Entries from John Juzbasich | Merit Career Development Blog

The Five Principles of Supply Chain Management

...an Innovative Approach to Managing Uncertainty

Supply Chain ManagementInnovations in information technology have enabled companies to adopt supply chain management as a critical element of their corporate strategies. Despite these breakthroughs, many companies have not fully realized the benefits of constructing collaborative relationships with supply chain partners.

Professor Jack Muckstadt of Cornell University and his colleagues Drs. Murray, Rappold and Collins point out that, as companies focus on their core competencies, they have made significant strides to integrate their internal business processes and information flows and are leveraging this capability to compete as part of a larger supply chain. This compels corporate leadership to better understand their customers’ needs:

  • What do they want?
  • Where do they want it?
  • When do they want it?
  • How do they want to receive it?
  • What are they willing to pay for our products and services?

Constructing and operating a competitive supply chain is the primary objective of supply chain management. Several obstacles must be overcome to achieve this goal:

  1. Demand uncertainty is substantial and it can severely degrade anticipated performance in terms of unit cost, speed, quality, and responsiveness.
  2. Long and variable response times due to the supply chain’s inability to respond to environmental changes in a timely manner.
  3. Poor information infrastructures still lack the capabilities necessary to acquire, store, manipulate, and transmit data effectively and quickly.
  4. Business processes are often not designed properly. Internal and external processes are required to adapt to evolving business and supply chain conditions.
  5. Inadequately designed business metrics and decision support systems to contend with supply chain uncertainty.

Strategic and tactical modeling paradigms employed in supply chain decision support systems are insufficient. The manner in which uncertainty is treated in many operational environments is inadequate.

The Essential Foundation: Integrated Business Systems

It is essential to think of the supply chain in terms of five interconnected business systems: engineering systems, marketing systems, manufacturing systems, logistics systems, and management systems. Opportunities for supply chain efficiency tend to occur at the boundaries of these individual functions. The greatest competitive advantage comes to those companies that focus on both (1) integrating these five systems intra-organizationally, and (2) integrating these business functions as much as possible with their collaborating supply chain partners.

Supply Chain Operational Excellence: The Five Principles

A competitive advantage will exist only if several key attributes exist in a supply chain. Five guiding principles are necessary for effective supply chains. Applying all Five Principles of Supply Chain Management is necessary for the effective design and execution of supply chain systems:

  1. Know the Customer.
  2. Adopt Lean Philosophies.
  3. Create a Supply Chain Information Infrastructure.
  4. Integrate Business Processes.
  5. Unify Decision Support Systems.

1. Know the Customer
Without a clear understanding and definition of customer requirements, a supply chain cannot be effectively constructed. One must construct an information infrastructure to capture customer transaction data, store the data, and analyze it from an operational perspective. The objective is to obtain a clear statement of the customer’s requirements. A supply chain’s requirements vary by customer, product, and location. These requirements must be thoroughly understood and form the foundation for constructing an efficient and effective supply chain.

2. Adopt Lean Philosophies
For the past 25 years operationally excellent companies have focused on creating lean organizations. These companies have shortened internal lead times and made them more predictable and repeatable. They reduced work-in-process inventories from months of supply to days. Firms implemented just-in-time delivery strategies for their most costly component materials, and have worked to dramatically reduce setup times. These actions have substantially reduced indirect costs and improved use of physical space. More importantly, they have created cross-trained, empowered and more highly motivated workers. For maximum supply chain efficiency, all partners must engineer, align, and execute their processes so that the entire chain has the above attributes. Lean supply chains must also be designed as tightly-coupled systems that quickly and profitably respond to market demand fluctuations. No combination of software systems can compensate for a poor physical operating environment. Therefore, lean philosophies must be extended beyond a company’s internal operations to its trading partners across the entire supply chain.

3. Create a Supply Chain Information Infrastructure
An effective information infrastructure, both intra- and inter-organizationally, is necessary for a supply chain to achieve competitive advantage. Today, internet enabled B2B collaboration makes it much easier for supply chain partners to share timely demand information, inventory status, daily capacity usage requirements, evolving marketing plans, product and process design changes, and logistics requirements — to mention just a few. However, true collaboration requires joint planning of inventory and production strategies and the reliable joint execution of operational plans on a continuing basis. How capacity is used daily must be considered from an overall system perspective, not just a local viewpoint. Simply passing data (even customer demand data) among partners does not realize the true economic potential of collaboration.

