Coaching in Awkward Situations

Prologue

Coaching moments are not always obvious. What might start out as a humorous, questionable, or awkward situation may evolve into a perfect opportunity to step back and provide some impactful advice and counsel.

Our team’s global teleconference calls frequently provided just that chance. We regularly had ~300 people from more than 10 countries and 50 locations on our quarterly updates. Our operations reviews had slightly fewer participants.

You know the drill – regular, virtual meetings to update everyone on the progress and activities of the organization.

Typically, you learn to recognize voices quickly. Regardless, many insist on continuing to re-introduce themselves to the audience that already knows them well. “Yes, Emily, please continue.”

You also learn speakers’ habits … especially of those who participate frequently. Some speakers may have speech patterns or verbal ticks that can become annoying to some audiences. Some may even become chat-room fodder for the distracted teleconference meeting participants.

Let’s start here.

 

Saying Um

When Opportunity Strikes

Conference calls can be tough. Staying on track and being both effective and efficient with time is a challenge. Echoes due to poor phone connections, background noises, the unintentional use of the mute button, and questions such as “Can you go back one slide?” make achieving all of the call’s goals difficult.

One of our peer directors that had a key role in cross-organizational communications was required to speak often; he regularly led the conference calls. He had one of those vocal habits that grated on people, like fingernails on a chalkboard: he constantly used filler expressions. Filler expressions are useless words or phrases that create a pause in the conversation such as, “I mean” or “you know.” If used infrequently, they are less obvious as audiences usually focus on digesting key messages rather than analyzing every single word streaming from the speaker’s mouth.

Most of us are prone to use a filler word or two. Like, I mean, you know, those words that do, er, absolutely nothing for the content of the conversation other than creating an, um, you know, annoying or distracting pause. Right?

Derek’s vocalized pause of choice was “Um” and he said it quite often. Actually, he said “um” so often that nearly everyone on our calls became absorbed with keeping and posting the “count” on a subgroup instant message thread during our 100+ person calls.

“10! 25! 50!” And, so it went. Needless to say, this little “joke” got old fast and meetings devolved to the point where we all thought, “I hope Derek is not speaking today.” Unfortunately, he always did speak and everyone continued to keep score, whether consciously or subconsciously.

During one such two-hour meeting the count neared 100. Something had to be done. Instead of Derek’s intended message coming through to the audience, the “ums” seemed to completely obscure his important business communications.

What should be done about this?

 

Stop Saying Um Star Trek

Time to Coach

I thought about this for a bit after one call and felt terrible that one of my peers was unknowingly being mocked due to something that many speakers suffer from, so I called his office.

“Hey, Derek. What did you think of that call?” We chatted for a few minutes. “Derek, I have a question for you. Has anyone ever given you feedback about your speaking style?” “No, Michael, no one has. Why?”

I knew Derek well and I was confident that he wouldn’t mind my ribbing him so I decided to use his filler word of choice in my explanation.

“Derek, um, I want to share something about, um, the way you, um, speak during our calls. Um, you have a tendency to, um, say ‘um’ often. In fact, way too often.”

No one had ever bothered to share this issue with Derek. I was nervous at first, but he took it well. His involvement in our organization and business meetings was too important for his communications problem to be treated as flippantly as it had been.

Derek asked, “What should I do about it?” I inquired if he had ever considered Toastmasters. He hadn’t. I suggested that he seriously consider joining them and added that the company would probably pay for it.

He thanked me with deep sincerity and an also-noticeable degree of embarrassment. I told him that he’d do just fine!

Derek enrolled in Toastmasters shortly after the conversation. I told our boss what I had spoken to Derek about to ensure that the idea would gain traction.

 

Bad Habits Die Hard

And In the End

I shared the conversation with several of the scorekeepers over the next few weeks so that the background games would stop. Improving the habit of using filler words takes time.

