George McKevitt Interview from 2014
How do you overcome complexity when leading resources that span across multiple continents?
Complexity is magnified when large distances and especially large time differences exist between resources. The ability to communicate deeply about complex issues and processes can be compromised without a structured approach. Breaking down the complexity into simpler components and having a clear milestone plan to deliver those components reduces the risk. Planned and structured knowledge transfer, regular planned communication, agreed to processes and expectations on what constitutes success lays the ground-work. Having the team work as an integrated unit is then a matter of everyone understanding that it’s one team that must succeed together.
What is the secret to leading large scale change initiatives effectively?
Change initiatives are difficult on multiple levels so I don’t think there’s one secret. The initiatives must be supported from the top of the organization. The goals of the changes need to be clear, expectations reasonable and the key stakeholders have to be aligned with the goals and with each other. The team implementing the changes needs to be selected for influence throughout the organization and empowered to make the changes. Finally, having milestones and feedback to understand the effectiveness of the change initiative is critical.
Why are entrepreneurial skills valuable in a large organization?
To successfully lead is to make your organization successful in the larger organization in both business terms and in perception. A leader needs to provide a vision for the team, create a strategy, organize and mentor the team to be successful and then influence the organization and sell that vision. Having people to rely on to own the execution while the leader provides the vision and gravitas creates long-term success.
How has vast international experience shaped your thinking on running a business?
Both competition and opportunity can come from anywhere. What a successful person needs to know is how to see both in the culture. To do that and to manage multi-cultural teams, it’s critical to understand the cultural issues that affect communication styles, expectations, the the ability to deliver, cultural obstacles and even the definition of success. I’ve worked with teams in Germany, Greece, Austria, Israel, Italy, Pakistan and India and everything is not the American way and sometimes other ways are better. In that way a business take better utilize cultural differences and understand what is possible.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Collaborative, strategic, focused on execution and deliverables. Forward thinking, providing ideas and focused long-term goals while accomplishing the tactical deliverables. I’m generally calm and collegial but clear about where I want the team to be three steps down the road. My communication style is direct, specific and clear about my expectations and my reports know without a doubt if they’ve done well or poorly. I believe in building teams by hiring the right people and through delegation and mentoring developing them.
How do you turn a challenge into an opportunity?
The motivation for this is accomplishing what others may not. That is the essence of the being competitive in business. A challenge is simply a set of obstacles to overcome to realize an opportunity. Overcoming the obstacles, especially difficult ones, is a growth opportunity for any team. There then comes a growth in skills, in experience, and in knowledge, especially through mentoring. This is especially true if tasks provided to those for whom it’s a stretch. Focusing on what really needs to be delivered, teams can learn to handle ever larger challenges.
How has your early experience shaped the way you conduct business today?
Much of my early experience was consulting which meant that I had no real authority but had to generate change through influence. Learning to work through influence rather than authority meant developing a consensus, overcoming objections, seeing all sides of the issues and eventually doing what’s right for the business. This included working with others to discover what the true goals and needs were rather than just taking things at face value allowing me to get to meaning change more quickly.
What is the secret to executing on strategic plans during post-merger integration?
Like most things I don’t think there’s a secret as much as doing all the things you need to be successful. Strategic plans made prior to a merger may need to change based on the needs of the merger, integration requirements and a solid understanding of what the new larger organization needs to be successful. This vision can often take some time to become clear. When executing across with newly combined teams a common vision, single point of management such as a PMO, an agreed to plan and clear milestones are all necessary. Finally, all of the stakeholders in the new organization need to be aligned, which may be the most difficult issue to resolve, and it requires building personal relationships across the organization.
How do you get people to perform at levels beyond what they thought possible?
Hire the right people who shown the ability to stretch, empower them to do what they need to do get the job done, set high but achievable goals and then mentor them through to new level. Insure that the goals are clear and that there’s clear ownership. When people think something is not possible it’s often due to seeing a huge mountain to climb. Mentoring is the key to working with them to identify achievable goals that in total exceed the sum of the parts.
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
From a business development point of view I took a solutions team of five software developers that was losing money and turned it into a 48 person team with an $11 million annual revenue run rate in less than three years was a major accomplishment.
However, as a true accomplishment, the last 7 years of my career has been the best. I took a team of eight developers and made major strides in delivery, productivity and professionalism providing a new ability to deliver new products on time and with quality. I grew with the team from 8 reports and managing one software development team to managing the whole IT team of over 275 associates in five locations. I managed the team through being acquired twice and while integrating another division into our own. Together this allowed the company to dominate its market niche and has opened multiple new markets.
What has been the greatest lesson your career has taught you?
Leading in business and technology, coaching and parenting all have aspects in common. Communication and clarity is critical to success. Directness, completeness, integrity and honesty is everything even when it’s painful. Especially when communicating. Without those traits, you cannot set expectations, share a vision or get to the truth. Without being honest with each other success is difficult because it leaves stakeholders with different perceptions of the truth and with different sets of expectations.
Why is thinking of global implications when making decisions so important in today's marketplace?
There are a number or reasons to think globally. First, to be successful you need to be able to conduct business internationally. Most business today is international and it is too limiting to be parochial. To do that you need products and systems need to handle international business but you need to manage international teams as well.
To that end, views on business vary as much as the cultures across the planet. I’ve found that Americans tend to be very US- centric but competition disruptions to markets and the status quo can come from anywhere. Especially when running offices and expecting production or delivery globally, good decisions need to be made as to where to place work and the expectations of that work. Cultures differ on everything from etiquette to communication, expectations of both clients and employees and even what constitutes success. And unfortunately many will not provide the direct challenge or feedback needed to make these decisions, it is most often up to you to ask the right questions.