Friday, December 21, 2018

Your Enterprise’s Vulnerabilities: An Activist Approach

In using the term “activist,” I am not referring to high-pressure tactics used by some hedge funds and private equity investors to influence management decisions at private and public companies. I am also not referring to the individuals or groups that protest for or against specific political, social, or business decisions. Rather, I see “activist” as someone who stays on top of current needs and conditions and who also looks to the future. 

Interestingly, Merriam-Webster’s online thesaurus does not contain an entry for activist.  Microsoft Word’s built in thesaurus, however, suggests several appealing synonyms: forward-looking, innovative, advocate. 

A vulnerabilities activist works to stay on top of emerging risks and also works within the enterprise to review existing—and historical—procedures, business models, technology, and training to identify and reduce downsides while increasing the upside consequences of where risk taking is a good business move.

Every enterprise has vulnerabilities.  In this context “vulnerabilities” are conditions and situations that do or might interfere with the enterprise’s ability to achieve its goals. For this process, the vulnerabilities faced by for-profit companies and nonprofit enterprises are remarkably similar: uncertain revenue/funding streams, legal and regulatory changes, local zoning laws, ability to reach target markets/clientele, qualified employees, and, of course, cyberthreats and physical security. In addition, every organization, company, and enterprise—whether for profit or not-for-profit—has unique vulnerabilities to explore and assess.

Risks that can hurt any enterprise

For any and every organization: Be risk aware! Make sure that you have controls and procedures in place for the handling of confidential employee and compensation systems. On September 18, 2018, for example, the FBI issued Alert Number I-091818-PSA describing “Social Engineering Techniques To Obtain Employee Credentials To Conduct Payroll Diversion.” Mitigating steps include Internet firewalls, anti-spam software tools, increasing employee awareness on avoiding attacks, and  standard management controls on changes to payroll information. Always, establishing and enforcing clear procedures and authorities around any process that includes money can thwart such attempts.

Make sure that legally required processes and core insurance policies are in place: For example, money withheld from payrolls or collected as sales taxes must be paid in a timely fashion. Meet with a couple of insurance brokers to make sure that the firm is up to date on primary insurance policies such as workers’ compensation, general liability, and property coverage. Consider cyber insurance to cover the risk of losses via online operations as well as hacking or other loss of internally held data files. Firms with multiple owners and senior decision makers should price “directors and officers” (D&O) insurance and “key person” life insurance policies. Make sure you have more than one person who can cover all core functions… just in case. In a two-person firm this can be hard. In a larger firm, designate key back-up responsibilities.

Risks specific to your enterprise
Because the risks relevant to each organization differ from those of every other enterprise, planning how to reduce them will vary as well. All businesses along an ocean waterfront might face equal risk of flooding, but a food stand will lose more merchandise when electricity fails than will a t-shirt store. A business based on personal integrity, such as a medical practice or law firm, likely faces higher cost of reputational damage than, say, a bookstore.

A few questions to ask about your enterprise: What are your primary assets and relationships, what are they worth to you, do they have value to others, what would happen if they were lost or compromised? How are these primary assets — be they physical inventory, customer records, proprietary formulae, reputation, buildings, or land — backed up? Insured? Duplicate or triplicate files on site and in remote storage? Physical locks and keys? 

Corporate culture matters! 
Do your employees know which risks you want them to take or avoid? This applies to everyone, from core product development and production to internal operations to financial staff to customer service. Do employees report problems, potential problems, or problems avoided? If you know about potential and avoided problems you can change processes to avoid them in the future. Do company incentives support or undermine your preferences?  Over the past few years, for example, a number of executive and middle managers at Wells Fargo Bank were forced out by scandals tied to pay incentives that rewarded untoward activities. These badly damaged the bank’s reputation.  Actions, expectations, and rewards that don’t align create unnecessary risk.