At first, Derek’s pauses were more awkward than natural as he focused intently on reducing the “ums” that had infiltrated prior conversations. Sometimes improvement comes after a step or two back. By the time six months had elapsed, he was well on the way to being completely de-ummed.

At one point later that year we were together and discussed what he had been doing. Joining Toastmasters was a seminal moment for him. It had dramatically improved his speaking pattern in several ways and he was grateful that someone had been brave enough to make him aware of this habit. The conference call tracking games were now ancient history.

 

Making It Work … For You

What made this coaching experience successful? First, it started with a clear example of an issue to be resolved. Second, it was addressed during a private conversation because coaching is best done one-on-one as it keeps the recipient from becoming defensive or embarrassed. Third, the approach was rooted in trust, authentic concern and support. Derek had no reason to question my motives for speaking with him despite the levity of the approach I had elected to use.

As a professional, colleague, or leader, one has to remain conscious of what transpires in a given setting. Coaching moments rarely advertise themselves with bright, flashing neon lights. Most of the time, they are more subtle such as in the story above where they may present themselves in a more embarrassing or awkward manner.

True coaches and mentors do not shy away from these opportunities. Rather, they address the situation as a coach or advisor should, directly and candidly with the coachee. More often than not these opportunities develop into a successful endeavor.

It is very important to remain aware of the environment in which you and your colleagues are in. The subtle undertones of office humor may actually be a sign of the need for coaching intervention. The next time you encounter a situation that may require coaching, identify the issue, devise a plan, and, as a team, come up with a solution.

 

Michael Massetti is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

Additional articles about coaching and leadership from Michael …

So, you really enjoy being a supply chain professional? Part 2

Are Demand & Supply Driving Your Supply Chain Crazy?

Let’s face it, supply chain is a fascinating and pressure-filled field. Supply chains deliver the products that customers demand. The concept of a demand-driven supply chain was developed by Gartner (originally by Debra Hofman from AMR Research). It’s a great concept that the entire supply chain be driven by demand. Albeit, what it usually drives is the supply planners crazy. Don’t you wonder sometimes how and why you got into this field?

Through a series of articles and musings, I will share some thoughts through adages, quips, and comics that will look at supply chain with a tongue-in-cheek perspective. I look forward to comments and other perspectives.

This second article will look at the vagaries of demand and the vicissitudes of supply. Future story lines will include supplier management, inventory, supply chain risk, logistics, and managing numbers.

Supply Demand Comic 1 

Demand planning is the art of integrating multiple, independent, and inaccurate signals into one accurate signal.

Demand is the baseline for all things supply. Customers’ desire for a product drives the demand and is the foundation for business volumes. Without demand there is absolutely no need for supply and even less need for supply chain folks.

But, where does the demand signal come from? It’s a question that remains mysterious for supply chain professionals.

Demand planners have a plethora of signals available to them – point-of-sale (POS) data, macro market or economic trends, historic demand accuracy, promotional effects, seasonality, business targets, prior product launches, actual orders, and more. While these are options aplenty, by themselves, none of them are sufficient or accurate.

Shouldn’t demand planners be able to get it right with so many variables available to them?

The reality is that most of these signals are rear-view mirror perspectives. As financial planners say, “past performance may not be indicative of future results.” We all know that if you drive your car by looking solely at the rear-view mirror you will eventually go off of the road. Not a good thing.

While many solutions providers have developed amazing tools and statistical techniques for demand planning, the fundamental problem of keeping demand stable and accurate remains unsolved, at least from the supply planner’s viewpoint.

Could it be that there’s more art to demand planning than anyone wants to acknowledge? So maybe the key is to channel our inner Picasso rather than our inner Newton. Regardless, each cycle, whether weekly, monthly, or otherwise, the demand signal is passed on, like the hot potato it is, to the supply team to work with.

And it’s usually different than the last one submitted. 

Supply Demand Comic 2

Supply planning is the science of delivering that exact signal regardless of how much or often it changes.

