Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Art of Team Building - Part II

Part II - Creating Collaboration, Trust, and Transparency
In Part I of The Art of Team Building (link to article), I discussed a component of the process behind, and the importance of, understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Gathering this information is the crucial first step towards building a high-performance work team. The second phase of the process is establishing building bonds between you and your team, and as well as with each other.
In order for a leader to foster collaboration, they must first galvanize a team through trust, transparency, and honesty.  
Leadership by Loyalty, Unification through Transparency
To establish loyalty, the leader must give it. Implicitly.  This absolute must exist,  because any deviation inverts the entire equation.  Loyalty is not necessarily reciprocal in nature, but it is hoped for and ultimately gained, as you will not be trusted out of the gate. You will have to produce results in order to attain their trust. To facilitate results, a leader must envision and forecast a series of events that will occur over the course of a project and the working relationship, and communicate those expectations to their team. From there, the leader must then establish a hierarchy of goals that vary in complexity. These goals will serve to deliver on the expectations and drive the team to succeed, inherently making the leaders’ “predictions” come true. The easier goals serve as low-hanging fruit and will establish the foundation of your credibility with the team. The more difficult goals will solidify the trust your team will gain in you as you continue to deliver at all levels. If you think of trust as a hub-and-spoke, the leader initially acts the hub of trust to the rest of the team. Over time, the trust organically spreads throughout the rest of the group, bringing them closer together to promote collaboration and high-performance.
Transparency is the paramount trait that will help strengthen and unite your team. Operating in this space ensures that your team sees and knows everything happening in your area. It unites everyone in that there are no secrets, no “favorites” between team members, and gives everyone an identical view of the playing field. Since your group can see the same field in very different ways, it is through transparency that you empower them to provide their intellectual interpretation of situations based on their unique view. The individual insights provided will come from your heat maps that you discovered from Part I of this blog series, are the ground floor for establishing a collaborative environment.  
The Transparent Team in Action - The Jam Session
Trust, loyalty and transparency together create a workspace that will be the breeding ground for a great team bonding experience: Visualize a room that has its own feel, where each team member can play his or her favorite musical artists while working on colorful, compelling process maps. There are process maps hanging on the walls of this room that are  used as “reusable code”, containing all the ingredients to reduce the cycle time needed to create present and future states. The collaborative brainstorming sessions that take place in this room become legendary for rapid deployment of ideas.
The group assembles, loads up a process or infograph work in progress, and someone plays their favorite musical genre while thought capital is exchanged. Each team member takes a turn selecting his or her favorite music. But the inclusion of music in this collaborative workspace goes beyond mere enjoyment. Music provides intimate insights about each team member, revealing additional depth to the personality.
Building this community of “jam sessions” with the team huddled around becomes the norm.  A “forget what you know” approach is established,  and the team works to create the vision for the organization through the architecture of its future state.  In this creative, open and collaborative think tank, born of transparency and trust,  ideas will seem to flow into a state of synchronicity.  Over time, alliances will form among your players, alliances so deep that you may notice the team begins to finish each other’s thoughts.
Trust = Safety = Advanced Collaboration
During these brainstorm sessions, the entire group has the security to safely observe and experience the full range of human interactions and  emotions, negative and positive behaviors (jealousy, blaming/accountability, sycophancy, etc.).  Your expertly crafted think-tank environment sets the stage for productive, organic discussions to bring these behaviors to the surface, and more importantly, to move interpersonal issues toward quick resolutions.  Within the realm of the team whose hierarchy is established on a foundation of trust and transparency, the “Alpha-dog” position rotates naturally and without conflict,  based on the subject matter at hand, creating a state of equality.  
The team must not remain on middle ground with each other or the team as a whole. They must get psychologically naked by revealing their strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities with each other.  Doing this sets a clean slate.  Creating opportunities to air differences, sometimes even forcing such airing to occur, is the foundation for relationship building. Placing the individuals in a game of choice with each other on an opposing matter or behavior trait will bring about the free will to choose the negative or positive outcome together.  This will produce the first team challenge, and will be the flash point where trust and loyalty are established.
”There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” -Ayn Rand
An example of this is an individual who constantly bickers with a teammate. Place them in a “safe” environment without fear of repercussions with leader moderation and let them go at it. The leader can study the manipulations of each side and assist in driving the anger or disagreement to the least common denominator. Once you uncover the heart of the matter you can usually decipher cause and effect. There is a less than one-percent chance that you will have a situation that is truly beyond repair. Even those, with time can be addressed through a similar exercise in a group setting. The individuals must choose where they stand; the diffusion creates an automatic bond, and the group gravitates toward a more definitive level of understanding.  
A group that can resolve differences “within the family” will reduce human resource-related issues by relying on their strong relationships.  This advanced conflict resolution process is one of the most valuable assets your organization will gain by laying the groundwork of trust and transparency, in your effort to cultivate a truly collaborative team.