Create a Vulnerabilities Activist Mindset
No small or mid-sized business owner or nonprofit director will spend time on a risk management review that feels like a paperwork exercise. Large firms should more easily institutionalize review processes. With less formality, mid-sized and smaller entities can also effectively use risk reviews. Once a year, have a conversation with all staff or representatives of all departments to identify internal and external factors that have changed and discuss whether these have introduced new risks or opportunities…or both. Gather views from across the enterprise to illuminate risks that senior managers might not see. Ask external advisors and board members to raise issues from their experience that might undermine the firm. Once a year, ask your insurance carrier to review coverage and services. Every so often — maybe every two to five years — ask another insurer to propose coverage to see if you’ve missed something. Finally, discuss the assessment and steps to address uncomfortable vulnerabilities with your board of directors.  Be forward-looking and innovative. Advocate for future success by paying attention to current and evolving issues. 

Michele Braun is Director, Institute for Managing Risk, School of Professional Studies at Manhattanville College. She can be reached at or 914-323-1238.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Communicating Organizational Change

Organizational change is a common occurrence in today’s work environment.  In your career, you will probably have to lead the organization through changes such as mergers and acquisition, restructuring and layoffs and new management and strategy implementation.

One of the key ingredients for successful leadership during periods of organizational change is a well-planned and executed communication strategy.  The change will not be successful if it is not communicated effectively.

Carefully consider the following six steps when communicating an organizational change:

1.    Consider the audience.
Gilda Bonanno
As with any communication, first you have to consider your audience.  Who will be on the receiving end of this communication?  In most cases, you will have several groups, including the managers, individual contributors, support staff and others impacted by the change. 

Each group has its own needs and you have to consider how the change affects each group.  You need to be able to make it clear why the change is happening and answer their questions: “How will my work change? What is expected of me? How will I be measured?

2.    Create a consistent message.
It is crucial to be clear and consistent about the message you are communicating.  Why is the change happening? The message should be clear and concise – no more than a few sentences.  The core of the message should be the same and then the impact should be tailored to each audience: "here is the reason for the change and here is how it impacts you."

Be careful with having an "official" message that is different from the "real" reason for the change.  I once consulted with a utilities company that was planning to update its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which would have a significant impact on many employees’ daily tasks.  The company planned to announce the upgrade as a response to the employees’ request to have more real-time information in the field, even though this feature would not be available for several years.  And the real reason for the change was that the vendor was no longer going to support the current software version, something the company had known about, and hadn’t dealt with, for a long time. 

I strongly recommended that they tell the employees the full truth now, because the real reason would trickle out into the organization anyway and undercut the environment of trust that the leadership needed to create. Honesty – especially upfront rather than after the truth is discovered - is the best policy.

3.    Consider how the message will be communicated.
You should consider that how you communicate the message is just as important, if not more so, than what you communicate. There are many ways that you can communicate the change.  You could use a special all-company meeting, one-on-one meetings with affected individuals, a mass email from the department head or a small paragraph on the company intranet.

For example, if you hold a special all-company meeting to announce the change, employees will get the sense that the change is a big deal.  On the other hand, if you just slip it into the last line of an email that gets sent out on a Friday afternoon, people may either not see it or think you are trying to hide it.

Weigh the pros and cons of having everyone hear the announcement at the same time versus using small group or individual announcements.  The method you choose depends on many factors, including the change you need to communicate, the people you need to communicate it to and the company culture in which you need to communicate it.  

If you are communicating the message in person, be aware of your non-verbal communications, such as eye contact, facial expression and tone of voice.  These non-verbal elements should convey sincerity, confidence and empathy: "I'm telling the truth, I know what I'm talking about and I care how it affects you." Also decide in advance how questions will be handled and by whom.  

While it is essential to follow any regulatory and legal requirements about how and when you announce the change, remember to be empathetic and speak in plain English rather than in legalese.

4.    Follow-up after the communication.
One communication about the change is not enough.  It's important that there be frequent follow-up to ensure that people receive the message and to address any questions or concerns.  This interaction will help you determine what/how to communicate next.  Informal channels of communication are also valuable during the follow-up because people may be more open about their perceptions of the change when they're standing around the water cooler or in the parking lot than when they're in formal meetings. 

You also want to be close enough to your employees that they share with you their real concerns and any rumors that might be floating around the organization.  I once worked at a company going through major layoffs.  The CEOs sent frequent emails to all employees, not just giving us updates, but also addressing rumors that had come to his attention. Some of these rumors were wild, but he was able to quash them and calm people down.  His emails, which he wrote himself, made people feel like he was connected, in charge and knew what was going on at every level.

