CBA RECORD REVIEW OF THE SAVVY EXECUTIVE: THE HANDBOOK COVERING EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS, COMPENSATION, EXECUTIVE SKILLS AND MUCH MORE

Gratified to see Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr.’s review of my book, The Savvy Executive, for the Chicago Bar Association’s magazine, CBA Record.

CBA Record Magazine September/October 2019         – Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr., Editorial Board Member, writes:

“If you represent corporate executives, or professionals, you should read The Savvy Executive by savvy Chicago corporate lawyer and [Chicago Bar Association] member,     G. A. Finch.  … Finch knows of what he writes, and imparts prudent advice. … Finch provides a compelling, interesting, and challenging source of insight and information on the corporate world and its executives. … The Savvy Executive offers solid, accessible, and practical answers to questions that corporate managers and their lawyers need to know.”

  SavageExecutive                             #savvyexecutive

 

 

 

 

 

ELEVATOR SPEECH

BY G. A. FINCH

An executive and fellow author I know had suggested that I write about “elevator pitches” in my book, The Savvy Executive: The Handbook Covering Employment Contracts, Compensation, Executive Skills, and Much More.  It was a practical suggestion but I needed to set limits on the length of my book.   I am making up for this omission by this blog post.shutterstock_734738725

I personally have two elevator speeches that, admittedly, I do not use as often as I should.

For those readers who are not familiar with the concept of an “elevator speech,” it is having a ready-made quick response to someone who asks “What do you do for a living?” or “What business are you in?”  The idea is that on an elevator you may have approximately 30 to 45 seconds to tell what you do before you get to the floor where you, or your interlocutor, or both of you have to get off and go your separate ways.  The point is to inform the person asking about your business or profession in an interesting, memorable way so that a connection might be made.   With an effective elevator speech, ideally, the person listening will feel compelled to either take time to ask you more questions or ask for your business card to follow up, assuming such person has a need for the services or goods that you  have to offer.

The term “elevator speech” is a shorthand way of saying that you need to be able, in any setting, to tell someone what you do for a living in a way that is informative and engaging.  For example if someone were to ask me at a reception “What do you do?,” and I respond “I am an attorney” or “I am an author” or “I am a partner at the Hoogendoorn & Talbot law firm,” then such a response does not tell them much of anything and I may have missed a business development opportunity.

So there is utility in having a succinct, pithy description of what you do for a living.  In most situations, you will have more time than 45 seconds to talk about your work or business.

The elements of an effective elevator speech in my view:

  • Short
  • Illustrative of the kind of work you do
  • Memorable enough to differentiate you

My two different lawyer-oriented elevator speeches depend on the audience and context:

1) “I represent executives and professionals who are being hired or fired, or advise companies or organizations that are hiring or firing executives.”

2) “I am a business attorney who makes it possible for executives and entrepreneurs to sleep well at night.”

My first elevator speech’s punch line is the notion that I represent clients when executives are being hired or fired.  The subject matter itself catches people’s attention.

My second elevator speech’s punch line is the notion that my business counseling will fix problems and ease the legal stressors for my clients.  Relief from stress is always an attractive proposition.

If I am asked for more information, then I will provide a brief description of my law firm (history, size, practice concentrations and location) and maybe an example of a matter that I have handled.

Here are two other elevator speech examples that two intrepid executives have volunteered and subjected to my few tweaks –  I have made these executives and their companies anonymous:

A) “We enhance high performing management teams in middle market companies to create the greatest value for private equity investors. I do this at ‘Acme XYZ Company’ where I am managing partner and can bring a lot of resources to each relationship.”

B) “I am with ‘ACE ABC Partners.’ We do executive search and staffing for the      insurance industry.  We utilize our specialized expertise to find the right talent for our clients so they can remain focused on executing their strategic initiatives.”

You should try out different versions of your elevator speech and ascertain which one seems to elicit the most interest.

What’s your elevator pitch?

 

Copyright © 2019 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

 

RECIPROCAL COACHING

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By G. A. Finch

Have you ever set personal business, career or self-improvement goals, and you look up weeks and sometimes months later not having made progress on them?  You realize that you have been distracted and diverted by other challenges and tasks and your goals are in the doldrums.  Career, family and extracurricular demands get in the way.  Life happens.paper-3224643__480

You read, hear and know that you must set specific goals for yourself to get traction on your life’s ambitions.  You know further that it is preferable to have them in writing and with deadlines.  You know what to do, but it is not happening.

