July 19, 2022

Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things are Going South with Lisa Gable | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things are Going South with Lisa Gable | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Lisa Gable, Former US Ambassador, UN delegate, CEO, and author of Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South. In the conversation, Lisa Gable shares how leaders can get their teams and organizations back on track based on her experience as an executive responsible for turnarounds of various organizations. Lisa Gable also shared how turnaround principles can help teams stay aligned with organizational strategy in the face of an ever-changing external environment.   Finally, Lisa Gable shared whether and how leaders who have been with an organization, rather than external hires, can lead turnarounds.



Some highlights:

-How Lisa Gable became part of the Reagan administration at a very young age.

-Lisa Gable's service at the Pentagon 

-Going to work at Intel and having the opportunity to learn about organizational alignment & OKRs from the very best, including Andy Grove

-Problem-solving lessons and how they apply in for-profit companies to government agencies and non-profit organizations 

-Lisa Gable on what it took to bring together disparate to battle obesity

-How leaders can help everyone in their organization and on their teams align toward achieving a common objective

-Lisa Gable's recommendation on how CEOs and Executive Directors can best manage their boards

-How to have greater team collaboration in a hybrid future of work




Mentioned:

Vanessa Bohns (Listen to Vanessa Bohns’ episode on Partnering Leadership here)


Books Mentioned:

High Output Management by Andrew Grove

 



Connect with Lisa Gable:

Lisa Gable Website

Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South on Amazon

Lisa Gable on Facebook

Lisa Gable on Twitter

Lisa Gable on LinkedIn



Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

https://mahantavakoli.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mahan/

 

More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

https://www.partneringleadership.com/



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited to speak to be welcoming Lisa Gable. Lisa is the CEO, a former US ambassador, UN delegate, and she's also the author of the wall street journal bestseller, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South. She is recognized worldwide as a turnaround mastermind, and I really enjoy this conversation.

Finding out some of the principles in leading turnarounds which can also apply to all of us as we lead our teams and organizations through uncertainty. I'm sure you will enjoy the conversation too. 

I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. You can also leave voice messages for me on partneringleadership.com. There's a microphone icon you can use for that. Don't forget to follow the podcast on your favorite platform. Now here is my conversation with Lisa Gable.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Lisa Gable, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

Lisa Gable: 

I am thrilled to be with you today. Thanks so much for inviting me. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Can't wait to talk about your book, Turnaround, but also your substantial experience, whether it's in government, philanthropy or business. Both guiding and turning around organizations. But before we get to that, Lisa would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become.

Lisa Gable: 

I grew up in Southern Virginia and I was very blessed to have a family that was extremely close. My father was a self-made man. He started an organization at the local level, which ended up with some level of national prominence. And I really learned from him. I watched what he did. I watched his humility. I watched his character. 

Most importantly, what I saw is how he mentored people throughout his life. And my mother also was very involved in different activities. Some on the international realm. So, watching parents who believed in partnerships and mentoring, that gave me the foundations for who I became.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Lisa, it sounds like you were a go-getter from the beginning. You wanted to get on the cheerleading squad. Things didn't work out. What did you end up doing then?

Lisa Gable: 

Basically, my friends and I tried out for the varsity cheerleading squad and we didn't make it. We could have stayed in junior varsity, but we really wanted to be in varsity. So, we started our own cheerleading squad. 

And we were thrilled to death when we went to the national conference and we actually ended up getting the blue ribbon instead of the squad that we didn't make.

So, my philosophy in life is if something doesn't work out, then just go start your own thing and do exactly what you wanna do.

Mahan Tavakoli:

And you've done a lot of that. So how were you able to become the youngest appointee in the Reagan white house at 19?

Lisa Gable: 

I wasn't exactly in the white house. I was part of the Reagan administration. And I had heard about a job when I was interning the summer prior called the student liaison officer. That was an individual that was chosen and had to be a college student to come and work at the department of education.

It had a very rigorous process that you had to go through, a series of interviews and I really wanted to do it. It was during the time period where they were privatizing student loans. And I had put myself through college in graduate school. So, I'd gone through the process of analyzing the best way of both earning money as well as borrowing money or getting scholarships.

