Branch Out - A Podcast from Connection Builders

Leading Your Team In Professional Services - Howie Siegal

July 19, 2021 Connection Builders Episode 49
Branch Out - A Podcast from Connection Builders
Leading Your Team In Professional Services - Howie Siegal
Show Notes Transcript
Leading your team through a project is like building a house. You need a good understanding of the house you want to build, sturdy foundations, and a variety of contractors, each with their own set of expertise. Today we sit down with Howie Siegal, an audit partner at RSM, to find out how he leads his teams through projects. To open our conversation, Howie tells us about the first steps he takes when a project commences. Regardless of the project, Howie says it's imperative to build the right kind of team. Yet, the path to curating a team is always different, and it is important to create one that caters to the client's specific needs. We then turn our focus onto the next step of the process: speaking with stakeholders. As Howie tells us, this phase will provide you with additional information that will help your team execute their tasks. Following this, we find out how to bring ideas to fruition. Howie details some of the ways this can happen and shares examples like having a whiteboard session where factors are listed, deliverables are recognized. To do this, your team needs to be aligned. Later in the show, Howie tells us how he reaches consensus within a team, and why it is essential to embrace different perspectives between members. We then shine a light on one of the more important tools a project leader can use — a timeline. Timelines are versatile as they represent the project journey and help keep the team and its individuals accountable. To conclude our conversation with Howie, he touches on why project feedback from clients is important, even if you failed to secure them in the first place. Be sure to join us today!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • The first thing Howie does when a project commences. 
  • Hear why the path to building a team is always different and how to shape a team around a specific project.
  • The next steps to take once you have created your project-specific team.
  • Howie shares why he arranges meetings to arrange meetings.
  • Find out how you can bring an idea that's in your head to fruition.
  • How Howie builds consensus and alignment within his teams.
  • Fundamental questions to ask your team when its members have vastly different interpretations of information.
  • The importance of implementing a project using a timeline.
  • Howie talks about how to motivate your team.
  • Asking what we can do to ensure that we are growing and better the next time around?
  • We hear why feedback can be so valuable to a team and its leader.
Howie Siegal on LinkedIn
Howie's Previous Branch Out Episode
Howie Siegal on Twitter
RSM
Alex Drost LinkedIn
Branch Out Podcast LinkedIn
Connection Builders LinkedIn

Have thoughts or comments? We want to hear from you. [email protected]

[INTRODUCTION]

[0:00:04.5] AD: Welcome to Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[0:00:20.7] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host Alex Drost. Today, we have a returning guest, Howie Siegal, an audit partner with RSM. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to our previous episode where we discuss that leadership is a behavior and not a title. Make sure to go back and check it out.

For today’s conversation, Howie and I discuss what it takes to lead a project to completion in professional services. I hope you all enjoy 

[0:00:46.8] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network, we are on LinkedIn, search for Connection Builders.

[INTERVIEW]

[0:00:54.1] AD: Howie, welcome back to The Branch Out Podcast.

[0:00:57.1] HS: Good morning sir, how are you doing?

[0:00:57.9] AD: I am doing great and I am looking forward to talking about leading through projects today and for our listeners, Howie and I have been chatting for the last half hour or so and just talking about what it means to lead a team and how do you just get stuff done, right?

We’re all professionals and our listener base we’re professional service providers, you work in an environment where at the end of the day, you do work for clients and you have to get things done. They’re largely project based in many cases. That can be really tough at times to bring the team together and when you’re in that position of moving the ball forward and we’re just going to have an open dialogue about what it means to lead through a project and how to do that successfully.

Howie, let’s start with you’re kicking off a project and that could be, you have been asked to put a proposal together for a client or you’re kicking off a new engagement doing a KPI analysis or you are in a transaction-based world and you’re kicking off a cell site engagement. At the end of the day, you’re kicking off a project, what’s the first thing you do?

[0:02:01.7] HS: First thing that I always look at when an opportunity comes to me. Again, regardless of whether it’s an RFP or an internal project or you know, whatever it may be is I got to build a team and – 

[0:02:15.4] AD: Why?

[0:02:16.4] HS: Initially, projects, RFP’s, they come in and they’re a little bit daunting at first. Lots of information, they’re looking for a specific service that you may be the perfect person for or just kind of a tertiary support person for and you need to get the right team in place.

[0:02:38.2] AD: Absolutely.

[0:02:39.1] HS: To give you the different perspectives you need to be able to ultimately execute on whatever the task, whatever the project is.

[0:02:47.6] AD: You can’t do it alone, you need multiple perspectives so you start with building your team.