A traditional collaborative planning and forecasting initiative is merely a starting point; it barely scratches the surface of the financial rewards and competitive advantages that are possible through a true collaborative supply chain. Our recommendation is much more substantive and comprehensive.

Integrated Information Systems and Business Processes
Figure 1 - Integrated Information Systems and Business Processes

4. Integrate Business Processes
Business processes must be established both intra- and inter-organizationally to support the supply chain’s strategic objectives, as illustrated in Figure 1, above. These processes, coupled with the information infrastructure, support the efficient flow of material through the supply chain. While much attention has been placed on understanding business processes within organizations, it is essential to build processes inter-organizationally to leverage and enhance partners’ capabilities. These inter-organizational processes must be designed to take advantage of the increased information that drives daily supply chain decisions.

5. Unify Decision Support Systems
Academics and software providers have designed and built Decision Support System (DSS) environments for individual companies and supply chains. These environments are based on different philosophical models. Also, they differ in how they forecast demand, and how they drive production and allocation decisions. Their goal is to generate plans that simultaneously consider all elements of the supply chain. No matter which approach is taken, these systems and their embedded rules drive many daily supply chain activities. Therefore, they have a substantial impact on the operating behavior, and consequently, on overall supply chain performance. How much they enhance this performance depends on both the accuracy of their input data and the modeling approaches employed. These decision support systems need to address uncertainty in an explicit manner—and most do not.

A New Decision Modeling Paradigm

Commercially available Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) systems have led to considerable improvements in supply chain efficiency in many companies. Success in implementing these systems depends on the extent to which the Five Principles of Supply Chain Management are followed. Strategic and tactical modeling paradigms employed in supply chain decision support systems are inadequate. Supply chain manufacturing and distribution systems are often not appropriately designed and operated.

Typical consequences of poor design are inventories concentrated in the wrong products at the wrong locations, and production metrics that do not match projections or meet management’s performance expectations. A fundamental cause of this failure is the environment’s uncertainty and the inability to construct accurate demand forecasts for most items. Given that creating accurate forecasts is difficult, entirely new paradigms like the No B/C Strategy must be used to ensure responsiveness. An integrated supply chain needs to be created that quickly and repeatedly moves the right quantities of materials to customers for those items that experience highly uncertain demand.

A New Operating Philosophy: The No B/C Strategy

When considering how much inventory to carry and in which products, it is essential that inventory be carried in those items for which it will be most useful. Inventory held centrally by manufacturing is nothing more than stored production capacity, or stored time. Most companies have significant inventory write-downs each year, and have to sell off inventory at less than cost. This occurs because it is virtually impossible to predict customer demand over a short lead-time.

So why are companies generating forecasts that are so prone to error? Inventory fundamentally exists in supply chain systems because customer order lead-times are shorter than manufacturing and delivery lead-times. If companies have long lead-times, then they must stock some inventory. This is where traditional planning systems fall short.

When considering the attributes of a new planning paradigm, the planning philosophies must include uncertain demand, customer lead-time requirements, finite production capacity, and inventory stocking decisions for different products and different customers. Not all products and customers behave identically. Not all customers for the same product behave identically, either.

The answer is a hybrid make-to-stock and make-to-order planning strategy that stores inventory in products while considering finite production capacity and highly uncertain demand. Called the No B/C Strategy, it categorizes products into ABC categories using a new method. Inventories exist only for products where there is a low risk of not selling them quickly.


Installing advanced information systems and streamlining business processes will not overcome a poorly designed physical operating environment, and vice versa. Business processes and rules must be tailored to the specific nature of the operating environments and to the supply chain’s objectives. Finally, decision support systems and business processes must be capable of explicitly dealing with uncertainty. One such approach is to employ the No B/C Strategy.

A client company applied all five of the Five Principles and realized a 60% decrease in finished goods inventory for its top 10 products. Concurrently, finished goods stock levels dropped 40% across the product family. Simultaneously, customer service levels (on-time delivery) increased to 95.2%. Most notably, the on-time delivery performance for make-to-order products increased from 37% to 60%, and is still increasing to this day.

Companies with sophisticated and complex supply chains that are willing to embrace change can gain a great competitive advantage. Looking at their supply chain operating paradigm in an innovative way can positively impact bottom line results. By adopting a new operating philosophy, the No B/C Strategy, and adhering to the Five Principles of Supply Chain Management, these companies will see new supply chain efficiencies that previously have not been possible.