And essentially, I was chosen to speak to students across the country about the privatization process. What it meant to them personally and what their options were for financing their college education so it was an amazing experience. It also overlapped with the re-election campaign. So, I was exposed for the first time to a national campaign just by the mere fact that I was in Washington, even though I wasn't working with the campaign.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Pretty early on when you were at the Pentagon, you also went through a Georgetown program.

Lisa Gable: 

I did. So, I had applied to a program called the National Security Studies Program at Georgetown. It was a program that was set up for individuals that were later in their career. Most of them were in their late thirties. Many of them were military personnel that were looking for that full bird colonel or that first star as a general some were the intelligence agencies and it was 85% men.

Again, I had discovered this particular program while I was interning in Washington and found out there was a full scholarship for it. I started sending letters to the woman who was head the foundation that provided the two-year scholarship. Initially she was patting me on the head and saying this is really for a different type of individual.

So, then I started gearing all of my papers in college to document why I should be in this program. I think I wore her down because I did get the scholarship and I was one of very few women. There was another 21-year-old and I and pretty much everybody else was in their late twenties and their thirties and early forties.

Mahan Tavakoli:

 It's some of that persistence Lisa that shows up throughout your experience, whether in government then eventually private sector. What helped you make the transition from the government to private sector? 

Lisa Gable: 

When I was at the Pentagon, it was during the cold war. And we were working on export controls. Essentially what was happening is that we were controlling the export of dual use technologies to countries that were part of the Soviet bloc. And or had a way of getting that technology into the Soviet bloc.

Essentially with the cold war, we were going head to outspend the Russians on technology development. And we were successful in doing that. The technologies at that time were semiconductors and supercomputers. I actually wrote my master's thesis on the Chinese integration of these dual use items of semiconductors and supercomputers both into their military systems as well as their banking systems. And that's how I ended up at Intel corporation. 

I've gotta tell you, 33 years later, I did not expect to be addressing these exact same issues once again.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is interesting how those are top of issues right now being addressed, whether by organizations or through government policy. Now, in your transition to Intel, Lisa, a big advocate for objectives and key results. Love Andy Grove, always quote him with Only the paranoid survive Know you recommend high output management. 

So, you went from government service into an incubator of great manufacturing which was somewhat in trouble the time that you went there. What was your experience at Intel like?

Lisa Gable: 

The US semiconductor manufacturers had basically lost market share to the Japanese and there was a huge trade war going on at the time. And Craig Barrett was the individual who hired me. He was semi senior vice president manufacturing at the time, and he would later become CEO and chairman of Intel.

But Craig basically turned around manufacturing at Intel and I had the opportunity to learn from the master. He taught me about statistical process control. He taught me about his theory of copy, exactly, which meant that every single fab, no matter where it was in the world had exactly the same systems. Exactly the same screws. Everything was the same. And bringing a cost efficiency to the process and also a dependability so that you could sustain manufacturing production. I can't even begin to tell you the influence that had on my life. 

I actually shared a cubicle wall with Andy Grove for a short period of time. That was frightening. And very intimidating. He also had quite a temper. But to learn from those individuals who really turned around the philosophy behind manufacturing in the United States and to take those processes and apply them across every complex situation in which I find myself, I couldn't imagine any better training.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's one of the elements that's unique in your book and your experience, Lisa. In that turnaround of whether it's organizations, projects, requires a combination of the understanding of the people side of it, also a systemic approach. 

And one of the things I find that in many organizations what's lacking the systemic approach that seemed to be a big part of the culture at Intel and something that you got from that experience.

Lisa Gable: 

It did. It was an amazingly disciplined operation. We had to show up at our meetings on time. We had to have an agenda for everyone on one that. We had our objectives and key results that flowed into the objectives and key results of everyone up the ladder so that the entire company was operating on a set of core objectives.

And you were never confused about what success was. You were never confused about how you would measure success. But we talk about job one. And that was something that Andy brought up, which is just that hyper focus on job one. What's the number one thing you have to be able to do in order to survive, thrive, and actually win the economic battle. And that was the production of semiconductors. 

