Goal Clarity – Lost in Translation

Introduction

This is the first in a series of vignettes about supply chain that I will be sharing as part of my experience as an Executive Supply Chain Partner for Gartner. Since I spend so much time traveling to and working with clients, I’m calling it “Sojourns of a Supply Chain Road Warrior.” The stories will all be real but will never identify the actual companies or individuals involved. In every story there will be a message about the challenges and successes of supply chain teams and leaders.

This first piece is about a process manufacturing company and the clarity of goals and expectations on their supply chain.

One element of our service program for Chief Supply Chain Officers is our on-site qualitative 360-degree interview process. We interview key members and constituents of the supply chain organization to get a deeper understanding of the client’s supply chain strategy, organization, culture, people, process, technology, challenges, and risks. What we learn gets folded into our engagement plan with the client.

During the interviews at this company, one message came out very clear – the company cared a lot about cost.

It’s Cost, Right?

As I flew back home from the day of interviews, it struck me how often cost was mentioned. It was apparent that reducing cost was driving a significant share of mind throughout the organization. The planning, procurement, logistics, and customer service people all spoke of lowering cost. Since this company deals with the conversion of raw materials to finished products, the risks and benefits of inflation and deflation were brought up by everyone.

We ask about the top metrics in the organization as part of understanding how the supply chain measures success and how the supply chain itself is measured. Cost was unequivocally the #1 metric cited throughout the day. When probed for cost versus margin – the answer was consistently cost savings, cost reduction, cost this, and cost that.

The old-school procurement buying criteria priorities cliché came to mind … “It’s price, price, and price!”

The interviewees were 100% clear – cost was their primary driver.

One Last Check

The last part of the assessment process is a call with one or two of the senior-most executives as a means of checking alignment with what we hear during the interviews. The last call was with the operations leader on the executive staff of the company.

I asked about the expectations of the supply chain and their key metrics early in the final interview call. The executive talked about the bigger role the company needs from their supply chain to drive the business. Then he called out the supply chain’s role in driving profit.

I had to ask: “What about cost reduction? The people all said how important cost reduction was. No-one mentioned a word about margin or profit.”

We discussed the difference between materials cost reduction as a primary focus and the broader role of supply chain driving end-to-end improvements. The latter was where he saw the most opportunity.

Somehow, the team was not hearing this the same way.

Goal Clarity

Something was lost in translation. Somewhere between the executive suite and the managers and directors leading the supply chain functional organizations, profit was replaced by a maniacal focus on cost reduction.

Supply chains are always in the hot seat when it comes to cost management. Millions and millions of dollars are spent to produce and deliver products and then service them. The most mature supply chains look beyond pure cost and focus on driving value across their network. Value may be achieved by bringing products to market faster or aligning closely with suppliers to bring innovation to the market or by providing services to customers beyond the actual product being delivered.

A supply chain that focuses too narrowly on cost misses the opportunity to see and integrated, end-to-end view of the world. This type of focus leads to an inside-out view of the world instead of outside-in where customer value looms. When the supply chain becomes insular, value escapes through the crevices between the many nodes of the supply chain network.

The guidance to the client’s executives was the need to clarify the importance of profit and margin over cost. They needed to highlight where cost reduction was important and where end-to-end value to their customers was essential to their success. The executives needed to accentuate the perspective of profit as something the supply chain had to drive for the company end-to-end. Only then will the supply chain focus on the most opportune areas to drive the profit that the company wants and needs.

Does your supply chain clearly understand their key business objectives? Don’t let it get lost in translation!

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

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Language Matters – Purge Pesky Personal Pronouns

Introduction

This is the second in a series of vignettes about supply chain that I will be sharing as part of my experience as an Executive Supply Chain Partner for Gartner. Since I spend so much time traveling to and working with clients, I’m calling it “Sojourns of a Supply Chain Road Warrior.” The stories will all be real but will never identify the actual companies or individuals involved. In every story there will be a message about the challenges and successes of supply chain teams and leaders.