5.    Understand the cycle of change.
Change management expert William Bridges has a Human Cycle of Change model with 3 stages:
·         Endings: the initial stage when experiencing change, during which people may experience shock, denial, mistrust and paralysis
·         The Neutral Zone, the in-between stage where the old way is gone but the change has not been fully implemented yet, during which people may express confusion, anger and negativity; and
·         New Beginnings, the final stage where the change has been implemented, during which people are moving towards acceptance, optimism and increased productivity.
Bridges emphasizes that even positive and rational change can involves loss and uncertainty and that people go through transitions at different speeds and in different ways.

It’s important to note that you as the leader and the organization have to pass through these three stages. Your job as a leader is to provide not just the information about the change, but also the leadership and emotional support to help your employees through the transition so they can become familiar and comfortable with the new reality.  Listen to your employees’ concerns and empathize with their emotions – and remember that listening and empathizing does not have to mean that you agree with them.

6.    Be visible and committed to the change.
The worst actions you can take after announcing a change is to go on vacation or hide in your office.  Your employees need to see you going about your work, with optimism and energy.  Reinforce the change and manage by walking around.  Your goal is to hear their questions and make it easy for them to approach you with concerns. 

Be alert to people backsliding in their commitment to the change and address any resistance immediately.  If they don’t understand what the change is or why it is happening, you need to communicate the why and what.  If they don’t know how to do the new work, provide training.  If they don’t believe in the change, you have to provide leadership to convince them.  And if they just don’t want to change, then you have to move them out of the organization.

In your enthusiasm for the new beginnings, be careful not to demonize everything that happened in the past.  Past organizational structures or managers may have been effective, even partially, and blaming them for all current issues is simplistic and risks alienating people who have a connection to the way things used to be done.  Yes, the change should make work more efficient and productive, but that doesn’t have to mean that the old way was completely devoid of value (and remember that today’s “wonderful new way” will too often become tomorrow’s “horrible, unproductive old way”).

Change happens.  Carefully and confidently communicating the change will help you implement it more successfully and make it easier for your employees to become comfortable with it. 

Confidence. Influence. Success.
Gilda Bonanno LLC: Training, Speaking & Coaching focused on
Presentation Skills, Communication & Leadership

Founder, Mastering Management Communications Mentoring Program

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Why "back to school" means something entirely different for the adult student

Back in August, when we were being inundated with television, radio, and internet ads for back to school madness, I was in the midst of meeting with prospective, new APPEAL students here on campus.  After a quiet stretch in July, it made sense that new students would make their way to our offices on the ground level of Reid Castle.  Sometime in August, we all seem flip that switch from lazy summer mode to productive, school mode, regardless of our age and regardless of whether or not we are going back to school.  It’s just something that is ingrained in all of us as we have been conditioned and programmed from a young age to equate August (despite the oppressive heat and humidity) with back to school.

Even with all of that programming and conditioning, though, adult students may have a different approach to back to school.  Many of those aforementioned prospective APPEAL students from August completed the application process and found themselves back to school, in an accelerated seven-week term that began the last week in August.  For some, though, they had too much going on to get all of their ducks in a row for the first half of the fall.  I think of one woman in particular, who was ready to go back to school after not having attended a college course for years. But she was facing one major commitment: she had to get her young daughter ready to go off to college. For this reason, she had to wait, but is hopeful to start in October. 

This isn’t unusual, and it is in fact one of the reasons why programs such as Manahattanville’s APPEAL program offer accelerated terms all throughout the year.  This way, the busy adult student is never far off from a new term beginning.  And accelerated terms typically fit the adult student’s style of learning better. Rather than committing to a class that means twice a week for a shorter period of time throughout fifteen weeks, an accelerated seven-week course allows the adult student to spend a longer amount of time in class once a week, but to earn the three credits in only seven weeks. In doing this, they actually get to better know their instructor and classmates (let’s face it- if you spend four hours once a week in a small room, you’ll certainly get to know the others in the room!)

