Tara Weiner took over as managing partner of Deloitte LLP’s Greater Philadelphia region in June 2005. It was the beginning of a new fiscal year, and for Deloitte’s Philadelphia operations, it was a new beginning on an even larger scale.
Weiner wanted Deloitte’s Philadelphia office to assert itself as a major player among the tax and financial consulting firm’s regional offices. With nearly 1,200 employees at the time, Weiner felt the Philadelphia office had the raw materials to become a regional force. But it needed a defined direction and strategy for how to get there.
“The firm has various marketplaces, and Greater Philadelphia is a huge metropolitan area, but sometimes people think it is dwarfed against a New York or Washington, D.C.,” Weiner says. “We made a decision that this was a key marketplace around which we could enhance our focus, and at the same time, Philadelphia had come into its own in terms of being able to define its platforms around the industries that comprise the region’s assets and strengths. It really was a very good time but challenging because there was a lot of change and focus enhancements that we needed to do.”
Weiner and her leadership team needed to build a vision for Deloitte’s future in the region, develop metrics for measuring success against the vision, get employees on board at all levels of the firm and groom leaders who could help promote and sustain the new vision and strategy.
“We really took a look at the assets of the firm, the assets of the region, and really began this journey that we’re on now,” she says. “From that time, we’ve grown to nearly 1,700 employees today, and we’ve consolidated our two offices and brought everyone under one roof so they could leverage each other’s strengths. It was a big challenge from the standpoint of big opportunity. We needed to invest in and optimize the opportunities in the region and in the firm.”Build a strategy
Building a strategy starts with defining a vision. You need an end point before you can construct a method for moving your company forward.
“The vision is the defining platform,” Weiner says. “If you base it on the strengths of what you’re trying to achieve for example, the strengths of the marketplace we have here and you look at the strengths of your organization, where are you optimized and what do you need to build on, you create the outcome for the journey that you’re traveling as an organization.”
At Deloitte, Weiner wanted to begin by identifying the firm’s strength points when it came to serving the Philadelphia area. She and her leadership team mapped out specifically where they wanted Deloitte in terms of serving selected local industries. They also mapped out key services that they wanted Deloitte to become known for in the market.
“The return is really recognizing and yielding value to our clients, value in growth and development for our individuals, value to the community at large,” Weiner says. “When the vision is set and it’s understood and articulated, the strategy and the blueprint is outlined. But it innovates, adapts and changes, because you ultimately have a final goal that you’re focused on achieving.”
The strategy is ultimately your blueprint for future success. It gives you a reasonably detailed outline for where you need to go as a leadership team and as a company in general, but you let it become so rigid and fixed that there is not room for revision.
“If you don’t have the ability to respond to challenges to your strategy, the lack of adaptability will create failure more likely than not,” Weiner says.
The key to flexibility is rooted in having a culture of transparency throughout the organization. You need to promote open communication among your managers and executive team and ensure that they are communicating with employees in their respective areas of the company.
Through open communication, you can more quickly discover areas of your strategy that need shoring up, places in which you might need to revise your approach to serving a particular market, and you will keep your primary decision-makers informed of key metrics that will allow your leadership team to read and react sooner than they might have otherwise.
“You need to have the right touch points,” Weiner says. “You need to have the right benchmarks and be listening to your key people. You really need to keep your team around you and have them as your eyes and ears, to get their input on whether this organization is still applicable and well-crafted. If not, you need to focus on how you can tweak, change and adapt in order to meet the current circumstances. That’s not easy. You have to know what are your early warning indicators, are you looking at the right metrics, are you getting the correct information?”
At Deloitte, early warning indicators focus primarily on employee engagement and client satisfaction. Weiner and her team have constructed data metrics that focus on the softer skills of nurturing relationships.
“Those metrics give you an indication of whether you’re on track or not,” she says. “Then you drive a little bit deeper to understand success or failure and what are the factors that contribute to it. We measure those drivers pretty frequently.”
It’s not just a management matter. Weiner and her team want to focus all levels of Deloitte’s Philadelphia work force on the success and failure measurements.
“You need to engage all levels of the organization around those indicator lights,” Weiner says. “That means you need to have an infrastructure that collects data and reports it out. You want to mitigate failure points before they occur, and you do that by engaging at each level and what is an individual or group’s role in achieving success around those metrics.
