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Private Equity Demystified - 10 Ways it is Like Investing in a House

Posted on September 1, 2019 at 4:55 PM


Private equity firms seem to have received increased attention over the last several years. Globally, private equity firms made about 3,000 deals worth $582 billion in 2018 ... but are still sitting on a record high of $2 trillion of capital waiting to be invested, according to Bain & Company's Global Private Equity Report 2019. While the names of some of the largest private equity companies are becoming more familiar to the public - e.g., Bain, KKR, Carlyle, Blackstone - an understanding of what these firms actually do can still seem elusive. A helpful analogy comes from the biggest financial purchase that most people make in their lives - their home. Here are ten concepts that you learn as a homebuyer that can help you understand private equity.

 

1 - A House Sale is kinda/sorta like A Private Equity Deal - Both are big and complex transactions. Selling a home is a major financial and lifestyle decision for most people. The equity in a house is often a family's biggest financial asset. Beyond finances, a homeowner has invested a lot of their life turning a house into a home. They also have to figure out a new place for them, and maybe their family, to live after they sell. Private business owners who are selling their company to a private equity firm can feel the same way too. Their business may be their biggest financial asset. They may have invested a lot of their careers building the business and have an emotional attachment to it. They might also have to figure out what they - and family members in their company - will do for a job after they sell their business.

 

2 - Real Estate Investors are kinda/sorta like Private Equity Firms - House-buyers tend to target their searches to certain types of homes in certain neighborhoods instead of looking at every house for sale. Savvy house-buyers (or their real estate agents) may even network to get leads on houses ripe for sale that are not yet on the market - e.g., empty nesters looking to downsize. Private equity firms also know what type of companies they want to buy. They may focus on a specific industry or geography where they have expertise. For example, there are twenty private equity firms today that are focusing on buying ophthalmologist (eye doctor) medical practices in the USA, according to Ophthalmology Times. Savvy private equity firms may also use their networks to look for companies ripe for sale that are not yet on the market - e.g., business owners seeking to retire and cash out.

 

3 - Real Estate Agents are kinda/sorta like Business Brokers and Bankers - Because home sales are such big transactions, many people pay real estate agents to help them sell their house. Private companies looking to sell sometimes use business brokers or their bankers to help them find a buyer and negotiate a deal.

 

4 - Rent is kinda/sorta like EBITDA - One way to determine the value of your home is to view it not as a home, but as an asset that could generate a stream of income each year in the form of rent you could get if you didn't live there. A private company's value can be assessed by the stream of income it produces each year too. Private equity buyers typically focus on that stream of income and define it as Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA). EBITDA measures a company's underlying profitability once you strip out its tax, accounting, and capitalization situation.

 

5 - Using Price per Square Foot is kinda/sorta like Using EBITDA Multiples - A popular way to estimate the value of your house is to look at the price per square foot (or meter) that comparable houses in your area have recently sold for. Once you find a price per square foot, you can multiply that times your house's square footage to get an estimated value. Private equity firms do a similar assessment to figure out the value of companies. Once they get an estimate of what the EBITDA income stream from a business looks like, they know what a range of multiples of EBITDA buyers often pay for similar (comparable) companies. EBITDA multiples are often in the 2-5x range, depending on many factors. So a company with an annual EBITDA of $10 million could theoretically be valued between between $20-50 million.

 

6 - Real Estate Appraisers are kinda/sorta like Business Valuation Firms - Before issuing a mortgage, a bank will often require the homebuyer to get an independent assessment of the value of the house being purchased. There are experts called real estate appraisers who specialize in doing these calculations. Private equity firms typically do the valuation estimates themselves. Business owners looking to sell sometimes hire specialists in business valuations to help them get an independent understanding of their company's market value.

 

7 - House Inspection is kinda/sorta like Due Diligence - After a house sale and price are agreed to, the buyer will often make their offer contingent on a home inspection. The seller will often hire an expert in home inspection to do a thorough search through a house to list all the flaws. Before the sale closes, the house buyer may require the home seller to fix those flaws or lower the price to compensate the buyer for the problems. When private equity firms make an offer to buy a company, they also make their offer contingent on an inspection process they call due diligence. Due diligence can inspect assets, financial records, and all other aspects of a business. Any flaws, holes, or skeletons in the closet that come out can make them lower their offer or back out of the deal altogether.

 

8 - Mortgages are kinda/sorta like Leverage - When people buy their first house, they may put up 20 percent of their own money as a down-payment and borrow the remaining 80 percent in the form of a mortgage with a bank. They might find debt to be scary, but they borrow because they don't want to wait for years or decades to have the money saved up. They want to live in a house now while they need it and bet they can pay back the debt along the way and/or when they sell. Taking on mortgage debt may also enable them to take advantage of tax breaks that can come with paying interest on a mortgage. A private equity firm often does a similar thing when it buys a company. It may only pay 20 percent of the purchase price from its own funds and then borrow the rest from a bank. They do that so they can buy 5-times (1 / 20%) as many similarly priced companies with the money they have available to invest - i.e., leveraging their money. Borrowing may also allow them to take advantage of a tax break if interest can be deducted as a business expense.