[0:02:52.3] HS: Absolutely. The path to building a team, it changes depending on what it is. If it’s consulting driven, you know, bringing my industry experts, bringing my consulting experts, look at some other people that might be plugged into the market that know these individuals that are asking for their proposal, if it’s more auditor tax, you kind of bring in those folks so you have to be able to kind of pivot a little bit and know your resources internally to start building that team and you know, the important thing is, the team evolves, it’s fluid, there isn’t, “You know, here’s the three people I need and we’re done.”

There are no bad reach outs, there are no bad conversations when you're kind of in the first phase of exploring, who do I need to talk to, who is going to have great perspectives to help me craft this proposal, this project, whatever it may be.

[0:03:40.0] AD: If I’m hearing you right too, I’m hearing more than just your internal resources but really, your bench of people. Whether that’s I think sometimes we’re a team, we’re thinking about people that we’re directly working with then yes, that is a component of that but I’m also hearing you talk about, you’re looking to what knowledge and resources and insights can you gain to help you be smarter on what you’re trying to accomplish on whatever the project is.

First, I think what’s important to point out here, we’re not diving into just doing the project, we’re not just starting the work immediately. The first thing we’re doing is we’re looking for the people that we’re going to stack around us to help us be successful in completing whatever that project is, is that a fair way of putting it?

[0:04:19.7] HS: That is a fair way.

[0:04:19.8] AD: Okay, we’ve now identified those people, those resources that are around us and some of those might be frankly a sign to us or just be, if we’re a smaller firm or a smaller team, we may already know what those are but we can still be looking for who do we know on our network, who do we know elsewhere that can give us some guidance and insight that understands the nature of the project that we’re doing.

Part of that is we have the mindset that we certainly don’t know it all and we certainly can always gain new perspectives and it takes more than just me to accomplish anything. I’ve built my resources or at least I have a starting idea of who is going to be part of that team or that group or resources to get the project done. What’s my next step, where do I go from here?

[0:05:00.1] HS: Talking with all the stakeholders is really the next step. Depending on the project, it might be a prospect, it might be the client, it might be an internal team, start getting information and information gathering from the stakeholders. The same way you initially started out reaching out to your internal team members to get perspective to get insights to find what might be very strong in response. 

You go to the stakeholders because they’re the ones that are asking for the work. They’re the ones that are going to be the beneficiary of the work, so pulling together their insights and asking the questions around what they’re looking for, what their strategy is, what their vision is, helps our team further hone in on our vision of what we plan to present or what we plan to execute.

[0:05:49.1] AD: I’m hearing you say stakeholders and I like that, it’s not, go to the client. Yes, the client is part of who you’re going to but you’re going to the stakeholders, you’re going to your understanding who is going to be impacted by the project you're doing or who is going to be the beneficiary, whoever is going to be impacted or benefit from the work is who you want to talk to, your stakeholders, right?

Now, we’ve done that after we’ve established a little bit of our team on the outside, a little bit of our resources for us so that we’re going into that conversation smart. We’re going to that conversation having some idea of what we’re trying to do and having some available resources going into that. We then have the conversation with the stakeholders, we understand what they’re trying to accomplish and then you said, what this is really leading to is creating a vision for what you’re going to do, whether that be the proposal, the project, the deliverable, whatever it is. Putting together, here’s the vision of what we’re actually going to be doing as a team, right?

[0:06:45.8] HS: Yeah, I want to add one point Alex that you mentioned, which is before we talk to the stakeholders or the prospect or the client, we did our intel first.

[0:06:55.5] AD: Did your homework.

[0:06:56.2] HS: Exactly and a big part of what I do as a leader, as a professional is I prepare to have meetings that are preparing. There is a call where I have to talk with an industry expert and I have to take down notes and thoughts prior to even calling someone in my own firm so that I’m able to convey my thoughts, able to convey where I think this is going to them. I don’t just pick-up the phone and say, “Hey, I got a great opportunity, give me your brain dump.”

I want to be able to have a two-way conversation and that’s an extension of, I think in our previous podcast, I talked about, when someone comes to me and asks for help, I say, “What did you do first?” I want to be able to coach myself up along the way in advance of having other conversations so that I can play ball so to speak and have a two-way conversation.

Then those two-way conversations is then, translate to when I talk to the client and I’m already well down the road of being able to ask intelligent questions and pointed questions and really drive thought provoking questions, not just “What’s your five year strategy?”

