Archive for the ‘Front Line Managers’ Category

Goal-Setting Best Practices

January 11, 2021

FountainBlue’s January 8 Front Line Managers’ Online meeting was on the topic of ‘Goal-Setting Best Practices’. My thanks also to our panelists for their participation. 

Lori Kate Smith, Health Wildcatters
Shobhana Viswanathan, Automation Anywhere
JD Dillon, Tigo Energy (not pictured)
Lynn Marie Viduya, Intermedia

Below are notes from the conversation.

Goal-Setting is important all the time, every time, but especially important in times of great change. To optimize for impact, focus on the vision and mission of the organization and ensure that your team’s goals and your personal goals are in alignment with the corporate mission, vision and objectives.

Indeed measured outcomes should be mapped to these overarching goals, and when market/people/technology change happens, and goals need to be re-visited, the new goals must be checked for alignment with the organization’s strategic mission/vision/objectives.

  • Communicating regularly within and outside the team will help create collaborations and help coordinate to achieve results. 
  • Having clarity on your target audiences and the definition of success will increase the likelihood of success.
  • Being clear on metrics – what to measure, what the commitment is, what the best case scenario is – will help everyone focus on driving results.
  • Being clear on the variables which impact whether a goal is reached will help all parties coordinate and collaborate to shift configurations in order to reach identified results.
  • Understanding the motivations of all parties will help you manage toward outcomes and build engagement.
  • Create a common agenda, a common goal, and empower and engage stakeholders to contribute in specific ways towards achieving that goal.
  • Understand the market needs and focus on the markets which best sustain your products and services in the short term and for the long term.
  • Base goals on the needs of the customer.
  • Treat your people well as you help them achieve their goals. Make sure that they have the resources and support they need, and that they are realistic about what they can achieve, particularly with current work from home mandates.
  • Measure your performance through OKR frameworks (objectives through key results), QBRs, etc.,

Make sure that the goals you’re targeting are in alignment with your personal needs, those of your team, and those of your organization.

Notes from the discussion are available at  

and attached is the slide deck.


Planning for 2021

December 15, 2020

FountainBlue’s December 15 Front Line Managers’ Online meeting was on the topic of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of 2020 and Its Impact on Planning for 2021’.  Please join me in thanking our panelists for their participation and insights. 

  • Amber Barber, Lam Research
  • Roxanne dos Santos, Samsung Research America
  • Maranda Dziekonski, Swiftly
  • Ronald Goossens, ASML
  • Karthi Gopalan, Maxim Integrated
  • Thenu Kittappa, Nutanix 
  • Louise Lamb, Coupa Software
  • Debbie Shotwell
  • Amanda York, Lam Research

We launched the discussion by talking not just about the social, political, economic, and cultural impact of everything that has transpired, but also discussing how we as leaders and organizations have benefited.  

The events of 2020 helped us to see how fragile, how inter-connected we are to each other. Like a house of cards, systemic issues arose in America’s economic, political, social, operational systems as a direct and indirect result of the global pandemic. Everyone has been impacted directly and indirectly.

Yet we must also exclaim at how resourceful and resilient individuals, corporations, teams and technologies have been through these challenges.

  • Technology and innovation rose to the challenge, providing solutions which keep us connected and working securely and efficiently. Indeed the adoption of digital systems has surpassed expectations because of the necessity to do so around pandemic-related circumstances.
  • Technologies and companies have actually increased their revenues and projections as a direct result of the increased need for technology and innovation. This trend just keeps growing, as demand gets bigger and broader.

Key to the success of organizations and leaders is how we treat our people.

  • Thinking, speaking and acting like your people are your primary resource builds trust and credibility as well as productivity and sustainable earnings.
  • Involving our people in identifying and solving problems builds engagement and involvement as well as commitment.
  • Work with your people to help them be more resilient, more adaptive, more receptive, more collaborative.
  • Listen with empathy, with the sincere intent to be of service and provide support, tools and resources in a format which is digestible to the people served.
  • Solicit feedback and input. Genuinely talk to others and sincerely ask for feedback and input on a wide range of topics.
  • Arm your people with dialogues, resources, skills so that they can better understand the people they manage and lead.
  • Be more open-minded, more tolerant and expand your definition of what’s acceptable and professional as the line between personal and professional further blurs.
  • Be more agile in understanding and solving problems, more inclusive on who gets involved in the process.
  • Each resource may be double-edged swords, so customizing what people get and how they receive it would serve everyone well.
  • Teaching and supporting others on how to better lead and manage is a great investment.
  • Companies and managers who have not been good to their people will see massive turnover when the economy returns and jobs become more plentiful.

