No matter how sophisticated your processes are, you will still run into problems with your business if you don’t pay more attention to the people side of things. The Drop In CEO herself, Deborah Coviello, graces today’s episode with Ben Baker to talk more about this. Deborah is the Founder of Illumination Partners and the host of the Drop In CEO podcast. For more than twenty years, she has been transforming businesses from within, elevating the talents of their organizations to new performance levels. Her experience has taught her to put tremendous value on people, whom she considers as the heart of every business. Learn how to become a more effective leader in your pack by listening to this interview.
It is a pleasure having you back. I have more people join us. They comment on the show. They love the show. They subscribe to this show. Everybody who subscribes the show, thank you very much. Go to YourLivingBrand.live, hit the subscribe button, tell your friends, join the conversation. If there's someone that you'd like me to have as a guest, let me know because I'm always into having a conversation. I have Deborah Coviello. Deborah, welcome to the show. We need to talk because I love the fact that what you're doing is necessary. It’s unique, different, and you help an amazing amount of companies be better. Let's get to this conversation. Tell me where you came from and where you are.
Ben, thank you. I'm game for this. Hopefully, I can live up to that expectation that you shared with everybody. I'll start with where I'm at now and then back into it. I am the Founder of Illumination Partners. I am a consulting business that helps small and medium-sized flavor, fragrance and ingredient companies through major transitions in their quality and continuous improvement space. That's how I came to arrive at this point. It's fantastic work. I get to work with business owners and vice presidents. I get a deep understanding of what is it that gives them peace of mind. I talk about peace of mind a lot, not just the results they want to achieve because, at the end of the day, they want confidence I'm going to take care of them.
In the work that I'm doing now, and I'll come back to why I'm doing it, I find there is so much untapped potential in up and coming professionals that have the awareness that they need to become leaders but don't necessarily have the essential skills. Whether I'm operating within my client's organization and I see the talent and try to elevate them or in an online course that I'm developing now focused on those high-performance individuals to give them the best of my knowledge, that's the work that I love to do and how I put myself out there on social media. Going back a few years, Biomedical Engineering background, I've had the good fortune of working in manufacturing, quality and operational excellence in the military industry, electronics, defense systems, and finally in the chemical flavor and fragrance industry and all the while honing my skills in quality, continuous improvement.
I'm a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt helping operational efficiency. I love the manufacturing environment being able to take something and creating something or improving it. What I’ve learned in my later years in corporate before I started my own business was that there were a lot of smarter people than me. It was my job to elevate those people that were on my team to achieve the results. I learned that my hard skills were amazing, but that wasn't what was going to get me ahead. I started learning and understanding how people operated, how to make them more efficient and effective, finding their why and how and not necessarily what they do. I grew to love the human dimension of the work that I do now. That's the foundation of how I operate as a leader, how I run my business, what I bring forward in my podcast, the Drop in CEO, insights and inspiration from industry leaders to elevate them in how they perform in the work that they do.
Coming from the process industry or process engineering background, how do we make things work mentality and how do we make things better mentality? That's going to make you a great part-time CEO because taking a look at companies from an outside point of view and saying, “What's working? What's not working? How do we make it better?” I want to talk to you about that because what brought you to that thought process that this would be the next ultimate step and to be able to be the person that came in on a part-time basis and help companies not only improve their process, but their people and their organizations and be able to elevate companies in ways that a full-time CEO can. You come at it from a very different point of view when you're there. You're on a project-basis versus when you're there as the white knight walking into to change the world.A lot of people are smarter than you are. Your job as the CEO is to elevate them and achieve the best results. Click To Tweet
I have to give credit to a lot of years of training and experience. As an operational excellence quality professional, you learn a lot about problem-solving. Through the methodology of problem-solving of what is the root cause, what are the different dimensions whether it's people process tools, management and materials. Breaking down a problem and looking at all different aspects forces you to be a generalist, be able to look wide across many different dimensions, human factors, process factors, and ultimately try to get to the root cause that not only fixes a problem but also prevents a problem. I've honed my skill over the years as being a generalist. When I do problem-solving, when I have the initiative to try to make $5 million cost savings, it's about stepping back and looking at what's the current state. What do I have in front of me in terms of resources?