 

9 - Rehabbers / Flippers are kinda/sorta like Private Equity Buyers - When house rehabbers (or flippers) are looking to buy a house, they are looking for a house they can buy at a low price that has potential to be worth much more - like a house in need of repair in a nice neighborhood, or a small house on a big lot. They take out a mortgage to cover most of the purchase cost. They invest their own time and expertise to quickly improve the things in the house that will generate the most value - e.g., expanding its livable space, updating key areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Then they sell it. If they are good, the resale price gives them a tidy profit after all their costs, including borrowing costs and the costs of their time and effort, are covered. Everyone wins, because a house that was not at its full potential just got improved and made more valuable. Private equity buyers do a similar thing with companies. They look for companies that have potential to generate more profits and that they can get for a good deal. They borrow most of the money from a bank to buy the company because they want to use their own money to buy as many companies as they can. They use their management expertise to improve the financial performance. Sometimes they even combine small companies they have acquired into a bigger one that is worth more than the sum of its parts. Once improved, they put the company back on the market within a few years and hopefully sell it for a profit.

 

10 - Live-in Rehabbers are kinda/sorta like Management Buy Outs - House rehabbers often do not want to live in the house they are rehabbing. It is messy and noisy and uncomfortable with all the work being done and all the newcomers wandering through the house. Some private equity deals are like being a live-in rehabber. This is when the owner of the acquired company (or maybe their senior leaders) decides to stay and be part of the rehab of their company. They have to manage all the improvement work and take responsibility for it getting done. It can be stressful to rapidly make big changes in the company, but they will have financial incentives to get all the work done in time. But if they do a good job, they will share part of the profits from a sale at a better price in a few years.

 

Every industry has bad actors. Some house rehabbers probably want to cut holes in the walls, strip out all the copper pipes, wallpaper it over, and put the house back on the market right away at a higher price, while pocketing the money from selling the copper pipes. Maybe they could get away with that for a while but people would probably get wise to them eventually. Banks would stop lending to them and real estate agents would quit bringing prospective home buyers to their properties. The same is true with private equity. There are probably horror stories of bad actor private equity companies that have come in and pillaged assets of a company they acquired. Perhaps they made a mistake, and purchased a company without a future and are salvaging what they can. My guess is people would eventually get wise to them as well and quit selling to them, lending to them, investing in them, or buying from them.

 

My first home purchase was from a real estate rehabber/flipper. He bought a house that I would not have lived in and fixed it up enough so I wanted to live in it. In other words, he created some new value that I was happy to pay for. I count that as a win-win.

 

My career as a consultant and coach has also led me to work with and know people on both sides of private equity deals - buyers and sellers. Like any endeavor that seeks to create a lot of financial value, the work can be hard and stressful. But I have found the people in the private equity space to be great to know. I count that as a win-win too.

7 Things to Consider when Private Equity Is Interested in Your Business

Posted on August 16, 2019 at 1:55 PM


If you are a successful business owner, you may already have received a call from a private equity group interested in acquiring your business. Globally, private equity firms invested $582 billion in deals in 2018 ... but are still sitting on a record high of $2 trillion of capital waiting to be invested, according to Bain & Company's Global Private Equity Report 2019. Competition among private equity groups to find acquisitions can be intense. For example, the number of firms looking to buy ophthalmologist (eye doctor) medical practices in the USA has grown from just one in 2012 to twenty in 2018, according to Ophthalmology Times.


Getting a call from a private equity group can be exciting - a sign that you have built a business that is large enough to be on their radar. It can also be intimidating. Private equity folks are deal-making professionals who often come from elite investment banking and management consulting backgrounds. They buy and sell businesses for a living. Your business is your living - you built it and it is the only one you have.


Here are 7 things to consider to prepare for talks with private equity firms.


1 - What Are Your Goals? - Are you looking to cash out and retire? Do you want to keep working? Are you willing to work for a demanding new boss in exchange for a potential big payday? Do you have business partners or successors you want to transition to? It is important to think about how your business fits in your broader life goals. Speaking with a certified financial planner can be a good idea to understand the financial part of those decisions. Speaking with an executive coach can be helpful to explore your career goals.


2 - Know Your Numbers - A big determinant of the value of your business will be a number derived from your financial statements called EBITDA - Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization. It measures your company's underlying profitability once you strip out your tax, accounting, and capitalization situation. Any investor will want to scour your financial records to understand your history and projections. It is important to work with your company's financial staff to understand what your financials look like and have confidence in their accuracy and thoroughness. A private equity buyer is probably going to try to poke holes in those numbers during the due diligence process to confirm or adjust their valuation of your business. Finding a business valuation service provider or a business broker to give you an independent sense of your company's value could be helpful.


3 - Private Equity Is Not Your Only Option - If selling your business sounds appealing, private equity firms are not the only buyers out there. Other non-financial companies that create similar products or services as you do might want to buy your firm to add to theirs. If they buy your company, they may want to become your boss or have you exit the company. Like private equity firms, they typically will set a price for your business based on its current EBITDA times a multiple of that number that they have seen in the market. (To use a home-buying analogy, this is kind of like looking at the price per square foot of other houses recently sold in your market to come up with a value for your house.) Getting advice from a business broker can be helpful to find these opportunities and multiple value ranges relevant to you.


4 - You're Not The Private Equity Firm's Only Option - Private equity groups look for potential acquisitions all the time. They build a pipeline of potential acquisitions and know that only a small fraction of those will turn into a deal they find worth making. If you or your staff are too hard to work with, they may have plenty of other options on their list to pursue. Ensure you and your staff treat private equity firm staff with the professional courtesy the situation commands. After all, they may become controlling members of your board of directors.