The supply planning team has the unenviable job of taking that ever-changing signal and converting it to a very specific plan for their factories to deliver. Reducing the uncertainty in the ability to deliver the products required is of utmost importance.

Supply planners are evaluated on finding the ever elusive perfect balance between the triangle that is forecast accuracy, on-time delivery, and stock levels. What’s your business targets for on-time delivery to your customers? Methinks it is well over 90%. 95%? 98%?

Is that even relevant in this day and age? We’re just being measured on our ability to serve the next link in the demand chain. Want a real headache? Start integrating notions of on-shelf availability one or two levels down the chain.

Factories do not deal with ever-changing requirements very well. Shooting at moving targets is not manufacturing’s core competency. They expect to have clarity and stability to be most productive. Building the same exact products at the same volume every single day keeps factory GMs young, vital, and stress-free.

That’s just not the real world of demand and supply. Enter the necessary evil: Stock.

While the demand may move around a lot, supply has a few tricks up its sleeves to mitigate the variance. Buffer stock of inventory and manufacturing postponement techniques are just two of many tools that the supply side can employ to reduce the effects of demand uncertainty.

Regardless, the never-ending conflict to balance the vagaries of demand with the specificity of supply contributes to the sleep deprivation of supply chain practitioners.

Supply Demand Balance Lever

Balanced supply & demand is a rare event they are actually two mutually exclusive, independent signals that occasionally intersect in time and space.

The assertion remains that demand accuracy is fleeting and changes in the signal are frequent and sometimes severe.

The monthly S&OP was our venue to manage the long-term balance of supply and demand. The cycle commenced with an updated demand signal and the supply team would evaluate inventory, capacity, incoming materials, and any constraints to match supply to the demand.

Imagine a giddy set of supply geeks preparing to tell the CFO, COO, CSO, and other execs that we can support the revenue and demand plan. Yeah, baby!

Then, the sucker punch appears. “Actually, we have changed the demand signal for you to evaluate.” Thud.

I lost count of how many executive S&OP meetings that we would be presenting that seemingly perfectly balanced supply plan with the demand signal from the business when the head of demand would utter that sentence. Are you kidding me?

And you thought that Nadia Comăneci performed miracles on top of that 4” wide padded suede beam!

At a macro level, supply and demand balance is quite achievable. But, we all know that attaining that balance at the micro or SKU level is the Holy Grail of supply planning. In those S&OP meetings, the total supply would easily match the total demand. That said, we’d have a list of angst-inducing shortages accompanied by a list of Little Orphan Annie excess products.

Chasing demand is the never-ending pursuit of supply chain. Sort of like that little puppy going ‘round and ‘round after its tail for minutes on end, only infrequently getting to it.

Balanced SC Metric Chart 001

“Forecast accuracy is the biggest oxymoron in supply chain lexicon.

I’ve often quipped that supply chain personnel typically do not utter the words “forecast” and “accuracy” in the same sentence without including a few other colorful adjectives.

For many, forecast accuracy is seen as the sole responsibility of the demand team. For an organization to truly mature, it needs to be a shared responsibility with marketing, sales and finance. The more the merrier. It may not be more precise, but it does increase the odds of a kumbaya session in the next S&OP meeting.

The numbers tell it all: world class demand planning accuracy is ~80% but you get fired if your supply delivery or manufacturing output accuracy hovers anywhere near 80%.

OK, maybe this stretches it a bit. However, the point is valid. Best-in-class demand planning is typically in the 70% range and supply chains get measured on their ability to reach the “Perfect Order”. I’ve been with companies that have settled for 65% as an “aspirational” target.

What is the cost of poor forecast accuracy? Heck, what’s the cost of 65% forecast accuracy? There are only a few levers available to accommodate a 35% degree of uncertainty – carrying more inventory or reducing service levels are two.

If we take a look at Gartner’s “Hierarchy of Supply Chain Metrics” and modify it ever so slightly, demand accuracy, inventory (instead of supply chain cost), and service level (instead of perfect order) are inextricably linked. If demand accuracy is low, something else has to be traded off. Either you carry more inventory or you risk lower service levels. We all know that both can be detrimental to a business.

