Creating Work/Life Balance

How does She Do It? Creating Work/Life Balance

I am many things, there is not one thing that defines me. I am a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend and an executive.  I have chosen to throw in the mix working mom because I enjoy my career. This is where I excel. But like with all choices, there are challenges. My largest challenge is  struggling everyday to be fully present with my family and friends and creating a work/life balance. There always seems to be multi-tasking happening in my head: did I sign the permission slip, I need to return that email, Oh I have a great idea to implement at work, what we are having for dinner tomorrow, the girls outgrew their shoes again. The competing demands for things I want to do and things that just need to happen are always creating tension and stress. Five strategies I have learned to use manage these as best I can are: Amazon Prime. No sooner have I realized that the girls are out of toothpaste, that I am able to have it shipped to the house by the next day, for free. Hire others. I am good at a lot of things, cleaning the house and yard work are not my strong points. I learned to delegate at work, I do the same at home. Double batch cooking.  I love to cook, but trying to get a healthy dinner on the table within 30 minutes of getting home from work is a challenge. When I cook, I try and make enough that will provide a couple of nights of leftovers or freeze portions for another time.  Conference calls.  Managing certain conference calls while doing the laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Mindless tasks with our hands that can be done while being brilliant on the phone. Multi-purpose lunches. I schedule lunch meetings in places that are convenient for other errands that need to be done. Need to pick up a prescription? I have lunch near the drugstore. Have dry cleaning to be dropped off? There is a great restaurant to meet a colleague next door. Everyday at work I look for ways to create efficiencies. How to do things smarter, faster, more cheaply. What can I stop doing because it isn’t adding value? What can I delegate to other team members? Bringing those valuable lessons home has helped to create some sanity and more time to spend in the areas I love. I am still learning everyday how to be fully present, but each of these strategies has helped me to get closer to my goal.

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How to End a Relationship before it Begins

We recently had to negotiate a contract with a potential client that we ultimately through the negotiation process decided was not a client we wanted. It wasn’t because the work wasn’t in our core area of expertise or that the client wouldn’t be profitable, under both these measures it should have been a perfect client for us. It was because of the way their executive team behaved during contract negotiations. The two executives from the client spent the hour on the phone with us trying to intimidate and bully us. They refused to discuss points that were at issue, dismissed any of our concerns out of hand, and yelled, screamed and berated us that if we wanted their business we had to except their demands. They acted school yard bullies. I have experienced behavior like this throughout my career during negotiations, while never at this extreme. What I have found is that acting like a bully  may give you what you want at the moment but in the end,  it does not create a partnership or an internal advocate. Inevitably in any relationship there’s going to be some downs and you want your partner to rally for you. But when they remember your poor treatment of them, they will not go the extra mile that you need them most to support you. By setting the relationship up for success from the very beginning by building a partnership at initial relationship and contract creates mutual and sustainable benefit for both parties. In the end, we want all our partners to be profitable and happy so they can continue to give us their best. If we take that opportunity from them, we only get sub-par performance with a lack of passion. We realized with this particular potential client, that success would be elusive no matter how hard we tried. They would be an emotional drain our team so the team would not be able to deliver their best.  No matter how important our revenue goals were for year, our ability to successfully deliver for a client and our team members was more important.

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Beautiful Oops..Creating Better Outcomes

My 6 year old daughter was drawing last night and she kept messing up the picture from what she thought the outcome should be.  She was getting very upset with herself because she couldn’t draw what she wanted. This was a great teaching moment to go over what I love to call “Beautiful Oops”. This is when you take the drawing (a euphemism for life) and turn what you have into something else completely wonderful. You end up in a place that you would have never dreamed of had the envisioned project  gone according to plan.This is just what my daughter did, she took what was suppose to be a dog and turned it into a beautiful scene of our family. It is when the outcome of Plan B or C or D is better than Plan A. This has happened several times for me whether it is losing a valuable team member and finding out that her leaving allowed a new organization structure that is better for growth, a miscommunication about a feature to be developed within a software application that lead to the creation of a new product,  or losing the budget for a new application when we were about to sign the contract only to be able to sign it six months later at a significantly reduced price. It is when Plan B or C or D is better than Plan A.  A beautiful oops is finding the value of going down a unexpected path and discovering the possibilities rather than mourning what did not happen.