The problems we face in the next normal are not known or predictable, but the learnings from this year of great change will increase the likelihood that we would together rise to the challenge.

  • There may be a hybrid model for returning to work, so management and leaders need to figure out how to deliver everyone what they need to optimally perform.
  • The decision-making process will be much more nuanced as we factor in so many more things that are important. 
  • Be deliberate and intentional on all things that matter, particularly if it directly impacts the health, safety and happiness of your people.
  • Collaboration across organizations and countries is helping companies build a more versatile, flexible and robust supply chain and deliver a wider breadth of offerings and solutions. 
  • Productivity has not waned much, despite the disruption to on-site work. But the productivity gains are not sustainable, so we must make sure that we manage for empathy and balance, and provide resources to make working from home easy, and respectful balance to support separation of work and life.
  • Companies and teams that ‘follow the money’ will see where the business opportunities are, especially if they are nimble enough to not just see the new needs of their customers, but resourceful and committed enough to deliver same.
  • Through this year of chaos and disorder, we each have plenty of time to contemplate What’s important, Who’s Important, and What We’re Going to Do About This. 

We closed the discussion looking at the upsides of the challenges we faced this year, and reflected on how we each found opportunities to be more resilient, more creative, more resourceful, more human, and even more connected through these challenges. Indeed, in the face of potential Doom and Gloom, we found and created Black Swan effect.

Investopedia: Understanding a Black Swan –

A black swan is an extremely rare event with severe consequences. It cannot be predicted beforehand, though after the fact, many falsely claim it should have been predictable.

Black swan events can cause catastrophic damage to an economy by negatively impacting markets and investments, but even the use of robust modeling cannot prevent a black swan event.

Reliance on standard forecasting tools can both fail to predict and potentially increase vulnerability to black swans by propagating risk and offering false security. ..

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor, writer, and former Wall Street trader, used the 2008 financial crisis and the idea of black swan events to argue that if a broken system is allowed to fail, it actually strengthens it against the catastrophe of future black swan events. He also argued that conversely, a system that is propped up and insulated from risk ultimately becomes more vulnerable to catastrophic loss in the face of rare, unpredictable events.

Investopedia: Understanding a Black Swan –


The Next Normal

December 7, 2020

FountainBlue’s December 4 Front Line Managers’ Online meeting was on the topic of ‘The Next Normal’. My thanks also to our panelists for their participation. 

  • 2020 – A Story for the Ages – Debbie Shotwell
  • Collaborating to Create An Agile and Resilient Supply Chain – Amanda York, Lam Research
  • Optimizing Operations and Facilities – Aaron Campbell, OhmniLabs
  • Rethinking Business Strategies and Business Models – Krista Pavlakos, Renesas 
  • Embracing a Decentralized Workforce – Louise Lamb, Coupa Software
  • Predictions for the Next Normal and How to Prepare for It – (everyone choose ONE)

We launched the discussion by talking about the social, political, economic, and cultural impact of everything that has transpired and its impact on the people, the companies and even the industries impacted by the changes. All speakers agreed that this is not just a moment in time, but a seismic shift in the way we work and live.

  • We will never look at viruses and germs in the same way. Whereas before we might have pushed through and work as warriors when we are sick, we now would rather not infect others and take the time to stay home, responding digitally, or just stay home for self care.
  • We will be more agile, more labile with the way we manage our business and technology processes, the way we manage our relationships and our people. An iterative approach to managing would make us more effective as leaders and managers.
  • We will all be more strategic with our business strategies and business models – not just more agile, but also more creative, more resourceful, more resilient, and more collaborative.

Below are some best practices shared by our panelists.

