LeadershipQuantified - The Business Origin Story

by Leslie L. Kossoff

I’m not one for looking back, so when people ask me why I founded LeadershipQuantified, I’m not exactly sure what they’re looking for.

That being said, one of the things I’ve always found most important in working with my executive clients is to find out the “Origin Story” that led him or her to make the decisions being made.

So I’ve decided to use some of our time together on this blog to give you not only the Business Origin Story for LeadershipQuantified, but also insight into its evolution and why we became what we are. (That will be in other posts.) Throughout these posts you’ll also see where the core beliefs I wrote about came from…and why.

And with that, sit back and let me tell you a business story…

Origin Story 1: Something’s Wrong with This Picture

In my first year as a corporate animal, in my first career-oriented job, I was asked to sit in on a meeting with a consultant that my senior management was considering hiring. There were problems in the Receiving / Receiving Inspection area that were causing a world of problems further down the line and absolutely needed to be addressed.

(In a manufacturing organization, Receiving / Receiving Inspection is a key quality point as well as potential money pit if it blocks, slows or in any way negatively impacts production.)

At that time, the “initial” consultant costs would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars - which, at any time, is still a chunk of change.

The thing is, prior to that meeting, I had been working with a Receiving / Receiving Inspection team to identify how they could redesign their workflow to make it more efficient, effective and, most important, predictable. 

The team had done an excellent job and had presented their findings to senior management - only to be told that there was a consultant coming in to ‘take a look’ and that, once senior management had met with the consultant, they’d make their decision about how to go ahead.

What senior management didn’t know when the consultant meeting was taking place was that the consultant had come in, talked to the team members and had as good as stolen their presentation. 

The team members had been so psyched about what they had done that they shared their presentation packet with the consultants - who took it, fancied it up a bit, added some (questionable) numbers, put their company name and logo on it, their background “bona fides” information and presented it to senior management…who hired them.

Before the hiring, I pointed out to senior management what had happened - including showing them a page-by-page comparison of the presentations. They told me, “It will be okay. The team will work well with the consultants.” They also told me that I should facilitate that happening.

“Yeah. Right,” I thought. “And what world do you live in?” 

What I told them was, “This baby’s going to bomb.”

I was correct.

What Happened Next

When the team realized what had happened, they became angry and demoralized. They also lost all faith in their management.

The consultant’s gig went forward, of course, and the changes were put into place - but, as is so often the case (I learned later), once the consultant was gone, the employees went back to the way they had been doing things before the consultant was there.

That’s right. Even though, in this case, the employees knew they would benefit from the improvements - after all, they were originally the employees’ ideas - they weren’t willing to make them on an ongoing basis. Why should they? What was in it for them?

What I Learned

I gained two important lessons (among many others) from this experience that remained true throughout my career:

  1. Most employees in most organizations already know the solutions to the problems the organization is facing. What they don’t know is how to present their ideas and solutions to management in a way that makes them want to listen.

  2. Management doesn’t know how to listen to employees with the respect for their knowledge and expertise that they deserve. Because of that, management misses opportunities and makes decisions that lead to higher costs and, far too often, exactly the opposite result they’re looking for.

Origin Story 2: Look What We Could Do!

During that same year (it was a banner year for learning), the State of California was going through some really interesting labor law changes that impacted recruitment and hiring. The laws particularly effected manufacturing organizations - of which ours was one.

The core problem for my organization was that we were no longer going to be allowed to pre-test for the specific manufacturing skills experience we needed. Why? Because according to the new law, if a company was going to train an employee in those skills, they couldn’t determine hiring based on a pre-test of those same skills.

After all, if the employee wasn’t able to perform during or after training, there was always the option of terminating their employment during their probationary period.

That was all well and good, but, we asked, how were we to offset the costs of ‘bad’ hiring if we were constantly churning employees through training, paying their salaries and benefits all the while - and hoping they’d do well enough to be kept for the long-term?

I loved this question!

Why? Because I’ve always been what’s known as a “front-loading” sort of person. The earlier the start on identifying and solving problems and identifying new opportunities, the better. (If you’re a Deming person, it’s called Zero-Staging…and more on that in a future post, too.)

I had the great good fortune to be invited to attend the meetings senior management was having with an attorney the corporation brought in specifically for this purpose. I wasn’t senior management - yet - but they knew I was somehow going to be involved.

I recommended (and the attorney agreed) that we look at other options for where we might find people with those skills. If we needed to pay for them, we’d look at quality and price of the provider (e.g., employment agencies). If the provider was there and, for some reason, didn’t need to be paid on a by-person basis, we’d also look at quality and price - as well as how we might work with them on some expanded, customized basis to address our needs.

