Initial Corporate and Entrepreneurial Roles
Having consulted with many larger companies, I was certainly not interested in being a cog in one of those machines, but Pennzoil-Quaker State made an offer that I could not refuse. The challenge was exciting: help this 120+ year old lubrication company become a profitable automotive consumer products company that would be attractive to a potential suitor that wanted the brand-name products. As the Manager of Learning & Performance I built and managed a small corporate Organizational Development and Training team with a budget of $2.4MM.
I taught my three direct reports how to assess knowledge and skill gaps, quickly design training using an agile development model, pilot and launch the training, and then measure the impact on actual performance by capturing baseline data before the class and then looking for changes that were not associated with other factors after the class. As they focused on business acumen topics (e.g. Finance for Non Financials and Project Management 101), I designed a performance management process that was aligned with the company’s vision, mission, and strategies.
I also developed a core competency model in partnership with the SVP of HR and the C-level executives. As we acquired each of the number one or number two automotive aftercare products companies in their class (Axius car care products, Blue Coral and Classic waxes and washes, Black Magic and Westley's tire and wheel care products, Fix-A-Flat tire sealants, Medo air fresheners, Rain-X glass treatments, Gumout, Snap, and The Outlaw maintenance chemicals, and Slick 50 engine treatments), I visited each organization and introduced the vision, mission, strategies, core competencies, and performance management program.
We were able to identify exceptional talent and incorporate them into senior positions to further the parent company culture shift to a nimble consumer products company. Other key projects included helping the company introduce a formal ideation-to-production process called Stage-Gate, implementing SAP (all of SAP), and rolling out a consultative sales model called Seven Steps Selling. We reversed a long-term decline in stock price from its low of $10/share at the start of 2001 to a high of just over $15 in mid-2002. That is when Shell Oil Products US offered $22.50/share and bought the entire company.
When, like others, I was fired prior to the acquisition, I rejoined two of my former Performa Consulting team members in May 2002. We focused primarily on the Lominger products and delivered programs that were sold by Lominger Consulting. We found a software company out of South Africa called Skillbase that had designed custom software for a client. This software automated some of the manual processes that we taught.
I redesigned many of the functions to make the software more globally usable and we began to sell it in North and South America. Our consulting clients loved the functionality because they could load industry and company-specific competencies into the software (based on manual job analyses), assess employees against all of the competencies, build success profiles, compare the employee profiles to the success profiles, and guide learning activities via the built-in Individual Development Plan (IDP) engine.
I was still unsatisfied with the lack of flexibility in the system so I designed another system that would allow companies to leverage the software without being locked into a single, software-defined process.
I was about to leave Mundo Strategies to start my own company in February 2004 when a colleague in Miami called me about an opportunity with one of his clients, the world’s second-largest cruise line company. I set my completed software aside and moved to paradise. (I am not a fan of winter weather.)
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd was undergoing a leadership transition in Revenue Performance and a shoreside brand segregation just as I arrived. My first initiative involved assessing the brand promises and identifying ways to operationalize them. I immersed myself in each brand, becoming the identified shoreside brand champion for both Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. I brought the shipboard service standards from each brand to every shoreside touchpoint, both pre and post cruise. While doing this, I noticed many points of failure to deliver against these standards and I observed gross inconsistencies. I was also unconvinced that the standards were driving the employees to meet, much less exceed, customer expectations.
Leveraging a technique that I had used in graduate school called critical incident methodology, my boss and I attended trade shows and inaugural cruises during which we surveyed RCL’s Travel Partners (travel agents). By asking them for the story of their best or worst experience with a vendor we were able to collect some very emotional stories. Because emotions are the primary drivers of customer advocacy and detraction, we did not record stories that started with an extended pause (if it does not immediately come to mind then it does not affect loyalty or engagement) or during which the Travel Partner did not show any affect.
We typed up every story verbatim and had meetings with senior leaders and mid-management to review the results. In these meetings we asked the leaders to read each story aloud and to categorize the factors that led to the customer having a memorable experience (good or bad).