5 - Anticipate the Deal to Be Offered - Private equity firms can buy all of your business or can offer to buy a large controlling majority (e.g., 70 percent) of your business and have you keep the remainder and stay to manage operations. That way you have an incentive to rapidly grow the value of the business. They may finance a big part of their equity purchase by taking on debt that they put on the company's books. Within a few years (often 2-7 years), the private equity company will want to sell the company because they have to pay back their own investors. The plan is that the operational improvements (and financial restructuring) completed will translate to increased EBITDA, which will make the business more valuable than when they bought it. (To continue the home buying analogy, private equity firms are a bit like people who buy houses using money they have and borrow, then invest more money, effort, and time to fix them up, and then profit by selling them for a higher price later.)


6 - Anticipate the Improvement Opportunities - Your new private equity owners are probably going to want management to generate more revenue by growing sales from existing customers (and sales agents), finding new customers and products/services, and optimizing prices. They are probably going to look to reduce costs across the board, including cutting staff, eliminating inefficiencies, squeezing suppliers, and chopping overhead. They are likely to look for assets that can be sold off. Things that may have been "sacred cows" -- like family members on the payroll, cushy benefits, club memberships, company cars -- will likely get scrutiny. They may also want to merge other companies into yours or merge yours into another company - a strategy sometimes called "tucking in." If you stay on to manage the company under a private equity controlled board, you are going to be the one who has to make these changes happen. (To continue the real estate analogy, it's a bit like continuing to live in a house you sold while you lead the improvement work to ready the house for resale.) Do you have the appetite to drive these types of changes? An executive coach can help you talk through that question.


7 - Prepare for the Process - If you decide to move forward with a private equity suitor, gird yourself for the steps between an initial meeting and a deal. The initial meeting with pleasantries and a tour will give way to a due diligence process that may feel like an audit. It can take up a lot of the time and focus of you and your management team, especially your financial staff. (Consider getting a non-disclosure agreement before sharing your information.) They may talk to your customers, employees, suppliers, and business partners to see how the information from you checks out. They may review your current and prospective competition. They may assess the potential impact of technology, regulation and other external forces on your business. (If your business has "any skeletons in your closet," they may come out too.) Each flaw discovered may chip down the price of your business initially agreed to in a letter of intent or may stop the deal altogether.


When done right, a sale to a private equity firm can be a way for a business owner to exit their business while also keeping the business going.Some business owners who stay call it "getting two bites at the apple" because they get paid when they sell their initial stake to the private equity firm, and they get paid again -- potentially even more -- when the private equity firm sells the transformed business. A little preparation can help make sure that apple tastes more sweet than sour.

5 Skills to Manage Your Workload and Work/Life Balance

Posted on July 16, 2019 at 1:50 PM



According to a recent survey by LinkedIN, the top two challenges for US employees are "finding a work-life balance" (38 percent) and "managing their workload" (31 percent). I too struggled with these issues in my career. Then I learned these five powerful tips to manage my workload and work/life balance from five very different places.


1 - Ask for Help - According to that same survey, 35 percent of US employees admitted they are too scared to ask for help at work. Incredibly, a third of respondents said they would rather work six extra hours than ask for help! I too used to be reluctant to ask for help. I was too proud to look weak or admit I didn't know something. I had an epiphany about help while walking the ancient Camino pilgrimage trail across Spain on vacation, however. I stopped for lunch in a small village in rural Spain and saw these three older gentlemen across the street eyeing us pilgrims (see photo). When two other hikers went the wrong way after finishing their lunch, I saw these guys leap up and yell (nicely) to point them in the right direction. I realized these guys were waiting for the chance to be helpful to pilgrims. They were strategically positioned across from the only restaurant in the village. When I left, I acted like I was lost too just to give the men a chance to help me. I smiled when they did.

 

LESSON - Ask for help because it isn't just good for you, it gives others the gift of feeling helpful. People like to feel smart and have their skills and expertise acknowledged. Asking for help is a win-win way to do that. 


2 - Use the 80/20 to Prioritize - On my first day working for one of the big three strategy consulting firms, we all got a speech from the managing partner about the keys to success at the firm. I never forgot one piece of advice because it was a totally new concept to me - "Find the 80/20." Because they charge expensive rates, consultants are trained to prioritize their work to maximize the value they return to clients. They do that by using the Pareto Principle, often called simply the "80/20 rule." This is a common phenomena in nature where 20 percent of potential causes produce 80 percent of the results. For example, people typically wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time and 20 percent of carpet area typically gets 80 percent of the wear. Once you figure out the 80/20 of a problem, you can focus on solving the 20 percent of potential issues that will give you 80 percent of the value.


LESSON - "Don't sweat the small stuff." Ruthlessly focus your time on the 20% of activities at work that are most essential to achieving your results and de-prioritize / delegate / drop the 80% of things that are not. 


3 - Delegate Meetings - According to a 2007 survey, 46 percent of companies were concerned about their employees' ability to delegate. (Ironically, only 28 percent of those companies offered training in delegation.) If you are a manager, meetings are one of the biggest and easiest things to delegate. Identify the meetings you, and only you, must attend because of your role - e.g., meetings with your boss, one-on-ones with your direct reports, meetings you chair, places where you vote or approve. Keep those on your calendar. The rest are candidates for delegation. Purposely skip one of those meetings and send one of your deputies as your delegate. Give them marching orders on how to represent and debrief you. Make clear the delegation is conditional. If done well, your team member will appreciate the extra exposure and responsibility. And if you keep it up and find other meetings to delegate, you will appreciate the time you reclaim.