Until, it went from a period in the late 80 of starting the company and then everyone struggling with that to basically owning 85% of the marketplace around the time that I left.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You learned at Intel the need for focus on job one. You've added job two and job three to that. So, what are job two and job three. One is keep laser focused on what you're supposed to get done. What are two and three?

Lisa Gable: 

They are your backup singers. Those are the two other things that are going to enable you to get that job one done. 

So, let me give you a completely different example, one which is in the area of medical research. Job one is getting that therapy through the FDA, to the patient in a manner that you're representing the voice of the patient at every step along the way.

But in that case jobs two and three have to do with clinical trials and data. You need to make sure that you have diverse populations engaged with the development of that drug. And in order to both best represent the need of the patient to the FDA in order to get it approved, you have to have data.

And job one is the therapy, but there are two other essential elements that were required in order to get that FDA approval and to make sure that the drug is actually applicable and usable by all communities that need it.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Let's say a great example, showing that jobs two and three are not competitive with job one. They're not alternatives to job one. As you said, backup singers in support enabling organization to achieve that job one.

Lisa Gable: 

Absolutely. It really is. I am a mentor for the Chan Zuckerberg initiative that they do with the milk and Institute rare is one. I just met with my mentee and those were the things that we were talking about is what are the three things you need to do to meet the needs of the patient. 

So, it gives you an incredible level of focus because it also makes you realize what are distractions. 

There are so many things that we do on a daily basis that are distractions. You need to get rid of those. In some cases, I call them the variables. Those are the things that are harder to control. They suck up a lot of time. They can cost a lot of money. They're not helping you accomplish your objective and other cases, they might be things like just in the Northern amount of paperwork and reporting structures that really aren't necessary in order to get the job done.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Lisa, that by itself is one of the most important takeaways if people actually reflect on it for their own professional lives their teams or for their organizations. Our lives are full of noise and distractions. Oftentimes we end up running after those distractions. 

Organizations spend a lot of time on those distractions than staying laser focused on that job one. So, that's a tremendously valuable insight, whether you're looking to turn around or you are looking to effectively execute under organization strategy. 

Now you had the government experience, you had the business experience but you also ended up getting involved in an attempt to reduce calories, which is close to my heart, Lisa. 

My undergrad degree was in human nutrition. I did some graduate work in it and the obesity across the globe, most especially in the US, with childhood obesity is a serious concern. So how were you able to make a difference?

Lisa Gable: 

The idea for bringing an industry collaborative together was Indra Nooyi. Indra was CEO of PepsiCo and she stood up in 2018 at an industry event. She basically threw out a challenge to all of her peers, which was that the industry was getting beaten up by public health officials and regulators.

And she knew that they were already making a number of changes in their product portfolio. But there was no consistent mechanism for tracking those changes. Or actually measuring what the impact of those changes might be on target populations. 

So, when I was brought into basically launch what was called the healthy weight commitment foundation and the initiative, the companies handed me a list of nine different commitments that they might make.

Yet when we started looking across all their product portfolios, they represented 35% of the food sold in America. What we recognized is that not all of them can make the changes that were being outlined. Ice cream isn't the same as bread, and it's not the same as soup or frozen meals.

So, you couldn't really standardize or do any form of measurement. I always tell people, I took a lot of migraine medicine at that time. Public health was getting anxious because they thought the companies were avoiding the problem. The companies had pages and pages of different formulations of products, trying to find a common denominator.

And essentially what happened is that the chief scientist at Campbell soup was talking at a meeting with an epidemiologist who was well known in the public health community. And they leaped out of their chairs and they said, it's all about calories. And everybody's sitting there going what are you talking about?

It should have been obvious, but it never was. We had gone through six months of meetings talking about sugars and fats and sodium. And when they said calories, what we recognized is that was the common denominator. When you reduced calories in the food supply, you would automatically reduce sugar and fat.

But by focusing on calories that allow those very diverse product sets to make changes in their product portfolios that fit the needs of the consumer for taste value and convenience, because A, it needs to taste good or nobody's gonna buy it. B, it needs to be cost-effective or else you can't afford to buy it.