[0:08:04.6] AD: Well, because at the end of the day, in professional services, you’re being hired to solve some kind of a problem. Even when you’re just delivering a KPI DAC, there’s a problem, there’s a challenge, there’s something they’re paying you, they’re going outside of their organization to hire you to do a project. 

Again, this is whether you’re in the process of proposing on a project or just plain executing on the project. You are solving a problem and what I’m hearing you say is you got smart in the industry, you got smarter than challenges. You want it to walk into that conversation, knowing as much as you could so that you can ask intelligent questions and truly get to the root of what’s trying to be solved. What the real problems are so that ultimately, whatever work you’re doing, again, it’s getting to the root of the challenge, correct?

[0:08:48.8] HS: Correct. Intellectual curiosity is a very important quality to have as a professional, you have to want to learn and understand and solve.

[0:08:59.8] AD: It’s being a lifelong learner, right? In which I think it’s fundamental to professional success and so we know that, we know that we need to learn, we’ve gained all the knowledge we can, we’ve now crafted a little bit of a vision, we’ve come up with and again, we’re talking as if we’re leading the project. If I am leading the project, I’m completing this proposal, we’ll use this as the example right now. I’m completing your proposal, I have in my head, come up with some ideas, I’ve talked to the stakeholders, I’ve talked to some other people, I’ve gotten smarter in the industry. I have an idea in my head of what I want to deliver, what I want to be able to show to the client. What do I do with that idea?

[0:09:36.0] HS: Talk to your team internally.

[0:09:38.3] AD: Okay.

[0:09:38.5] HS: Share that vision.

[0:09:39.4] AD: Share the vision.

[0:09:40.5] HS: Talk about that vision, have a call, have a meeting, have a whiteboarding session to make sure that everybody agrees on the vision, what the important factors are, what the important deliverables are, that the important messaging should be. 

Because even in that process, even after you’ve done all your reconnaissance, other people might have ideas that pop into their head as they’re learning from what you’ve uncovered and you want to just get everything out on the table. There are no bad ideas, no bad thoughts, you want to create good debates as you go through the process. 

It only helps make that vision more honed to that client or prospect, more specific and hopefully what becomes more meaningful to the process.

[0:10:29.9] AD: I would throw out there that not only does it help hone better, the vision and what you’re trying to accomplish, it also gets buy in from the team, right? I want to back up and you said whiteboard and anyone who is ever been to the connection builder’s office knows that we love white words, Howie and I are sitting here in a room full of whiteboards right now and there’s a reason for that for myself and it’s because I think when you’re communicating with people and even with yourself and trying to evolve ideas and thoughts, it’s really important to write things down. 

It’s really important to put stuff on paper where everyone is looking at it or on the wall where everyone is looking at it at the exact same time and you're talking about it together, right? Because part of that, that’s communications, we communicate with each other and all too often, we’ll just sit around the table or we’ll jump on a call and talk about it and not write anything down and that’s okay for certain steps of the project but if this is a really important aspect of bringing everyone together and coming up with what exactly you're going to do and bringing a vision together, I think it’s critically important that you are together, not necessarily together in a room but that you have a shared visualization that you’re writing things down or tracking notes together so that the words that you are saying and what you all are agreeing that you’re trying to accomplish, everyone’s thoughts is getting captured and you're all seeing it together. 

You’re all seeing it the same time because it’s really easy to walk away from a conversation like that and have people have three different thoughts of what you actually talked about, right? Writing that down becomes very important. Now, we’ve written that down and part of what’s happening in that process. We’re listening open minded. We as the leader don’t believe we know all the answers, we are seeking ideas for everyone else, we’re capturing those thoughts. 

We’re honing in on what we want the vision to be and we’re going to gain buy in from our team along the way because our team feels like they’re contributing to what’s going to actually happen, what the final project is, instead of just being told, “Here’s what you’re going to do.” They’re contributing thoughts is how we accomplish it, right? Now we’ve got people ready to go.

[0:12:20.9] HS: Yeah, it bleeds into alignment a little bit. As you’re honing that vision and putting it out there, you're creating alignment with your team, you’re building that consensus, you’re building that buy in so that everybody on that core team agrees as to the direction, the projects going, the vision’s going. Has their ownership, has their accountability, they know what their focus is going to be on in the project. RFP.

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[0:12:49.1] ANNOUNCE: This is Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[0:12:58.9] AD: We have alignment, I like that. We’re building the alignment through the buy in. Everyone is on the same page, we know what we’re trying to accomplish, everyone knows what we’re moving towards and that’s so important. If you ever worked on a team where people think differently or where people are going into different directions, you realize how easy it is for things to get off track and nothing to be accomplished, right?