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Loving wine taught me to maximize strengths

I have a love of wine. I have been asked many times how did I learn about wine and know which wines to buy. I believe wine is a truly personal endeavor. It is all about what you like and what you enjoy. And the best part, is to learn about wine, you have to try a lot of wines as no two wines are exactly the same.  Sometimes I open a bottle and the wine is wonderful, other times it is fine but not one I will try again and a few times, the wine  gets poured down the sink. But I never lose the joy of opening a bottle and trying something new. The reason each bottle can be different is each wine maker has to take each wine harvest where they had the same fields, the same vines but different environment each year and determine its key attributes and work to highlight its strengths. Then as each harvest gets bottled, it can take on unique characterics. To achieve a vintage that stands out from the competition, a wine maker must capitalize on the strengths of each vintage.

Maximizing strengths of each component of the business

We have a member on our team that was struggling. We knew he was talented but the talent wasn’t being consistently displayed and he was failing in key areas that were critical for his success. We tried to prop him up by providing training in the areas of need, by giving him mentorship and hiring team members around him that displayed these necessary skills. After several conversations, we found that he had lost his way. He was playing in an area that was outside his core skill area and  he wasn’t passionate enough about it to embrace uncomfortableness of it to learn it. He was in a state of constant floundering.  What we learned was that we were playing to his weaknesses and not to his strengths. We had placed him in an area that didn’t allow him to use his core talents and passion to be successful. Just as every wine maker, analyzes his vintage to bring out the best in it, we need to do the same with our team members. We need to recognize and understand the areas that they can truly excel and place them in roles that give them this opportunity.

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5 Thoughts on Building an Advisory Board

I have been asked a few times recently on how an entrepreneur should look at and build an advisory board. Here are 5 thoughts on building an advisory board to gain the most value by having diversity of thought and ideas.  Define what you are looking to see in an advisory board.  What skills are you looking to have surround you? What are areas that you aren’t as strong in and want to have advisors help you learn? What are areas the business needs more depth – roles that you don’t have within your team? What industries is your business playing in that their rolex will be helpful in making connections for you? Understand what you want from an advisor. Do you want them to mentor you or the company? Do you want them to give advice and you make the decisions on what to do with that advice or do you want them to help you run the company? These answer will help define how you interact with them. If you want them to mentor you – than it is typically more of an informal situation where you build relationships and meet with them on a semi-routine basis say 2x a year or when you need their advice. If you are looking to build more of a board of advisors where they collectively provide advice on the business then more formal meetings 1x-4x a year are fairly traditional. The answer also depends on how much you want to spend too. If its informal, your cost is more a lunch or dinner, a phone call. A more formal set up could be travel, hotel, meeting rooms etc. A stipend for them early on is not typically expected but, you also get what you pay for.  Be honest with yourself. Do you want individuals who are going to tell you what you want to hear, or advisors that will provide you constructive and meaningful feedback to help you grow your business. How will you take this information – discount it? state they don’t know your business like you do? or evaluate their feedback, solicit other inputs, see how their feedback can be applied. Care and feeding of the advisory board. It takes time to build these relationships and gain value from them. You will need to put the work into fostering and nurturing the relationships and making them feel like they are a valuable part of your team. If they see you are listening and implementing their advice, they will freely give more. If they see their advice falling on deaf ears, they may refrain from participating. This doesn’t mean you have to take their advice, just that explaining why you didn’t, is just as important. How to approach potential advisory board members.  Once you have identified people that you would like to have, find how you have connections into them and use them. Ask for introductions. If you need to make blind connections, be honest and let them know how their expertise could help you, for example:  “You are building a business, and would love their insights into how to build a sales team”. People love to talk and share about what they know.

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The value in setting stretch goals

One of the largest accelerators in my career was a manager when I first started out telling me that I wasn’t up for an early promotion. I never took his words as demoralizing, I took them as genuine feedback on how to achieve the stretch goals I wanted. I also didn’t take that as a “no”. I simply took it as “try harder”, which is exactly what I did.  I asked him what I need to do to earn that promotion, I did it and I ended up getting that early promotion. In the end, the manager congratulated me for proving him wrong and I thanked him for setting the bar higher and  because it made me better. We’ve all heard the story of the grade the founder of FedEx got on his business plan for FedEx, or how Walt Disney was told he had no artistic talent, or how Kate Winslet was told she would never be a great actress. The assumptions are that their reviewer’s never saw their talent. I prefer to look at it as one of the steps they each had to take to strengthen their talent to achieve greatness. Would they have achieved the level of accomplishment or success if they weren’t told “no” or given a higher bar to reach. If they were told “nice job”, would they have just plodded along and achieved success but not greatness? We should think about this as we conduct performance reviews and give daily feedback to our teams. Are we helping them grow and achieve their success by only saying  “good job”? If we give them a higher bar, provide them specific and direct actions or improvements to make, could they achieve a higher level of success. If we challenge our team to reach their potential by giving them what may be the hard truth, aren’t we helping them be the best they can be?  Are you being their best manager by simplying patting them on their heads? Think about how you can restructure your words to actually motivate and encourage your team to stretch.