This article was adapted, with permission, from Guidelines for Collaborative Supply Chain System Design and Operation; Muckstadt, Murray, Rappold and Collins; Technical Report No. 1286, School of Operations Research and Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering, Cornell University, 2001.

For more information about Supply Chain Leadership, or to attend one of Professor Jack Muckstadt’s courses, visit Excellence in Supply Chain Design + Operation or contact Jim Wynne, Merit Career Development, at jwynne@meritcd.com.

How to Coach an Underperformer

How to Coach an UnderperformerIt can be one of the most uncomfortable situations a project manager faces: You have a team member who simply isn’t delivering. Their work may be late or poor. They skip meetings or don’t file their progress reports in a timely manner. For whatever the reason, their role in the effort hasn’t gelled, and the gap is causing everyone else to scramble.

Most PMs dread such scenarios. After all, it’s never easy to call out someone on their performance. But when the need arises, you have no choice but to address the issues quickly and firmly. If ignored, personnel challenges can spread as other team members shoulder extra work and become distracted from their own priorities. Ultimately, the project’s quality, schedule and budget can be threatened.

The conversation is made all the more awkward by the unique relationship PMs usually have with their team – a position that’s more about dotted lines than formal reporting structures. When the underperformer isn’t a direct report, the PM must take the approach of an interested and invested colleague, a fellow team member whose focus is on solutions rather than blame.

Talk to the Person. Your first order of business is to meet with the person and examine the issues you face. Express your concerns, but make clear that you’re beginning a conversation and looking for a solution, not issuing edicts. Be sure to get an acknowledgement of the problem and an agreement that it has to be resolved.

Be Clear. Explain the ramifications of the person’s lagging performance. For example, by missing his own deadlines, he’s holding up the work of his teammates. Or, because she’s skimping on quality control, her colleagues have to put in extra time to identify and fix problems on top of meeting their own responsibilities. Be honest about what you’re seeing, and specific in your observations.

Understand the Problem. The issues may be symptoms of a larger problem. Your team member may be facing challenges at home, with his boss, or something else. Whatever the underlying cause, it’s important to understand the forces that are at work here. After all, you can’t address a matter until you know its dynamics.

Have Ideas. Good project managers always have solutions in mind. That’s as true when it comes to working with people as it is when facing logistical or technical hurdles. As you come to understand the problem, develop approaches for addressing it. It might be the person has too many competing priorities and needs clarity. There could be a personality conflict with another team member. Whatever the issue, proactively work with the person to develop an approach that will get their efforts back on track.

Put in the Time. Coaching people takes time – sometimes a lot of it. Chances are, a single conversation isn’t going to do the trick. Set up regular one-on-ones with the person so you can track her progress and follow up on previous discussions. Develop metrics so you have an agreed-upon mechanism to measure her performance until the situation is resolved.

Remember, this process should be interactive. Encourage the team member to develop his own ideas, and listen to them carefully. Sometimes, all a person needs is an opportunity to talk things through in order to get refocused.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Tips for Negotiating With Project Stakeholders

StakeholdersProject managers have to be expert negotiators, able to forge agreements between people who often have competing agendas. For example, the sales team may be determined to speed up a project so that it launches before the holiday shopping season, while Product Development wants to delay long enough to include a hot new feature. Meanwhile, the development team warns that a change in either schedule or scope will wreak havoc on the work they’ve already done. Whatever the dynamics, the project manager has to labor between parties to develop an acceptable solution.

Negotiating with stakeholders is tricky. They can be possessive of a project and pressured about its outcome. Because they have so much riding on its success, they can become prickly when issues challenge their assumptions or their comfort level. At the same time, their lack of technical expertise can make it difficult to understand the options that are viable for resolving an issue. And, of course, project managers can’t unilaterally impose a solution. They have to rely on their negotiating skills to keep things moving forward.

In the end, all participants want the same thing: a successful project that is complete in scope and delivered on-time and on-budget. For this reason, maintaining a perspective of partnership often pays the most dividends.

Think About Their Point of View: Recognizing why your stakeholder approaches an issue in a certain way is as important as understanding what they’re arguing for in the first place. For example, grasping the Sales department’s considerations – their overall targets, the competitive pressure they face and the demands salespeople hear from customers – will allow you to have more effective discussions around their concerns about schedules or feature sets. Similarly, understanding the technical and logistical constraints of the development staff will lead to more meaningful conversations about delivery and quality control.

