Episode 6 Transcript

Calibrating Against Change and Developing a Strategic Operations Mindset w/ Melissa Korzun

    Matt: Hello everybody, welcome to the Professional Services Pursuit, a podcast featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. My name is Matt Finch and my guest today is the wonderful Melissa Korzun, managing director and client transformation and strategy and operations at TeleTracking. Gosh Melissa, that's an awful lot. Melissa, great to have you on the show, thank you so much for joining us again. Just help me decode that title and tell us a bit about TeleTracking.

    Melissa: Yes, it's hard to fit on a business card for sure. Teletracking is a solution provider for the healthcare industry and we partner with hospitals to help them make improvements in patient flow. Our mission is that no patient should have to wait for the care that they need. And my role within TeleTracking is in our client transformation organization or what you might call services traditionally. Focused on strategy and operations for our group, I'm really here to help us set a target for where we're trying to go and unlock the barriers that we have in place that prevent us from getting there. And make sure that we're all aligned and moving in that same direction.

    Matt: Fantastic, excellent. And I think when we were doing our pre-show for this, Melissa, recently you put some emphasis on this professional services strategy and operations role and you've really helped be at the center of that. So we're going to uncover a bit of that on the episode today and talk about some of your insights. But give us a view on PS strategy and operations as a function, as a group of people. We often hear about sales ops and sales operations help to close deals and sell things. What does that mean on the professional services side?

    Melissa: Yeah, it's great insight. And as a matter of fact, part of where my particular role was born out of was looking at our commercial organization and saying they have this strategy and operations function. They don't have a partner on our side to really have that relationship with because professional services should absolutely have a strategy and an operational function that is aligned with our commercial organization. I mean, they have to walk hand in hand. And so when we started looking at the climate of our organization and all of what we needed to accomplish, we realized that in the midst of a pandemic that's occurring, that's impacting our operations and how we deliver. Amid organizational changes that we have and the company strategy and growth that we had in place, we didn't have anyone who was really focused on putting that all together for our organization and keeping focus and driving it.

    And when you're in a professional services organization, your number one focus is always the client. I always say we're the cobbler's children. We go out and we focus on transformation for our clients, we do a lot of digital transformation with them. We talk about organizational change, we give them our best project managers that we have to drive things forward for them. And yet internally, we weren't giving ourselves that same discipline. There were symptoms that were cropping up, they were people saying things like, “Didn't we do something like this before?” “Didn't we try that previously?” “Whatever happened to X, Y, or Z?” And those started to be symptoms of the fact that we would get a little bit of internal bandwidth, we would start to tackle a problem. Then our backlog would fill up, all of our resources would get deployed to advancing our clients. And those internal projects were kind of sitting on ice sometimes. We weren't able to get through some of the critical changes that we needed. And now we're at a point where it's really not an option anymore. There are too many driving factors that we have internally and externally that we have to have focus on it. We can't let it sit on ice while we focus on our clients, we have to have that same internal drive.

    Matt: Yeah, excellent. You made some really excellent points in there, I think that the cobbler’s children analogy is so funny because it's so true, isn't it? We're so focused on delivering excellence for other people, how do we know that we're really being excellent ourselves? And we've been through a lot of that recently here at Mavenlink as well, where we're talking about how do we become more efficient at helping our clients become more efficient. And previously, it's been like well that doesn't matter, we just make our clients efficient, make them happy and we love our clients and that's wonderful. But if we're not focused on how we can be better, we can't translate that further downstream. When we can improve our service levels and improve our efficiency moving forward to our clients, they can receive the benefits of that if we are as focused on ourselves as we are on delivery to our clients.

    So quick question for you actually, just based on your experience and maybe there isn't a right or wrong answer to this, but from a reporting structure, do you feel that this kind of operations role, strategy role is good to report into the professional services team? Or is it more like an operations function? Does it matter? If you have a traditional sales op, sometimes they report into sales, sometimes they report into like a chief operating officer, that kind of thing. And so if you were to implement this in another company, where would you have those reporting lines go and would be the benefit?