  • Leveraging digital technology to deliver customized services has helped small companies get big, big companies get bigger, and everyone get more customized services more quickly. Indeed, the events of 2020 have greatly accelerated the adoption of the digital experience at all levels.
    • To build more digital dexterity, innovate your technology, respect the speed of innovation and provide real-time support.
  • Strategically coordinate between internal and external teams to proactively manage and lead through change.
    • Manage the rhythm and cadence of communication and change.
    • Align the various ecosystems of stakeholders.
    • Ensure accountability and clear communication on measured outcomes.
  • Partnerships with customers and vendors, partnerships across teams and organizations will help develop win-wins when the game changes in unexpected ways, through this and future pandemics and their associated other disruptive challenges.
  • To build employee involvement and engagement through times of great change, provide transparent, proactive communication and updates, challenge them to participate in strategy and execution and innovation challenges, where relevant, make them feel valued, and provide opportunities to learn and have fun.
  • To stay relevant during these extraordinary circumstances, you could Outwit others, or Outplay others, but more important than that is the ability to Outlast others – the resiliency and ability to pivot are key.
  • Measuring important data will help us to focus on managing the impact of a pandemic (or just about anything) on our people, our processes, our operations.
  • With every challenge comes an innovation opportunity. Leveraging collaborations will lead to more original innovations. Finding niche opportunities and adjacent markets may be a silver lining through this period of great change.

The bottom line is that we will all be more cognizant of our impact on people, on what matters to us most, and be more humane, more human as we now better understand what’s important.


Welcoming the Gift of Feedback

November 20, 2020

FountainBlue’s November 6 Front Line Managers’ Online meeting was on the topic of ‘Welcoming the Gift of Feedback’. My thanks also to our panelists for their participation. 

  • The Gift of Feedback – Maranda Dziekonski, Swiftly
  • Explain the Why – Maranda Dziekonski, Swiftly
  • The Customer as King – Kavita Shah, Nova
  • Performance Review Feedback – Colm Lysaght, Micron
  • Facilitating Awkward Feedback Conversations – Thenu Kittappa, Nutanix
  • Best Practice for Providing Feedback as a Gift – All

Below are notes from the discussion. Our panelists agree that Feedback is not a choice, but a reality, a natural part of learning and growing. In fact, you should worry if you’re not getting feedback, as you may be getting complacent or you may be isolated or others might be afraid to provide you with input.

Thoughts on Welcoming Feedback

  • Giving or receiving feedback means that you’re invested in the success in the person or project or initiative – invested enough to provide input with the objective of improvement.
  • A good way to get positive feedback is to be proactive about managing yourself, and communicating what you’re doing, what you need to succeed, what success looks like, etc., 
  • Provide the data and information to back up the feedback you’re giving. Have the same expectation when others give feedback to you.
  • Feedback should be given continuously and productively. There should be no surprises at annual performance reviews for example.
  • Feedback is a team sport. Share feedback across teams and organizations.

Thoughts on How to Better Communicate Feedback

  • Treat feedback as a gift, an opportunity to learn and grow and level-up! Be open enough so that you can understand and integrate that feedback so that you can grow and learn.
  • Give feedback with sensitivity and humility and curiosity. Give feedback because you care about the person or project.
  • Use feedback to help your team feel empowered and engaged. A happy team makes for a happy customer!
  • When feedback is painful, be open and curious, but also give yourself time for self-reflection and integration. Keep being courageous and open, but don’t make deadlines for when feedback must be adopted.
  • Remember that feedback about the quality of work done can be a very sensitive discussion – it’s a tough conversation whether the quality is too good (not efficiently produced) or not so good…
  • Manage and communicate feedback so that the other party takes ownership, adopts strategies for improving, and invests in making a necessary change.
  • Second-hand feedback must be dealt with directly, so feedback doesn’t become gossipy and petty.
  • Provide feedback which is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. 
  • Be clear on expectations and the metrics for success. 
  • When you’re giving feedback on somebody’s communication style, be clear whether you’re addressing the performance, the communication pattern or both. 

The Role of Customer Feedback

  • Listen to the feedback that customers provide, and leverage that feedback to drive the product roadmap.
  • With that said, understanding the market feedback and the input of multiple customers helps you in turn give insights and input to customers.
  • It’s critical to then provide feedback to the team, about the input of customers, as this would help the team implement the solutions in demand.
  • Let market and customer feedback define the time, the effort and the commitment to products and solutions.
  • Respect the transactional aspects of relationships, but focus on the partnerships developed and long-term commitments made.