Be Prepared. You can’t go into a negotiation assuming you’ll wing it, so anticipate your partner’s concerns, and be ready to address them. If you know tradeoffs will be required, outline the stakeholder’s choices and explain the impact each will have on the project’s scope, timeframe, and budget. In some cases, schedule is the overriding concern. In others, it might be cost. Bear those priorities in mind as you lead the discussion. It doesn’t make sense to stress the schedule-related aspects of a problem when the stakeholder’s mind is on how much money they’re spending.

Be Honest: It’s just as important for stakeholders to understand the challenges you face. So be proactive about sharing your perspective and remember that the stakeholder’s goals are impacted by many of the same things that influence yours: You all want the project to succeed, for example, and for your company to be well positioned in the market. Always be forthright in discussions about business outlook, project status and any difficulties you may anticipate. Not only will this provide a complete picture, it could help uncover solutions as the stakeholders weigh in with their own experience and ideas.

Listen: In any negotiation, it’s important that both sides be heard. Be sure to let the stakeholder outline their viewpoint and ask questions when necessary to make sure you understand where they’re coming from. As your discussion continues, address the issues they’ve raised or promise to research areas that you can’t reply to on the spot. Too often, negotiations go off-track when one party believes their concerns are being given short shrift.

Of course, the situation is complicated by the unique place where PMs sit. Responsible for addressing everyone’s concerns, they almost never have the pure authority to pursue a particular approach without building some kind of consensus. Even if they did, successful projects are rarely built by edict. The best project managers have a knack for getting all sides to understand the others’ point of view and work cooperatively to attain the effort’s overriding goals.

Stakeholder Management can be tricky. Learn how to work with your internal partners more effectively in Merit Career Development’s Stakeholder Management course. To learn more, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Thinking Outside the Box in Project Management

Thinking Outside the BoxExperienced project managers know that their work is about more than scheduling, assigning tasks, and tracking progress. While ultimately their job is to deliver on time and on budget, getting to the finish line often involves challenges that can’t be predicted and whose answers aren’t obvious. Good project managers are in the thick of things, analyzing the issues their teams face and leading in the development of their solutions.

This means that PMs need more than organizational and business skills. They need a sense of creativity and innovation that will allow them to find ways around problems ranging from random paperwork demands to the fallout from natural disasters. Though some might say project management is all about creating predictability, effective PMs aren’t afraid to think outside the box as they look for ways to hit their targets and improve the efficiency of their organizations.

For example, not long ago National Public Radio adopted an Agile-like approach to its creation of new programs. Rather than develop an idea in secret, launching it and then measuring its popularity, the network began releasing pilot programs and revamping them based on listener feedback – in effect conducting beta tests as part of its process. The result was that new titles like the TED Radio Hour and How To Do Everything were launched for an estimated one-third the cost of earlier programs.

NPR’s approach is a good example of how innovation can improve performance. Rather than blindly follow a traditional approach to program development, the network tailored its methodology to its business needs, achieving its goals with more flexibility, greater transparency, and reduced expense.

Of course, sometimes a project requires a different way of thinking from the beginning. One dramatic example occurred in 2014, when Australia’s Condor Energy needed to move 95 tons of custom-made heavy equipment from the UK to Australia - in 14 days.

On the face of it, that’s an impossible task. Such cargoes usually move by ship, which can take months to navigate between ports halfway around the world from each other. Condor’s vendor, Airland Logistics, addressed the challenge by surveying the equipment while much of it was still being manufactured, then arranging for it to be flown to Australia as component parts on a single heavy-lift aircraft. After it landed, the equipment was assembled on-site. Along the way, Airland had personnel on the ground to ensure loading and unloading occurred safely, that customs requirements were settled ahead of time, and that transportation challenges from the airport to the final delivery site were anticipated and addressed.

If the dynamics of Airland’s project were unusual, the pressure on its PMs was no more real than that faced by others as they work to deliver on their own commitments, whether that’s implementing ERP software, constructing office buildings, or opening manufacturing plants. Today’s project managers must be able to think creatively – to imagine and recognize solutions that aren’t evident, and then be decisive enough to commit to them and move ahead.