In future blog entries for this 4 part series the remaining topics will be covered:
Part III - Knowledge Cubes & The Art of Foundational Process
Part IV - Autonomy - Fostering Self Determination - The Utopia of Team Building

The Art of Team Building - Part I

The Art of Team Building is a four part series that details my methodical approach to creating and building teams that operate at a high level.  This methodology uses Six Sigma at its foundation, and has served as a recipe for success to transcend all organizations regardless of business type or function.   I hope you enjoy the read as much as I’ve enjoyed documenting the process....

Part I - Precision Team Building Process - Identifying Your Key Players

Throughout my career as a technologist, I have developed and come to rely on a suite of processes that I execute in each new engagement with a company. The first of these processes, Precision Team Building (PTB), is key to the human capital component that helps to identify a team’s strengths and weaknesses.   While you can’t force chemistry, you can most assuredly foster an environment to increase the likelihood dramatically by using the Precision Team Building process.
Producing output similar to the Myers Briggs personality test,  the results of this process prove even more valuable to team leaders due to the specific tailoring to the task at hand. PTB involves asking team members to complete a two-part survey/questionnaire about their proficiencies and experiences across various functions of IT.  The first poll is fairly short, and takes approximately  15-30 minutes to complete.  The second version of the poll is longer, more granular and provides a holistic view into the core of your IT team.  This second series of questions can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
The motive of the surveys is multi-faceted.  The results provide psychological and sociological data that help develop the blueprint that will be used to build the team. The sum of the whole of any department reveals a distinct personality as a whole unto itself. The blueprint also allows for the handling of low-hanging fruit during the development and execution of the long-term plan and vision for the team. The psychographics created will serve as a general predictor, which forecasts future performance, loyalty, and operating effectiveness.
The goal of the human resource phase of the survey is to analyze the data generated and gauges the “state of the union” as it relates to the technological strengths and weaknesses of the team.  By heat mapping the results, technical areas can be identified that need strengthening through cross training or by purchasing the necessary education for the team to align with the business’ needs.  Heat mapping also provides insight to employees who have  specialized areas of expertise that do not exist within the rest of the team.  These subject matter experts are an organization’s single point of failure.  If something happens to them, the knowledge contained in their brain could be lost.  While some may consider this job security, it can also be seen as an inherent risk to both the employee and the organization they work for.  For the employee, there is a risk of work-life imbalance, burnout, and inhibiting their ability to grow due to the need for constant focus on the specific area of expertise.  For the organization, there is the obvious single point of failure problem, but more important is the fact that because no other team members are cross-trained, the rest of the team suffers.
It is a leader’s responsibility to identify the “tribal knowledge” and ensure its documentation and dissemination across the rest of the IT organization through cross training and knowledge cube creation.  
The output generated by the question and answer exercise can glean significant psychosocial  data from the group that will assist not only in helping you understand the current state of the team, but will also help you identify your top performers.  When executing the survey, ask your leaders to gather 100% participation from their team.  There are obviously extenuating circumstances that could delay the completion of a survey that must be taken into account, but as a general rule, the longer it takes to get 100% participation, the more challenges you will have in assembling your team.
There are several data points to consider here during this phase of the analysis:

The “When” is as important as the “What”

Timely participation can provide you with great insight into your team as a whole, as well as the individual contributors.  As the delta of time increases to gather the results, the amount of time required to prepare the team for the next phase grows in parallel.  Whether a team member completes the survey or not, you will be able to gather information on the current leader and the team as a collective  Some of the data includes:
  • work ethic
  • work load
  • level of respect for their manager
  • morale of the individual
  • morale of the team

Participation will only be as strong as your leaders.

This phase of the process also allows one to observe their leaders in action.  As they work to get their teams to participate and focus on the action to complete the questionnaire, you have an opportunity to observe your leader’s ability to:
  • communicate, both orally as well as written, with their team
  • produce results from a simple task
  • rally the team towards a common goal
  • garner the support of other leaders in the IT organization
At the end of this phase of the process, the information you gathered will reap many benefits.  This phase naturally encourages the cream to rise to the top; your top performers with the best attitudes and drive for success will present themselves plainly to you.  You will have a detailed map of each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as that of the organization as a whole.  Your natural leaders will rise as well; you will have an understanding of each leader’s span of influence and level of respect inside of the organization, and that influence will assist you in uniting the team under a common flag.
Now that you have your map, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get the team operating at maximum performance.