And people want convenient food. So, we were very successful in reducing ultimately 6.4 trillion calories out of the marketplace.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is an incredible success. Now I wonder in addition to aligning around something that everyone could do, which in this instance was calories. There are pretty big egos you've had to deal with over the years, Lisa, whether in this initiative or in general, as you guide boards, guide organizations to turnarounds. 

How do you the people to put aside their egos or their interests to align to support that common purpose and common cause that you are advocating? 

Gable: 

Well, we use process. And in some cases, we use decision trees because I do believe that if you can get to agree on the end result, and then start building the path backwards is how you achieve that end result by looking at that physical sheet of paper where it says if we do this, then we go here. If we do this, then we can go here, that very literal process of a decision tree really removes the tension from the room. 

It gets everyone basically looking at everything in a very, almost mathematical quantitative structure. 

Secondarily, as I introduce common language. And what I've learned is in marketing people use terms to gain market share. The food and beverage industry Kellogg would describe something one way and general mills would describe it another way and Coca-Cola would describe it one way and PepsiCo would describe it another, and once we recognized that they were basically using the language and trying to embed it, and people were getting so mad, we for our first press release, we had 38 40 changes. 

We had more red marks on that press release. So, it was like, timeout, we cannot keep doing this. So, what we did is we set up a white paper and in that white paper, we wrote down what the different terms were and we wrote down what our objectives were and we essentially agreed to a terminology that we govern how we communicated our mutual interest. 

And the critical element was that terminology could not give a market advantage to one company over another. So, you have to be systematic. You have to be thoughtful. You have to be process driven, but you have to remove emotion from the room. And then competition is always the key. You get people competing against each other and you let market forces drive competition to make change that will benefit society. It is amazing all that can be done.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What I get from what you said, Lisa, is that systems matter and make a big difference. Language is important because language plays a role in the emotions it evokes. And then competition enables for achieving those goals. Now, Lisa, you have spent a lot of your time and focus both yourself as a CEO and a period of time running a consulting firm that focused on turnarounds. 

What I wonder is it possible for leaders that are with an organization to lead a turnaround, or does a turnaround typically happen when someone from the outside with a fresh perspective in to turnaround the team or the organization?

Lisa Gable: 

I think either way. I will tell you what we found during the dot com boom, just when I had my company is by bringing people in from the outside, it did eliminate the tension because people always second guess why you're making a recommendation. What advantage you're gaining internally by making that recommendation. And that's probably one of the biggest challenges in any type of turnaround is that people are always suspect. Well, what's the real intent. What did they real? Are they gonna get something out of this? 

And so that maybe that you do bring people in from the outside. In other cases, you don't always get that choice in the matter. All of a sudden there's a business division and due to some market changes that have happened, maybe the products that you're making are no longer applicable to the market that currently exist. And so, people do have to dig in. 

But the number one thing to do is to take the time. If you're the person in charge, whether you're an internal person or an external person to go and sit down with everybody that will be impacted by the changes that you're making. Listen to what they have to say, articulate back to them what you hear is going to be the pain point for them personally or for their group, and then identify with them and understanding that we have to make a change and walk it through from the words that they use. 

I heard you say this now, right now, data's telling us that if we do it the same way, we're not gonna achieve the objective that you really ultimately wanna achieve. Giving them the respect using facts to help guide the conversation, and then bringing them into the process of resolution will enable you to have that group of people clapping for you when you come over the finish line. You want 'em clapping. You don't want 'em throwing stuff at you.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

In making the change possible, it's the people in the organization that either enable and support that change or many instances are the ones that put roadblocks up, proving that this change wasn't meant to be successful from the beginning. We knew it from the beginning this wouldn't work. 

Now, in your book, you also go through a four-step process, Lisa, on how leaders can initiate turnaround. Again, whether the organization or team needs a turnaround and they're coming in from the outside or just the fact that right now we are living through very uncertain times where organizations consistently to be doing turnarounds to stay relevant. 

What is the process you recommend for leaders to think through they want to turn around the performance of their teams and organizations?