“We could spend time just training people on having a competency to deliver, but they don’t understand the whole picture. So you need to focus them on their importance as part of a team. You need to engage everybody as a stakeholder, so that everybody shares in success and looks to what they can do if we’re not on track for success.”Build connections
To engage people as stakeholders in your company’s future, you can give them a financial piece of the company in the form of a stock plan or another type of profit sharing. But in order to really get ownership on an emotional level, you need to communicate and give employees opportunities to communicate with you.
At Deloitte, Weiner keeps communication personal through cascading messages. She wants employees to hear news from their direct managers someone with whom they have a personal connection.
Wide-angle company broadcasts from the president’s or CEO’s office can be effective in disseminating information, but Weiner prefers to put a familiar face on her messages whenever she can.
“If they see that a message is ‘from the office of …’ and they know it’s going to be some kind of broadcast communication, they’ll get to it when they get to it,” she says. “In today’s world of information overload, we know that might be never. But when it comes from someone they work for or with, someone that they have a personal connection with, they open it immediately.
“Thatȁ 9;s one of the more difficult things to do, make sure you’re bringing back that personal touch, that engaged level of communication. Giving the person a name, looking them in the eye, listening directly to them. I am very firm on the idea that you do not build e-mail relationships with people. If you want to build a relationship, you need to meet with the person and get to know them. The virtual world is wonderful, it can enable many things, but it does not enable culture or relationships.”
Personal communication builds trust between employees and management, which is an essential ingredient in promoting and maintaining a long-term strategy. As a leader, the only way you can build trust with your work force is to communicate consistently and candidly on company matters, and see to it that your actions follow your words.
“Trust doesn’t just come because you’re declared to be trustworthy,” Weiner says. “It comes through your own actions. Are you genuine, do you have authentic leadership, do you lead through your own example, are the values you laid down the values you continue to demonstrate? The same holds true for you trusting others. I look for the same types of behaviors and considerations that I expect of myself as a leader. They need to be candid, transparent and authentic communicators, just like I expect from myself.”Build leaders
If you are a manager who works on Weiner’s team, you need to be a good communicator, a team-builder and organized all of the traditional attributes normally associated with solid leadership.
But you also need to bring something else. You need to be able to identify and develop new leaders in the organization.
One of the keys to maintaining a vision and strategy is to groom empowered leadership at all levels of the organization. It’s so important to Weiner, she has made it a job requirement. And she makes her managers self-assess on their progress in developing leaders.
“One of the assessments I ask our people to measure themselves on is who they’ve brought along,” she says. “Who have you developed? Who do you look to as the successful leadership in the organization? If they can’t name or don’t have people they’re focused on, I’m very concerned. We are an organization of people. We don’t make widgets. If we do not build and develop talent throughout the stages and ages, we won’t end up where we need to be.”
The managers you have developed further down the ladder might not have a direct part in constructing the skeletal framework of your organizational strategy, but they will provide the muscle to make the framework move.
“True leaders take it to the next level and put all the meat around the bones,” Weiner says. “You have to let them do that. You won’t get the innovation and creativity; you won’t get the output and the results if your organization doesn’t allow for that kind of development.”
Developing leaders starts with recognizing leadership potential when you see it. That comes from having your top managers spend time among the people in your organization, observing who takes charge in situations, who takes the initiative to solve problems and who develops a following among their peers.
From there, you begin to train your leadership candidates by testing them, putting successively larger responsibilities on their plate and observing how they adjust.
“First, you see the people who have a natural following, who step up and take on responsibility and accountability,” Weiner says. “You have to continue to be aware of those folks and give them those opportunities to be successful. You have to be clear that the journey to leadership is earned and can be quite challenging. You build experiences and competencies, build your credentials and credibility along that journey.
“Leaders develop. The opportunities to hone your skills, build your skills, understand the organization, that comes over time. You need to have a continuous focus on that. I keep telling our partners that I shouldn’t be your leadership model. You should try to be better than me. We should continuously look for improvement. Some leaders out there don’t like that idea, but the best organizations are the ones where the leaders are replaceable.”
How to reach: Deloitte LLP, (215) 246-2300 or www.deloitte.com