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Has your board propelled a digital strategy?

Today, the digital revolution is shaping how you do business. It is difficult to have a conversation about your business that does not include a discussion around technology and a digital strategy.  It is imperative for companies to have a strategic plan that harnesses the power of digital to create innovate and differentiated products that engages and excites your client base. These plans require the company’s board to be technology savvy  advisors in order to assist the CEO on continual product innovation strategies that strengthens revenue and allows the company to remain relevant to its customers.

Digital revolution is a key priority for CEO and boards

Businesses at the forefront of the digital revolution are seeing higher engagement from their customers and they are also receiving higher rates of return from investors based on research conducted by OpenMatters with input from Deloitte & Touche LLP . Traditional businesses, those that make, market and sell physical products and traditional services  are still struggling to find a way to embrace technology and as a result are encountering lower market valuations. Digitally focused enterprises are receiving between 5x and 8x price to earning ratio where traditional businesses are receiving 2x to 3x price to earnings ratios. The disruptive power of digital technologies will produce new business models, product and services. Gartner’s 2014 CEO survey  found that “CEOs rank digital marketing as the No. 1 most important tech-enabled capability for investment over the next five years.” Do you have the right board in place to for a company that needs to be constantly innovating and disrupting?

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How to Create Gender Diversity

There has been a lot of discussion around the lack of gender diversity in companies, while this is truly an issue across all industries, it is particularly evident in technology and even more so in the management ranks of software firms. Diving into the reasons for this dichotomy, you have to go as far back as elementary school because that is when many young girls opt out of science and math related subjects.  31% of girls in elementary school say they are good at math; but by middle school that number drops to 18%.  Yet, based on  a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released in 2013,  15-year-old girls around the world, outperform boys in science and math. Girls interest lowers in science and math related subjects for multiple reasons: girls learn these subjects differently than boys and classes are taught to the boy’s learning traits; and a larger reason, which appears later in their professional careers as well, is girls may lack the confidence in subjects that  require testing, and dare I say, mistakes as of the learning process. Girls, as a generalization, have a tendency to prefer possessing the right answer each time and may choose not to take on a challenge unless they know they will do it perfectly.

The gender diversity takes on another twist when you consider women earn less than men across the board in any industry. In 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent ( Some of this delta can be explained by the larger proportion of males in leadership positions than females when looking at the average salaries across the genders. The decreasing interest rate in the science and math classes during formative school years combined with family and societal demands during childbearing years when women tend to take on less challenging and complex assignments particularly if they require after-hour time commitments or travel in order to focus more time with their families, the rate of women in the management ranks will naturally be lower than the men’s.  This is evident the S&P 500 the labor force which is made up of  45% women at the entry level, while at the mid management it drops to 37% and further drops to 25% at the  senior management level (see 2013 EEO-1 Survey Data as displayed by Catalyst. org ) .

In my career as a female technology company executive,  I have found there are three key ways that women can excel in technology management roles.   By developing these skills, women are able to take on new challenges and rise to higher levels within an organization.

Confident: Women have a tendency to not make the ‘ask’ , women assume they will be recognized for their work and opportunities will follow.  A man will straight up ask for the raise, ask for the promotion, ask for the job, ask for the more challenging assignment. This is an area where women need to act more like a man.  Show the confidence in their own skills and be willing to stand up for them.  Women’s desire for perfection also appears here when looking at new assignments or new positions. Internal research at HP showed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements. Women need to be more willing to take chances and use past experiences to demonstrate their ability to take on new roles. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with a little ‘faking it until you make” when you have the confidence to try until you are successful. (see McKinsey Quarterly “ A Business Case for Women” Capable: Women need to continue to build their skills, learn new technologies and take on challenges and complex assignments that may be outside their comfort zone. Women need to be comfortable with the process of trying and learning.  It is difficult to demonstrate the ability to advance to the next level until they have continuously gone  above what is expected of them in order to establish they have the desire, skills and expertise to take on larger roles. Contribute: Women must be present to be considered. Given the larger demands on time that leadership roles present, as well as the timing in women’s career when she is likely to start a family, women drop out of the workforce or decline to take on larger roles within an organization  in order to create a work/life balance that is appropriate for their families.  Balancing a family and a leadership role is time challenging. You have to want it to make it work. It’s about finding a support system to help you create your own sense of balance and achievement as well as a willingness to make choices on the priorities that are important and a willingness to not feel guilty about the areas you choose not to focus upon.  This is most definitely an evolving art that changes as your family grows up and your work role iterates.