We want to build that alignment, we want to make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction, everyone knows what they’re working on and a key component behind that is really making sure you’ve heard the thoughts of your team and that you’ve incorporated the thoughts or helped to clearly communicate your thoughts about what you’re doing, right? 

You’re the leader, you have to call the ball. At the end of the day, you call the final ball, what’s going to get done. That’s your job. But you have to have your team aligned or on what you’re going to do. That comes down to communicating it, right?

[0:13:47.6] HS: Yes. The process of building content is building alignment, creating a sense of ownership for the team not just for me is hearing other people’s thoughts and suggestions and you know, moving a little bit. Just because I have my convictions on what I think, doesn’t mean they’re right. A leader’s job is not to be right, a leader’s job is to get the best possible outcome and –

[0:14:17.0] AD: Say that one more time. A leader’s job is not to be right, it’s to get the best possible outcome.

[0:14:23.2] HS: Yeah. I look at this and you know, there’s a lot of times where I’ll say, “Hey, this is kind of what I’m thinking, let’s do this,” and then I’ll get like two other colleagues or like, “Yeah, no. I don’t know if I like that. I think we should go here and focus on this one specific area more.” That’s what I’m hearing. As I say, what I’m hearing.

Whenever you have these calls with folks and whenever you’re building that consensus, people hear different things and someone might give a response to a question about what they see as their strategy in the future and what’s important to them and I might hear one thing and you know, a colleague of mine might hear another thing.

The only way we can reconcile to what we think is what the client or the stakeholder is looking for is to talk about that. It’s important to have these conversations and it’s important not to draw any lines in the sand at this stage.

You’ve got to be flexible, you got to hear, you got to trust that other individuals on your team are providing good thoughts and context and that they’ve got good ideas just like you’ve got good ideas.

[0:15:25.4] AD: I think that’s really important Howie, the point you’re bringing up around we don’t all hear the same thing and we don’t all remember the same thing. I think this is sometimes, I know I’m challenged with it myself. Anyone who has a significant other, have you ever had a conversation with your spouse or your significant other where the two of you just remember the conversation wildly different and that it’s the same conversation, you were both sitting there at the same time but somehow, the two of you remember the outcome just wildly different. 

[0:15:53.5] HS: My wife and I are always in 100% sync.

[0:15:55.7] AD: Yes, yeah okay. It’s a good example, right? I think we can all relate to that at one way or another. It is no different in the professional workplace, it is no different than we are working with our clients and ultimately taking this vision and building alignment of the team.

We all hear and remember things differently so the key that I herard you say Howie, it’s really important to communicate and communicate a lot and make sure you’re writing things down and that you’re being clear and that everyone is on the same page and really asking clarifying questions. Howie, when you say that, what do you actually mean? Help me understand that a little bit better, help me, in stead of saying, “Well no, I heard it this way or no, that’s wrong” just assuming that the first time someone explained something, you’ve gained full clarity. Have conversations again and again to peel into it, right?

[0:16:42.2] HS: Yeah, when someone asks a question that – or when someone has an idea that I didn’t come up with on my own, I usually say hey, what did you hear that made you get to this or – 

[0:16:54.3] AD: How’d you get there?

[0:16:54.7] HS: Yeah, what did t hey say that triggered that thought in your mind?

[0:16:58.4] AD: You're curious about it.

[0:16:58.9] HS: Exactly. They have to be somewhat probing questions, it can’t just be, “Okay, fine, let’s put that in there.” No, I mean, just because they said it, you know, it doesn’t mean – you don’t want to just say, “Okay, well that person said that they wanted it to go this direction so we’re going to just add that because I’m a leader and I’ve been told that I should take other people’s perspectives” you know?

[0:17:19.2] AD: Howie, you’re so spot on there, it’s the difference of, “Okay, I’ve been told that I need to be a more inclusive leader. I need to make sure I’m taking in the opinions of others.” If someone says something like, “Great, good, put it in there.” Not question it, I just do it, I just do it because I’ve been told I need to include other people’s ideas. That’s not what you’re saying?

[0:17:38.4] HS: No, authenticity is. The most critical thing as a leader, you have to be meaningful, you have to be b ought in on everything. You can’t just be hallow when you say, “Yeah, I know, let’s put your idea in this, great.” Well, no, I mean, maybe it is a great idea, maybe it’s not but be curious about it. Ask the follow-up question, that’s interesting. I did not hear that when they were responding to us. Can you talk a little bit about how you got there? That creates good conversation, meaningful conversation. Conversation that’s going to unlock some hidden objectives that might be there not just, “Yeah, no, that’s great, put it in because I’m a good leader.”