The bottom line is that feedback is a critical part of the growth of an individual, a team, a product, an organization. Creating a culture of empathy and trust can lead to more productive and constructive feedback, raising the bar for all makes everyone better and stronger. 


6 Ways To Build A Feedback Driven Culture That Inspires8 Examples of Constructive Feedback With Sample ScenariosHow to Ask Your Customers Questions to Get Feedback (Tips)

Productivity Hacks

November 6, 2020

FountainBlue’s November 6 Front Line Managers’ Online meeting was on the Productivity Hacks topic. My thanks also to our panelists for their participation. 

  • Email Productivity Hacks – Parshuram Zantye, Lam Research
  • Meeting Management Techniques – Nancy Moreno, Equinix
  • Leveraging IT for the Good of All – Sameer Mehdiratta, Renesas
  • Optimizing Communications – Adriane McFetridge, Netflix

Below are notes from the discussion.

The pressure to be productive in a technology company has been intensified by the global and technological evolution over the past couple of decades, and further exacerbated by the health, social, economic and political stressors introduced in 2020.

Our panel of technology professionals shared some very useful best practices which are compiled below.

  • Be strategic so that you can work efficiently. 
    • A firefighting mode takes more energy and resources and in the end might not be as effective as planning ahead strategically.
    • Focus on what’s most impactful, most important to you. (See Stephen Covey 4 Quadrants)
      • 80% of your time should focus on the 20% of things which are most important to you.
      • Although you may do some firefighting for things that are important and urgent, most of your time should focus on the important things that are not urgent.
    • Distinguish between the urgent and the important and prioritize accordingly.
    • Consciously spend less time on incidental communications and proactively manage how much time you need from others for non-essential things.
  • Manage your meetings well.
    • Be clear whether meetings are for information, discussion/debate, decision-making, brainstorming etc., and communicate the agenda accordingly.
    • Use the agenda to construct follow-up notes and actions.
    • Create value in short, iterative steps and build a predictable rhythm in the meeting and for the team.
    • Know the purpose of the meeting, the audience of the meeting, the role of each attendee and focus on the joint goals of the meeting.
  • Manage communications so that all intended recipients can be clear and productive, and everyone is clear on the task at hand, and clear on the background/status/purpose for the project.
    • Know your audience and communicate to their needs.
    • Start with the big picture communication in the first three sentences, leaving the details under that. 
    • Deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time for the right reason.
    • Understand the impact of the communication, and the implications for the recipients and plan accordingly. 
    • Describe strategic details to those who are tactically-minded and vice versa so that parties understand how the team/people work together.
  • Proactively manage your up-times and your down-times, away from your e-mail, your social media accounts, your slacks and texts.
  • Be purposeful in what you do, focused on doing it well.
    • Sometimes multi-tasking is over-valued, if a singular, concentrated focus on a high-priority task is what’s in order. (Adopt the open-one-drawer-at-a-time mindset where appropriate.)
    • Welcome input and feedback and perspectives.
    • Know yourself and what you like to do, what you do well, and find opportunities which let you do both.
  • Help others be more productive in these trying times.
    • Help them adjust to the process and technology changes which need to happen to keep up with work and market demands. 
    • There will be ‘life’ challenges which interfere with the productivity of others, including elderly care, child care, grocery shopping, house issues etc., Insisting on productivity when life hits hard could make people less productive in the end, and less committed and engaged.
  • Embrace technology to support you in efficiently managing your workload and communications.
    • Video conferencing and the associated tools including recording, breakout rooms, subtitles and translations help us better document and communicate. 
    • The pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption for individuals and companies. IT teams have moved mountains to provide secure and efficient access for their staff from locations throughout the world. These solutions make it easier for everyone to remotely communicate, collaborate and connect.

Studies show that we have not lost too much productivity, despite the challenges of 2020. But in the end, we are all social beings, so working in isolation may impact our productivity in the long run. Providing the technology solution and the physical contact will be necessary in order to maintain our productivity levels.