Lisa Gable: 

What you need to do is start with visualizing the future. What I mean by that is release yourself from the confines of what currently exist. What I tell people is if you were starting this thing today, you wouldn't do it the way that you're currently doing it. So, tell me what your perfect future is. If you could wave your magic wand, what's your perfect future. Okay, we have that future in our minds. 

So, what we need to do now is go and audit what we've done before audit, where we currently are audit our past. Try to identify what is the underlying cause of the disease of your organization. Where did things start to go off the rails? What was it that led us to this point? Did you make a lot of compromises? Did you make accommodations? Did you perhaps spend too much money on one thing and starve something else that you needed? 

Once you've done that auditing process, what you can also then do is you start to rank and rate things. You've got your perfect future. So, you look at all the stuff in your portfolio. I make stacks. Other people do spreadsheets. However, you try to organize information and you begin to rank and rate your activities against what will best enable you to hit that perfect future. 

And that's where your jobs one, two and three come from right? You can only do so much. So, somebody's gotta be one, two and three. Somebody has to be the core thing that's gonna get you there, and everything else that's not gonna get you there, you start getting rid of it. Through that process, you build your path, you build your infrastructure from the past to that future you want.

What I tell people is that you've gone through all the process of listening to people. You've created your decision trees, you've ranked and rated. Once you have the answers, you can stop the spinning. You can stop the introspection. You can stop the group think because you have the answer. You know what the number one thing is you have to do.

You've gotten rid of stuff you've ranked and rated and you can hit the ground running and you can execute with speed, confidence, agility, and I added heart. 

And what heart means is that every decision you make is going to have an impact on a person, might have an impact on your customer, on your partner, on your direct reports, you have to acknowledge it. You can't make the hard changes. You're struggling. This thing's going down the tubes, but you have to acknowledge that it is going to impact someone negatively.

 And I believe in maintaining relationships. I don't believe that you burn bridges. I think you help people if they're good people, you help them find something else. There might be an opportunity to partner with them in the future. So, keep the person in the center of your focus even if you have to make a hard change, can't avoid it. But you also need to treat them with respect and dignity.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

There are a couple of points you mentioned that I wanted to underline Lisa, with the clients that I deal with one of the biggest issues and challenges is what you mentioned with respect to the execution, and everyone being aligned and moving on, moving forward once the agreement has been reached. Not second guessing, not reopening the conversation. 

That's one of the challenges that I find a few months, then the conversations are open again and they shouldn't be. One of the things I was wondering about though is, I think about a specific client where we were having conversations where the team members weren't aligning.

There was a big conversation about the whether the organization should move forward with much greater use of technology, changing some of the go-to market strategies, and some felt that would be losing the core essence of the organization. The organization should remain much more an in-person interaction organization. 

So, when there are splits in the organization, in terms of the view of that future, how does that decision-making process in your experience work best? Is it something that the CEO and the board sit down and decide and they move forward whoever is aligned comes along or is it something that you need to get most of the members of the organization who to a certain extent have lived in that past to be able to buy into the future before marching forward?

Lisa Gable: 

This is where process is king as is data. The one thing Craig Barrett told me is speak with facts. The degree to which you can structure the why behind what you want to do based on data, based on facts. You acknowledge why they want to keep something the way that it was, but you need to look at the quantitative elements and see whether or not that will help you to achieve your objective.

Worlds go through cycles. Organizations go through cycles. The world changes. It has to change, and the emotion behind change is very difficult. Again, it's one reason I like decision treats. But Intel had a process that I find to be very effective which was called disagree and commit. 

It's funny, I was at a wedding about 10 years ago and ran into a bunch of Intel people I hadn't seen in 25 years. And I overheard them talking to someone at the wedding about disagree and commit and all of a sudden, all the old Intel people are showing up. What it means is that you go into a room, you have the conversation. You can speak loudly, you can fight it out. You can all get your points on the table, but when you walk out the door, you have to have a united front. And if you're not united, then you're not gonna be successful. 

You know, I've worked with companies where there's a passive aggressive culture and it just murders the company. It really does because people will nod and they'll smile. They won't say anything. And then they just go around and destroy things on the side. And with Intel, people were very verbose in their arguments, but when you walked out the door, it was a commitment to move forward. 