If the team understands the individual, the individual will also understand themselves as a team.
In future blog releases the following topics will be covered:
Part II - Collaboration, Trust, and Transparency
Part III - Knowledge Cubes & The Art of Foundational Process
Part IV - Autonomy - Fostering Self Determination - The Utopia of Team Building

Friday, July 10, 2015

Google For Work - Case Study

Fostering Innovation in Retail With Google for Work
a study of Chico’s FAS by PwC


Background ................................................................................................................................ 3
Merchandising............................................................................................................................ 4
Planning & Allocation ................................................................................................................. 6
Store Sales & Operations ........................................................................................................... 8
Contact Center ..........................................................................................................................10
Customer Analytics ...................................................................................................................12
Human Resources & Corporate Communications .....................................................................14
References ...............................................................................................................................16

Chico's FAS, Inc. is a specialty retailer of private label women's apparel, accessories and related products. They have 23,000 employees and a portfolio that consists of four brands: Chico's, White House | Black Market, Soma Intimates and Boston Proper, each of which sell merchandise through their branded channels including retail stores, catalogs and ecommerce sites. In recent years, Chico’s FAS, Inc. has made significant strides and investments towards improving its omni-channel capabilities, which reinforces their longstanding commitment to providing an outstanding, personalized customer experience across all of their sales channels. The move to Google not only serves as an enabler for this strategic vision but also creates a culture innovation and invention within the organization.
In 2013, Chico’s FAS, Inc. deployed Google Apps for Work to its employees worldwide, across all banners. To date, all teams across the retail organization have reported a boost in productivity and efficiency with the implementation of Google. Basic training on Calendar, Contacts, and Gmail was provided at the outset but teams have adopted the tools to meet the needs of their individual business units.
This case study provides an overview of how Google for Work tools are being used and the impact of this technology on the Chico’s FAS, Inc. retail environment.

In retail, the merchandising function is one of the most integral parts of the business. This team is responsible for selecting the right product assortment for each store and determining how the products should be presented and priced. Working on this team requires a great degree of collaboration and coordination of disparate information from multiple stakeholders.
• The merchant team was constantly on the go, meeting and sharing information with other internal departments, store teams, and external vendors and partners.
• Email was the primary means of communication and storage limitations were a challenge.
• Deliverables were shared back and forth via email so that the team could provide feedback and make updates to document. Often, this led to a loss in version control and/or critical feedback was lost in the process.
• They needed a better way to collaborate, share and organize merchandising and sales plans, and required the ability to access information at a moment’s notice.
• With the move to Gmail, storage limits increased significantly so the team can refer back to previous conversations as often as they need.
• The merchandising team now uses labels and folders to group emails and keep track of ongoing conversations.
• Collaboration on merchandising and sales plans is more efficient now that files are stored in Drive and multiple stakeholders can access documents to make edits at the same time. “It’s become so seamless,” remarked one merchant referring to the collaborative nature of Drive.

• With Drive, all teams work from a single, shared version of critical documents such as buy sheets, allocation schedules, or visual merchandising planograms. They also have the ability to quickly access documents via their mobile devices when attending off-site meetings with stores and vendors.
I love the ability to link and group emails.
is has de
Gmail introduced a better way of working for a team that relies heavily on email on a daily basis. Merchant teams needed to be able to organize emails from planning teams, stores, and vendors in a logical way and key features of Gmail allowed them to do this. Similarly, Drive streamlined operations by eliminating the need to email multiple versions of merchandising plans among team members, and improved collaboration among this team and other stakeholders.

The Planning & Allocation team is responsible for tracking and allocating every piece of inventory that flows through the Chico’s FAS system. The Chico’s buying cycle lasts 4-6 weeks and they change floor sets every 2 weeks. Thus, merchandise sold in the first 2 weeks is most profitable for the business because it typically is sold at full margin. Whether moving inventory from a distribution center to a store or between stores, this team ensures the right product makes its way to the right location. Prior to Google, this team relied on a number of applications.4
• The Planning & Allocation team tracked inventory using multiple spreadsheets on a daily basis. Each of the 12 team members for the Chico’s brand were responsible for inputting their own updates, and the files were emailed back and forth within the team and shared with other business units.
• For management, having a real-time view of inventory was challenging, as there were always multiple versions of spreadsheets in circulation.
• The team was constantly asked to produce ad-hoc reports of the data to capture the status of inventory at any point in time.
• The team met weekly to respond to store call-outs and allocate inventory across stores. Often, the timing of this meeting delayed the allocation process and impacted sales and profitability if merchandise had already been marked down.
• The team needed a more efficient way to track and manage inventory and make allocation decisions in real-time, in a way that was visible to multiple functions.