    Melissa: I think it depends on the structure of the organization and the goals that you're trying to accomplish. So I have kind of an unofficial dotted line into our COO, I have biweekly one-on-ones with her just to make sure that I'm very much aligned with the vision that she has for operations of our organization in general. But given just the focus that we have right now, my role makes more sense being embedded in the organization itself to where I'm really plugged in with the full leadership team. I understand the goals, the strategy, the challenges that they're facing and sort of see my role as understanding the organizational strategy. What is important to sales ops, where our product team is focused and helping to translate that into our organization and keeping everything aligned.

    I think because of where we are, we tend to have less centralization of corporate functions and allow those roles to kind of sit in the groups where they belong. Some of it probably comes down to size and structure, but for us, I think it makes more sense for me to be embedded within our services organization versus in corporate ops. But that said, having that alignment is 100% critical. Our strategy is in support of our organizational strategy and mission and there cannot be misalignment there at all.

    Matt: Yeah, definitely. I think there isn't a right or wrong answer. Of course it depends on each organization, but that synergy is so key. Kind of doesn't matter to a degree, as long as you avoid the silos and everybody's got their different worlds. You avoid the silos, communication is strong across all operation functions and all of the places where it needs to be. It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter where it goes. So just thinking kind of historically, let’s kind of go back in time a little bit here. Can you describe some of the events or the signs or the signals that you had in your organization that led you to realizing the importance of developing this as a specific role and a strategy? What was it that really triggered your organization to say gosh, we need someone to do this role because it's spread across so many people, we're not getting efficiency?

    Melissa: Part of it is like I said before, just hearing those “Didn't we start this before?” “Haven't we talked about this before?” Another was not making progress in the timeline that we wanted to, despite everyone working really hard. There's no doubt that people were working very hard. They were working very hard in service to our clients and when they had internal bandwidth, they were working very hard on those internal projects. But in spite of that, things sometimes took longer than what we wanted them to, to get to fruition. We also started to see all of this work cropping up and yet we didn't have a defined direction on where we wanted to go. A few months back, I was actually reading this book Indistractable by Nir Eyal, which is a fantastic book. I think we talked about it before. He was talking about what distraction is and really defined it as any action that moves you away from what you really want. And if you don't have it really clearly defined what you really want, then you don't know if it’s traction, getting you towards that or distraction, pulling you away from it.

    And so all of those things coming together and just recognizing that people did not have the bandwidth to do all of these things and keep them moving forward without there being a real structure to support that. Led to saying, we need to centralize this so that we have a very clear strategy. We have a dedication to continuous improvement, we have a very clear process for how we document the learnings of our organization and apply them back sustainably. That was another symptom, right? People doing really great things in one part of an organization, getting a couple months down the road and a problem cropping up. And someone saying “Oh, did you know that this part of the organization solved this,” and them saying, “No, I didn't know that.” So repeating of mistakes is definitely another symptom that there's some kind of loop that's not being closed. Those were really some of the drivers that led us to say it's important enough that we have to have a function that brings all of this together. So that all of this important work that our teams are doing, gets to the finish line. And is communicated appropriately, is embedded into our processes, becomes sustainable and actually makes us better as we go and get more efficient and have better quality for our clients.

    Matt: Yeah, that makes so much sense. I love that distraction thing by the way, because gosh, how many things every single day do we think, “Oh, I really think this isn't a good use of my time but hey, my manager said I should do it, so I'm gonna do it.” You know, that communication is always very key. I like the Eisenhower matrix, you know, the important versus urgency scale. I think that's another great way of removing distractions, but even just acknowledging and accepting that life is tough, work is tough. All the things that we do are tough and we have to make effective decisions every single day on what is a good use of our time. And then as leaders, we make decisions on what's a good use of our team's time. Making sure that those decisions are realistic, communicable and we focus on the really impactful things that are urgent and important, to use that same matrix. But also just embracing that there are distractions that we need to leave behind.