What is the current operating procedure? What is the ultimate outcome I want to get to not simply the results? As a generalist, I’ve come to hone in my skill to be able to look at all dimensions, investing a lot of time in the human factor. Who are the humans that I have on the team to do this work? I'll do an organizational assessment and then more of a strategic assessment of how you bridge the gap from A to B. I then put forth those recommendations to the clients. I act as their partner. There'll still be a vice president, a sponsor or CEO that I may be working for but in essence, I take a piece of the business off of their shoulders. I then go in and do a generalist assessment of everything that they need to do, make the proposal, align it with their objectives, and then I go.
I do what I do for the period of time to help those businesses transition to where they need to be. Like any good CEO, they're only good for a certain amount of time. You pull them out and you bring in somebody that has the next level of skills to take it to the next level. When you see a CEO come in 18 to 24 months and then they're gone, it maybe serves a purpose for a particular point in time and then you need something different. That's why I call myself the drop in CEO. It's more of a mindset, but it's that partnership I have with the leader that I'm working with to bring them to where they need to go. That's what CEOs do.
I want to unpack that a little bit because you talked about the people's side and the process side. I find that most people are either good at the process, they're good at people, or they're very bad at both. What I find is there are very few people that can understand how process and people work together especially across departments. We had a conversation time-after-time on this show about the challenges of silos, miscommunication, ineffective communication or not understanding objective, not understanding vision and value, and where the company is going. It's got to be challenging at times for a lot of people to look inside their company and say, “We know there's a problem, but we can't figure out where it is.” On a basis by basis thing, how do you unpack that to be able to sit there and say, “These two parts of the business, the people part of the process part, how do I get them to come together and understand how they coexist?” How the problem is part of both of them and how they interact with each other?
You've hit on something that I’ve given a lot of thought to because I will say that for many years, I was very good at the process. Man, method, machine, root cause analysis, let's fix this, fix that and we get to our results and I may not have been able to navigate, influence people or get the results I want in a quick or efficient way. I had to learn the people skills later in life, much later than I should have. What I find though is that I get farther when I start with the people in the organization, getting to know them, and I'll dig into that a little bit more. Once I get to know the people, the rest comes easy.
It does because if I started with the hard skills, and I’ve done that. I’ve started with running a project to get a particular process improvement efficiency, I had to stop, rework, and go back because I didn't start with getting to know the people. I have learned the hard way. I have this seven P approach. It's an influence model but it's a framework by which where you start. If you have a significant change you need to make, you have an initiative, you're integrating companies, I start at the bottom and the foundation. It’s getting to know people's past their culture. What do they bring forward and their pride? Their pride is the intersection of the human and their intellectual property. What gifts have they brought forward over the years, their talent, what have they created?
Getting to know them on a personal level. When I start with getting to know their past, the gifts they bring forward, and them on a personal note, I find that when I have to start unpacking the problem, moving the organization towards a particular process change, a platform change, it's so much easier. I start with people's dimensions. Once we establish that foundation, if you can envision a house, you problem-solve people, processes, platforms. The thing that I also do a little bit differently is when I go into an organization, I help people think bigger than the performance that they want to achieve. More often, we're results-oriented. If we only asked for people to get only the results, that's all you're ever going to get. I talk about purposeful leadership or what is the ultimate thing that you want to get to and it's what is that peace of mind?
If you get the results, you reduce customer complaints. You high-five at the end of the day and say, “We have great customer service. They love us.” Not so, you might lose them as a customer because the ultimate thing that you want to build with customers is the peace of mind that you’ve got their back and you become their favorite partner. If you get people to think in terms of the greater purpose, the greater why at peace of mind, how are people going to sleep at night, those customers may retain you and work with you even if you don't have the best quality because you've got your back, built meaningful partnerships, and focused on the outcome. When you have a people-centric mindset and framework, their past, present, pride, and what is the ultimate peace of mind or purpose that you're trying to get to, then once established, I’ll work the mechanics, leveraging my process skills, root cause analysis to make, whatever you want to do to get the change that you want to meet. That's what makes the outcome more successful and sustainable.