LESSON - Delegating is like teaching a kid to ride a bike - it is a skill in letting go that is scary but can be a game-changing process improvement for everyone involved. Before they taught me to ride a bike, my parents had to take me everywhere. Once they taught me to bike, I started transporting myself - and freed up a lot of their time. 


4 - Set Daily Goals - Two things I loved about playing football in high school were the scoreboard, and the time clock. They gave us a clear goal and feedback. I would give it my all during the game, but after the clock was done, it was time to recover. Setting a daily goal at work is a great way to put your workload into perspective and put closure on a day. Define one thing you want to achieve each day that will make you feel like you put points on the scoreboard. Maybe it is finishing, or starting, some task that has been on your plate for a while. Maybe it is getting a desired outcome from a meeting you run. Maybe it is getting a weekly task done. Pick something small and end your day on a high note by finishing it.


LESSON - Rome wasn't built in a day - but it was built one day at a time. Set a daily goal at work and toast yourself for its completion at dinner-time away from work. 


5 - Set Communication Boundaries - Our smart phones are amazing communication tools that connect us at work. But when we don't control them, they can become weapons of mass distraction. At work, they can divert your focus, killing your productivity. After work, smart phones can enable work to creep into your free time, killing your work/life balance. Figure out rules to set boundaries with your communication tools. Turn off non-essential personal notifications on your phone that distract you at work. Turn off work email notifications at night. Keep your work phone in your bag when you get home. Shut your phone off during family time. Whatever works for you, figure out ways to turn the switch off when you leave work.


LESSON - When a restaurant gives you a buzzer to let you know your food or table is ready, you want to get rid of it as soon as possible. View your work phone the same way. Once it has done its job for the day, put it away or turn it off.

7 Secrets to Success When Your Boss is an Ex-Consultant

Posted on June 16, 2019 at 1:35 PM


There were over 637,000 people in the United States employed in the management consulting industry in 2016, according to Statista.com. With annual staff turnover rates of an estimated 15-20 percent, that means tens of thousands of former consultants are released into the wild each year to take 'real' jobs at organizations outside of consulting. Many of those ex-consultants transition to management roles. Some have even ended up as the CEO of large companies like Google, eBay, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, American Express, Pepsi, LEGO, Levi-Strauss, Intuit, Capital One, and GE.


If you work for a team or organization led by an ex-consultant, you may realize that ex-consultants can be challenging to work with. They use unfamiliar buzzwords and terms. They want to see everything in slide format. They lean too much on data and analysis and sometimes forget the human part of the equation. They can be arrogant and run at a hyper pace. They may lack life experience. In short, they see the world differently than "mere mortals" who never worked in consulting.


If you have an ex-consultant as a boss, here are 7 secrets on how to survive - and thrive - working with them:


1 - Find the 80/20 - Because management consultants charge expensive rates, consultants are trained to prioritize their work to maximize the value they return to clients. They do that by using the Pareto Principle, often called simply the "80/20 rule." This rule states a common phenomena where the most important 20 percent of things you could work on will produce 80 percent of the value. In other words, learn to avoid "sweating the small stuff" and figure out the few big things that generate most of the impact in your work and be excellent at those.


2- Structure Your Communications - Consultants are trained to communicate in a concise and precise manner. They get used to all their consulting colleagues communicating that way too. They can tune out people who are not communicating in the same "answer-first" style that quickly gets to the "bottom line" of any issue. The good news is that this structured communication style can be learned. Ask your manager to provide you with training in structured communications.


3 - Dig for Data - Consultants are trained to be fact-based and data-driven. If you are presenting your work, an ex-consultant boss is probably going to ask you for facts and data to back up your conclusions. Anticipate their questions and look for data to help explain your decisions. Sometimes data can be calculating what the numbers would look like from your recommendations. Sometimes it can be asking customers or others for their reactions to your ideas. Learn to be data-driven yourself and you will likely end up making better decisions that will generate less scrutiny from your ex-consultant manager.


4 - Get Comfortable with Feedback - Consultants learn to be open, honest, and direct in giving and receiving feedback because their work depends on it. Their work is typically team-based, and since a new team forms for each new project, consultants get a chance to work in many different teams over time. Teams have to ensure their work is right before it goes to the client, so they learn to pressure-test each other's work. You need to learn to be comfortable receiving (and delivering) open and honest feedback and avoid taking it personally.


5 - Protect Your Time - Consultants work under tight deadlines in their projects. They also have to add in travel time to get to the client. Consultants are often expected to work hours far in excess of 40 hours per week. They can often do this because they started in their consulting career before they picked up other priorities in life - like a family. An ex-consultant might expect everyone to work excessive hours as a default since that is what they are used to. If your boss is still working consulting hours, put stakes in the ground around the commitments outside of work that are important to you and schedule those like you would any priority at work.


6 - Help them Understand Organizational Politics - Every workplace has organizational politics, but the internal politics in consulting are less entrenched because people change teams and managers all the time. An ex-consultant may naively believe the right facts and logic will always prevail in their new role. They may fail to realize the importance of relationships and politics in big organizations where people often plan to work for decades, not years. Help them see the potential errors and traps they are facing. Give them suggestions for the relationships they should build. If your boss stumbles, it probably means your job gets tougher too, so help them succeed. Helping your boss navigate the organization can make you particularly valuable to them - and earn their appreciation at review time.