    It's okay not to get to all of your to-do list. Focus on the top five of the probably 25 things you've got on that list and achieve those today and get to those today. And make sure you have great outcomes on the top three or five versus drowning in the fact that you've got 25 to get to in a particular day. I think embracing those elements as distractions and normalizing the fact that it's okay to leave those behind is really important. I love that concept. So just give me some examples of distractions that you guys were having that you thought gosh, we really need to not do this anymore. Talk us through some examples that you have?

    Melissa: Once we kind of distilled down, specifically, this is our strategy. And these are the operational imperatives that are really critical to us. We started to evaluate all of the work and projects that we had going on against that and said does it contribute to this or does it not. And it allowed us to look at these various initiatives and say this isn't advancing the direction that we're trying to go. So if it's not driving directly towards that, then we're gonna spin that work down and we're gonna say it's not critical right now. It also allowed us to look at that maturity and say realistically, it's not the right time to do this kind of work. So when we think about service offerings, we had some really great, shiny service offerings that we would love to do. But the reality is we have some other critical work that needs to go in front of that. And so we had to have the discipline to say, this is still really important, but it's going to get moved out on the timeline to free up bandwidth for some of these other things.

    The other thing that we found is there were critical things that were maybe seen as a distraction that actually were not; communication is a huge one. I think sometimes we think putting in the time and effort to communicate with the organization is a distraction. It takes too much time to write it. People don't want to read it, they don't want to take the time to do it. But we knew that we had to align our organization on all the work that was happening on our goals, our objectives, our projects, all of those things. And we had to have that communication piece in there. So we actually took something that previously was coined as a distraction and said, it's critical to get us to where we want to go, but we were very specific about how we did it. One of the things you said is about making time and this goes back to that Indistractable book. It's about not just making the list of items that you need to do, but actually making the time in which to do them. And so with our communications, we said here's our commitment, we will do three articles a week, here's how you can follow them as they come out. If you'd prefer, we're going to send a weekly summary. Each of them is going to take you less than three to five minutes to read and we're only going to tell you about things that we believe are really important to our organization.

    And we defined important across a number of aspects, that include things like celebrating our team members. It's very important that people feel valued, that they feel recognized for their achievements. And we didn't coin important as just really specific process changes or something like that. But we said we were going to do it, we made the time to do it and we asked people to carve out time in their schedule, whether they wanted to do it as articles came out or once a week. We've also gotten great feedback on how that's actually made our organization feel more cohesive, people feel like they have great transparency. And that feeling of transparency makes a huge difference in how someone feels connected to their organization and their company, so it was kind of a flip for us. It felt like a distraction before, but it was actually that traction, it was driving us toward what we needed.

    Matt: Yeah, I love that. We recently and I say recently, gosh, maybe it was probably at the start of COVID, at Mavenlink, we upped our internal communication. We have daily emails from our CEO and weekly all-hands meetings, things that we used to do monthly. Initially, we were like this is a lot of time for the whole company to be on one call, but gosh, culturally it brought us together and we were so much more focused. There wasn't that sort of mid-month, third week of the month, you know, I'm not quite sure which direction we’re going. Every single week we were focused on the right things and that really helped us. I think that's a great point. Like on the face of it, it's extra time now, every single week we're gonna be doing another three or four or 500 people on a call. Gosh, that's a lot of time, but it's an efficiency thing in terms of getting people refocused on the things that are important; removing those distractions. I think that's really powerful. Excellent.

    From your experience and from the amount of time you spent doing this role now, what would you say you've learned from the past that will guide you forward? What was the key learning experience that you had, say maybe pre and post COVID, let's say for example as well? I think we've all learned some things in COVID we didn't expect to learn. And how is that guiding how you take this team and this role moving forward?

    Melissa: Pre and post COVID seems like a short time and both a lifetime away, right? One of the things that I did as we started to put together our operational plan was kind of this audit of what all of the projects are. And I classify a project as a change in some sort of process or procedure that we have in place. That could mean that they are small things that take a month to do, that could mean they're major initiatives that are tagged for a year, but how many do we have? And I just started compiling this massive list of things that we were working on. At first it was very overwhelming to think gosh, we have all of these things that are in flux and are changing. And when you really look at it at from view, even once we went through and said, what are the important ones that we still have to keep going was still a huge lift.