Merit Career Development can help you “think outside the box” with our extensive project management curriculum. Our Project Management with Simulation course uses a state-of-the-art computer-based simulation game that tests participants’ skills in managing a real project. Participants are able to put into practice their respective knowledge, look for original solutions, try out new strategies, and see immediate results.

How Will Technology Redefine Accounting in 2015?

How Will Technology Redefine Accounting in 2015?Technology has its roots in everything we do, from our weekdays at the office to our evening and weekend night activities.

Even with the widespread impact of technology on the business world today, few industries have felt the effects as much as accounting. This is due to the data-driven nature of this work – CPAs and other professionals rely on information, and leveraging technology to improve data collecting, sharing and storing data in all aspects of the accounting industry.

To stay ahead of the curve, accountants must understand the new trends in technology, and how they will affect the profession.

Today’s Top Technology Trends That Improve Efficiency

The trends shaping the accounting industry today will benefit professionals in a number of ways over the coming year. One of the biggest improvements will be related to efficiency – new technology can not only make the job easier, but it will streamline operations and improve client relations.

In an article for WIRED’s “Innovation Insights,” Jeremy Roche outlines five of the top technology trends facing the accounting industry:

  1. Cloud Computing
  2. Social Collaboration
  3. Mobile Devices
  4. Real-time Analytics
  5. Risk of the Shared Computing Environment

These trends are great for streamlined business operations. Take the cloud, for example. This remote data storage and sharing network has been one of the biggest boosts to efficiency in recent memory. Users can upload information to the cloud and access it from anywhere, on any device, whether at the office, at a client site, or working from home. This trend has been driven by cost savings, but it also allows businesses to be more flexible and adaptable.

Using Big Data and Analytics to Improve Decision-Making

Another key trend on Roche’s list involves analytics. For the accounting industry, success often hinges on access to data and the ability to piece together information to make educated decisions.

Technology helps and using analytical tools will improve business efficiency by reducing research time, aggregating information to form trends and saving money. According to the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, big data is another trend changing the accounting industry.

In terms of efficient business operations, CPAs should turn to big data for:

  • Information - Analytics will help any professional learn current events and understand future trends.
  • Diagnosis - Analytics can save time by outlining what has happened and why.
  • Prediction - Analytics can help professionals determine what will happen in the future.
  • Solution - Analytics can highlight the ideal solution moving forward.

Technology has its grip on the accounting industry. In 2015, it is likely that new devices, tools and resources will allow for easier collaboration, information sharing, data storage and much more, all improving the business efficiency of today’s professionals.

Three Essential Elements of a Protective Engagement Letter

Three Essential Elements of a Protective Engagement Letter for AccountantsCPAs devote their services to helping clients with complicated accounting and tax needs. It is a revered profession and expertise must extend beyond numbers—the subjective and intimate elements behind this type of advice increase the potential for problems.

Even with a public accountant’s best efforts, clients’ future actions can prove to be unpredictable. That’s why the best lawyers and insurance experts stress the importance of protective engagement letters for CPAs. According to the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, a lack of a quality engagement letter is a common thread among liability claims. While plenty of CPAs write these letters, each document must include the right elements in order to be effective.

While you are familiar with an engagement letter, there are specific points to include in this document that can shore up any weaknesses, protect against liabilities and clearly outline the services that will be exchanged between a CPA and client.

Here are three critical points to remember the next time you are reviewing an engagement letter:

1. Customize the Content

An engagement letter is a valuable tool in the accounting field, but it isn’t always a versatile one. This type of document is on the front line in the battle against malpractice, but it must be customized for each client in order to be effective. According to The CPA Journal, an engagement letter loses its benefits if it isn’t tailored for specific circumstances. Each client brings his or her own set of needs and using a boilerplate letter can miss these nuances. That will leave the accounting firm vulnerable should things not go as planned.

2. Be Clear and Comprehensive

An engagement letter must protect the interests of the accounting firm. It cannot do that if it doesn’t include every detail about their professional relationship with the client. According to the Journal of Accountancy, the letter’s author must be clear and comprehensive. For example, outline every return individually, including the year it will be prepared and the number of years that service will be completed. Include clauses and disclaimers to further protect against malpractice, wherever possible.

3. Highlight the Dates

Dates matter. In many cases, the CPA will work with the client for an extended period of time. For example, helping a business owner file their professional and personal returns will take place over many months. An engagement letter must highlight the dates these services will be exchanged. Typically, it will only cover the current year, but it is crucial to make this distinction. When other public accountants executed previous years’ returns, make sure the document clearly states that those previous year’s returns are not the responsibility of the current CPA.