7 - Emphasize Implementation - Consulting often stops at the recommendation stage and leaves implementation to clients. This can make consultants under-appreciate the difficulty of implementation. Your boss will probably come up with a lot of new ideas how to do things. Instead of telling them all the reasons why their new ideas won't work, help them understand what it would take to implement their ideas. How would other departments have to change their priorities or behaviors to implement that idea? What things could we stop doing to free up resources to start that? How could we get the people and tools to do that? Your boss will probably have one or two good ideas mixed into all the possibilities they see. Help them focus on and deliver those and they may see you as an exceptionally valuable member of the team.


Working with a manager who comes from a consulting background can be challenging. It can also be rewarding if you take advantage of the learning and growth opportunities it provides.

5 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Manager

Posted on May 16, 2019 at 1:30 PM



You see the "check-in" meeting with your boss looming on your calendar and you feel a familiar dread. Every once in a while, these meetings are useful, but more often, they just generate a lot of questions that mean more work for you. Sometimes, they are just a waste of time, politely wandering around random topics without covering any useful substance at all.


If your check-in meetings with your manager are not productive, YOU need to improve them fast! A big part of your manager's job is to provide you the support, direction, and feedback you need to get your job done and grow professionally. If they are not providing you with that help in your check-in meetings, are they giving you that help anywhere else? Check-in meetings are your best chance to seize your manager's focus in a one-on-one setting. Here are 5 conversations you should raise with your manager in your check-in meetings.


#1 - Feedback on Your Results - At some point in your organization's performance process, your boss is probably going to share an assessment of your performance with their boss and others. Wouldn't it be helpful for you to hear their feedback before then so you can weigh in and adjust your performance as needed? You can help focus the discussion by bringing a list of your results for the year, key performance metrics from your area, or the operational goals in your performance plan. Go over those in your meeting as a way to surface their feedback. When your manager tells you they would like to see more progress, use that as an opening to ask them to clear barriers, get resources, make decisions, or provide other support that would help you. 


#2 - Feedback on Your Competencies - In addition to your results, your manager may also assess you on skills and behaviors required for your job. Their assessment may define your potential for promotion and define your place in line for new "stretch" opportunities. A simple way to surface their feedback is to ask them to list a couple of things you should be doing more, less, or better. You can ask them to share feedback they hear about you from others. You can bring a list of competencies in your performance assessment and job description and go over that together. If you have an open relationship with your manager, you could even share job postings for bigger internal roles to get their feedback on your qualifications against those. When your manager gives you feedback on places to improve, use that as an opening to ask for their support - and budget - to get training, coaching, and other support to fill those gaps.


#3 - Decisions You Need - Your boss is better-positioned (and maybe solely authorized) to make some decisions you need to get your work done. How should you prioritize new work demands versus existing ones? Which path should you take at a major decision point in your project? Where will they delegate authority so you can make decisions instead of them? Be careful not to ask them for decisions you are responsible for. And be ready to answer if they put the question back to you for what you would recommend. When your manager makes a decision, record it in your notes or an email back to them so you can remind them down the road if needed.


#4 - Support You Need - Your manager is the gatekeeper to resources and support you need to get your job done. Decisions about scarce resources like budget or new staff are often handled in formal processes, but you can lobby for your future requests in your check-ins. There are also many less formal forms of support you might need. Sometimes you need information from another area outside your purview. Maybe you need them to convene a meeting or provide air cover to resolve a conflict you are facing. Sometimes your boss might have technical expertise that could help you, especially if they have been in your field - or your job - before you. People often like to be asked for help because it makes them feel important. Your boss is no different. As long as your requests for support are things they don't expect you to do for yourself, asking them for help can feed their ego and build your relationship - especially if you remember to thank them afterwards.


#5 - Information You Need them to Know - Your manager has a boss too, and they don't want their boss to hear about news in their area before they do. They also want a chance to step in and act on things personally while they can. If you see illegal or inappropriate activity, you need to escalate that to your manager (and other required channels) immediately. If you see big operational, reputational, or other risks bubbling, let your boss know so they can take action if needed. If you see internal conflicts brewing, give them a heads up so they can address it before it blows up. Sometimes the news you need to share is good news on the horizon that they might want to celebrate. If you can foresee your boss freaking out (or being overjoyed) by potential news from your area, it is better for you to give them warnings ahead of time.


You don't have to talk though all these items in every one of your manager check-ins, but it is a good idea to make sure you think through them beforehand. If your manager has an agenda they use to run these meetings, think about the natural point where you can insert the conversations you need. If your boss doesn't prepare, consider doing an ad hoc agenda in advance like you should for any other meeting you run. Manager check-ins should be one of the most productive meetings you have at work. You should prepare for them like they are.

5 Ways to Manage an Ineffective Boss

Posted on April 16, 2019 at 1:10 PM


If you work long enough, you will have one - a boss who just isn't getting their job done. Maybe they are overwhelmed or out of their league. Perhaps they got promoted too fast or missed manager training. Maybe they are just checked-out or lazy. Whatever the reason, the impact on you is the same - they are not providing you the coaching and support you need to be the best at your job. Here are 5 steps you can take to manage an ineffective boss.


1 - Assess the Situation - Understanding the root cause of your manager's dysfunction can help you assess what it means for your situation - especially how long it will last. If your boss is new to the role and just lacking experience or training, they may remain for a while and improve over time. Help them target their improvement to help you. If they have been in place for a long time, they may not be going anywhere soon, especially if some factor like nepotism is in play. Figure out how long you are willing to try to succeed with them and when you will start looking for new opportunities. If they look like they are getting "managed out," you may need to prepare for a replacement or reorganization quickly.