No wonder so many of our top-talent supply chain planners moved to the demand side of the business.

ciao…mam

Michael Massetti is a global high-tech supply chain executive who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously.

Michael Massetti LinkedIn Profile

So, you really enjoy being a supply chain professional?

Let’s face it, supply chain is a fascinating and pressure-filled field. Supply chains exist to deliver goods and services to customers to allow their company to make money. Albeit, they are last on line, which means that all the fun begins and ends when supply enters the fray. It’s a great profession that spans myriad disciplines – procurement, manufacturing, supply/demand planning, logistics, and much more. There’s excitement in every corner waiting for you! Don’t you wonder sometimes how and why you got into this field?

Through a series of articles and musings, I will shed some thoughts through adages, quips, and comics that will look at supply chain with a tongue-in-cheek perspective. I look forward to comments and other perspectives.

This first article will look at supply chain itself. Future story lines will include supply and demand, supplier management, inventory, supply chain risk, logistics, and managing numbers

 

No matter how the problem starts, it always ends up as a supply issue.

the_broken_chain1

Remember the game we used to play as kids where we’d all line up and the leader would tell the first person something who in turn would tell the next person in line until it reached you at the end? How many times did the message you heard ever survive that journey?

Managing the supply chain is quite similar. No matter how or why a problem starts off, a demand error, a design error, a change in customer’s mind, an unforeseen holiday, a weather event, or a quality issue, it always becomes the job of the supply chain to deal with. Immediately.

I’ve lived through this type of hell before during a launch of a brand new product in a brand new technology that was a disaster. The company and customers were clamoring to get this highly innovative, disruptive device. It turned into 17 weeks of stress and being under a very bright and hot spotlight trying to get enough supply to meet the demand.The demand seemed to grow every day we said the supply was still in trouble. I saw my CEO, CFO and CSO more times in 17 weeks than all of the previous years in my career. Ugh.

It takes some backbone and a lot of mental fortitude to resolve issues, especially those that affect multiple customers, which means YOUR bottom line. Owning the issue, maintaining accountability, but working with a sense of urgency across all the organizations needed to fix the issue is essential for success.

You never know when the opportunity (right!) will prevent itself to the supply chain to deal with. Hold on tightly or you’ll be taken for a ride instead of driving it yourself.

unpopular_logo

Supply Chain people are only popular during their highest state of unpopularity.

How many times have you gotten that blank stare when you tell an inquirer that you are in supply chain as a field? Huh? And then you try to explain it. Not worth it. They just won’t get it.

Most of the time, that’s how everyone in the business world feels and thinks about supply chain. Who? What? Oh, those guys.

Until it hits the fan. And, it always seems to hit the fan. Suddenly, without notice, you are amazingly popular. Instantaneous infamy. What a pleasure!

Then all the help starts to come. Everyone’s an expert. “That is an easy problem to solve, just tell the supplier to fix it.” “How come you didn’t anticipate that the typhoon would hit when the shipments were due?” “Just expedite the manufacturing.” When you try to explain the few laws of physics that come to mind, that “deer in the headlights” look resurfaces. “Tomorrow?” they ask. Back to work, time to move on.

The redeeming value is that we get to be heroes. Hopefully, we weren’t the arsonists. Putting out a blazing fire is exhilarating but not what we aim to do on a daily basis. That is way too exhausting.

Once the problem is cleared, normalcy returns to the supply chain folks. Who?

build it and they will come

In “The Field of Dreams Kevin Costner was told “build it and they will come. In supply chain and manufacturing, if we build it they will order something different.

In the next article we’ll talk more about supply, demand, and the elusive balance of the two.

For now, we all know the supply chain financial drill. Drive to lower cost of manufacturing, increase asset utilization, improve cash flow, and the world will be great. Sufficient inventory to handle upside demand. The CFO will smile and the supply chain team can remain out of the limelight.