    We have a leadership structure for our services organization and then we have mid-level management and then our delivery team. And one of the things that I quickly realized was almost everything was rolling up to you, the leadership team, running all these initiatives. And the leadership team certainly should be sponsoring those and should be allocating the resources for these problems to be solved. But we had a really big organization that we needed to figure out how to distribute these things throughout the org, because one, the problems should be solved where they're at, right, basic quality tenant. You want to solve the problems in the places that they're occurring with the experts who are involved with them every day. And two, we wanted our teams to feel ownership and we wanted them to have involvement in these initiatives so that everything wasn't constantly ‘top-down, top-down’.

    And so engaging our management team and really making sure they had access to all of the information that they needed, that they helped drive, the priorities and the work that we were focused on. And that they were then leading all of these initiatives with sponsorship from our leadership team was really important to have that distributed out. But then to have a mechanism of okay, here's the activities that you're setting for these projects, here's your cadence for reporting status on them. Organizationally, here's the visibility that you need to provide and then making sure that they also have responsibilities for communication and change management around those. I'm always a big advocate for change management, I just don't think that progress can ever be made without it. So having that structure in place for our organization was really important, once we made sure that all of that work was aligned with where we were trying to get to.

    Matt: Yeah, excellent. I made some notes here because I think you pick up on a couple of key things. Ownership and that's such an important thing, isn't it? That dictatorial, top-down, we're telling you…Now, to some degree you need leadership and you need people to be leading, setting examples and setting directions of course. But I've found personally and it sounds like you've done the same is that to really get things done, everybody's gotta feel like they own it. They need to be a part of it. They have a piece of the puzzle and a piece of the outcome and the reward when it all comes together. I think that's been a real cultural change. We've gone from everybody working from home and we’ve sort of removed this concept of being either in an office or people are in headquarters so they can get more done because they can talk to more influential people. That all just disappeared off the table when we all went home. So that level of ownership I think is important. Just talk to me as well about… I don’t know whether I'm inventing this concept, but let's say that we are together, but I really feel like this role from what you've said, really act as like a cultural glue. It's a role that brings together operations, people, processes, sometimes technology and really does bring that culture with it as well. And if this is not a value add to the culture of the organization, then what is?

    Melissa: I think you're spot on. In fact, as we've come together as a leadership team, we have had very long conversations about who we want to be when we grow up. Speaking culturally, it's critical that our employees understand that we value a growth mindset and that failure is okay. And that we won't always get to where we want to go, but are we learning from it and are we making improvements? And we were together as a team and we were talking through, you know, what are some of our challenges? What are some of our problems? And I asked every single one of our leaders, I said you need to be paired to discuss something that has failed and not worked or where you have fallen short to show everyone that it's okay to have those conversations. That it's absolutely fine to say, I tried to achieve this. And the leader of our services organization stood up and said, “Hey, we haven't gotten where we wanted to go with things. But that doesn't mean we're gonna stop and it doesn't mean that we're not the right thing.”

    And so we have a lot of conversations about what are the things that we value because when you set that strategy of where you want to go, it's gonna change perhaps some of the ways that you want your organization to behave to get there. If you want to be agile, if you want to move quickly, you have to be willing to say “Gonna try something,” “Nope that didn't work, all right, let's try something else.” And if you're an organization that is focused on a failure that occurred, who did it, why did it happen, that's not acceptable, you're gonna really struggle with an agile framework than with moving fast. So culture is absolutely a part of it and we've talked a ton about what is the culture that we need to have. You know, we have a great culture within our company, a very client-focused culture. Our employees are always called out for how much our clients love them. And now we're thinking about how does that translate internally to get to where we want to go.

    Matt: Yeah, I love that, that kind of growth mentality, you know, people are chastised for giving things a try and failing, then no one's gonna try anything. You need to plant that seed. Tell me, just a change of the subject, is there anything specific you are working on right now or got coming up in the future that you think is just a great example? You know tactical things that you are working on at the moment. What can you share with us?