Try bi-lateral coaching.  Find a person you trust to be your coaching buddy.  You hold each other’s feet to the fire.  You meet to discuss your goals and why you have not met them.  You, of course, write them down with specific dates of completion.  You check in (preferably in person)  once a week with your coaching buddy and you tell each other what you have accomplished or not. Your goals may evolve over time.rottweiler-1785760__480

What is the effect of a coaching buddy?  Your knowing that you have to report to another human being on your progress toward your goals is a powerful motivator to get things done to achieve those goals.  It is called accountability.  What gets measured and reported gets done.  It is an inexpensive way to keep you motivated and on track.MH900071046

I am doing it now and it has helped to keep me focused and more on task.  I do not want to come up short when I report in to my coaching buddy, and, vice versa, nor does he.   It is a simple solution.  You do not need a drill sergeant or an expensive executive coach to kick you in the pants or encourage you – you just need someone to whom you made a commitment not to disappoint (other than yourself). For long range career development and holistic career counseling, an executive coach may be useful and needed.  For goal setting and execution, a coaching buddy is an effective tool you ought to try.

 

Copyright © 2018 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

EXECUTIVES’ JOB INTERVIEW READINESS: G. A. FINCH CHATS WITH COMMUNICATIONS COACH CORINNE VARGAS ABOUT INTERVIEWING

Job interviews are so fundamental to professional advancement.  Every executive has had a few times, if not many times, when the executive did not get the offer.  The executive may feel that the executive “blew” the interview.  The executive may be thinking: Was I too nervous?  Was I too rambling in my responses?  Did I not ask the right questions?  Was my body language off putting?  Was my voice too squeaky?

The executive will analyze the perceived failed interview a thousand different ways.  What is more frustrating is that many executives extensively prepare for interviews by researching the company and its people, anticipating kinds of questions, and practicing scripted answers.    They were prepared, or so they thought.

What most executives do not know about or consider is an interview coach.  Even at the pinnacle of their talents, world class athletes hire coaches to improve their “skills.”  Why wouldn’t you get help on how to nail a job interview?

My blog guest, Corinne Vargas, is just such a person who can help you “up your interview game.”  She is the founder of CVC Consulting, a firm that offers, among other services, coaching for professional and business interviews.

FINCH:   Corinne, we know that a successful interview has a huge impact on whether an executive makes it to the next round and hopefully receives a job offer.  Why do you think it does not occur to most executives that it is worth the investment to hire someone to hone their interviewing skills?

VARGAS:  In my experience, the investment is often not the barrier to hiring a coach. Instead, I have found many executives do not consider interview coaching and support for two reasons: 1) they are eager to start the process of finding a new position and feel they want to tackle it as quickly as possible, which often means alone, OR 2) do not know coaching is available for tailored situations. Unfortunately, many clients find coaches after attempting to tackle the process on their own and in various states of rejection, frustration, and desperation.

However, post-coaching, clients often express the lessened anxiety and frustration they felt during the process compared to going it alone. They explain having a coach “on their side” to help them through various steps in the process proved invaluable. Skilled coaches can help clients though different steps or aspects of the process including interview question preparation, nervous and anxious manifestations, content presentation, transition story framing and storytelling in the interview context. Coached clients frequently state feeling more control over the process and a higher level of confidence and preparedness, ultimately bolstering a better representation of personal brand and better outcomes.

Fire someone with witness

My advice to an executive in transition or looking to transition, is that it is worth the time to at least explore a coach as it can save time, frustration, and help you achieve your goals with more confidence, focus, and many times speed. If an executive decides to explore the option, they should look for an interview coach who provides focused, tailored coaching sessions offering perspective and actionable feedback.

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FIVE SUCCESS LESSONS FROM MOM

BY G. A. FINCH

My mother, Louise Antoinette Finch, passed away last month just two and half months shy of her 100th birthday. She is survived by all six of her sons and one daughter. As an older brother gave a eulogy and the priest gave a homily about my mother and what she represented spiritually, I ruminated about her legacy and the impact of her teachings. Although we are far from perfect as individuals and have had our own share of ups and downs, and some of the siblings may be viewed as more materially successful than other siblings, she obtained the same result from each of her children: all finished college and graduate or University_hatprofessional school. How did she do that? She had a few maxims to live by that she drilled into us. These aphorisms would benefit anyone (executive, professional, and others) seeking to get a leg up in life. I share five of the most salient ones below:

1. When you start something, whether it is a project, a task, a job, an extracurricular activity, or a degree program, you must complete it. My mother abhorred quitters and lack of follow through. She correctly knew that the lack of follow through was a serious impediment to success. So despite unfair teachers, mean camp counselors, arbitrary coaches or a tedious activity, we had to finish whatever program we started. To this day, my siblings and I talk about the little voice in our heads, when times got tough in medical, graduate or law school or in a demanding job, that repeated the mantra: “When you start something, you must finish it.”