Happily, we were able to pursue the second option - and it worked.

What Happened Next

The State of California has one of the most impressive Community College systems anywhere. At that time, the State was not only funding the Colleges, but also Regional Occupation Centers (ROCs) associated with the Colleges.

At those ROCs, unemployed, under-employed and disabled people were given the opportunity to develop skills that would lend themselves to the then current employment market.

Our organization partnered with three local ROCs and, working with their instructors, expanded their curriculum to include skills that were future performance indicators for our hiring needs. (The ROCs couldn’t, by law, be set up to address our specific skill needs.)

We also asked the instructors to keep an eye out for the “best” candidates.

In exchange, we provided ‘donations’ to the ROCs for their use. We also co-branded with them so that candidates would know that our organization was helping them in their future success.

What I Learned

I learned a number of things from that experience, including but not limited to:

  1. Not all attorneys are jerks. (I had had bad experiences prior to working with this guy so it actually made a difference.)

  2. If you’re working in an organization - whether you’re in HR or otherwise - you really need to have a basic understanding of employment law in your State. It makes a material difference to how you manage.

  3. Colleges and Universities can be excellent corporate partners - and not just for research grants or sponsorships.

Origin Story 3: We Spent How Much?!?

And still in that same year (like I said, it was banner), the first major project I was asked to do was analyze whether a supervisory skills training program the company had been using for the past three years was netting us any results. The program was up for renewal, had already cost the company over three million dollars (yes, $3,000,000) and, frankly, no one had any idea whether it had been worth it.

I loved this question, too.

Why? Because even then I had no patience for “cookie-cutter” approaches to learning.

During my university career (I collected a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and Master of Science before I was done), I had sat in on too many courses that were as good as being phoned in by professors who clearly thought they had better things to do.

Then, as I worked on outside projects with local businesses, I saw that the same thing was happening in training. People were forced to sit in courses for hours - or days - that had no connection to what they really did in their real jobs.

How could it apply? The trainers were training the same thing everywhere they went.

Even if the employees enjoyed the training, most of them would speak of it as a waste of time. After all, nothing in their real job was changing. They were being trained new skills or concepts that weren’t being implemented or supported once they left the training room.

But their work was still sitting on their desks - and, now, they were hours or days behind or had worked after training when they were supposed to be relaxing with family and friends.

This was not a win. I wanted to know if the same thing had been happening in my new corporate job.

It was worse.

What Happened Next

Not only had the company spent the three million, but lost productivity from the time involved accounted for what I estimated as between an additional ten and fifteen million dollars during that same period.

With no Return on Investment (ROI) at all - not even in morale. Particularly not in morale.

I performed a multi-variate analysis (my professors would have been so proud!) looking at measures from a variety of different perspectives. 

I used hard measures (quantifiable) and soft (attitude surveys, etc.). I looked at production, productivity and quality numbers in the areas for the supervisors who had been attending - not only looking at the time when they were in the program, but before and after. 

I compared numbers to other production areas - both manufacturing and white collar (because office type supervisors had to attend, too). 

No matter how I looked at it, this had been a waste of time and money. The contract was not renewed - and I got thank-you notes from supervisors who had and had not yet attended for making it go away.

What I Learned

There was some key learning from this experience that I carry to this day:

  1. Before initiating any training or development program for any level of employee, make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing - because if you get it wrong, you’ll only make people angry.

  2. Training and development needs to be customized to the needs of the individuals - not just the function or the organization. If the people participating don’t see an immediate win from what they’re learning (i.e., if they can’t successfully apply it in their real jobs), you’ve just wasted a lot of the company’s time and money.

  3. Training and development can deliver ROI just as any other investment in the organization. If it doesn’t, you’re doing something wrong.

Which Leads Us To…

…today.

I didn’t know it at the time, but each of these experiences had a measurable impact on me, my perspective about organizations and even how I worked with my clients. (One day we’ll talk about  consultants and “Planned Obsolescence” - but that’s for another day.)

If you look at the key descriptors of the LeadershipQuantified Resources content and components, you’ll see exactly how these stories eventually helped determine how we work and why we do what we do.

Each LeadershipQuantified Resource is:

  • Self-managed.

  • Self-directed.

  • Immediately implementable.

  • Measurable.

  • Repeatable.

Add our business model of partnering with Universities and the LeadershipQuantified Business Origin Story becomes perfectly understandable as it is manifest today.

Now, how we got here? 

Well, that’s a tale of the past seven years starting as I sat at my desk in my apartment in Paris, looking out on a dark evening and thinking about what could be…all of which we’ll talk about in Le Deuxieme Partie (Part Two).

See you then!