You're speaking my language. That's absolutely where I sit in the leadership warehouse is the people plus purpose, equals profit. It's a simple mathematical formula that people plus purpose equals profit. If you focus on the profit year-end, you become a commodity, low value, low cost, easily forgotten and replaced. If you have amazing people and you have a strong purpose, a strong culture, and you can communicate that both internally and externally, amazing things happen for companies and people will buy in to change. This is where I want to go with this is that change scares people like nothing else.
When there are changes going on, and if they're small changes or large changes, whatever that change happens, it hits people viscerally. People reject it, they'll block it or they'll do whatever they can if they don't understand how that change makes their lives better. How do you go about that? That's a big part of it. We can get to know our people, we can work on our process but if we don't bring people along in the process, if we don't get people to understand how those changes benefit, not only the company but the individuals within it and help them be more effective at helping their customers and along the chain it goes, that process change will not be effective.Start with knowing the people in your organization. The rest should come easily. Click To Tweet
I've done this a couple of times and it’s large teams. Being part of the flavor and fragrance industry, often these large corporations will grow and acquire, harmonize and then phase out certain operations. By nature of this manufacturing expansion and decrease of your footprints, people will ultimately lose their jobs. That is a significant change. I've done this in a couple of different companies. When they know they're going to lose their job, they're going to be consolidative. Their work is going to be transferred to someplace else. I go in to try to establish common ground. When I find the common ground is we want to provide good service and quality to our customers. If they have the right DNA within them, that's all we're trying to do and then we all follow back. Once I’ve done the trust, get to know the person, understand the gifts that they bring forward, and we establish that common ground, the nitty-gritty of how we get there, close the plant, etc., we'll get through that. I find if I keep going back, what are we all here for?
What's the common thing that we both value? That's where I found the most success. When I find that I’ve closed down these companies, at least they felt at the end of the day, “I did the best thing by the customer, I transfer that knowledge and we didn't have a disruption of service.” People feel good about themselves. The business has to take care of these people. They're making a personal and emotional commitment. They trust the change. We're going to treat them with respect based on a common shared value. People will leave the company feeling, “I had a good experience.” It all starts with the human and helping to form the common ground to be able to move them through the change. Not everybody survives. They have to also have some self-awareness and reflection on themselves, but you have to communicate with people. That's the best tool that I can say.
It's also the word that uses dignity. Having realized that these are human beings with families, mortgages, expenses, everything that goes along with it, and there are challenges. I've heard stories through the crisis of 400-plus people being fired on a 120-second Zoom chat. The person who delivered the message didn't even put their camera on. They read a prepared statement from the president of the company and 400 people or whatever the number was were fired in 120 seconds. There are ways to help people through that transition. Yes, there's going to be redundancies. Unfortunately, there is going to be damage and you're going to lose people. Hopefully, you don't lose great people. These things happen but it's a matter of how you do it. I have a friend of mine who was brought in because they were closing a plant and they were taking the 350 or 400 jobs offshore.
Her job was for seven months to make sure that every single person either found another job or was upgraded in the skills that they needed to do. They did job fairs or they got them hired by other companies. It was done humanly. In this particular case, you now have 600 or 800 people that left that company with a great taste in their mouth that are still talking about that brand and how that brand took care of them as the brand had to move and do things. They were sad that they lost their job but each and every single one of them had a positive story about how they were taken care of. That's where we need to be looking.
This is relevant because I'm in a situation, a drop in quality leader, we are shutting a plant down, but the company is treating them with dignity. We're keeping them completely informed. I working with individuals on their career development, how to update their resume, and to contemplate what the next step might be. Again, treating with respect, they're given their all, and we're treating them the right way. You never know where those connections may come back around. Even if we part ways now, we may be collaborating later on. There are many better ways that we can do that. Treat the human right and the human will come back and treat you right.
The person that you let go now may end up going to a company that could either be a competitor of yours or a partner of yours. It all depends on how that situation comes up together. Partnerships are so strong. Partnerships are what make companies better. If we can sit there and say, “We're going to take care of our vendors, people, and our clients. We're going to put the best face forward that we can. This is the purpose of the organization. We're going to live it from the CEO down to the person who sends stuff out on the shipping floor and everybody in between.” People notice and people talk about that. People are proud to be part of those companies. They're proud to work for those companies, work with those companies, and buy from those companies. That's what we need to think. We're not affecting a process, we're not affecting moving stuff from one person to the other, we're affecting, how does the ecosystem work? The more we can think of this as an ecosystem that's interrelated, the better off we're going to be.