Unfortunately, not every professional relationship goes smoothly. While CPAs never approach clients with this thought in mind, it is always smart to use effective communication skills to implement quality risk management procedures.

How Can You Skillfully Lead Remote Employees?

Working From Home: How to Skillfully Lead Remote EmployeesBefore the Internet age, working remotely was akin to “playing hooky.” Managers were uncomfortable not being able to see employees, and everything was about face-to-face. But with changes in the global business environment, and the need to find talent wherever it is geographically, the number of people working beyond the office walls has grown. So have the challenges of managing today’s workforce.

Here are some essential points for managing your remote employees:

Gain Insight Into Individual Employee Situations By Understanding Why

Remote workers have become commonplace for a variety of reasons. Understanding why your workers are remotely located, and how this affects them, can help you become a better leader and ultimately improve productivity.

In an article for CLOmedia.com, Dan Pontefract explains three common reasons why your employees are working remotely:

  1. Outsourcing
    Your firm may decide that outsourcing is a viable strategy to cut costs and improve production. If so, you’ll soon be managing remote workers. Pontefract points out that this trend can cause the ratio of in-house and outsourced employees to flip, which means how you approach each project and individual worker will vary.

  2. Telecommuting
    Another common scenario is telecommuting to reduce long commutes, or for other employee convenience reasons. This is a popular option of remote working today, because technological advancements have allowed a wider range of positions to be completed outside the office. Managers can use telecommuting as an incentive to retain top-tier employees. With telecommuting, leaders can also attract talented employees wherever they may be geographically, not just within a certain radius of the office.

  3. M&A Activity
    The third situation that could turn you into a remote leader is a merger or acquisition. If your firm combines with another, you could take charge of their staff in a different part of the world. Should this happen, remember to address the multiple cultures, time zones and work-life issues to help employees acclimate to the change.

Ask the Right Questions

With these reasons in mind, you can ask yourself a few important questions to determine if your current methods are compatible with a remote workforce.

According to Pontefract, three smart questions to ask include:

  1. Are You Using Technology?
    Features such as auto-email and instant messaging can help you set times to connect with remote workers, even if you aren’t available at that specific moment.

  2. Is Everyone Kept in the Loop?
    When a project is ongoing, is everyone included in communications? Even remote workers? Make sure the process is always open to all who are involved to prevent confusion.

  3. Are You Using Face-to-Face Contact?
    Most importantly, reach out to every worker for a face-to-face meeting – even those away from the office. Use technology and video chat options to be a visible and vocal leader.

Communicate Often and Remain Engaged Using Different Technologies

The biggest initial issue with remote leadership is a lack of communication. In an article for LinkedIn, management-consulting expert Suchitra Mishra writes that you can avoid problems by staying engaged with your workforce.

For example, avoid isolating team members. Instead, use technology to bring people together whenever possible. Ensure that all relevant staff members attend each meeting and don’t be afraid to reach out on a regular basis, even if it is just to make small talk.

That can be achieved via computers, mobile devices, and software applications. Potential strategies include:
  • Cloud Computing - Dropbox, Google Drive and other cloud computing applications allow you to share and store data online. Then, you can acquire that information on other devices or allow remote workers access to facilitate their workdays.
  • Video Conferencing - With video conferencing, you can hold meetings regardless of where the attendees are located. Services like Go To Meeting make it easy to connect people spread across the globe.
  • Video Chat - On a more informal note, video chats can help managers stay in touch with remote workers. For example, you can Skype your employees each morning to discuss the upcoming workday and go over key duties and deadlines.

If you feel that issues could arise with your remote leadership, remember the value in project management training. The composition of today’s workforce is evolving, and managers must grow as well, using new technologies like mobile devices, software applications, and improved communication skills.

Growing Today's Strategic Leaders

Growing Today's Strategic LeadersIn an ever-changing business environment, leaders need to be nimble, scanning the horizon for opportunities, adjusting their strategy, and involving employees in the process.

How does your organization develop and create a strategy to make the business successful? Traditionally, the top of the pyramid created the strategy, and everyone fell in line. But in today’s fast-paced business environment, leaders need to build strategies that respond to external changes. They need to collect data from every source possible, including employees, who often have key information about customers, the market, and internal systems. And they need to create strategies that make sense, are simple to communicate and make it easy for employees to develop tactics to support the strategy.