This piece is about the impact of the linguistics supply chain professionals use to discuss what they work on and what they need to change or fix. Language matters! If we cannot communicate effectively with our constituents in or outside of our company, we will fail miserably.

We were discussing metrics during recent supply chain assessment interviews with a client. I measure alignment of the CSCO’s top 3 metrics with his or her team’s view to gauge organizational consistency. When the question about forecast accuracy came up, the client said, “Their forecast accuracy is terrible, no wonder they don’t like when we measure it!”

Is It What You Say or How You Say It?

As I flew back home from the day of interviews, the forecast accuracy comment reverberated loudly in my mind. I’d seen that movie before and remembered how difficult it was to separate the intent from the personal attack implied in the wording.

I routinely share communications effectiveness advice with my clients. All too often, supply chain initiatives fail due to the inability of the team and its executives to influence constituents to buy-in and engage on great supply chain ideas, like S&OP improvements.

What causes some initiatives to never take hold? One contributing factor is what and how the messages are conveyed. If the supply chain team walks around telling everyone how much their asset utilization will improve or how excess inventory will be reduced or how factory efficiency will increase they are likely to get a significant amount of eye rolls by those who they corner to discuss the stuff. The listener can’t get out of there fast enough.

If you cannot speak the language of the business, your supply chain initiative will go over like a heavy rain during a picnic.

What they are saying makes sense. How they are saying it makes no sense … to the listeners. Language matters!

Are You Talking to Me?

In a prior role I witnessed an excessive use of personal pronouns during our supply and demand matching meetings. While the teams had worked together for a number of years, they were talking at each other and not with each other. The constant “you, your, yours, and I, me, mines” had slowly and steadily built a wall between the groups.

Who wants to work on an initiative when it starts with “Your forecast accuracy is why our inventory is too high!”? Not me, that’s for sure.

What they were saying is that forecast error was high and that it led to higher inventory in too many cases – even excess material that had to be written-off and discarded.

How they said it implied that the individual was performing poorly and was affecting their work. The conversation should have opened up a discussion about what drove the accuracy issues and how the teams could work better together to resolve it.  Instead, there was a stalemate as both sides acted defensively – meaning nothing got discussed or resolved.

If you are going to make a point about change or improvement, keep the other person out of it. Say something akin to “The forecast error is high.” Or, “The data show that excess inventory levels have increased as the forecasts have been above actual demand consistently.”

No-one is offended when there is no mention of I, me, you, your, they, theirs, and so on. That said, using “we” more often is definitely a way to build engagement and alignment.

Getting the Message Across

Something is definitely lost when the message comes across as a personal affront, even if it is not meant to be one.

During the assessment interviews I typically look for common themes or differences between what the various participants tell me. It’s rare I give advice directly at this juncture of the relationship. After the client made the comment above, I could not let it go.

“Do you speak to the demand planning or sales team like that? You call it ‘their forecast’?”

I got one of those “why are you asking me that question” looks.

I told him that asking it in a manner that the receiver will hear as personal, he’d never be able to drive resolution. He made it sound like the person was doing a poor job. It’s imperative that one separates the message from the recipient (or sender).

Whatever you do to ensure clarity and understanding of your messages, be sure to keep the focus on what is wrong or what needs to get addressed, not who’s part of it.

Does your supply chain clearly understand how to communicate issues and opportunities? Don’t let it get lost due to pesky personal pronouns!

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

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 …

Dear Dad …

Dear Dad,

Happy Father’s Day. The last time we got to spend Father’s Day together was 1979, a very long time ago. I was not yet 22. Just over one year later, you left us. It seems like forever ago. More time has passed since you died than the time I got to spend with you. We missed the best of times – the transition of a hyper-active, over-achieving first son into manhood and fatherhood.