The bottom line is no one is forcing you to stay in that organization. If you fundamentally believe that you cannot support that for a particular reason, you actually can depart. It suggests you depart on a high note and that you do it graciously and that you maintain the relationship. But nobody ever said you had to stay there for life. So, you have to use facts and data. You have to be able to argue the points and then everyone needs to agree because the organization must move forward.

I'm a believer in five-year plans. Objectives, and key-results help you from revisiting things especially if they're quantitatively based. You can always make a change if you try something and it didn't work or the supply chain wasn't going to allow you to have what you needed to make it work. But the reality is you need to stay focused to move forward.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

One of the reasons I'm also a big advocate for objectives and key results, as you mentioned, Lisa. It keeps people away from anecdotal conversations around what they believe or what they think and stick to the facts and the measures in determining whether they're on track or not. So, really important.

I also wanna tap into your experience as some of the questions that I get from listeners, have to do with managing their boards. So are in some instances, CEOs that have boards. Other instances, CEOs, executive directors of nonprofits boards. 

So, part of it is the responsibility of leading the strategy of the organization and bringing the team along. Part of it is the challenge of managing the board and, McKinsey, just in the six, criteria of the most successful CEOs. of them is their ability to really leverage board rather than just manage the board. So, how were you able to the board the organizations that you were guiding and what recommendation would you have in terms of board relations?

Lisa Gable: 

One is there's a very clear line between the responsibility of the board and the responsibility of the CEO. The board, at the basic level, is a fiduciary monitor in a monitor of governance systems. That is the board's responsibility. The board is not supposed to be involved in day to day decisions.

You, as a CEO, us and executive director, you can push back on that and in fact, it helps sometimes to bring in an outside consultant to work with the board to identify, this is what I do, and this is what you do. 

Now, what I will do is we're going to agree on a process by which I report to you on the fiduciary results that I report to you any issues around governance, and that I am reporting to you, my objectives and key results. 

Again, another reason objectives and key results is I use that as a foundational piece for every single board meeting, and if you can hold the board to understanding the line in the sand between those two that is where you're best at.

Now sometimes boards will have secondary personal objectives and you need to have a governance structure within your board where the board is holding a board member accountable for separating their self-interest from the interest of the organization. That is a board function. 

So, you are going to be better off if you have not only a strong board chair, but I would say your second most important role beyond your treasurer is ensuring that you have someone with a governance background who sits on your board. Let them carry the burden, let them have the hard conversation with your fellow board members. Let them enact the punishment, if required to remove a board member who perhaps is not understood the standards of duty. But you do need that structure and that process, so dust off your understanding of governance and really understanding tools in your toolkit that are available to you to ensure that you can move forward.

But most importantly, you need to agree to a budget. And you therefore need to have the flexibility to make changes within that budget to meet the needs of the organization. At that point in time, you can't be micromanaged through the process.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Those are outstanding recommendations, Lisa. And one of the challenges I've seen with some of the nonprofits is that when the CEO or executive doesn't have clear objectives and key results have been agreed to ahead of time with a board. 

Then the reporting ends up being more squishy the board members get more involved in trying to solve organizational issues rather than the agreement on these are the objectives and key results that the executive director or CEO reporting back to the board on. you mentioned the fiduciary responsibility and also the governance role whether it's up to the chair or other board members to hold each other accountable, to serve as board members, rather than additional appendages to the staff.

Lisa Gable: 

Exactly. And that is, they should not be contacting the staff. That shouldn't be going on, that people are going around behind your back. You should have the ability to hire and fire who you want to and who you need to. And your responsibility as an executive is to maintain the highest levels of responsibilities related to human resources to tracking these issues, human resource types issues to ensuring that you stay within budget. 

Again, we go back it's a hierarchy of things. You set a five-year plan. If you set a five-year plan with quantitative goals and. Identify what the budget would be required to achieve those five-year objectives. Then what you are doing on an annual basis is that you are fitting into a numerical process that you've already agreed to.