Right …

The build plan was vetted with marketing, with the business unit, with sales, with everyone during S&OP. Manufacturing is told to get the inventory in place – lead times are real, so you have to build in advance. Then the orders come in.

“I know we ordered that SKU but we need the other SKU now. How come you can’t give us the other SKU instead?” We hear it all the time. Other times you blow through all of the buffer inventory, expedite the new parts to replace the stock, and the order changes again.

Chasing demand is the never-ending story of supply chain. How much do you need? By when? OK, we’re on it.

ciao…mam

Michael Massetti is a global high-tech supply chain executive who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously.

Michael Massetti LinkedIn Profile

Your Next Career Step – Anticipate or Fear the “Fork in the Road”?

fork-in-the-road1

Searching for a new job these days can strike fear into anyone and test the confidence they’ve developed. Myriad applicants for on-line positions, lack of responses from inquiries, and the litany of requirements for each position pose a challenge to potential applicants. “Am I the ideal candidate they want? Will I be instantaneously disqualified for missing one or two of the requisite skills?” Jobs that appear to be great to the prospective employee may seem like a distant dream, an oasis in the desert of your career path. Is it really possible to take a fork in the road of your career?

Ideal Candidate

It was May of 2001 when I was laid off from my current employer. This was not the greatest time to be on the job market: post-Y2K economic woes in the world, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the subsequent stock market crash, and the war on terror. Then the phone rang. I was rather undeveloped in my networking at the time as social media tools like LinkedIn were nowhere to be found and cold-calling people was not a practiced skill. Regardless, I continued to contact colleagues and friends to find that next job. I only wish I had been a bit less cavalier about my career when executive recruiters called when I was working, I really needed them now. Then the phone rang.

A colleague of mine told me about a position that he thought was right up my alley. He heard about it from a fellow employee at our last company. At this point in my career, I was a high-tech engineer/program manager looking to do something similar at my current director level or higher. The position recommended to me was Semiconductor Procurement. The second question I posed to the person who became my VP a few days later was “Why me? I have absolutely no procurement experience!” What would interest them in me taking such a new role with no apparent relevant experience?

Perfect Fit

Like many, my search had been focused on the functional roles I had experience in – engineering management, program management, and product management. It never dawned on me to try such a different profession. Why would anyone consider me even if I tried? I asked the question of my relevance for the position out of genuine interest – how could I possibly be of value to them with no purchasing skills? Two things coalesced to send me down the other fork in the career journey. One, the company and the VP were trying to solve a specific problem for their organization. Two, they decided that procurement skills were secondary to the technology experience. This is where I came in.

Despite some of the difficulties in the job search world cited earlier, it is critically important to keep your mind and eyes wide open. Examine all of your skills and experiences thoroughly. While it may seem that they all converge into one entity – you – there are really multiple possibilities for that same you. As many excellent career coaches implore us all to do, look at what you have accomplished and what problems you have solved. Do not sell yourself short. Then cast a reasonably wide net for your search criteria – you never know when that call will come or a new door will open!

A green freeway sign with the words Stay the Course, and an attached yellow sign with the words Take a Risk

It’s now 13 years since that call came for me. My career in supply chain has been tremendously rewarding and has created opportunities that I did not know existed prior to the new career trajectory. As an executive who has both recruited and been recruited I know that not every company or hiring manager is as flexible as I experienced. However, that should never hold you back. The type of company that is not interested in alternative candidates may very well not be the type of place you want to work anyway.

Stay nimble and keep an open mind so that you can position yourself to anticipate, not fear, a potential fork in the road!

Career Success

ciao…mam

Michael A. Massetti is a supply chain executive who has led, coached, mentored and developed many talented individuals. He was AMD’s executive sponsor for the University of Texas Supply Chain Management Consortium and interacted with students for 5 years. Michael recruited and mentored many graduates into AMD’s organization.

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