You left suddenly on July 27, 1980 after a very long battle with heart disease. The same ugly disease that took your mom when you were only 9, your oldest brother before he turned 40, and your youngest sister. Thankfully, that gene seems to have been thwarted.

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I was driven by you from as young an age as I can recall to be successful. No matter how well I did, “You can do better, Michael” was what you told me. It’s never left my psyche. I compete with myself to this day – sometimes that’s been great for me, others not so much.

I always wanted to live up to whatever hopes and expectations you had for me. I put the picture of you and me sitting on a dormitory bed at Notre Dame after the graduation ceremony in 1979 on social media every year. I know how proud that made you, you never got to finish high school. And, the one with us wearing hats on our couch with the caption “Men in hats!”

I never got to hear directly from you about how proud of me you were. Mom always told me when we reminisced about you. I learned a lot about it at your wake and funeral when the long line of friends and colleagues you had paid tribute. It did not take away the sting of your death.

I never got to call you when those life’s moments faced me and I was not really sure what to do. I never got to call you when celebrating a great moment, like the birth of my two daughters. They never got to see either grandfather as both of you died well before your times. Trust me, there were many times I needed to call you …

What lingered in my mind too long was the summer after 4th grade when you punished me to write “I must be good and I will be good” after a school year of straight A grades but “Not Acceptable” in conduct – I was very hyperactive and not challenged in school. Nevertheless, it was a very long summer being stuck in the house every day. Regardless, I knew you were serious.

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What I know now that I did not know then is that you developed in me a very strong sense of self-confidence. The hyperactivity of youth became a constant personal energy source. I am always positive with a hopeful outlook on life. If I’m known for anything, it’s the smile and infectious energy that I exude, thanks to you. You instilled that hope and faith in me while pushing hard to be the best I could be.

You’d be very proud of many of the things that I’ve accomplished in my career. You’d also be disappointed of the mistakes and bad judgments I’ve made. It’s all part of life. If there’s one thing about life that I’ve learned, it’s the fact that there are no guides to al

l the situations that you will face. “C’est la vie” is one of my overused clichés.

I wanted to be a great father, a caring and loving dad. There are many great memories for my girls but many difficult moments, too. It was almost 10 years between your death and the day I got to hear “Happy Father’s Day” said to me. It was almost more 10 years afterwards that the enormity of you being gone really struck.

I was laid off of work in 2001 but was back working in just under a year, I was fortunate. But unemployment hit me hard, harder than I could understand or admit at that time. I recalled

 

how hard our lives were in the mid-70s when you were out of work. I feared that moment for my own life every day since and I still do as I approach 60. It scared me more than anything had up to that point in my life.

Being out of work changed me forever, in many good ways and some bad. I really needed you then, but there was no one to call. The void was overwhelming. It was Father’s Day in 2004 that it really hit me about you being gone, I broke down and cried for what seemed like an eternity.

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When I look back on our short time together, I remember the great things like the first baseball game when you and our neighbor kept laughing at the goofy jokes of the ushers. The next thing we knew, we were in the seats behind home plate for the 2nd game of the double header. Or, how we managed our way through a weekend camping trip of nothing but pouring rain.

 

 

 

I remember the confidence you showed as we came home from a family visit in NYC when you gave me the keys to the car during another rainstorm while mom sat white-knuckled in the backseat of the car. With rain as the theme, our drive to Notre Dame the first time was wild when we could not see past the front of the Triumph Spitfire on I80 near Cleveland. All good memories.

It’s now 2017. 60 is just down the road. I’m healthy, employed, happily married, and watched my children grow. One is on the verge of great success. The other’s path is still uncertain. I did my best to get them where they have both gotten to. I know that they have to take it from here. I just wish they had met you.

Mom died three years ago. She lived happily after you left with her second husband. It’s just me, Rick, and Joanne now. Thankfully, we’re connected to many of our cousins and your closest sister, Millie.

