Captive’s Log – Day 2

Five hours of sleep. I think that is the optimistic estimate for how much sleep I got last night. After writing the blog post, doing a couple of crossword puzzles, then playing some mind numbing game to force my brain to shut off, it finally stopped churning through the material from the day.

Only for my alarm to wake me up with a reminder that I had 14.5 hrs of work ahead of me today.

Weeeeeee!

After many MANY cups of coffee, I finally felt like I wasn’t asleep on my feet.

I will blame my lack of sleep and insufficient caffeine for why I picked the focus and the group I did for our first activity because, well, in hindsight, I would have picked another group…..or maybe not. I don’t know.

We had been given the challenge to do this: look at the products we sell today, figure out the revenue by product split, then decide which products have the most potential to make the company more money. I know what products we well. I have no idea why we sell what we sell. I know the generic names of the products we sell but not the nuances within those produce lines. I have no idea what the revenue of the company is (because it is a closely guarded secret) let alone what our revenue by product is. I also don’t easily have access to that info either. So, sleepy, insufficiently caffeinated, I was forced to listen to people who know their portion of the industry well but not all of the details attempt to figure it all out while our financial person scurried around trying to find the information within the areas they had access to. Then we had to reconcile what the leaders of those product areas said we did last year revenue wise with what the financial numbers said. Example, one guy who is the product expert said for product A the total revenue was $1.2M. What we found was it was more like $600K. (Numbers have been changed to protect the innocent.). So who is right? The guy who should be the expert on the product and what it is generating for the company or the financials?

Ironically, one area we identified as an internal opportunity was to tackle the misinformation or “fake news” that goes around the company. We defined “fake news” as what people “feel” we did which the facts do not support.

I learned a lot which was good. What I also learned was that our group who worked almost entirely off of gut given the numbers did not add up well did just as well coming up with the opportunities as they guys who had access to all of the data and used it to make their decisions. Interesting.

What was not interesting was the rest of my day after that session. After lunch I got stuck back with my “new team” aka the table of people with which I was assigned to work. These guys are all sales guys – most are long-term employees – and all were focused almost exclusively on part (not all) of the business. I later found out why they drove me crazy but only in the last hour of the day. (They were all people who believe awareness of people will get them to where they need to go – not attention to detail or real awareness of what they are doing. Thanks personality profile assessment!)

The instructions were simple, yet I found that listening was not their strong suit. They would half listen, try to execute on the instructions, then go side ways. No matter how many times I would say “the facilitator said that external in this context is products, customers, and geographies and is focused on sales growth – it does not mean external factors such as changes of government policies around trade that can impact our ability to execute. WE ARE DOING IT WRONG”…..they would nod like they were listening then go back to doing it wrong. After about the 10th attempt, I sat back and watched…..

…..as the facilitator come up to the table, take a look at our list, and say, “wow – you don’t listen well do you – all of that is wrong.”

Then as they scratched their heads out of confusions, I would say, “so I guess that means things like X, Y, Z…..” which would put us back on track until they slid off again on the old definition of “external” that was wrong.

The funniest part of the whole thing is when one of the guys whose reputation within IT is well known as a total dick decided to come after me because I was in IT. He went on this huge rant about laptops and the costs and how we “mark them up” when selling them internally to the business.

“I know you have a P&L target to hit as well, but it’s bullshit when these things are a piece of shit and I have to pay it when you should have to compete for my business like any other vendor would!”

I started laughing.

“Dude, we are a cost center – I am part of your overhead allocation. We do not make a profit at your expense. We are a support function that is supporting you. And by the way, we are doing it without you all letting us find economies of scale to create scalable and repeatable processes which would allow us to be more cost efficient solution because you all want us to do what you want for YOU versus what we need to do for the whole company.”

He looked at my dumbfounded, like I had hit him with a 2×4. Then he looked at someone who was standing behind me……the owner of the company.

“George, is she right?”

The owner shook his head almost sad he was even having this discussion. “Of course she’s right – IT has always been a cost center. How long have you been with us?” he asked somewhat sarcastically. (The guy had been with the company for 20+ years.)

After hearing that response, he stuttered a comment about not knowing that and changed the subject.

Emmy 1 – Dickhead Sales Guy 0

The good news about today was how quickly shit started coming together. The facilitator commented how amazed (and somewhat confused) he was at how little fighting we were doing about things. Usually his clients want to kill him about 4pm because they are frustrated and fed up and confused. We were like, “we’re in agreement, what’s next?”

I honestly thought today would be frustrating. Mainly because the shit I have noticed since day 1 seems to be viewed as not a big deal by those who have been with the company 10+ years. It was always presented like it was me who didn’t get how this was just how things are at the company. I just had to accept this company is unique.

Anytime a comment about any company being unique is made, alarm bells go off in my head. So little about what a company does is truly unique between industries that those who think that is untrue are usually those making things unnecessarily complex because they think they are smarter when they are not.

For example, this company thinks the way it does accounting is unique because of our business. We sell things. We invoice customers. We collect cash. We put it in the bank. We buy things. We get invoices. We pay invoices. Sometimes one division will sell something to another part of the company resulting one division having to pay another division for those goods. There is nothing unique or special about our accounting. Nada. Yet, if you ask some people who have been around for a long time, no one in the world has the challenges that our industry requires in the arena of accounting. Yeah….no.

So going into today, I figured it was going to be a lot of people thinking we are unique while a few of us (like me) had to debate that we were not unique.

Exercise 1 – we were almost all aligned – all 60 of us – in terms of what we needed to focus on to grow the company’s revenue.

Exercise 2 – we were 100% aligned in terms of the internal issues that had to be addressed else we could not grow as a company.

Exercise 3 – we were about 80% aligned on what our revenue and profit targets should be for 3 years from now.

Very little debate.

Other than people’s inability to follow directions causing frustrations, it was truly incredible.

We ended the night on a high note. When reviewing with us the personality profile of the 60 leaders in the room, the facilitator pointed to one of the indicators of culture. “See this right here – see all of these dots of people scoring 80% and higher for support and compassion? This – this is why this place is a good place to work. At the end of the day, everything else aside – you support each other – you cheer for each other. This is a sign that things can change.”

Sure he could have been paid to say that – but after spending the night laughing more than we were arguing……I think we all had no reason to disagree.

What do you think?

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