2 - Identify the Impact on You - A boss' job is to provide several services to their team members. They coach, direct, rally external support, check quality, bring technical expertise, and many other things to help their team members succeed. You need those things to help you get ahead, especially as you compete for promotions with peers who have good managers. Identify the help you are not getting from your manager. Talk with your peers to understand the support they get from their managers. Read leadership books and articles to help you see what good leadership looks like.


3 - Ask for Supplemental Help - Your boss may not have all the management skills you need, but they do have access to resources, authority, and relationships you don't. Ask your boss to help you get support elsewhere. If your boss isn't an effective external advocate for your team, ask for ways to get you more exposure outside your team. If you aren't learning required expertise from them, ask them to help you get training. If you aren't getting the coaching you need from them, ask them to pay for an executive coach for you. That might even set an example for them to follow.


4 - Help them Succeed - After you have addressed your own needs, think about ways you can help your manager succeed. If they view you as a good performer, ask how you can help. Maybe you can be a sounding board for them. If they ask for feedback, be ready to give them carefully crafted suggestions. As appropriate, offer to take some work or meetings off their plate to ease their burden. While helping them, that can also help you pick up some experience that builds your own resume. (Be careful with this, though, to make sure you get "extra credit" in your performance reviews and not a share of the blame for their mismanagement.) If you help your manager when they are down, you may be building a grateful ally - and great job reference - for life.


5 - Position Yourself for New Jobs - Realize that your situation may not improve and your ineffective manager may be there for longer than you want to wait. Or prepare yourself for a snap change from a reorganization or manager replacement. Either way, build and nurture your network now so it will produce new opportunities later when needed. And if one of the new opportunities you are interested in is your manager's job, tread carefully. Manage your personal brand so your good work is recognized and is not tied to the poor performance of your boss. But also make sure you are not seen to be undermining your boss to get their job.


If you haven't worked for an overwhelmed or checked-out manager yet, consider yourself lucky. Now you can also consider yourself warned and prepared.

7 Strategies to Manage a Micro-Manager

Posted on March 5, 2019 at 3:55 AM

 


If you work long enough, you will have a micro-managing boss. They think they know your job better than you do. Maybe they had your job before they got promoted to management. They focus on how you do your job instead of on the results you produce. They think that because you are doing your job differently than they would, you must be doing it incorrectly. Micro-management is a big driver of dissatisfaction and attrition in the workplace.


Here are 7 strategies to manage a micromanaging manager.


1 – Diagnose the Situation – Is your boss micro-managing others or just you? It is important to understand whether you are being singled out or if you are just one of many victims. If they micro-manage others too, it’s probably them, not you. But if you are the only one being micro-managed, it might be you and it is worth figuring out why. Perhaps your boss is just more interested in your job than others. Or perhaps, they think you need closer scrutiny. If your boss’s micro-management is due to problems with your performance, you need to surface that discussion with them and address that head on.


2 – Channel their Energy – There is good news with having a micro-managing boss – they are highly engaged and interested in your work. Your manager’s engagement can be an asset for you if you channel that energy the right way. Focus them on providing air cover and clearing obstacles that would help you get your job done. Ask for their help getting resources and building the relationships that will help you do your job. Preempt and target their nit-picking by asking them for their advice on the parts of your job where you would like to learn from them.


3 - Focus on the Future - Shift the conversations with your manager from reviewing what you have done in the past to talking about what you plan to do in the future. Get their feedback ahead of time, when it will be most useful. Who knows - your boss might even have some useful insights. You will also get their buy-in to your plans because you got their input early on. These conversations are naturally less uncomfortable too, since the mood will be more about brainstorming the future together instead of sitting through an audit of your past.


4 – Build Trust through Transparency – Micro-managers are eventually going to ask for every detail in your work, especially looking for the mistakes and bad news. Get ahead of the curve by keeping them informed of the biggest risks you see in your work. That not only gives them a chance to give their advice, it also makes them share that risk with you. Micro-managers fear bad surprises. If you can convince them that they are not going to get blindsided from you, they might decrease their micro-management of you.


5 – Demand Feedback – It’s their job as a boss and it’s your right as a team member. Ask your micro-manager for frequent feedback. They are going to share their feedback eventually, so it is best for you to get it real time so you can act on it. You don't want to see constructive feedback for the first time on your formal performance review at the end of the year. Take control of your regular check-in meetings with your manager to ask for feedback. Use your annual goals and your expected job competencies as agenda items to keep the conversation focused. Ask them how are you doing against each of them.


6 - Get Help - An executive coach or mentor can be a great resource to help you deal with a micro-manager. They can be a sounding board to help you identify the underlying issues with your boss. They can be a brainstorming partner to find strategies to fix them. Sometimes, they can just be a sympathetic ear to let you vent off frustration. Having a non-judging, independent listener in your corner can be refreshing when dealing with a nit-picky boss.


7 - Build Your Brand – Unfortunately, your situation with a micro-manager boss may not change. Some micro-managers just cannot help themselves. If they don’t move on, maybe you need to. Ideally you can find new opportunities in your existing organization. Treat every interaction with other leaders in your organization as a chance to impress them. They can become helpful advocates for you if they are in annual review meetings where your performance is compared with your peers. Perhaps they might even recruit you for their team.


