How to know when you are around a "teacher" that could initiate further success in your life.
Alan Weber's final "rule" in his excellent book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths For Winning at Business without Losing Your Self, is this – "Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere." In the management consulting profession, constant learning is a necessity for sustained success. So I do all of the "formal" learning items – attending seminars and webinars, completing group and self-study continuing professional education, and reading a wide variety of books, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters. But my real learning comes from "everyday teachers."
What Teacher's Don't Realize
These lessons are invaluable – and these teachers don't even know they're teaching me. Perhaps I am visiting a client and, in passing, observe a supervisor discussing a performance shortcoming with a subordinate in a public setting – there's a lesson: "Praise in public. Critique in private." Or maybe I'm participating in a demonstration of an almost-completed software project at a client's office, and see how the president, with a fine mix of lightness and seriousness in his voice and an obvious concern for both the person and the company, gets a hesitant manager to commit to begin using the software soon – the lesson: "Being pleasantly relentless is effective."
While I learned those two lessons on management style from client personnel, lessons come from a variety of teachers. My friends and colleagues provide many different perspectives on topical items, helping me evaluate and apply concepts from articles in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times in a particular aspect of my life – home, the workplace, volunteer settings, and the like.
Staff Provide Learning
My staff members provide several valuable opportunities for learning. Because I know their areas of particular strength and competence, I turn to them for advice in their relevant areas. After they have attended a continuing professional education course, I enjoy picking their brains to not only see what they learned, but also to transfer some of their learning to me. In fact, many times, I ask my staff to present a summary of this course to all of us at a firm meeting.
Our consultants frequently work on diverse projects at many different client locations, so it's always valuable – and fun – for everyone to have a Staff Roundtable, where everyone takes about 15 to 20 minutes to describe the projects they are performing. Many times, these roundtables become like the campfire game "Tale Toss" because it becomes a contest of mutual storytelling – everyone builds on what has been said, with each person offering their own enhancement to the basic ideas. And, with a group of high-performers, there is always the desire to trump the project just described!
Clients Provide Learning
Our clients provide outstanding opportunities for learning, because they are typically leaders and innovators in their fields. These are executives and managers who run good companies, and who are always looking for ways to get better! Besides the obvious lessons of observing the techniques of confident and successful people, discussing their company and industry with them provides insights on the real-world challenges they face – and the opportunities they see. These are lessons even the best trade journal cannot convey, because the written word never fully captures the rich meaning of personal interactions.
The diversity of these teachers is sometimes surprising, even humbling – because often the most valuable lessons come from someone totally different than me. Perhaps the lesson is one in patience and understanding – the need to practice empathy with some people or in some situations. Or maybe the lesson is gleaning a non-obvious insight from someone holding views completely opposite mine. Contrarian? Yes – and potentially invaluable.
Why You May Not Be Learning
And here's a paradox – if you're not open to the possibility of learning something from everyone you encounter, then "not learning" may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being open to the possibility of learning something new from an unlikely source requires one to be fully present in the "here and now" to learn the lesson. Sometimes the lesson is obvious and will reveal itself immediately – many times, the lesson is subtle and requires some time to surface and some distance from the event, before it yields a "learning experience" which ideally becomes an "evaluated experience."
There are teachers everywhere – and it takes both a willingness to learn and a commitment to always be actively engaged to reveal our teachers and their lessons.
Todd L. Herman
Client Project Update:
I am pleased to provide you with an update on our client projects. Projects we have completed over this period are...
Business Analytics Increase Government Revenues
Enhanced sophisticated matching and screening routines to simultaneously analyze multiple data sources, allowing governmental entities to comprehensively search for additional revenue opportunities.
Lotus Notes Enhancements
Revised a Lotus Notes-based contract management system for the in-house legal department of a pharmaceutical firm, enabling executed contracts to be better stored and archived.
System Modifications for New Offshore Plant
Identified the business system and integration system modules affected by a change in routing goods between domestic and offshore plants, and specified needed modifications, allowing this apparel manufacturer to quickly adapt its production flow to respond to changed business priorities.
Unifying Applications for Call Center
Developed and deployed a call center application to incorporate several standalone applications, dramatically improving staff productivity, and providing managers improved tools to manage workload and monitor employee effectiveness.
Managing ERP System Implementation
Worked with multiple vendors and client personnel to manage the system integration, modification, and implementation for this not-for-profit agency, successfully adjusting the planned project tasks and deadlines to respond to budget changes, while also incorporating several unanticipated vendor change orders.
Devising Metrics & Dashboard
Designed, developed, and deployed a series of metrics to track progress in reducing and resolving denied or rejected claims via an intranet dashboard, allowing this medical services company to monitor and quickly collect past due accounts receivable.
Improving Construction Estimating Processes
Designed and managed development of a custom estimating program for this construction-related company, improving consistency and accuracy among job estimators, automating calculations, and permitting collaboration on project estimates.
Interim Director of Finance
Served as interim Director of Finance for this industry association, providing guidance on both high-level and day-to-day issues, allowing work to continue during this organization's busiest period.
Future projects we are planning include...
ERP System Rollout
Manage the two-phase cutover -manufacturing and then distribution -to a new ERP system, minimizing operational disruptions while accommodating the annual audit of physical inventory.
Validation via Web Services
Develop a web service to enable one-click eligibility verification prior to billing insurance companies for services rendered, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of this medical services company's billing representatives.
Standard Cost System for Medical Tests
Develop a system to compute the standard material, labor, and overhead cost of a wide range of medical tests, enabling this company to better set prices and negotiate insurance contracts.
Automation Improves Efficiency & Accuracy
Automate the creation of financial transactions from the completed research and resolution of denied or rejected claims, eliminating time-consuming and error-prone manual transactions, and freeing time for research and collection calls.
Contract Information Systems Management
Serve as contract Information Systems (IS) Manager for this professional services firm, working with executives and staff to link IS priorities and operations to the company's strategic plans, and providing as-needed project management and systems analysis capabilities.
Selecting a New Director of Finance & Administration
Work with the Executive Director and Treasurer for this international association, helping them devise questions and scenarios to effectively assess candidates' likely performance as Director of Finance and Administration in this organization's unique environment.
Resolving Data System Inconsistencies
Research discrepancies between transaction details and inventory balances for this manufacturer, identifying transactions to be modified or added, enabling accurate recording of all changes in inventory balances.
Mobile Quote System Enhancements
Meet with key stakeholders to rank and clarify new and enhanced functionality for a mobile quote system, allowing better execution and management of the quoting and bidding processes for this construction-related firm.