[0:18:16.7] AD: You said, authenticity, which is key behind this and really where this is playing in is if in my mind, I am thinking, “That’s a dumb idea, I’ll put it in anyway. I remember that I’m supposed to put other people’s ideas in so just put in there.” Well, I don’t believe in it, I don’t actually believe in it so when it comes down to it, how am I going to lead, how am I going to convince the team, how am I going to make sure that we’re driving towards it.

If it’s something I don’t even agree with just because I put it in there. At the same time, just because I don’t necessarily agree with it, and this is the dichotomy of leadership at the end of the day. I cannot go back to that person and say, “That’s a stupid idea, I don’t want it in there”, because that’s the opposite of what I want to happen. 

What I need to do is have that learner mindset, that curiosity mindset and say, “Okay, I see it a little differently but help me understand where you got there? Help me understand, what are you saying, why are you saying this, what are you trying to drive out? What did the client say to make you say this” or whatever it might be but you’re asking questions and probing questions and you said it clearly there? It’s all to start a dialog. 

When that dialog occurs, either you are going to start to shift your view and eventually, start to see where they’re coming from or it’s on you to help them see why you don’t agree with it and why it doesn’t go in there but at the end of the day, you have to agree with whatever you’re putting in, right? Whatever you're saying you’re going to do. You have to genuinely agree with.

[0:19:36.3] HS: You will earn so much more respect digging into a concept that someone brought up and mutually agreeing that it doesn’t fit –

[0:19:46.9] AD: Then shutting it down.

[0:19:45.8] HS: Than shutting it down right away or just throwing it out. 

[0:19:49.7] HS: Putting it in right away because you know, at the end of the day, you’re going to get to the end game and realize, “Oh yeah, we don’t want this in here. Let’s just discard it out” and then that person is going to be insulted and feel like their voice wasn’t heard when all you had to do was just ask a follow-up question and mutually agree or disagree you know, as that conversation evolved. 

[0:20:07.8] AD: I couldn’t agree more and what the impact of all of this is we’ve really built some alignment along routine, right? We – in going through this process so again backing up, we’ve gotten a project we’re going to try to accomplish, we have talked to stakeholders, we’ve talked to external resources, we have gotten smart in what we are doing, we know what our team is and we are now trying to figure out what our vision is and part of that vision is we want to talk to others in the team and really make sure we’re getting all the thoughts out of what we’re all trying to do together.

What that does is it builds alignment along routine, so we have clarity in what our vision is. We’ve all agreed to it, we have all buy into it. We are aligned in what are we are trying to go and accomplish, now we got to do it. Now, we have to actually do the execution work and this is where it gets fun, right? 

[0:20:50.3] HS: Well, yeah. Fun is one way of describing it. It can be fun, it could also be frustrating, challenging, confusing. 

[0:20:59.2] AD: It sounds like part of everyday life for a professional.

[0:21:02.8] HS: Yeah, it is everyday life.

[0:21:04.4] AD: Let’s talk through it a little bit. Now, at this point, we’ve all agreed to what we’re doing and in theory, we have all bought in. We are all in alignment of what we are trying to do, right? We walk out of the room feeling good, we’ve spent the time in asking the questions, we’ve made sure everyone’s thoughts and now listen, people’s mind’s change. I understand that you’ll never get this perfect but let’s just assume we’ve done this and we’ve done this to the best of our abilities. Now, it is incumbent on us as a leader to move the project forward. How do we go from there? 

[0:21:29.9] HS: First thing is it’s online and I always like to start with the end in mind. When is this drop-dead need to be done? Let’s draw that line in the sand and then all agree that we need to be done by X date, whether it’s tomorrow, a week from tomorrow or a month from now. Once you have that plan, everyone understands when the deadline is, it becomes a matter of putting the people in the right positions to be successful. 

Obviously, projects have multiple aspects to them and you want your team focusing on where they’re individually going to be the strongest or have the most insights or have the strongest ability to contribute. In the case proposal it might be broken up between an audit timeline and a tax timeline, the consulting project and obviously, you want your consulting people working on the consulting piece, the tax people are working on tax piece, audit people on the audit piece, so on and so forth. 

Which that’s obviously pretty straightforward to understand and to rally around but there is a lot of other areas in a project and you want to make sure that the individual that are working on the industry section are focused on that and then it’s you know, fit that into the timeline. 

[0:22:40.0] AD: What’s the importance of the timeline? Let me ask you that because I agree with you completely. What are your thoughts? Why are we starting with the timeline? 