As leadership styles continue to evolve in a changing workplace, strategic leadership is shedding its top-down strategy in favor of teamwork and cooperation. In order to adapt, business leaders need to refocus their strategies to incorporate the perspectives and ambitions of the employees that will be part of the plan, according to the book “Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success,” published in part in Training magazine.

“Too often, leaders assume that once they have the direction figured out, everyone should just align with it,” authors Richard Hughes, Katherine Colarelli Beatty and David Dinwoodie write. “While they may not say it exactly, the fact that human emotions, needs, beliefs, and desires are part of the change equation is often frustrating for those in leadership roles.”

Chief learning officers and team leaders should work together to incorporate employees and company culture into the leadership strategy. This helps avoid the disruptions and frustrations that employees can cause to a single-vision plan, Hughes, Beatty and Dinwoodie explain.

Beyond developing a more holistic leadership strategy for business leaders, there are two other important skills that can create successful, effective leadership:

1. Learn to Anticipate

Ever-changing business climates make trend anticipation one of the most critical skills for a strategic leadership plan today. In the article, “Strategic Leadership: The Essential Skills” by Paul J.H. Schoemaker, Steve Krupp, and Samantha Howland in the Harvard Business Review, the authors note several examples in which companies like Coors or Lego failed to see the long-term trends of lower calorie beer and electronic toys in their respective industries.

To be successful, a business must anticipate the changes that might impact its strategy when opportunities or obstacles arise. Part of developing leadership skills should include identifying and capitalizing on signals from both “inside and outside the organization,” according to Schoemaker, Krupp and Howland.

2. Focus on the Day-to-Day Questions

A modern strategic leader can’t make every decision him- or herself. In a changing market, the organization’s employees are on the front line, and need to respond in the moment. This underscores the importance of seeking regular and frequent input from your staff and designing your strategy to include the decisions your employees will make each day, reports Forbes. Employees’ actions determine the implementation of the strategy, so if the plan isn’t actionable, they won’t be able to comply with the strategy and may interfere with goals.

As Time magazine explains, the best way to be a successful strategic leader is to execute your vision. If you or your employees cannot understand or embrace your vision, your strategy needs more clarity or an adjustment. Often, this requires simplicity. “The most powerful strategies are often the simplest, because the simplest strategies are the ones most likely to be flawlessly executed,” CEO of The IT Transformation Institute Charles Araujo told Time.

Executive leadership training can assist a business in developing an effective strategic leader with the consideration, foresight and realism needed in the modern workplace. How will you grow your strategic leaders? For proven executive leadership training information from Merit, contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or visit our website.

Business Ethics in the Age of Technology

Business Ethics in the Age of Technology"Business Ethics” is a dangerously murky term with real and profound effects. Ethics are a vital part of every decision, not just hiring practices and the handling of corporate resources.

With the prevalence of social media and the ease of accessing information through technology, training your employees on ethics is more important than ever. Every single decision has the chance to drastically affect how the public perceives a company.

Companies that have invested in ethical compliance education for their entire staff have achieved praise from critics and fervent support from consumers. Conversely, companies that have shirked this responsibility have been met with exorbitant legal battles, vocally dissatisfied customers, and critical condemnation.

Although many aspects of business ethics seem obvious, every decision made has an ethical component. Without a clearly defined and understood corporate code of ethics, seemingly insignificant decisions can lead to enormously expensive legal gray areas.

You can never take it back

In an attempt to solidify his core demographic, Mike Jeffries, the CEO of clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, publicly belittled the people he felt did not fit the company’s image. During an interview, he casually condemned those who did not meet the brand’s image as being unworthy of wearing their clothes. Consumers found this statement to be offensive and unethical, resulting in a 15% drop in sales and a 10% drop in share price. However, the remarkable part of this incident is that the backlash came six years after the comments were made.

In 2013, social media websites brought the CEO’s comments to a much larger audience than imagined at the time of the interview. The permanent and public nature of social media and electronic record keeping changed a forgotten comment into an irreversible and hugely expensive PR nightmare. Almost every major news outlet picked up the story and these articles still appear prominently with a simple Google search of Abercrombie & Fitch.

The CEO’s unethical comment, along with ethical issues of racial discrimination in hiring practices, have resulted in millions of dollars in legal fees, a diminished clientele, and highly expensive restructuring of ethical training and policies for A&F. However, offhand remarks or discriminatory hiring practices are by no means the only unethical actions with drastic tolls on businesses.