2. When we complained of being sick, whether severely or lightly, real or imagined, my mother would say, “Get up, wash your face, brush your teeth, put on your clothes, eat some breakfast, go to school, and, if you are still feeling lousy, then call me.” By the time we did all those things, our ailments seem to Smile Face with Colddisappear or become sufficiently mitigated that we forgot that we were physically or psychologically under the weather. This was her ways of saying a) have a strong work ethic, b) “show up” to where you are supposed to be, and c) adjust your attitude. This anti-slacker and anti-lazy approach again carried me and my siblings through many a school and work day.

3. Surround yourself with quality people and people of integrity. Your friends and peers will make or break you and you will be judged by the company you keep. I think of the hyper academic high school that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend; the super intellectual students forced me to up my game and pull myself up from the mud of mediocrity. Counterintuitively, I did not find the competitive atmosphere intimidating because it actually inspired and stimulated me. My siblings and I have never gotten into serious trouble or arrested because our friends are sensible and have a lot of impulse control.HandcuffsMany a prison inmate laments associating with the “wrong crowd” or corrupting friend that landed him in jail.  In short, choose your friends, associates and peers very carefully.

4. Don’t lie or cheat. Being an honest person meant a lot to my mother. A person of character was the benchmark by which my mother evaluated people. She had an expression, “Pretty is, is as pretty does.” A variant was “Pretty on the inside is more important than being pretty on the outside.”

5. Lastly, my mother was a big one in standing up for yourself when another is perpetrating a wrong upon you or a family member or trying to diminish you or a family member. Mom taught us not to look for fights but not to allow ourselves to be victims. She led by example and did not wait around for my father to get home to go address an injustice at any level or push us out the door to face a bully.Boxing_glovesShe made it clear that this attitude and posture must be based on our position being legitimate and righteous as well as our being without fault.

 

Often times you do not have to travel far to learn self-evident truths; they can be found within the four Home-clipartwalls of your own upbringing without ever stepping outside your own front door. I hear my mother’s voice as I counsel my young daughter and young son about how to stand up to bullies and admonish them to finish their activities.

EXECUTIVE WRITING

BY G. A. FINCH

We know that it is important that an executive have good speaking skills whether it is one-on-one conversation, small group discussions or large meetings.  An executive must know how to make small talk as well as know how to give presentations.

What about writing?  Is your writing up to snuff?  Whether it is a note, memo, letter or lengthy report, and, especially a resume, your writing cannot be filled with misspellings, poor punctuation, bad grammar, or inappropriate use of vocabulary.  It leaves a poor impression and people will judge you, even if they themselves do not know the difference between “its” and “it’s.”Business Woman with laptop

An executive need not be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but she must write effectively and in an educated manner notwithstanding the declining writing standards in texts, tweets, emails, and posts.  Her using the vernacular and improper grammar simply will not do.

Unfortunately, thorough training in writing can be missing in one’s high school, college, and graduate school training.  The level of writing skills is very uneven.  For many educated people, they must teach themselves punctuation and grammar.  As there are plenty of good books and articles available on grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, this article will focus only on providing some practical guides to have in mind when writing for business.

There are many elements of effective business and professional writing.  Here are a few to start:

  1. Generally, shorter sentences are better than longer sentences; sometimes a complex thought requires a complex sentence.
  2. Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones.
  3. The fewer pages you can make a document without omitting critical information, the better.
  4. An active voice is more powerful than a passive voice; sometimes a passive voice just sounds better.
  5. Simpler words are better than complicated words, e.g. “walk” is better than “ambulate.”
  6. The fewer adjectives in your writing, the better, as the facts should be compelling enough for both writer and reader to form conclusions and recommendations.
  7. You should make sure you know how to use a word, e.g., when something is funny, it is “hilarious” and not “hysterical.”
  8. For long documents, your using headings and sub-headings will help guide the reader and break up dense writing.
  9. It is best to state your proposition or request at the beginning and then follow with arguments and evidence to support your proposition or request.
  10. If you have compelling data, use charts and graphs to illustrate your points as many people are visual learners.
  11. Triple check your numerical calculations and data; faulty numbers and simple numerical mistakes will destroy the credibility of your piece; a lack of attention to detail could be seen as a red flag of your possible sloppy habits and thinking.
  12. You should double-check to spell correctly a person’s or organization’s name  or place-name as people are sensitive about their names, affiliations, hometowns, or countries; and, again,  inattention to detail lowers the reader’s confidence in the writer.
  13. Never totally rely on word processing spell check as it cannot tell the difference between correctly spelled but wrong words like “to” and “too” or “be” and “bee” or “of” and “or.”
  14. Whether it is a four-sentence letter or a 30-page document, read it with a ruler at least three times and have someone else proof read it too; if you have the time, set the document aside a few days before doing a final proof read.
  15. Unless you are a novelist, poet, screenwriter, or playwright writing in those respective genres, do not use profanity, crude words, or off-color references in your business or professional writing.typing
  16. In formal writing, it is better to write out words fully and not use contractions like “can’t” and “don’t,”   because it adds a certain solemnity to the communication and shows respect for your audience.

As an executive or professional you are presumed to be educated, and your bosses, colleagues, clients, customers, and patients expect that you know how to write well.  You do not want to disappoint them.

Oh, and by the way – the only way to improve your writing is by writing.  Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

LEADERSHIP INSIGHTS FROM A C-SUITE VETERAN

G. A. Finch interviews Ronald E. Daly, a former President & CEO of Oce USA Holdings, former President of Donnelley Print Solutions, and a member of corporate boards of directors of US Cellular and SuperValu.

Ronald E.  Daly

Ronald E. Daly

FINCH: For our readers’ context and benefit, you and I have had opportunities to discuss leadership values and insights from our being alums of Leadership Greater Chicago Fellowship program and our both advising Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on policy matters as members of her kitchen cabinet. In these two fora, we have had an opportunity to discuss leadership issues in-depth. One of the things that I learned from you was the concept of initiating radical change to save or right an organization and you have referred to the “burning platform” change strategy that forward business thought leaders have utilized. As you first recounted and as I have since researched its genesis, the “burning platform” metaphor comes from an oil rig worker having to decide to either stay on a burning oil rig and definitely die, or jump into the freezing, flaming-detritus-filled ocean and have a very high likelihood of dying. Either prospect carried a catastrophic risk, but the jump had the slight possibility of prolonged survival.

Oil Rig Explosion

Oil Rig Explosion

This metaphor has been used to capsulize a leader’s dilemma of effecting radical change for the benefit of the business or organization. I know you are a fan of John Kotter’s Change Model. Kotter’s recommendation to create a sense of urgency concerning the necessity of change is akin to the burning platform impetus for radical change. What do you find compelling in Kotter’s change model and why?

DALY: I like Kotter because he is very upfront about the difficulty of achieving transformational change. He advocates a process for attacking any change initiative. He then goes ahead and provides a process. When implementing change there will be forces that stand in the way of success. The major force will be people who object because of fear, comfort with the status quo, or a belief that this, like all prior initiatives, will pass. To get the ball rolling you have to illustrate why your changed state is better than the status quo or that the current state is unsustainable. This is why you start with the burning platform. By the way I like your explanation of the burning platform better than the one I have been using.

FINCH: Have you had to confront your own mega or mini version of burning platforms in organizations in which you played a leadership role and what did you do to effect change?

DALY: Absolutely. I push Kotter as a method to use because I have had success with it. I spent most of my career in the printing business at R R Donnelley. The year I became president of the Telecom Group (1995), my group, like the rest of Donnelley was faced with increasing competition, unstable commodity prices, rapidly changing technology and customers aggressively seeking lower prices. I had an additional hurdle. Our board of directors had decided that Telecom was the most likely business to expand internationally. My boss let me know that I was expected to achieve this expansion without degrading profits from my US business. To finance international growth I had to find a way to make more profit.

From a cultural standpoint Donnelley had a huge problem stemming from internal competition. For a very long time Donnelley had no external competition of our size and scale. The leaders of the business had set up internal competition between printing plants. The objective was to beat the other plants in efficiency so that your operation would be the best place for the sales force to bring sold work. CompetitionthThis competition led to open hostility inside and a lack of attention to what outside competition was doing. Plants were very adept at using different accounting methods to measure throughput so comparisons were difficult. Sharing best practices was a no-no. This had to change.