I can't agree with you more. I know by treating people with respect, not burning bridges, as I venture out into my consulting company, I'm finding relationships popping up, “Deb, we need your help.” That's a testament to how I treated people well and left a good taste in their mouth. Again, that's something that anybody can learn from whether you're a business or an individual, a business owner, or moving up in your career, think about those relationships. You may be frustrated. There may be changes. You may not get along with anybody. I'm speaking to individuals but think about what do you want to be remembered by? How do you want to be known? That's going to carry with you and you never know how it's going to come back, or you might have to work together and partner.
When we first started this conversation, you said something. I’ve always wondered, so I'm going to ask you. What is a Six Sigma Black Belt? What is the definition of it? What does that mean? What does it do for you by going through the Six Sigma Certification?
The black belt is simply a mastery of a certain amount of knowledge. There is a hierarchy. You go up to various levels like in the sport of karate and taekwondo. It demonstrates you have one of the highest levels of understanding and application of the knowledge. When it comes to Six Sigma, it relates to defect reduction. For instance, if you make 1,000 widgets on a production line and you're throwing out 100 of them, that's money out the window. If you make the only game in town and making a lot of money, that's fine but when the competition comes in, throwing away 100 widgets out of 1,000, you were losing money before but somebody is chomping at the bit and you need to do something to reduce the amount of variation in your process so that you don't have to be thrown out those widgets.
Maybe you only throw out three widgets per thousand. It puts more money in your bank account. It takes away all of that waste. If you can look at a process and reduce the variation, all those little things that ultimately result in a defect, it's being able to do that deep root cause analysis, break it into its components, make the necessary changes, sustain the changes, and move to another level of performance. I did that time and time again. I specialize in root cause analysis. There are many things, ugly statistics and analysis variation. if you can master some of this stuff, design of experiments, ways to improve your efficiency, you will then get tested, you have to demonstrate, and eventually, you get a certificate as a Six Sigma Black Belt.The ultimate thing that you want to build with customers is the peace of mind that you’ve got their back. Click To Tweet
You get a nice big certificate. You can put it on the wall and say, “I went through hours and hours of training to gain this knowledge.” The value is that you have that insight and you have that ability to sit there and go, “This isn't working. Why isn't it working? How do we make this better?” That's something every single person needs to be thinking about, whether you're a Six Sigma Black Belt or you're the person on the floor. Everybody needs to be thinking about what's inefficient. What's not working? What's causing us grief and tearing our hair out? How do we make it better? That's the responsibility of everybody to be able to step up and try to make the company better.
This should be a skill for everybody. People can go to a job and do day-in and day-out a particular job by going through the lens of what's inefficient, where am I producing waste? At the end of the day, if it was my business, I don’t want to get rid of that. I regularly look at my subscriptions and do I need that expense? I look at how I operate on a day-to-day basis. Am I having to rework and put something into three different spreadsheets? I'm constantly looking, even at the ways that I operate to be more efficient, be able to get more done in less time, or have more time for myself. It's a mindset, whether it's Six Sigma or Lean Methodology, we're here to get rid of those inefficiencies in what we do because it's money and it is people's time.
If you put it in the context of the time, people don't want to be working 12 or 14-hour days. They want to work eight hours a day and spend time doing the things they want. If you go in with a mindset of saying, “These are the optimum performance levels. This is where I'm at and trying to bridge those gaps whether it's Six Sigma or Lean,” it's a mindset. How do I look for efficiency? Any leader or any business should be able to go around and say. “What's worked for me before may not work now. How can I get everybody at all levels of the organization to evaluate, ‘Is this the best way of operating? Are there better ways? Do I need all these resources? Can I shift resources when I go from a paper method to an automated method? How can I leverage the resources I have to better partner with customers?’” Constantly looking at what you're doing through operational efficiencies using whatever approach is necessary for individuals, leaders, and CEOs of the companies.
It's also compensating and motivating people to be part of the process. I have this vivid memory of starting off in the printing industry many years ago in direct mail. I would fly a client of mine to Alberta. We'd go and be at a press for three days solid. The reason we were doing 500,000 a piece direct mail campaigns and they were 32-page or 64-page catalogs. You weren't being able to print the entire catalog at once. You do one run then you'd have to set up the press and run it again. The challenge was every time you changed the plates and the image, you had a different run-up sequence. This guy goes, “Why is it taking you so long?”