There was considerable agreement across the 16 groups that reviewed the 172 stories. There were five key factors and each of these factors related to the way that Travel Partners were treated when they contacted or were contacted by employees. I was able to tie these five factors and the behaviors associated with each into the brand standards and into a performance management system that leveraged Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard.
My Quality Assurance Team began to make outbound calls to Travel Partners immediately following a contact with one of our employees and asking five questions. The Travel Partners rated the person that they just spoke with as having missed, met, or exceeded expectations for each factor and why.
This was given equal weight with the employee’s productivity, accuracy, and impact on revenue. We measured everyone against the metrics prior to announcing them so that we had a baseline.
Once we announced the five factors and how they would be measured, we gave everyone a month to learn the system and to identify what actions and behaviors earned the best results.
I was also in charge of the shoreside training team, which only concerned itself with new hire training and had not fully engaged the business or its needs. I met with the senior leaders, who agreed that they needed to take ownership of the quality of the talent on their teams instead of leaving it up to HR. I taught several leaders in the US and UK and members of my team how to conduct rapid job analyses. The current and near-future performance objectives were used to identify tasks that are required to achieve those results. Then the competencies (knowledge, skills, experience, aptitude, behaviors, and abilities) required to execute each task flawlessly (or to recover from failure) were defined and documented.
From the competencies we identified, those that were price of admission (hard-wired or commodity) were used to build sourcing and attracting strategies. We also used the price of admission competencies to create selection tools (panel interview rater job aids, scorable simulations, and behavioral interview guides).
These efforts, along with my community outreach efforts, earned either RCL or me certificates of recognition from the University of Miami, Florida International University, and Jewish Community Services. In addition, RCL was recognized by a record 13 travel groups as being the best cruise line in 2004 (Celebrated Living Magazine - Readers Choice Platinum List, Executive Travel Magazine, Florida Monthly Magazine, Meeting Planners Magazine, Canadian Travel Press/Travel Counselor - Agents' Choice Awards, Australian National Travel Industry, Grand Travel Award Norway, Grand Travel Award Sweden, Danish Travel Award, TTG UK, UK Guardian/Observer Newspaper, Northern Ireland Travel and Tourism, and The National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents).
Instead of hiring 70% of the people that applied for shoreside jobs we increased the number and quality of applicants and only ended up hiring 10%. Because we had a zero-tolerance rule about the quality of talent, and because leaders and incumbents were involved in the selection process, the selection standards exceeded the initial thresholds set during the design of the process. This caused us to go into our heaviest call volume time of year (known as ‘Wave’) with 15% fewer call center employees than we were projected to need.
The remaining competencies from the job analyses were used to rewrite the onboarding process, including the new hire training. In combination with the more robust brand standards and a balanced performance management system, the new hiring and onboarding processes had several statistically significant impacts on the 2005 Wave period. RCL reduced booking errors by 76%; agents sold larger staterooms for more money (7% increase in revenue per agent); agent accuracy steadily increased in both contact centers from 71% to 89%, resulting in fewer call-backs (17% decrease in Wave 2005 call volume without a decrease in sales); the contact centers were able to maintain higher service levels with fewer employees; and Travel Partner loyalty survey results were above 97% on average.
Additional benefits included several promotions for the leaders and team members who participated in rewriting and owning the talent management processes. I was suddenly involved in the planning and design of a third contact center. I was also recognized as the first RCL Admiral Award winner (highest shoreside leadership award), garnering nominations from 14 separate departments. My boss, Jayme Porkolab, won IQPC's Call Center Leader of the Year in 2006 for ongoing improvements and results.
When the company decided to replace their core reservations software in 2006 I was moved from my normal responsibilities to this massive project. I led the Business Change Management function and partnered with Accenture, who had been brought in to gather requirements and ensure that the company did not make any mistakes. I wrote and managed the Business Change Management Strategy and Plan, the project Communication Strategy and Plan, and executed both so that all stakeholders and executives remained engaged and supportive of the project’s objectives and effort.