Having a micro-manager is a frustrating rite of passage for many people in the workplace. The most important lesson you can take from that experience is learning what micro-managing looks like and how it makes people feel. That way, you will avoid becoming a micro-manager yourself when you lead people.

7 Deadly Sins of New Managers

Posted on February 5, 2019 at 3:45 AM


Congratulations! You made it to the manager ranks at work. Your hard work and success as an individual contributor finally paid off. Along with a bigger paycheck, you now have your first responsibility to lead people. To make the most of your new opportunity, it is important to avoid the mistakes that first time managers often make. Here are the 7 biggest mistakes to avoid as a new manager. 


1 - Micro-Managing - New managers often get promoted because they were good at doing the work as an individual contributor. One of the toughest things about managing people is letting go of some of the control you had over how the job gets done. As the manager, you should focus more on assessing what people deliver (e.g., the quality, efficiency, and timeliness of results) and less on how they deliver it. Just because people sometimes do the work differently than you would, that does not mean they are doing it incorrectly.


2 - Absorbing Responsibility - People on your team are going to realize that, as a new manager, you may have a temptation to dive in and do the work yourself. They may actually welcome micro-management as a way to offload work to you. When a team-member asks you for advice on a decision they are supposed to make, they might be seeking to shirk responsibility for the decision if it goes wrong - "I was just doing what you told me to do!" Watch out for people who seem to welcome and encourage micro-management.


3 - Bending the Rules - As an individual contributor, it is easy to look at all the policies and procedures at work as unnecessary and bureaucratic "red tape." While streamlining processes can be a smart thing to take on as a new manager, resist the temptation to bend the the rules for individual cases. That is a slippery slope to trouble. As soon as you bend the rules for one person, others will expect the same leniency or criticize you for favoritism if you don't deliver for them. Bending a rule once can be the same as breaking the rule permanently. Before you bend a rule, at least understand why the rule was put in place and the impact of removing it.


4 - Avoiding Conflict - It is a natural goal to want everyone on your team to like you, especially if you were promoted to manage your colleagues/friends. Conflicts are natural within any team because we have to prioritize in a world that doesn't have infinite time and resources. As a new manager, you may want to avoid diving into conflicts. But as the leader of the team, it is your job to make sure conflicts are addressed in a constructive way. If you don't show leadership in identifying and resolving conflict, nobody will.


5 - Taking a One-Size Fits All Approach to Leadership - As a new manager, you will be figuring out your natural leadership style. It can be easy to forget that different people need different leadership support from their boss. Some will need you to provide external motivation to spark effort, while others just need some guidance or air cover to get things done. It is important to realize that different people need different leadership from you.


6 - Driving Overwork - New managers are often tempted to want to overachieve in their first leadership role. That may translate into additional hours of work to get extra results. As an individual performer, you saw the impact of long work hours on yourself and your life outside of work. As a leader, you need to keep in mind that you set the tempo for the hours worked by your team. If you are on email all weekend, your team might feel they need to be too. If you are working late every night, some on your team may be reluctant to leave before the boss does. You have to see a broader perspective as a leader.


7 - Forgetting the Example You Set - As an individual performer, others may have noticed the attitude you projected, the words you said, or the actions you took (or failed to take), but they didn't focus on them. As a leader, everyone focuses on you and reads the signs to see where your head is at. Leadership means you are on stage. Get used to it. Make sure the signals you are sending are the ones you want.


Taking a leadership role for the first time can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The key to success is realizing that what got you that big promotion is not what will get you the next one. Your work ethic and smarts will be helpful, but not everything, you need to succeed as a leader. Leadership is a skill that can be sharpened by reading books, getting training, getting a coach, or just seeking help wherever you can. Set a great example for your team by showing them how you seek to get better in your job every day.

5 Skills You Need to Make it to Partner

Posted on January 29, 2019 at 5:40 PM


Reaching the partner level is a career goal for many a new lawyer, consultant or other professional. It often requires several years of getting promoted through the ranks, from an individual contributor to a manager. Many a successful manager has failed to make the leap to the partner level, however. The skills required to become a good manager are required to become a partner - but they are not enough. Here are the five skills that high-performing managers need to demonstrate to make it to the partner level. The first two are easy to measure and are often set as clear expectations. The last three are tougher to measure. If you have demonstrated the first two skills but still haven't made it to partner, then you still need to focus on these last three skills.

1) Selling - Managers often are expected to sell new work to existing clients. That helps demonstrate selling skills. But getting new clients is essential for revenue growth, and partners have to be able to attract and close deals with new clients too. Opening doors to new clients requires different skills than closing deals with existing clients. Managers have to demonstrate that they can use their networking and promotional skills to bring new clients in. This is often the first clear hurdle that a successful manager has to cross to show partner potential.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Practice selling wherever you can. Find training. Ask the successful partners for advice and books you could read to learn how to sell. (SPIN Selling is the one I recommend the most.)


2) Thought-Leadership - Another way partners make themselves seem valuable to prospective clients is by positioning themselves as "thought leaders" in their field. Publishing books or articles in trade publications are great ways to do that. Speaking at conferences or getting interviewed by the media are even better. Partners who don't have strong selling skills can sometimes make up for it by prolific thought-leadership, because the brand-building value of their content spills over to help their other partners sell.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Start small by posting blogs on LinkedIn. Find a friend who has successfully published a book and ask for their advice. Contact a coach to learn how to publish a business book.


