our expert designer only 32 hours to complete whereas the Director at our client informed us that would have been the time, at a minimum, it would have taken their internal designer just to learn the technique to get the job done.
With this mini design project being handled by our team our customers resources were able to stay focused with their respective tasks at hand without having to divert their attention for a week or two to then jump back on their original work which was waiting for them the entire time.
Our customer eventually met their deadline while simultaneously completing their concept design project via our staff AND keeping their staffs morale at a positive and manageable level given the workload.
Key Take Away:
Think beyond the age old approach ‘do more with what you have’; sometimes the best solution is to lean on someone else to do the work so you can keep your employees happy while successfully managing internal morale.
Review your project charters to see what work you can package up, either the entire project or pieces of it, to outsource to a competent supplier. Simultaneously pull data on all employees to identify the average amount of hours a week your workforce is putting in on your behalf. If your average number of hours worked per employee is beyond 50 hours in a 5 day work week you’ve got some work to do.
In need of someone to help you with additional engineering and regulatory work? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help your solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
Your company is booming. Work is plentiful. Everyone is up to their eye balls in a flurry of activity. As your company works through each project you inevitably get hit with an unexpected curve ball that pauses your momentum, causing you to go off track.
We’ve all been there and for some of us this is a daily, if not weekly, occurrence in our business.
Learning how to deal with the unexpected and therefore being audible ready with a problem solving mentality very well may be one of the most important characteristics an employees can have. Yet, what do you do when your skills are maxed out and you don’t know how to solve the problem or get the project back on track? (note – the answer is not to turn to Google)
Call your local Subject Matter Expert! (SME)
John Reh of Balance Careers put it perfectly, “A subject matter expert in business is an individual with a deep understanding of a particular process, function, technology, machine, material or type of equipment. Individuals designated as subject matter experts are typically sought out by others interested in learning more about or leveraging their unique expertise to solve specific problems or help meet particular technical challenges.” It’s a mouthful, but 100% accurate.
I experienced a situation last year where we had an opportunity to support a customer on a short term, one off project, where we were being brought in to provide guidance on product packaging and manufacturing sterilization methods. While we’ve done this kind of work plenty of times before I was initially concerned that this project would inevitably be different because this customers technology is by far one of the most complicated we’ve had the opportunity to work on. That said, it’s one of the reasons we love working with this customer.
As the project came closer to deploying I realized our traditional approach to projects of this nature wouldn’t get us across the finish line, and or within the time frame we needed to in order to meet our deliverables. After making a couple phone calls we were able to get connected with a medical device industry expert in class III sterilization. Five minutes into the conversation with this guy, who we’ll refer to moving forward as Benji, it was crystal clear that Benji’s skills were far and above the average manufacturing engineer in our business. So much so that he unfolded a myriad of considerations in approaching a project of this nature, of which only half of them had already been considered by my team and the client.
Needless to say I was beside myself with Benji’s expertise and understanding of sterilization processes and their requirements when it came to product packaging. It’s one thing to understand a concept, it’s an entirely different thing to be able to understand something so innately that you can apply that knowledge to myriad of applications, and do so in a timely, accurate manner. The cherry on the top here is being able to apply this knowledge in situations where there is no precedent to work from, in our situation working with cutting edge technology.
As the project got underway Benji quickly took command of the project, assessed the current state of the product, it’s manufacturing processes and requirements for proper sterilization. He met with a slew of suppliers, performed material characterization studies and tested several processes in an elaborate and highly systematic process.
The end result?
We, thanks to the help of our Superhero SME Benji, successfully identified a sterilization process which both met our customers needs and did so in a way that exceeded their product packaging and manufacturing requirements. Best part, this was all accomplished 2 weeks before the project deadline!
I look back on this project and sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had gone the typical route and project deployment for this type of work? Would we have finished on time? Would we have met the customers expectations? If I had to guess, probably not.
As a result, our choice to bring in a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to handle the work for us and guide us to the promise land was by and large the best choice we could have made. A choice that benefited both our company and certainly our customer.
Key Take Away:
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Sometimes the best answer is to lean on an expert who’s experience in a particular area is light years beyond your own. This is a good time for us to set aside our egos and ask for help from people who are capable of getting us the solution we need while teaching us along the way. It’s worth every penny!
Don’t wait until you need an SME to begin looking for one. Start reaching out to industry associations, your personal connections or your suppliers to build a pool of people who have expertise in specific areas your business are involved in. Keep track of these people in a contact management tool or at a minimum Excel spreadsheet which provides detail on each SME’s capabilities, hourly rate or cost, location, typical availability, etc. Next time a challenge comes up you can’t readily answer yourself you’ll now have an ‘SME hot list’ of people you can access immediately to solve your business and project challenges.
In need of an SME? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help your solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
About the Author
Serving over a decade in the technical services industry in Orange County, CA, Travis Smith has developed a talent for assessing technical talent and overseeing technical projects. His other areas of specialty include: leadership development, business development, resource planning and creative solutioning.