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Skating Lessons: Learning to Fall

I recently took my girls ice skating. Both of them have been skating before and have had a few lessons. After making it around the rink one time, my oldest daughter falls. As I reach down to help her up,  she states “ Mom, I know how to get up, that is the first thing they teach you- is to how to fall and how to get up”.   What an enlightened statement!

Everything we are taught from day one is how to be perfect. Get an 100% on a test, get an A in the subject, be the first in your class, be a star performer. We have school systems that teach to the test, rather than teach to the objective. Nowhere does our systems teach and reward learning to try. We are never taught to fail, much less how to get back up again. 

This creates mindsets  that we need to get it right the first time, every time, which creates conservative and cautious  behaviors. This seems counterintuitive to the skills and attributes of the team members we want on our team. We want individuals to take risks, try something new, and move our companies forward. But this isn’t possible if our reward systems only value the right answer every time. 

I failed in my first attempt to be CFO. It was a miserable place to be – knowing that I tried and I didn’t get it right. And then, after a bit, I brushed myself off and went on to apply the lessons I learned to my next CFO role. It was the most valuable lesson of my career. I learned that I could stretch outside my comfort zone, try something new, fail and still be successful. That lesson allowed me to take smart risks freely going forward because I realized that failing wasn’t such a bad thing – it was just a learning experience.

To help everyone get more comfortable with failing consider this sport analagy – probably the one and only one you will ever see in my blogs.  Every sport player gets cheered when they  hit the objective only a certain percentage of the time: hole in one, home runs, ice skating scores etc,.  These achievements  don’t happen every day even for athletes who practice doing them  every day. Why do we expect our team members to do it right  the first time? Everyone needs some practice, some tries and the comfort zone to know they will be rewarded for the try. Then, and only then, will the odds work in their favor and  the company’s favor.

Consider your reward systems, do you have any that give kudos to someone who tried but maybe did not succeed? How about do you create a safety zone, give air cover to your team members who stretch outside their comfortable zone?  What are you doing to create an environment of learning for individuals to take a smart risk?

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Importance of a Tech Savvy Audit Committee

Audit committees need to be technology savvy to understand how cybersecurity, hacking and other securities breaches can create major financial risk exposures for companies.  While, technology usually falls into the bailiwick and domain of the CTO or the CIO, the ever-changing landscape of technology, software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service offerings along with virtual clouds, technology now also needs to be the focus of the CFO and the Audit Committee. The risk and threats associated with these technology advancements, creates a enterprise wide risk that could impact a company’s financial strength, its reputation and its growth strategies. 

We have seen in the past 2 years, multiple examples of how security breaches has lead to significant financial losses for enterprises through an increase in expenses, loss in revenue, distraction of reputation and brand equity plus the high cost of leadership distraction. Two high profile examples are, Target experiencing a data breach in which an intruder gained unauthorized access to its network and stole credit card information which as of their third quarter 2014 results has cost them total net breach-related expenses of $158 million; and Home Depot which as of its third quarter has experienced direct expenses of $35 million related to expenses to cover its credit card breach related expenses. What isn’t reflective in these amounts are the revenue declines these companies also experienced, Target saw a 46% year-over-year drop in profits in Q4 2013, when the news of the data breach surfaced. These risks aren’t limited to just financial system breaches, the leak of emails and other confidential data at Sony, has caused them to lose revenue, brand and trust with their partners, customers and suppliers. There is also the cost of distraction. When leadership teams are forced to focus on the reactive, on defensive postures and trying to assure customers they can be trusted, they are not focused on the growth of the business.

Data Security

Security issues have become one of the biggest sources of reputation risk for companies, second only to ethics and integrity scandals, according to “Reputation@Risk,” a global survey and report from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL). Security has even outpaced, albeit by a slight margin, product safety and customer service issues as a leading cause of reputation risk. And these risks aren’t limited to hacking or other illegal activities. SafeNet conducted a data breach study which showed that internal careless mistakes has led to 24% of all data breaches.

This Safenet study also showed there has been a nearly 25% increase in breaches in the third quarter of 2014 compared to the same quarter last year.  CFO’s and by extension the Audit Committees should be knowledgeable and current on risks within their industry and the limitation and weaknesses within their business processes.  It should be understood which of these risks could be a major threat to the company’s growth strategies and financial health.

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