I just visited my wife’s dad for Father’s Day, another NYC Italian of immigrants, just like you. He’s 96 and still kicking. I call him Dad. I tell my wife how lucky she is to have him around for her entire life so far, it’s a blessing.

I am grateful for every day that I have. I’ve had a lot more time than you did and I appreciate the chance to see my family all grow. I have 2 step-grandchildren, too. What a joy that is!

Well, it’s time to call it a day. To sum it all up, I beckon the call of Frankie, your musical love that has passed on down to me. In the song that you took as your own that I have since co-opted he says, “Regrets, I have a few. But, then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. And more, much more than this I did it my way!”

 

Love you, Dad!

Michael

 

From Excellence to Legendary

The 3 plays in 372 days that made Derek Jeter a baseball legend …

 

Prologue

It’s not always easy to identify that moment in a professional athlete’s career when he or she has passed through the threshold of greatness to legend. By the time Michael Jordan finished his 3rd NBA championship, his legend was secure. For Wayne Gretzky in hockey, he transcended from prolific scorer to Stanley Cup Champion in 1984 and his legend was born. Others are defined by extended periods of greatness yet we struggle to find that moment in their career when they took that indisputable step forward.

As he waited to step into the batter’s box before the start of game four of the 2000 World Series against the New York Mets, Derek Jeter’s excellence was already established. By the time he finished his storied career, his iconic plays had been given monikers that all baseball fans knew – “The Flip”, “Mr. November”, “The Dive”, and so on. Like music fans remembering their favorite songs by the titles, Derek’s “Greatest Hits” all had names of their own.

His retirement after the 2014 season started the clock to the inevitable first ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2019. The only question is whether he’ll be voted in unanimously or not (no-one has yet achieved that in baseball).

As he readied himself, his stance, his bat, and his eyes on the pitcher that night no-one had a clue that his indelible mark on MLB’s storied history was about to be stamped on us with surgical precision.

With what was about to transpire over the next 372 days through three epic and game-determining plays, Derek Jeter would go from being an excellent shortstop on the winning-yet-again New York Yankees to a legendary shortstop on yet another dynasty in this amazing franchise’s history.

Why? Let’s explore it some more.

 

Game 4: 2000 World Series

The Yankees were clinging to a two games to one lead over the Mets as game four started at Shea Stadium in the 2000 World Series. The Mets held serve in game three to close the 2-0 gap to within one game of a tied series. Their late rally in game two put a scare in the Yankees – all three games were close. Would the pesky younger NY baseball siblings tie the series and make it that much more pressure-packed?

The Yankees had already won consecutive World Series titles and they were on the verge of winning the third. This game was a pivotal point for them to achieve that goal.

It happens rarely. No one ever expects it. When it happens, since it’s such a rare event, it’s always very emotional and powerful. To do it in the key game in the World Series against your crosstown rival, that’s taking it to an entirely different level.

Derek Jeter hit the very first pitch from Bobby Jones in game four of the 2000 World Series for a home run. Of course, the score was now 1-0 Yankees.

Yankees fans erupted with joy and you could feel the collective sense of Mets fans all being punched in the stomach with that hit. In one play, he turned the game and series into a Yankees 4-1 dominant performance to win their 3rd in a row and 4th in 5 years. Epic in any stretch of baseball that does not already include other Yankees’ dynasties.

 

“The Flip”

The 2001 MLB post-season was played under a dark cloud. Delayed by the terrible events of 9/11, baseball was hoping to generate excitement to help bring the country back together. The Yankees were again pursuing a championship. If successful, this would make 4 in a row.

The Yankees found themselves on the verge of defeat after losing two games at home against the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won two games against formidable Yankees pitching – Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were beat in close games. Losing two games at home and heading to the West Coast is not the script that manager Joe Torre or the team wanted.

Game 4 was another close won. Scoreless through four innings, Jorge Posada hit a home run in the top of the 5th to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The score remained 1-0 by the time the A’s got up in the bottom of the 7th.