[0:22:46.9] HS: Well, the timeline to me is the most critical piece because it allows us to do a good quality job without throwing things together at the last minute and creating chaos. You know, you can take any project and divide it up over a number of days, a number of weeks and you know create accountability deadlines and help the flow of it and manage the process rather than succumb to the process and have the process overwhelm you. 

[0:23:14.6] AD: Accountability deadlines. I think when you said timeline and this is just – I am going to think out loud a little bit as I was listening to you, when you first said timeline accountability, what came to mind number one for me and the reason being that I think it is, it is fundamentally important that you identify when something has to be done and have a date and have something so that you are all kind of saying, “Hey, we’re agreeing this has to be done by here.” 

That way there is no ambiguity behind when the deliverables do because when you have ambiguity then it seems to never get done, right? Or it can drag forever or people feel an abundance of pressure to get it done ASAP and ASAP is not a timeline. I understand in professional services things typically are going very quickly but recognize that when you set a real timeline whether that be a few days, a few weeks or a few months, setting that timeline in real accountability creates some real structure in how – 

What kind of came out to me as you said that is you’re able to then understand what is the realities that you are working with in terms of time because that’s frankly it’s all of our number one constraints, right? Every single one of us gets 24 hours in a day and at the end of the day, there is always more work to be done than hours in the day, right? You have a never ending task lists that just continually goes on and on and on, right? 

Knowing that, I have backed into, the first thing I have done is I’ve set a timeline, a reasonable timeline based in the framework of client demands and what has to be accomplished for the project or whatever it might be but I now know when it has to be done and how much time I have and that lets me then divide up the work the right way, right? Figure out the right way to accomplish the work. 

[0:24:54.9] HS: Exactly. 

[0:24:56.1] AD: Now that I know that, the next step is I put people in a place to be successful and part of that was you have your industry experts doing the work that’s relevant to them, right? In the example that you are talking through as a proposal, you would want to have the audit people, working on the audit portion of it but more than just that, this is about putting your people, knowing the skillsets of those people that you are working with and putting them in roles where they will be successful, right? 

[0:25:23.5] HS: Yeah. You know, part of assigning responsibility and task is understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses and putting them in positions to be successful. Now, that is not always going to be the case but as long as you know that going in, you can plan for it. It is easy to say that so and so is doing this for the first time but I’ll make sure that I carve out some time to help coach them and I know that I am going to have a little bit more time invested in that individual to help them be successful in the hopes that next time this comes up, I can be a little bit more hands-off. It is part of growth, it’s part of building your team and continually improving the folks around you. 

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[0:26:08.8] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals. 

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[0:26:18.1] AD: One and this is interesting, so again, we are talking about how to get execution done. We’ve backed into our timelines, we know what available time we have and now, we are going to put people in places to be successful. We try to put people in roles where they will be most successful. It is not always perfect and frankly it will never be perfect. Everyone at time to time is going to have to do something that is not necessarily in their core skillset and the point you are making is part of your leadership, part of your process here is developing your people.

That is a responsibility of yours and being aware of your timeline and how much available resources you have to complete the project and what you are running up against lets you be conscious of how much time you as a leader might have to put an extra to develop people, to really help and ensure that you are covering some of those weaknesses but also in giving people that additional exposure to grow and develop along the way. 

[0:27:07.3] HS: Yeah, Alex, we’re in professional services. Everything we do is about building our talent and growing other individuals and improving other individual’s professionalism and their abilities to grow and become more successful on their own. There isn’t anything that I would ever do that wouldn’t involve some type of development of my team. Everything is a learning opportunity and that goes for me too. You know when something comes in like I said, I don’t know the answer. 

I don’t know everything right away but I am going to learn and I am going to grow myself as I go through the process, so that goes for me and that also goes for my team and the expectation is that everybody’s trying to improve and trying to grow and some people might grow more on certain tasks and opportunities and other growth might be smaller in some cases but everybody should continually be improving. 

[0:28:00.2] AD: What I think is often overlooked as a leader is if I am leading a project and I am trying to get something done and I say, “Okay, well I am going to put someone on there that I have to train.” Well, that is going to take more time. That is going to take more of my time to help with that. Yeah, you are totally right, however when you are doing that, when you’re putting people in positions to learn new things and you are helping them along the way and not doing it for them, not micromanaging but you are coaching them through it. 

You are helping really develop new skillsets, they feel like they’re growing and you said this from the very beginning, you want to feel like you are growing every day. I think all of us do, I think innately we all want to feel like we’re improving and growing and becoming moving forward advancing in our lives and in our careers and when you create that environment as a leader and yes, it takes a little bit of extra time on your part but that is your job as a leader. 