• With Google Apps for Work, multiple planning teams work together in real time, reducing the number of meetings and the time required to email team members for updates to a spreadsheet. “Sheets is a tool that our team uses on a daily basis,” remarks one of the planners for White House Black Market.
• Sheets helps the team track and reallocate inventory to the locations that need it the most. Specific use cases include managing store call outs, reallocating inventory from ecommerce to stores, and tracking lost items or issues in the distribution center.
• Reallocating inventory happens in real-time and the team no longer has to wait for their weekly meeting to respond to store call-outs. This facilitates quicker movement of inventory and leads to higher margins during the first two weeks merchandise is on the sales floor.
• Using Drive, the planning teams can easily share their planning numbers across the organization allowing management from various functions to access the data at their own convenience. This has significantly reduced requests for ad-hoc reporting and allowed the team to focus more on analyzing the data and deriving insight.
Using Google, the Planning and Allocation team has increased productivity and the efficiency of their core business processes. Sheets has replaced the practice of emailing multiple versions of the same file and allows the team to work faster and collaborate in real time. Storing documents in a shared drive folder reduces requests for ad-hoc reporting and allows managers across multiple functions to have real time visibility into their business. Access to real-time inventory data provides management with more accurate revenue forecasting as the team no longer needs to wait for meetings.

Chico’s FAS, Inc. operates more than 1,500 boutiques and retail outlets throughout the US and Canada. The Store Operations team is responsible for ensuring that these stores operate efficiently. They also work hand and hand with the store sales teams to ensure they are have tools they need to create engaging customer experience, which is the hallmark of the brand.5
● Chico’s knew that it wanted to create a more modern work environment and personalized shopping experience in its retail stores.
● Stores and corporate headquarters communicated via phone or mail. Information such as updates to store policies or new planograms had to be organized and physically posted onto a bulletin board for employees to view. Often, paper was lost or torn as multiple people accessed the information on a daily basis.
● Store associates spent time during their shifts calling customers to alert them of new merchandise and upcoming sales and events.
● Customer engagement in the store was limited to the traditional retail interactions that customers have with products and sales associates. Advertising displays and promotional materials were static and not customized to a particular store location.
● To accomplish their vision, Chico’s would need an agile and flexible toolset that would allow them to increase the efficiency of store operations and engage customers in innovative ways.
● Chico’s has provided email accounts to each of its stores. This has proved to be a more efficient communication tool for store associates to communicate with headquarters and with their customers.

● Now, store associates save time by making fewer phone calls to customers and email them directly from the store branded email account.
● Pertinent information received from headquarters is stored in a shared folder on Drive and is accessible from a mobile device. For example, merchandising teams can take and upload photos of new floor sets to Drive and share them instantly with the store team. Previously, these images were printed and shipped to stores and in most cases were eventually torn apart as multiple teams used the same paper copy. Drive allows everyone access to the same document multiple times, with all images intact.
● Digital signage powered by Google Chrome for Work is a key part of the Chico’s “Digital Retail Theater” strategy, which includes bringing digital signage to stores and displaying relevant content and promotions based on the store, category, and/or season. This has created a more engaging experience for Chico’s shoppers.6
● With Google’s digital signage solution, this team can easily push out relevant content and change displays without burdening the IT department or maintaining additional hardware at each store. This team is also beginning to measure the relationship between how shoppers respond to content and the resulting impact on sales in real time, a task which was not possible prior to their adoption of Google for Work products.
The move to Google created a more efficient work environment for store associates and an innovative and engaging in-store experience for customers. With Google, associates spend less time searching for hard copies of communications from headquarters and have more time on the floor with customers. They are also able to connect with their customers via email which further enhances the clienteling experience. Digital signage powered by Chromebox devices have transformed the in-store experience, giving customers a new way to view and engage with merchandise and marketers the ability to test content and promotions in real time. Digital signage has allowed Chico’s FAS to create more relevant experiences in-store.