    Melissa: From a tactical perspective, we're doing just what some may consider basic blocking and tackling. And a year ago I might have been embarrassed to say it because I would've thought we should have already been there, but I think as I learn and talk to others, I find out people are struggling with all the same things. For example, how do you embed continuous improvement and lessons learned into a services organization? When you have PMs in a sense as they run our projects, they're almost like these little universes in and of themselves. And figuring out how to get that information distilled when we learn something and brought back to the organization in a sustainable way that actually augments the way that we deliver.

    We have a lot of focus on that right now and I'm excited about the possibility. And we've broken it down to say, we're not just gonna have these word documents where you go in and you plot it out as part of your project closeout. We've put together a system that allows us to capture these things in real-time to do reporting and analytics on them, to drive the communications that we share out. We're showcasing lessons learned, on our all-hands call, we're actually putting people and saying, “Hey, give us these critical things,” and teams are walking away going “That was really fantastic.” It's a basic thing and we've taken some runs at it in the past. But we have the right culture, we have the right leadership team to say, this is critically important, this is something that drives traction. It's not a distraction as it might have been treated before, but we're putting the mechanism around it to actually make that information useful. It's a really basic thing, but I'm super excited about the way our organization's gonna be using it.

    Matt: Love that and I think that's such an amazing and powerful thing to take the last couple of years as an opportunity to get back to basics. Let's reset what we were doing and focus on the good things. Remove the distractions and what you might feel as, “Oh we should have been doing this already, but we weren't,” well get back to basics, get that stuff done. I think that's a really great thing to acknowledge and drive a back-to-basics type culture. Let's get the really simple, good things right and then we can build on top of that from there. So yeah, I love that concept Melissa, thank you.

    So just kind of wrapping up here, what are your final thoughts? What would be a key takeaway for our listeners on this particular episode? We've talked a lot about this role of professional services operations, I think there'll be people out there that hopefully really resonate with that. Maybe it's a goal to get into that type of role, maybe they don't have that role right now, or if they do, they feel like they need to make some improvements. What would be a key takeaway as a leader in this space for us?

    Melissa: I think I would just ask people to look at their services organization and say, “Do I understand where we want to be in three years?” “Do I have goals and metrics lined up to help us get there?” “Do I really understand the critical ways that we have to behave as an organization to achieve that and do I know the levers that I have to pull every single year to get towards that vision?” If not, I think you just get into this cycle of I'm delivering, I'm implementing, I'm driving my services, I'm generating revenue. But the change that's happening right now in the industry, in the space, a post-pandemic world, there's just so much that's different from where things were two years ago. Annually, if you're not asking yourself those questions and really calibrating against that, I just don't see how you'll drive the change that you need. You don't have that vision for where you're trying to get and so it's really hard to get there without having that organization really focused on those things. That's where we were and we kind of put the line in the sand and said, we have committed the resources and the time and attention to this. And really we're in the space right now where we want every single person in our organization to understand this is what it's gonna take to go where we want to go and be aligned on that.

    Matt: I love that. There's a huge element to me of like boldness and bravery and saying, we're drawing a line and we need to make sure that we get this thing fully understood. Melissa again, thank you so much for the conversation today. I always enjoy talking to you. We've done a few of these things. We've done webinars, we've done live events together. Gosh, I'm looking forward to absolutely getting back and doing some of those again together. And when we were putting together the guest list, your name was hugely high on my list of people too. I was like, we've gotta get Melissa on one of the early episodes. So thank you for joining us, I really appreciate it. And as always, everybody listening out there, please reach out to us with questions, comments and ideas, we would love to hear from you. Please let us know, podcast@kantata.com. You can reach myself, Melissa, Mavenlink, Teletracking, all of us are on LinkedIn, go and find us out there on the web. Reach out, talk to us and we'd love to have a conversation, Melissa. Thank you once again.

    Melissa: Thank you so much for having me.

    Matt: All right and we'll see you again on the next episode very soon.