Who Owns the Information?

Poorly drafted IT policies regarding the ownership of information created on company computers can also place a business at risk of being perceived as unethical. The lack of clear policies and workforce training regarding the content of e-mails, accessing social media, and personal communications on company computers create easy opportunities for issues of harassment. Only proper training in ethical use can help shield a company from liability.

Ethical decision-making has a direct and profound impact on a company’s brand and can result in substantial expenses if not handled properly. Taking ethical compliance education seriously, drafting and implementing clear policies and guidelines are of vital importance in today’s business.

With successful startups like Uber, giants like Comcast, A&F, and the Livestrong Corporation being crippled by unethical behavior, business ethics are a pressing need in every workplace.

Interested in safeguarding your business from ethical issues? Click here to learn more about Merit Career Development’s business ethics training courses and consulting services.

Create Project Management Training with a Focus on Fun and Engagement

Engaging Project Management TrainingIn order to get the most out of your training investment, project managers should use fun, engaging teaching methods that employ interactivity. Here are four examples of training techniques that help teams learn better.

1. Involve Corporate Culture

Every business has a specific culture among its employees, services and leadership. Training that doesn’t take the organization’s culture into account can come off as boring and out-of-touch. Chief Learning Officer (CLO) magazine recommends that managers engage employees through understanding and adopting the corporate culture as their own.

“Understanding a company’s cultural strengths, then effectively tapping into the energy and emotional commitment those strengths engender in employees, provides incredible momentum to accelerate transformation,” CLO explains. “Learning leaders can instill a sense of employee pride and commitment. Look for ways to connect workers to something larger than a new policy on paper.”

Using culture as a tool is a subtle but powerful leadership technique that can bring people into the conversation. This can mean appealing to pop culture—a marketing firm implementing metaphors or examples from “Mad Men”—or the office culture. Integrating culture into training reinforces a sense of community, but it can also be played for humor. Does the office have a notoriously small kitchen? Is there a row of coveted parking spaces in the lot? Use these as corporate “in-jokes” to reinforce the content of your presentation.

2. Take Advantage of Simulation Training

It doesn’t matter how important the information being taught is if it’s put into practice. Simulation training allows you to teach, test, and improve your team’s habits for quick decision-making in high-pressure situations without the risks of an actual crisis.

Customized simulation training solutions engage a team more than standard presentations because they force employees to learn and apply the information in real-time. With multiple team-based training sessions, simulations they’ll work under accelerated timelines. For example, by turning weeks into minutes within the realm of the simulation, the ticking clock function of simulations allows employees of a pharmaceutical company to balance Food and Drug Administration approval deadlines with website redesign projects ahead of launch within a span of a few hours. This allows employees to have real experience about prioritizing one project over another and managing time and resources.

3. Leave Room for Improvisation

While practicing a training exercise or presentation is important for effective execution, Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Communications, explains in Training magazine that leaving space for improvisation in your presentation can be an excellent tool for engaging a diverse team. Yorton suggests starting light and negative. Discuss ten bad team management ideas that people have experienced. This can be fun and will bring people into the conversation. From here, you can talk about why these didn’t work and bridge the conversation to new ideas that will work. Everyone’s brains will be firing on all cylinders as they improvise fresh ideas.

By using the same techniques that improv comedians use, Yorton argues that corporate managers can think better on their feet, be more receptive to new concepts, and come up with cost-effective solutions that are out-of-the-box. This method can help engage employees because it’s focused on participation from everyone and thinking about concepts from different angles.

4. Incorporate Cross-Training or Cross-Teaching

It’s important for team members to understand their own roles. Set some time aside during your training to allow each member to teach or explain their role and how it affects the other employees. Not only will this improve tolerance among team members, but increased understanding can help streamline tasks through the project. Rather than burdening the project manager with questions, team members may be able to better communicate issues directly among one another.

Cross-training or cross-teaching improves engagement among team members in multiple ways. Not only do they get a chance to learn about other positions, but they’re also involved as presenters within the training session.

Think back on the most memorable lectures, classes, or training sessions you’ve experienced. Chances are, they engaged you because they shared certain qualities: Entertainment, a feeling of inclusion, hands-on practice, or improvisational exercises, to name a few. Take these qualities to heart and make them a part of your own memorable management training.