You create that environment in the execution process to let people learn. What comes out of that? Buy in, motivation, energy, excitement, “I want to do this. I want to keep going.” I am not going to be perfect at it but I am going to keep trying because you are giving me rope to try. You are giving me new experience. You are giving me new responsibility and Howie, thank you for the opportunity. I am going to do my best to improve to you that I’m learning this.

I think that’s what tends to happen for people when you create that and so that I think at the end of the day, we talk about successfully executing on a project. It is critical to do that because you get the buy in, you get the ownership and you get people that are willing to put far more energy into the project. 

[0:29:27.9] HS: I love where you went there with motivation because a large part of what we do every day in the industry is motivate and encourage and that goes hand in hand with development and you know, people want to work for individuals and inspire them. I want to work for individuals that inspire me and I want the people that work with me to be inspired by me and that growth, that encouragement, that development, that investment are all things that make people want to work for you, with you and by you. 

[0:29:58.9] AD: All of that really comes down to getting the execution done because you are keeping the team motivated, moving forward, excited just by giving opportunity. I think that’s a huge component. Now, let’s say we’ve done this, we have completed the project now. Part of going through we’ve completed the execution, let’s say it was a proposal. We have gotten the proposal done and delivered. What can we do to ensure that we are growing and better the next time around? 

Feedback, let’s go seek some feedback, right? How do we look at the projects we’ve worked on and ask for feedback? How do we really seek that feedback the best way? 

[0:30:41.5] HS: The best kind of feedback is the feedback where you pick up the phone or you have lunch or you have drinks and you just talk to people and say, hey – 

[0:30:50.2] AD: Informal. 

[0:30:50.8] HS: Informal, yeah. Talk to me about how I performed, what you thought I did really well, what you thought I could approve upon and I say that as if it is the easiest thing in the world to do, which I know that it is not because you know, there are times where you think you knocked it out of the park and you are excited to get feedback and there are times where you know whether you want to admit or not that you lacked a little and you are a little worried about what the feedback will be, even though you want the feedback, you’re concerned. You might be a little less motivated to ask for that feedback and that is fair. 

[0:31:24.2] AD: But it’s still important. 

[0:31:25.3] HS: Absolutely, you can’t continue to grow without getting that feedback so you’ve got to ask even if you know it’s not going to be what you want to hear but you know, we’re all professionals and if you try hard and you want to grow and the worst thing that someone can say to you is, “Hey, I felt like I wasn’t getting your A-game” that’s not so bad. You can change that, that is an easy fix and that is not an indictment of your character and your personality. 

Those are the hardest feedbacks where someone gets personal with you. If you keep it to the professional aspects and say, “Hey, talk to be about the content. You know, was it what you wanted? Did I go far enough into in depth in the process or should I gotten more in depth?” 

[0:32:12.2] AD: Well, on top of that you are also when you are looking for feedback, you are looking for feedback from both your external and people you deliver to but also the people you work with. How can – hey, next time we do this, how do you feel about the project? Did you feel like things went well? Where do you feel like you could have added a little more value or would you learn in this process and next time we do this, what would you like to spend more time on? 

Where do you see yourself adding the most value in a future project, right? I was kind of thinking on both sides of that. The external feedback is critical to get. You have to know how you’re doing and how to improve on that but also asking people themselves almost give their own feedback and their own performance and where they think they added value so you can understand that because those are the thoughts they’re having in their head about how they performed. The more you have clarity of that, the easier it is for you in the future as well to lead your team. 

[0:33:01.1] HS: Yeah, I mean I actually remember probably maybe two years ago now, we’d proposed on some work with a small company and we didn’t get to work and I called up the CFO and say, “Hey, you know, love to hear your feedback just on myself, the approach, why you went the decision that you went, to just kind of help me,” grow and they were completely taken aback by it. 

[0:33:24.2] AD: Really? 

[0:33:24.6] HS: In a good way. You know, they were very quick to say, “Hey, here is all the things we really liked. You know, here is some of the things that we were just kind of confused by” you know, they mentioned a little bit of our pricing was kind of confusing and it was good feedback because you know, when we look at pricing in our mind because we built it, we developed it, we were in the details of it, we know how it got together, we see numbers that make sense to us. 

[0:33:51.8] AD: Of course, you made it. 

[0:33:52.7] HS: You get a cold view of that from an outsider that wasn’t involved in the process that is the prospect and they see something completely different, which kind of takes us all the way back to why you need outside opinions and outside people looking at things because when you are building something from the ground up, you have a very different view of it than someone that doesn’t have any understanding of how that developed. 