The nature of my work was sensitive and confidential so I cannot elaborate, but I learned a lot about being politically savvy and negotiating effectively to prevent huge, ego-driven mistakes. When Project Churchill wound down I was facing six potential moves within Royal Caribbean. That is when I met the senior executives from Bayview Financial and Silver Hill Financial and they presented a seventh choice.
Silver Hill knew that they were not going to compete on rate or property valuation so they needed to compete on perceived value and service quality. They did not know what exactly they needed to do, but they had read up on customer experience management and decided to look for someone to lead that effort.
I originally only intended to help them identify what could be done based on what I had accomplished at Royal Caribbean. Silver Hill realized that I had been recognized by Marcus Evans, APQC, International Quality & Productivity Center, The Conference Board, and the North American Conference on Customer Management because I was sharing the same techniques, tools, and tips with Silver Hill that I had presented at these conferences – so in January 2007 they made me a fabulous offer. Although Silver Hill was already identified as the “least worst lender” in our niche, we wanted to be known as the hassle-free best so that customers (mortgage brokers, small banks, and correspondent lenders) would find it very difficult to defect to another lender with lower rates or higher appraised property valuation. We also needed to be a broker’s first call so that we could control referrals for deals that did not fit our programs. Finally, we needed to dramatically increase the number of repeat deals that we did with each customer because our cost of sale was very high.
The customer experience management and talent management work that I did in 2007 uncovered problems in the marketing message, Sales and Operations processes, communication, and other areas that are common problems in any company. I was able to convince the Marketing team that a consistent and accurate message was needed so the brand was refreshed. My team mapped the customer’s experience and helped the Sales and Operations teams identify disconnects between what we thought we were accomplishing and how the customer was affected. I helped business leaders learn how to map and improve processes (significant redundancy was removed, which sped up the processing of loan files).
My team drafted standard status communications and worked with the line employees to define the timing for those messages and other updates. I replicated the Voice of the Customer research project with similar results; however, this time the message from the customers was far more powerful as it helped Account Managers and executives let go of the belief that rate and real estate valuation were the two most critical lender attributes. At Silver Hill we also discovered that one of the top six factors was “consistent processing of the loan file”, which was the opposite of what we prided ourselves on – flexibility.
This gave my team further authority to identify and prevent future inconsistencies across the three US Operations offices and to encourage the use of a single consistent process in our new EU office, which eagerly adopted the recommendation. Also, job analyses were done and leveraged (for sourcing, attracting, selecting, onboarding, training, driving, and rewarding). An unusual combination of projects reaching their go-live date actually caused file processing time to decrease the same month that total closing volumes jumped nearly 25%. We closed over $100MM in small balance commercial loans in November following 10 months of consistent $80MM per month production. This allowed us to finally realize the company’s goal of “Bust a Billion” in annual closings. When the company measured my team's impact during 2007 we were credited with a Net Promoter Score increase from 3.2 to 4.39 due to the organizational development projects that increased consistency, accuracy, and quality across every touchpoint. We also reduced customer criticisms of SHF by 33% (from 46.94% of those surveyed in 01/07 to 13.33% in 12/07) by improving Operations’ sourcing, attracting, selection, training, performance management, and succession.
As 2008 began, Silver Hill found itself in the enviable position of having outlived a vast majority of its competitors. By March, the only real nationwide competition for small balance commercial loans included our sister company, Interbay, and Key Bank. However, our focus was on continuing to streamline and improve our processes and our communication.
The objective was to survive the credit crunch and, at the same time, become even more effective at establishing and managing our customers’ expectations and emotions. When the real estate and bond markets bounce back, Silver Hill would be the one company that continued to provide exceptional service to the mortgage broker and small bank communities. It would be difficult for anyone to replicate what we bring to the table. That would make it very painful for any of our customers to leave us, and it would ensure that we are not only their first call, but we are their favorite place to bring all future deals.