So, if the board blesses the five-year plan, and if it has a budget attached to it, and it has quantitative objectives and milestones attached to it, then each year at the end of the fiscal year, when you are presenting your new budget, that new budget lines up against the strategic objectives of your five-year plan.

So, stick with the plan. Stick with your objectives. And you need to educate your board. That's how you function and that they had given you the flexibility to make changes. But then what you are responsible for is staying within your budget. No board is gonna be happy if you keep going over budget.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's a key responsibility of the board members. Now, Lisa, over the past couple of years, you were leading an organization fair through remote work. A lot of leaders and organizations are reflecting on the future of work. Many of them, certain level of hybrid work.

I was just at a luncheon and PWC is announced, people can choose to work remotely forever if they want. Most of their people have chosen to come back to the office. There are advantages for people interacting with each other in person. 

So, what are your thoughts with respect to organizations as they navigate this hybrid future of work, how they should be thinking about getting the best out of their teams and collaboration?

Lisa Gable: 

For one, I'm not a fan of legislation that's been discussed in California which would force all companies to go to a four-day work week. I think each company needs to make a decision based on their market. Based on the location of the market. Are they international? Are they domestic? What time zones are they operating in? Who does what? 

If you're forcing people into doing a lot of paperwork and a lot of unnecessary meetings, that is the first place you can begin to carve out time that somebody's going to be better off using for their in-person engagement as well as their time away from the office.

So, companies need to really start analyzing, what are the elements that cause our work environment to be difficult or challenging? What can we get rid of? Meetings are a killer. We all know that they're a killer. They're the hardest thing to knock off, yet if you do, and if you set up a structure for them, that they have to have particular outcomes, you can reduce the need for people to be in person, but when they are in person they're meeting and discussing something that's very significant, and so they wanna be. 

The one thing that worries me the most is young people. When you read my book, when you look at my life was successful because I had the opportunity to walk up the stairs from the cafeteria with Andy Grove, as opposed to taking the elevator.

I had the chance where I might be in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee and all of a sudden, a senior manager from a different business unit that I've always wanted to talk to walks in at the same time. Young people are missing that interaction. So, what we're seeing is that, if you don't have any interaction at all, and it's always zoom based, it's very easy for people to quit their job. Why not? You're just moving from one zoom screen to another zoom screen. You have no affinity towards that group of people that you were involved with. So, I am concerned and I do think there will be a competitive advantage to the individual who manages their career.

I guess that's what we fundamentally get down to. What do you need to do to manage your career, to have the opportunities and the interactions that are going to make you successful? And if that means you make it to a decision. You know what I really should show up three times a week because I wanna run into people or I wanna make sure I'm always there on Mondays because that's the day that the executives are always there before they start traveling around to the different sites.

So, I think smart people will start to manage things a little more effectively and think more strategically about things and when they need to be there. But secondarily companies need to have total flexibility in determining what's the best solution for that company and that customer base.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Love those thoughts, Lisa. From the employees’ side, it's that your career, and managing your career means the opportunities to run into people, spend in person time, add tremendously the quality of connections and relationships. 

I had a conversation with Vanessa Bohns. She's professor at Columbia University. She’s written a book, You Have More Influence Than You Think, and talks about a lot of the factors that go into us influencing each other more so when we are experiencing things in person. 

So, as good as this technology is for us to be able to collaborate when we can't be in person, it doesn't replace it both especially for the young people to advance their career. And on the organizational side, you made a great point in that pre-pandemic. Most professionals on average, we're spending a little over 14 hours a week in meetings. This past December the average professional was spending over 21 hours a week in meetings. 

So, one of the first things organizations can do to think about reducing those meetings. And provide more opportunities for some of the in-person interactions, which both help the creativity in the organization and also, the younger professionals building relationships with other people in the organization.

Lisa Gable: 

Absolutely. And when you get together in person, don't always make it about an emergency. Like you don't wanna dread going in and seeing other people in person, put a little fun in there. And secondarily is pick up the telephone. Even if you're on zoom, there is nothing like if you're in the middle of trying to figure something out, don't send an email, just pick up the phone and call somebody.