[0:34:23.0] AD: It is interesting and this wasn’t necessarily planned but I think that actually it’s a great point. We’re going to wrap up the episode here and this brings us all the way back to the first thing we started talking about was seeking a team, building a team, finding those resources around you and what you’re really describing is you recognized that the whole, the core feedback is getting outside perspective because your perspective is just your perspective. 

Simple as that and you only know things through what you’ve done and what you’ve created something, of course you think it’s right or you wouldn’t have created to begin with, the reason you’re looking for feedback is to understand what you might be missing and that all comes back to starting from the top of our episode, building that team around you and then I’m going to do a little bit of a recap here. We’ve built that team around us. 

We then are talking to our stakeholders and we’re looking at our stakeholders to say, “What needs to be accomplished?” and not just the client, not just any one person but who is going to be impacted by the project that we’re doing, whatever that project might be. We talk to them, we understand what they need and then now, we really need to come up with a vision. What are we trying to do and you said here, it was really important to talk about the vision. 

To share the vision, just talk through with your team, write it down and really try to bring clarity and get other people’s ideas into the mix so that you can hone in on that vision and the whole point of bringing together everyone and making sure you’re on the same page is so that you are building alignment, right? So that you are ultimately building alignment in this process and you want to get other people’s thoughts. You want to make sure that they’re thoughts are going into it but all along the way, you have to be genuine in what you believe is the leader. 

Because if you don’t believe in it, you’re not going to truly stand behind it, so that’s the time that you have the conversations and say, “Well, what made you think that? What made you say that if you disagree with ideas people are throwing out there and the point of that is again, building the dialogue. Building the dialogue to help build that clarity and make sure you are getting the ideas out but also to get everyone on the same page and to get that buy in. 

You said something I think was really powerful that a leader’s job is not to be right, it is to get the best outcome and that is where you’re asking those questions and you have flexibility in your thoughts and you are not staying stuck in any kind of one way. You are willing to hear other thoughts and in doing all of that, you earn respect, right? Okay, so we’ve crafted a vision, we’ve built some alignment, we know what we’re doing, now we need to actually get it done and the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going back into a timeline. 

We need it and then back in, the key being knowing when it is due and let’s back into what needs to be done and that is really building accountability. That is building a way to create some structure and know what available resources we have and hold people to getting that project done but then also letting us be able to step back as a leader and say, “Okay, I know what our timeline is. I know when we have to get this done. My job now is to put people in positions to be successful both based on their knowledge but also their strengths and also looking for ways that I can develop somebody.” 

Where I can really help build that person and part of that is my role as a leader is I know if I am putting someone in a position where they have additional responsibilities and they are learning and growing and they feel like they’re growing as a professional, I am going to get more buy in. I am going to get more buy in. I am going to get more of that motivation in getting that execution done and all of that leads to the best outcome as possible, right? 

That is again, your job as a leader is to get the best outcome as possible. When it is all said and done, we need feedback. We need feedback externally from the stakeholders that we’re delivering our project to but we also need feedback from our team to understand how we as a leader can improve but also how our people think that they can add more value or things that they like and all of this is about us gaining a deeper understanding, more perspectives so that we can make better decisions as a leader. 

Howie, what do you think? Is that a good summary? 

[0:38:13.5] HS: That was a very comprehensive summary, yes. 

[0:38:15.7] AD: It sure was. I think it was a great conversation Howie. I was excited to have you back here today. It is just fun to talk about leadership with you, talk about what it means to lead through a project and for our listeners, we’re going to do our call to action for the week. What I’d like everyone to do and I think everyone is in some form of a position of leadership, I’d like you to find 30 minutes of your time and sit down and think about the last time that you had to pull a group of people together to craft a common vision. 

You may not have been saying the word vision. You may just said getting people together to talk about a project or to get on the same page that is crafting vision. Think about the last time you’ve done that and write down some areas you can improve for next time. Write down areas where you see opportunities to bring more people together and hopefully next time you find yourself in that position, you will apply the idea of bringing together the team and building better alignment. 

Howie, for our listeners, what’s the best way to get a hold of you? 

[0:39:09.8] HS: I’m always available on LinkedIn, Twitter, happy to shoot anyone my email if they’ve got questions or phone number if they want to talk to me. 

[0:39:18.5] AD: Cool, well reach out to Howie on LinkedIn and as always Howie, it was awesome having you on here. 

[0:39:22.7] HS: Thanks a lot Alex. 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

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