One time I took him down to the press and there are these two huge bins that are 6x6x4.5 feet tall and they're full of scraps of paper. The guy goes, “What is that?” I go, “That's the run-up for your job. This press is running reel to reel at 50,000 sheets an hour. We've got 50,000 sheets running every single hour.” Think about how fast this is running. Every time you go to change color, another 150 feet of paper has gone through the press. You're talking miles and hundreds of miles, sometimes a paper that you've gone through. The presses now where it might have taken 500 feet or 1,000 feet or whatever to run up can now do it in 50 to 100 because of the technology and the fact that it's all done digitally. The machine is able to self-adjust on the fly at that speed using lasers and using all sorts of data tracking to be able to do that. The presses are more efficient.
You have presses where they have plates you load in 3 or 4 sets of plates. The press runs one job. It kicks out one set of plates. It puts in the next on its own, sets it up and starts running on the next job. Off it goes, it can do 3, 4, or 5 jobs at a time without having to shut the machine down. Technology has changed. All of that is done because people are sitting there going how can we make things more efficient? How can we make things better? Asking their people, “What are the things that you need to be able to be more effective?” That's where a lot of leadership breaks down is they make assumptions without asking the question on a person-by-person basis. It's that human versus process thing where they focus on the process, but they don't ask the humans or they don't bring the human factor into it. Therefore, the changes that need to happen are nowhere near as effective as they should be. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.
I'm coming from a place of empathy. Certainly, we can apply a quality engineer and process improvement expert to make the changes. You can hire them. There's a little bit in leadership. My angle here is I asked to think about the leadership. First of all, in this particular example, this leader never did the gamble. They never walked to the floor until you were able to show them the scrap in that area. Do leaders feel comfortable coming out of their safe space and go see what's happening amongst the rank and file, and the work that's being done? Sometimes leaders are scared. You have to make sure that you spend time as you're trying to transition an organization. Understand the mindset and culture of what got the leader. There may not be what's going to get to move them forward. The other thing that I think about is do they even know to thank or what questions to ask? Sometimes leaders don't even know what questions to ask. In my teaching and training, ask them to listen more.
The only way you're going to listen more is if you ask thought-provoking questions. Do you spend time with the individuals doing the work? Do you even care? You have to have an element of caring. This is so simple. I may not be the best person to figure out what that changeover activity is to get it from 500,000 sheets or whatever down to a change over in seconds. At the end of the day, you need to start with the mindset of the leadership and say, “What's important to you? Do you know what your people are doing? Have you ever watched and walk the floor to see what's happening?” Don't even have an agenda. Ask people questions on how's their day going. You'll get a wealth of information and knowledge and start stirring your curiosity. If a leader is afraid to do that and he doesn't even know how to act or even be comfortable asking people questions, you may not have the right leader. That's my position on that. It's a little harsh, but I also think hardly a lot about the management we have in place to affect these kinds of changes.
I spoke at a conference and it was an online conference. I started by asking two questions and it was all about leadership. The first question was, as a leader, do you think that you have the tools in your tool belt right now to make you successful moving forward? Sixty-seven percent or 70% of the people said yes. I said, the next question is, do the people that work for you truly understand the purpose and vision of the company and how it affects them and how they can be successful moving forward? Twenty-nine percent said yes and the vast majority said that they were unsure. We all assume what we all assume. We assume that we have the skills. We assume that we have all the knowledge until somebody asks us a question that we don't know the answer to. That's the best thing is we don't know what we don't know. We all have those blind spots. We all have things we haven't got a clue about. We don't even know what the right question to ask.
