Leaving Your Mark

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By: Miriam Lieber, President, Lieber Consulting, LLC

One of the key observations I note at each of the businesses I visit is that you are only as good as the people who work for you. Moreover, you are only as good as the next leader you develop. In fact, you should be looking for your replacement. As owner or executive leader of your company, you should be thinking of your succession plan. Easier said than done, we will explore the topic in this article.

No single factor has a greater impact on your company’s future than the selection of the next ultimate leader. Whether it is the next supervisor, manager, or owner, these are the major decisions that are arguably the highest stake choices you will make in your tenure. After all, the next prosthetic, bra, or widget you sell is the same as the next company’s widget. Products are similar-or even the same-but it is the service you offer provided by the people selling or fitting it who make or break your company. 

OBJECTIVE METRICS AND MEASURES
So, how do you know if and when you employ the right leaders for your company moving forward? Ask yourself – can you trust this person/persons with your business? If you left for a period of time, would they be the people you would want to run the business?

One of the myriad ways to learn the answer is to assess them quantitatively against benchmarks and key metrics. For example, how well do they manage the bottom line? For billing management, look at figures like A/R greater than 120 days old. Percentage wise, it should not exceed 20% of overall A/R, according to industry benchmarks. For my company, I would expect it to be under 20% or set a goal to drive it under that percentage. I’d also look for denials to be worked within 48 hours of receipt or by the end of every week, at the latest. This will help maintain a healthy aged A/R balance.

Finally, I’d also look at timely filing denials, ensuring that this happens almost never, or is a seldom occurrence, at best. This is a preventable denial that I term “inexcusable.” If the billing/collections leader aims for goals such as these and maintains minimal write-offs, they are the kind of leader who looks at objective metrics for maximum accountability. How they lead is the other key ingredient used to determine if they are the next best leader in your organization. 

PERSONALITY TRAITS
While metrics and measures are objective ways to learn if the leader possesses the outcomes needed for leadership, their personality traits and behaviors are equally, if not more critical. They need to be the type of person/persons others want to emulate and follow, and they should exhibit model behavior, focusing on developing their staff as their priority and crediting the employee with the win if it genuinely fits. After all, success breeds success.

Leaders should also know when and how to make the tough calls. Consequently, some questions to pose of the next potential CEO are: how does this person handle pressure? How well do they make difficult decisions? Are they agile enough to deal with both the positives and negatives of running an operation such as yours? And finally, do they know how to “coach/manage up?” 

COACHING UP
When I think of coaching up, I think of author Quint Studer and his book, Results That Last. In that book, Studer defines managing or coaching up as, “Teaching leaders how to quit playing the ‘blame game’ and start positioning others—individuals, departments, and so forth—in a positive light. That’s managing up.” For example, if a customer comes in and you are short staffed because other staff members are on vacation, some employees might say, “Yes, we are swamped because leaders around here allow staff to take vacations at the same time.” Someone who coaches up might say, “I will be right with you and will give you my undivided attention. If you can wait, that’s great. It you can’t wait, here are some other options. We can schedule a time for you to come back. I am also happy to see if someone else can help you, if you prefer. If you’d rather me handle this by phone or email, that also works. The objective at our company is to solve your problem and to meet your needs.” Rather than make it a negative about the “we/they phenomenon,” which creates an atmosphere of distrust and negative images and feelings, look to find a possible solution as the short-staffed employee did in the example. That’s managing up. 

As you look for your successor, first develop your next leader(s). You know you can’t progress or make a move unless you find your replacement. Most require an investment over time. They also require your guidance, mentorship, and modeling of positive behaviors. Further, it will take time to help develop the key objective metrics against which to measure staff for productivity. It will also take patience and time to identify the person who has the right mix of motivational skills and the ability to make the tough decisions. Finally, train staff and leaders to always coach up, maintaining a company atmosphere that embodies a place where anyone would be proud to call their home and want to do their best. This is how you will find your replacement – promote a methodically thought-out succession plan over time to ensure you leave your company in good hands for the future. 


Miriam Lieber, President, Lieber Consulting LLC is a business management consultant who offers remote coaching and mentoring for all levels of leadership. Her team also offers on-site engagements to help improve operational efficiencies in the order to cash process. She can be reached at [email protected] or 818-692-1626.

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