Over the next five years we were able to implement a new business model. We moved from the focus on being the low-cost provider. This model had us lower costs so we could compete with lower prices. We moved to a model of customer intimacy. This model steered us toward being a solutions provider. In doing so we had to learn so much about our customers that we probably knew more about them than they knew about themselves. In achieving this we became the industry thought leader. We used our knowledge and technology from other Donnelley printing markets to bring new revenue generating products to our customers. Becoming a part of our customer’s revenue equation took pressure off prices we were paid as we got a premium over competition.

On the cost side we shed the ideas that printing was a craft and not a science. Over the next five years we instituted statistical process control, multi variable testing, six sigma and 5S. We saw efficiency improve greatly and quality take huge leaps forward. We put in processes to stabilize our earnings. We developed a common dictionary and implemented activity-based costing that made comparisons and sharing easier.

Business ChartWe used quarterly business reviews, monthly conference calls and yearly leadership conferences to work the communications and cultural side of this change effort. We did lots of round tables to bring employees into the loop. We used a process called OGSM to cascade high-level objectives to the lowest levels of the organization so that every employee knew their role in achieving our goal.

The market knowledge we had allowed us to become intimate with international publishers thirsty for ideas to grow their businesses. We were not a threat as were U S publishers trying to take market share from them. We helped them and we signed contracts to print for them. Being the low price supplier wasn’t what they wanted from us.

Over my seven years in Telecom, we became the most profitable of all the Donnelley printing businesses, we more than doubled the size of the business globally, we were the most efficient directory printer in the world and we were the market leader on four continents. Kotter’s model was instrumental in achieving this.

FINCH: What three things would you advise a brand new CEO beginning his tenure at a different company?

DALY:

1. Do your best to understand the culture. Culture eats strategy for lunch. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue your strategy but you need to understand the cultural hurdles you face. Then use Kotter.

2. Do a thorough assessment of your management team. You cannot achieve your goals without the proper support and talent.

3. Realize that saying something doesn’t make it so. Too many leaders issue an edict and expect people to fall in line. They don’t, so you must be prepared to be a driver in achieving your goals.Bossth

FINCH: What challenges are different for CEOs in 2014 that were not present ten or even five years ago?

DALY: The concept of maximum shareholder value and activist shareholders are more brutal today than ten years ago. International competition continues to intensify. A problem that concerns me most is the inability of our educational systems to produce adequate human capital to fill the jobs of the future.

FINCH: If you could go back in time to visit your 25-year old self, what one piece of career advice would you give?

DALY: I have been pretty consistent in saying that if you expect your company to invest in you; you must be willing to invest in yourself. I spent eight of ten years in the 1970’s going to night school to achieve an AA, BA and MBA. This helped me move from the factory floor to the executive suite.

If I were to give a second piece of advice it would be, “if you want to influence a culture, you must be a part of that culture.”

FINCH: Do you think American graduate business schools are sufficiently training students to be effective and innovative executives and leaders? What could B-schools be doing better?

DALY: I do not. We do a great job of preparing them to do a job but not necessarily to think. I think more focus on subjects outside of the major would be beneficial for students to have a larger worldview. I would like to see more focus on critical thinking embedded in course work along with more research work and written exams.

FINCH: You have been President and/or CEO of companies and on the boards of directors of two major companies. Are personal relationships and executive search firms the only paths to a corporate board directorship? If so, what can be done to broaden the pool of qualified candidates who are not the “usual suspects” coming from a certain background or gender.Board RoomthCAUQCDTM

DALY: You have nailed it. Boards still rely on relationships and search firms. Too many boards simply look to the usual suspects to find the person to fill the next opening. As much as there is talk about diversity, boards still look for people who look like the ones they have. These new ads may be female or minority but they are very much like the existing members or they won’t be chosen. An alternative place to look may be organizations like Leadership Greater Chicago. This would require a change in focus for LGC however.

FINCH: Finally, when you were a CEO and as a member of corporate boards of directors, what have you observed to be the best way to identify and develop executive talent within an organization?

DALY: The best way is to have a process that evaluates internal talent. The results of this process must be on the radar for every top executive and should be reviewed by the board at least annually. The process should provide development plans for those leaders that are viewed as having upward potential. Development plans should exist for those who are not on a fast track but are deemed essential to managing the enterprise. Finally those who are not deemed essential, nor on a fast track should be given improvement programs. If no improvement, then they should be removed from the organization. Evaluations should be calibrated so a high potential is really of high potential and not listed as such because of an easy rating boss or a personal relationship.

Copyright © 2014 by G. A. Finch. All rights reserved.