That's where having trusted advisors come in. People with a different viewpoint, people that come and give it a fresh look. Somebody who sits there and goes, “Have you thought of this? Have you looked at that? Have you walked the floor recently?” I noticed this when I was walking through the floor, I've never even noticed that because we go blind. It’s like a commercial. We go nose blind to the things because we were so used to seeing it or we're so used to being around it. We don't even see things anymore. Having that fresh perspective, looking at things from different angles and viewpoints, and thinking about questions you've never asked before leads to enormous change. Those changes can be slight. They could be moving things from left to right or up to down. Those little changes could have an enormous effect, but we have to all be open to making those changes happen.You need to get your employees to have positive stories about how they were taken care of, even after firing them. Click To Tweet
That's the first step. I will say one thing that a lot of business leaders may shy away from consultants or business owners that can come in with a fresh set of eyes. A smart leader will realize, “I don't know what I don't know. I can only see so much.” Until I have somebody from the outside giving you their perspective, can I have that awareness and understanding to make better decisions? Leaders were afraid. People have to pay for our expertise because we have a lot of that and that external view, but wouldn't it be nice to get a short circuit, quick assessment to understand what you don't know then you can move forward as a leader versus trying to do it on your own.
I fully agree with you. I've got multiple mentors, people in my inner circle, curating the best knowledge, and not to be afraid of if they say something that I don't want to hear. I'll tell people that I'm training, “Let it sit a while. If you don't like what you heard, think about it, put it aside, come back to it because specifically what they said you needed is not exactly it, but you may see, there's some wisdom in that. I maybe do need to step back and think differently, redo my strategy, etc. It may not be that way but I do need to do something.” There's always a gift and all of that. It does start with leaders, having the openness to ask the question to say, “I need help. I don't know what I don't know. I need another view so I can move this company forward.” They may already be in your wheelhouse in the company. Just talk to the people in your company.
On the other hand, from our consulting point of view, wearing my consultant hat, I get crazy when people come in and say, “There's your problem. Bye.” I see the holes in the dike but that's not my job. My job is not to fix the holes in the dike. It's to point out that the holes are there in the dike, “By the way, there's that hole and that hole.” I have no idea how to fix it. That's not my responsibility. There's got to be a lot of conversation amongst people before you bring in a consultant, are you bringing in somebody that's going to point out the problems with you? Are you going to deal with somebody that has a reputation of not only being able to understand what the problems are and also to help you work your way through it?
That needs to be a two-way dialogue. You need to trust the consultant and the consultant needs to trust that they can help you. It can't be a cash cow situation. You need to come in and say, “This is what we need to do. This is how we're going to fix it. Here are some different options, Mr. Customer. Which way is going to work for you?” Sometimes time, budget or politics are a problem. You need to sit there and understand as a consultant, what are the problems the actual company is having and look at their particular challenges before you go and create your “solution” that they can never implement.
They may not be your ideal customer at that point in time because they may not quite be ready for that partnership to your point.
Deborah, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I want to leave it on two notes. I want to make sure that people know where the best way to get in touch with you.
Ben, this has been amazing. We've known each other for a bit but I sincerely appreciate the questions. This is so valuable to have these kinds of conversations and share them with others. To find me, I'm very active on LinkedIn, Deborah A. Coviello. I have a website, DropInCEO.com. Instagram and Twitter handles are @DropInCEO and a Facebook page, Illumination Partners. I’m happy to connect with anybody and kick around some ideas. It starts with a relationship, a conversation and maybe we'll do a transaction in the future. All I want to do is help people through their transitions, changes and elevate their performance. Ben, thank you so much.
It’s my extreme pleasure. This is the question I ask everybody. It’s one of my favorite questions. When you walk out the door, when you get in your car and into your drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
I left my mark. I left a legacy. I'm better because I’ve known her. That's all.
Thank you for being such a wonderful guest. Thank you for taking the time and being so generous with my audience. I love having you on the show.
It’s my pleasure, Ben. Thank you.
When hiring a consultant, Deborah Coviello knows that your primary goal will always be a resolution to a problem. As the Drop in CEO Deborah provides her clients with 20+ years worth of experience and strategy in Quality and Operational Excellence roles. She uses that knowledge in addition to her 15 years in the Flavors and Fragrance industry to identify, assess, and solve the issues that are preventing your business growth.
Deborah also understands that people are the heart of your business. In order to deliver on her promise of offering you “peace of mind,” she focuses on utilizing the talents of your team and elevating them to new levels of performance, setting them up to better serve your organization.
When she isn’t transforming businesses from within, Deborah is the host of the Drop in CEO podcast and avid curler. Deborah continues to give back to the ASQ community through mentorship, sharing practical application of the Human Development & Learning body of knowledge to everyday situations.
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