Oakland was threatening the 1-0 ballgame with Mike Mussina pitching a gem. With a runner on first base, Oakland’s Terrence Long hit a ball into the right-field corner with two outs. With Jeremy Giambi rumbling around the bases towards home, the ball thrown by right-fielder Shane Spencer sailed over the heads of two cut-off men … heading towards nowhere land and a potential game-tying run.

Out of nowhere, Derek Jeter appears at a spot on the field near home plate that is nowhere near routine for a shortstop to be at that moment. Albeit, he was! He made an all-time back-handed flip to Jorge Posada to get Giambi out to end the inning and the threat. The Yankees held on to win 1-0 and eventually win the series. Disaster averted.

Jeter’s play not only saved the game, it was an instant classic for ESPN and others to play over and over again that night and to this day. It became known forever as “The Flip.”

Two down, one to go.

 

Mr. November

With the Yankees about to pursue their fifth World Series championship in six years and four in a row in 2001, the story had transformed from one about an all-time Major League Baseball team to a family rivalry.

The only other teams to ever have had this type of streak were the earlier historic versions of the New York Yankees. This group was attempting to stamp a dynasty rating on themselves that only their older siblings could rival. Yankees dynasties of the late 1930’s and early 1950’s had won four and five consecutive World Series, respectively. The team that had won four in the past five years had a chance to elevate themselves into the “greatest ever” debates.

Jeter was in the middle of it all and was poised to put his own mark on his role in this stretch of Yankees dominance as Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth had before him. He had already proven himself with four rings, four All Star games, the never-equaled, same-season, All Star Game and World Series MVP awards, and played a leading role each season while hitting .331 over the 4-year stretch that ended in 2001.

3000 hits was years away. He had not yet emerged from “The Dive” with his face bloody. They were both years away at this moment in Derek’s career.

Then, with the unfamiliar position of being behind in the series and barely pulling out the prior win to take the series to 1-2 upon them, Jeter once again is there on center stage.

Joe Buck announced to the television audience what was shown on the big scoreboard – we were now officially playing on November 1. Everyone knew this was unchartered baseball territory.

Who made the moment his and only in the way a player could? Derek Jeter hits the home run that was heard around the world. The first home run ever hit in November in MLB’s history. It was the culmination of the lows and highs of what NYC and the USA had just gone through. Derek resurrected New York City’s spirit out of the horrible feeling that took down The Towers. And the Yankees were tied two games each with the Diamondbacks. Once again, Derek was at center-stage and delivered.

While that series ended with the Yankees losing, Derek’s legend was secure.

 

Cooperstown Bound

First, it was the lead-off home run against the Mets in game four of the 2000 World Series, then, it was “The Flip” in Oakland in the divisional series to save the Yankees from losing the series and then, finally, the walk off home run on November 1, 2001 against the Diamondbacks in game four at Yankee Stadium.

These three plays over the course of 372 days cemented the legend of Derek Jeter.

It was that night, that point in time on November 1, 2001 that one now realized Derek Jeter not only is but has also been an elite, legendary player who has been coming up with epic plays when it was critical for the Yankees his entire career. It’s at this instant, the culmination of 372 days and three larger-than-life moments in Derek’s history as the Yankees shortstop, that Derek Jeter became a baseball legend.

History tells us that Derek continued his greatness for thirteen more seasons – taking the Yankees to two more World Series, winning the final one in 2009. In 2011, Derek put gold plating on his already cemented legend with a home run for his 3000th hit (and went 5-5 that day, knocking in the winning run, too). On his last game ever in Yankee Stadium, he hit the game-winning, walk off hit to put that final exclamation point on his resume.

He finished his career with 3,465 hits – the most ever by a shortstop or by a NY Yankee – and number six all-time. His five World Series rings are second only to Phil Rizzuto, another NY Yankee, for shortstops. Of course, Derek’s #2 was retired by the Yankees.