To prepare for the future we undertook a massive job analysis project in Sales. I brought HR, recruiting, Sales leaders, and members of the Silver Hill University team together and taught them how to analyze a job, develop a job profile, and create strategies and tools for more effectively managing the employee lifecycle. This group identified the performance objectives that would most effectively drive the business over the next 12-24 months, analyzed performance data, and then assessed the top performers in both internal and external Sales channels nationwide.
The results of the job analyses were leveraged to first create strategies for sourcing, attracting, and selecting future Sales people. Once senior executives bought into those strategies, the team created the tools for each strategy. Because sales aptitude was a critical component, the team also reviewed the top 12 vendors of sales assessments and identified two that were valid and reliable indicators of top performance in our industry and congruent with our company culture. The validation studies also allowed Silver Hill to identify critical developmental opportunities for the existing Sales force. A global assessment for existing Sales employees was created and a training plan to address global gaps was documented. Job descriptions were updated to become FLSA compliant and performance management metrics were modified to focus on more critical indicators. Finally, the compensation plan for Sales was refreshed so that top performers and lower performers had significant differentiation in their rewards.
When the top two leaders of the Silver Hill University left in February 2008, I was asked to assume the unofficial role of Chief Talent Officer (without giving up my responsibilities as Director, Customer Experience). The team of twelve subject matter expert trainers was delivering technical new hire training and follow-up courses that might bridge soft skills gaps. I immediately identified opportunities to improve the 42 actual courses that had been designed and then challenged the team members to learn how to become performance support consultants to the business.
I provided my new team with a great deal of training on competency-based talent management and made a case for delivering on-demand information to existing employees and measuring results only through improved knowledge, skill, or performance metrics. I also trained the team to be performance improvement consultants so that they could help the team leaders tackle all problems that were not going to improve through training. (Training only increases knowledge and skill, but many people were being sent to training because they did not know what their goals were, they were using faulty resources, they were not motivated to perform, etc.) By shifting the focus from time and resource-intensive classroom training to on-demand tutorials and information I was able to reduce the Silver Hill University monthly budget run rate by 95.1% and headcount by an additional 84%, yet increase executive management and employee satisfaction with the team's contribution to the business.
We completed several proof-of-concept projects to excite the company about the potential of our just-in-time solutions and to get the support and backing of IT. This coincided with two key events: I was put in charge of the retail loan originations talent management group (in addition to still being in charge of talent management and customer experience management for the wholesale company) and we launched five new programs and a trading desk.
Both CommercialDirect (retail) and Silver Hill Financial (wholesale) adopted a blended approach to learning that incorporated knowledge acquisition (learning from books, articles, blogs, podcasts, screencasts, videos, live behavior modeling, job aids, facilitated case studies, and/or instructor-led classes), knowledge application (developmental assignments and/or simulations), and feedback (from a trainer/consultant, subject matter expert, boss, and/or mentor).
I recognize that using wikis provides the fastest, searchable access to much-needed information so we implemented SharePoint to provide on-demand access to information about the new programs. We created a library of Wink, Captivate, and Wondershare screencasts and live action, behavior-modeling videos for three primary reasons: they are best at modeling how to apply a skill, we can filter out a subject matter expert's bad habits, and these solutions also provide on-demand access 24/7. The boss is the best source of performance feedback and the quality of that feedback improves greatly if you provide the boss with two tools: knowledge tests and behavioral checklist assessments – so we created those for each class.
We also created performance support tools as challenges with learning the new programs were identified in both companies (e.g. an Excel spreadsheet that quickly narrows the programs that a particular deal would fit into). Finally, we put together a more effective onboarding process and new hire training for both Operations and Sales people so that when we geared up for growth again, our new hires would take far less than six months to ramp up to average performance.
We adjusted our size to that of the small balance commercial originations market, but I was still a senior member of the management team and I continued to lead several functions for both companies. I led the implementation of multi-rater/360° leadership competency assessments and feedback, targeted mentoring, developmental assignments, and executive visibility for several key high potentials. The attractiveness of the developmental opportunities prevented 90% of the employees who had the best chance of defecting from wanting to leave (i.e. golden handcuffs) and the company was well-positioned for growth once the markets freed up capital.