3) Executive Presence - Getting clients to pay the high fees for professional services requires partners to generate a lot of trust with their clients. It takes more than just subject matter expertise. Partners need to project the confidence and gravitas that makes their C-level clients see them as equals and trusted advisors, not just as "vendors." These clients are staking part of their reputation in their decision to bring an expensive professional services firm in. They need to be confident the partner leading the engagement will impress the other executives in their firm and make that decision seem smart.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Find good training on developing executive presence. Ask a mentor to help you. Work with an executive coach to get feedback and coaching on your executive presence.


4) Resilience - Professional services at the partner level can be a high-pressure job. Selling generates lots of rejection and stress about meeting targets. Thought leadership begets critics. The best way to demonstrate the ability to handle the pressure at the partner level is to show resilience at the manager level. Managers have to deal with lots of stress coming at them from demanding clients, busy partners, and stressed-out teams. They need to show they can handle anything that comes at them and stay positive and in control at all times.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Find good training on building resilience. Ask a mentor to help you. Work with an executive coach to get feedback and coaching on your executive presence.


5) Decision-Making - Finally, partners are more than just colleagues - they are, well ... "partners." Partners tie their fortunes and fates to each other. They need to be able to trust the judgment of new partners in handling decisions that have a firm wide impact. (See an example of why here.) Demonstrating an ability to make smart decisions in tough situations can help build that trust.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Find good training on decision-making. Seek feedback from a mentor or coach on tough decisions you are making to improve your chances of making the right choices.


Making the leap to partner is often the most challenging, and most rewarding, career step for many professionals. If you are a manager who has been stuck just short, assess yourself against these skills to see which you still need to develop. Even better, ask others to help you identify where you can take a step up to get you to the next level.

5 Biggest Challenges for Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) in 2019

Posted on December 20, 2018 at 10:35 AM


The title of "Chief Learning Officer" reportedly entered the mainstream in the mid-1990s when Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, created the role at GE. Since then, the CLO role has become widespread, particularly in the professional services, health care, government, and financial services sectors, according to a 2015 survey. The challenges for CLOs have evolved along with the role. I recently attended a conference with dozens of CLOs and here are the 5 biggest challenges I heard the CLOs say they will face in 2019, with some suggestions on how to tackle them.


1 - Demonstrating a Return on Investment (ROI) - This challenge never seems to go away in the learning and development space. Business leaders who have clear P&L (profit and loss) metrics and responsibility want to understand the returns they get from the cost, and time required, to train their employees. Smart CLOs seek ways to show bottom line results for their work.


Recommendation -> Identify techniques your business customers use to measure value in their business and see how they can apply to training. A/B Testing, for example, can be a way to prove concrete results in training where there are clear business metrics that can be tracked between those who have received training and those who have not. Different call centers, for example, can make useful A/B testing grounds.


2 - Incorporating Emerging Technology - Artificial intelligence. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Tantalizing emerging technologies can turn into a swarm of potential, "shiny object" distractions if a CLO lets them. The key is to start with the problems that need to be solved and then think about how the technology can fix those. Problems can often be around cost, availability, and effectiveness of delivering training.

 

Recommendation -> Identify small, concrete ways to apply new technologies that will greatly improve some piece of training. For example, use artificial intelligence to help users get better access to existing content through enhanced searching and retrieval. Instead of just popping up a relevant video to a user query, use artificial intelligence to go to the exact moment in the video where the topic is discussed.


3 - On-boarding Generation Z - While incorporating Millennials into the workforce has been a major focus for the last several years, the nextgeneration is starting to enter the workforce now as well. The oldest members of this "Generation Z" were born in the mid-1990s, meaning the first iPhone came out before they were in high school. They have incorporated, and relied upon, technology like no generation before. While they are app savvy, they can struggle with communicating and interacting in person with older colleagues in the workplace who grew up without having their eyes glued to a smartphone.

 

Recommendations -> Identify the skill gaps Generation Z workers need to fill to succeed in your environment (e.g., getting training in critical thinking and business communications.) Identify how you can expand use of smartphones to deliver training.

 

4 - Making Content Compelling - Corporate training competes against many other stimuli to win mindshare of employees. Attention-challenged trainees are used to short videos and games, often on their smartphones, as a way to consume information. To get employees to consume the training they need, you need to do more than just push it at them - i.e., "Corporate makes me watch this." You should create a "pull" demand as well, where people want to consume the training because it is compelling in delivery and has a clear link to improving job performance.

 

Recommendations -> Continue incorporating 'gamification' and mobile delivery into training. Also start thinking about how you can incorporate storytelling as a vehicle to deliver training content. Consider going all out and incorporating "Hollywood-ification" - where a company creates a television-quality drama to deliver training.


5 - Developing Senior-Most Leaders - Much focus in corporate learning has been in how to apply new technology to meet the needs of rank and file employees. The senior-most executives at the VP and C-suite level, however, are often left behind because their learning needs aren't easily met by technology. Old-fashioned, person-to-person channels like mentoring and coaching are often key to developing senior executives but they aren't as scalable or glamorous as technology solutions.


Recommendations -> Dedicate a portion of CLO team resources to serving senior-most executives's needs. Pre-screen and build a catalog of approved executive coaches. Identify and apply best practices in mentoring.


The world continues to change rapidly for Chief Learning Officers. The best CLOs will anticipate and incorporate the changes thrown at them. By doing so, they can become examples of success for other leaders in their organization.


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