 

Michael Massetti is a life-long NY Yankees fan and a lover of baseball. In his professional time, he is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

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

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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.

Michael’s LinkedIn Profile

Trailblazing & The Danger Zone – Musings of a Mentor

Leaders are almost always in a position to coach and mentor. Rarely a day goes by when an opportunity to mentor others is not available. The chance to formally mentor an individual is something to cherish. It is so exciting to help a person who wants to grow and who looks for your guidance.

What follows are a couple of short stories about two individuals I had the privilege of coaching and mentoring. The stories will highlight the critical junctures in their careers that I was involved in. They will go by their pseudonyms Jobs (the trailblazer) and Maverick (the danger zone).

trailblazer

Blaze the trail or follow the beaten path?

I met Jobs at the local university. We developed a relationship over a 3-year period and met regularly to discuss his projects and progress. He was a member of the leadership development program and formal mentorship was expected.

By the end of the second year, the participants were ready to leave the rotation program and begin a “real” career in the organization of their choice. Jobs was the third person I worked with to make the decision.

“Michael, which position do you think I should take?” Clearly, my role as the mentor was not to answer this question directly.

“So, tell me about each role, Jobs. How do you describe what you are choosing between?”

The first one would insert Jobs into a role that had been played by another person. He would pick up where that employee left off and follow the trail that was in place – well defined and smooth.

The second one was to join a brand new team that was part of the company’s transformation driven by the new CEO. It was not fully defined. It was definitely like going out to ski on a fresh, pure, uninterrupted field of snow – the trail was yours to carve out anew.

“So, Jobs, do you want to reap what others have sewn or do you want to blaze a new trail? If you can answer that question, then the position that you should take will be abundantly clear.”

As a sales person would look at it, do you want to hunt for new customers or harvest existing ones?

Jobs eventually decided to be a trailblazer. With the choice framed differently for him, Jobs was able to look at where he was in his career and make the best choice himself.

As the mentor, it was not my role to decide, but to help elucidate the facets of the choice in front of him.

 Danger Zone

Fly into the danger zone?

Maverick had been with the company for almost 10 years. His roles had evolved from engineering into supply chain. He performed well in all of them. He reported to me directly and led a key part of our global inventory and supply team.

By our third year together, we were starting to discuss the next steps. As a well-established contributor and manager, Maverick wanted something different. He had just finished leading a very innovative supply chain project that drove major improvements in our metrics. He needed something different!

We discussed alternatives and agreed that we’d both work to find something that would accentuate skills he had not yet tried or developed. It was imperative to break Maverick out of his comfort zone and try something more risky.

The first opportunity appeared. It would definitely take him out of the group he had worked in seemingly forever, in technology years, and into a position that would reach out into demand and finance. We discussed how it would push him and the growth it would foster.

Much to my chagrin, Maverick decided the comfort zone was better. Thankfully, he acknowledged that he felt disappointed in the choice, but was not ready for Top Gun exhilaration yet.

Less than a year later, another opportunity surfaced in demand planning for one of the business units. This time there was no need to coach or mentor. Maverick came up to me with a lot of excitement and explained the new role. After four years of working closely together, I was elated for him.

Ultimately, this role was even more of a stretch that the initial one he rejected. He was clearly ready to fly into the “danger zone!”

 

And, in the end

Jobs and I caught up in late 2014 for coffee. He was much more focused on the next position he needed for his career path. He recalled the entire decision process we went through with a positive glow on his face. Apparently, he’s told the story a few times to others.

Maverick grew well in his new role and became a critical part of the new team he joined. He now laughs at his initial reticence to move out of his comfort zone. For my part, I continue to send LinkedIn and Facebook posts to him about growth and breaking out of the comfort zone as a friendly reminder.

ciao…mam

Michael 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 undergraduate and graduate students for 5 years. Michael recruited and mentored many graduates into AMD’s organization.