It's one thing that young people have forgotten this concept of just calling someone. Have a five-minute side conversation. There's so many different ways to do this. I think one thing that we are gonna see and what I do like about the flexibility is that people go through difficult times in life.

It might be that you're going through a hard pregnancy. You may have a child who's sick. You may have a spouse or a parent who's sick. The one thing we've given back to people is we've removed the guilt and the strain if you are the only person who can't show up. 

I think we're also going to see a little bit of an advantage in retention of certain types of people because, let's say you've been an employee for 10 years someplace, but you're having a bad chair. You've got 18 months where your mom's going through cancer treatments. And it's gonna be okay for you to be doing those phone calls, from the hospital because no, one's going to think anything about it. 

So, I do think there are advantages and disadvantages, but we are giving people little more flexibility and a little more grace for things that come up in their life.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Flexibility when needed, not as the default…

Lisa Gable: 

Right.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

For organizations and for the younger professionals most, especially, it shouldn't be the default option. The fact that it exists when needed. That's wonderful. 

Now, Lisa, in addition to your own book, are there any leadership practices or resources you typically find yourself recommending to other leaders?

Lisa Gable: 

A friend of mine is writing a book that's called Start from Scratch. That'll be coming out soon. Another friend of mine, she doesn't talk about the glass ceiling. She's talking about the glass ledge and what she means in that book is that there are things that we do in our own lives that cause us to run into problems that enable us to not move forward.

So, I think there's some great books that are on the horizon coming out. You and I, at the beginning, we're talking about the fact that I am a huge fan of Andy's books, High Output Management. And I think the other thing I might recommend is we are in a period of great inflection points within the geopolitical environment.

Start boning up on your history. I've been working since I was 19 so I started at a young age. I haven't even reached 60 yet, but I am stunned and amazed how few people actually understand what happened between 1970 and 1989. And as we're dealing with issues of inflation, the rise of China, issues with Russia technology transfer issues, competition.

Go back and read some history, find out what people did before to overcome these problems. They're not new, you're not the first one going through it. History recycles and so, start reading some history books.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

History books are great we have a great deal of control over our own destiny. And therefore, what we consume would makes a big difference. I also really appreciate your book, Turnaround, Lisa. It's much more than framework for turnaround for an organization, although it's very helpful for organizations. It's a great way for us to think about turning around our own careers and constantly adjusting and looking effectively at that future what it takes for us to guide ourselves to that future. 

So where can the audience go to find out more about you and your book turnaround?

Lisa Gable: 

You can go to my website which is lisagable.com and that will take you to the various links. My book is sold on Amazon, Barnes and noble. Walmart, Staples, you name it. So, go ahead and buy the book. It comes in audio as well as in hardback and Kindle. Lots of different ways to get the information when you would like and need it.

And then you can follow me on digital media at the Lisa Gable or the Lisa Gable official site. On Instagram and Facebook. And then also on LinkedIn. I really do engage with people on LinkedIn. And I love to hear from people I'm learning all the time from the information that people are sending to me.

So, feel free to engage there too.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You also mentioned a letter from your dad, which is what I wanted to and with Lisa, because I think that says a lot about you. what is the letter that your dad sent to you? When did he send it to you?

Lisa Gable: 

So, I was about 29 years old as a middle manager at Intel and anyone who's been in a fortune 500 company knows that middle managers had the worst job. You're not important enough that people have to do what you want 'em to do, but you're not young enough that people are gonna tolerate errors. 

So, I was having a rough time at work and my dad sent me a note and he said, stop focusing on what's in front of you and understand that every stumbling block actually can be your path to your greatest opportunity. And recognize that every stumbling block that you run into, whether it's health, whether it's your family, whether it's work related issue. It's a moment in time. That was really his point. It's a moment in time and actually, it may pull vault you into a wonderful and amazing place that you would never have been able to go to before.

So, life's not always linear. It's not always perfect. We're gonna have to Zig and zag, but keeping your eye on the future of where you want to be is going to help you through those rough moments.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What powerful and beautiful words. Thank you for joining me in this conversation, Lisa Gable.

Lisa Gable: 

Thanks so much for having me.