There’s no denying that it is very much autumn as I write this.  The days are shorter, the nights cooler.  And for most ‘traditional’ students, the academic year is in full-swing and mid-terms are starting to appear on the horizon.  But for the adult student, it’s a whole different ballgame.  The idea of getting ready for ‘back to school’ can just as easily happen in August, October, or six months from now.

Jon DeBenedictis
Program Director

Communication tips for successful leadership by Laura Persky, Ed.D.

One of the interesting insights about great communication is that there are few secrets, it mostly seems like common sense but sometimes we forget, are too timid or careful, or have a political agenda to contend with. Here are my top ten suggestions for successful leadership communication.

      1.     Talk to your team! Ask teammates, associates and subordinates how they are doing? Ask if they have what they need to their job. Ask what you, as the team leader, can do to help them. Say thank you often. Talks to others in your organization as well. Make friends with other departments.

2.      Listen when others are speaking. In fact, listen more than you speak.  Have a dialog with your team, coworkers subordinates don’t just give orders or tell others what to do.

3.      Leadership is everyone’s responsibility. If something isn’t working right, is broken, or you have an idea for improved efficiency, mention it to someone.  Don’t assume that others will because they may not.  Take responsibility for the work and environment around you. 

4.      Be authentic. Be self-aware and genuine by knowing your strengths and limitations. You have to question a position if does not allow you to be true to yourself.   

5.      Be honest. Deliver on your promise and don’t promise what you can’t deliver.  Know when to say “I don’t know but I’ll look into it” or “can you help me with something?”

6.      Keep it simple (stupid (KISS). Be concise and clear. Long wordy explanations and stories can be confusing and people will drift off while trying to following along. Try to get to the point so people stay focused on the message.

7.      Inspire action by sharing the vision.  Explain to others how they help on the project, or help the customer. This is particularly important with administrative or customer support.  Everyone should know how important they are to customer service and revenue generation.

8.      Be open to change and new ideas.  Change is inevitable and necessary. “The way we have always done it” may not be the most efficient anymore - maybe it is, but maybe there’s a new technology or process that can positively impact the workflow. Those who do the work are often in an ideal position to recommend improvements to the process.

9.      Be empathetic. Try to understand what other people are going through.  Be sure to apologize, when appropriate. Sorry is an underused word that usually makes people much less defensive. 

10.  Know your audience.  What does the person you are talking to need to know? What is their background on the subject?  Adapt the message, style and delivery to the person, situation and the medium.   

Much of this seems like common sense but it is good to be reminded.  Let me know what you would add to this list and what works for you. 

Dr. Laura Persky
Graduate Program Director

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Dave Torromeo making valuable connections in the sports and entertainment industries

The Sports Business Management program has been active visiting companies and organizations worldwide. From horses at Belmont and Yonkers Raceway to cutting edge technologies, Dave and others including Mark Jeffers have canvassed the industry  to help facilitate jobs, internships, events and partnerships for Manhattanville. For example, the Mville athletics department has signed on to use a new technology that is detailed in the article below.  

Live From NBA All-Star: RSPCT, SMT Take Shot-Tracking Graphics to Next Level on TNT’s Three-Point Contest
Sensor and real-time graphic reveal shooting accuracy and patterns
The RSPCT team at NBA All-Star: (from left) Oren Sadeh, Benjamin Zirman, 
Leo Moravtchik, Oren Moravtchik, Mark Jeffers

One of the highlights of Turner’s NBA All-Star Saturday Night coverage was the debut of a shot-tracking technology developed by Israeli startup RSPCT. Deployed for the Three-point Contest, RSPCT’s system, which uses a sensor attached to the backboard to identify exactly where the ball hits the rim/basket, was integrated with SMT’s graphics system to offer fans a deeper look at each competitor’s shooting accuracy and patterns.

The RSPCT ShotFactors graphic was featured throughout Turner’s Three-Point Contest coverage.
“There is a story behind shooting, and we believe it’s time to tell it. Shooting is more than just a make or a miss,” says RSPCT CEO Oren Moravtchik. “Turner and the NBA immediately understood that the first time they ever saw [our system] and said, Let’s do it.”

During Saturday night’s telecast, Turner featured an integrated scorebug-like graphic showing a circle representing the rim for each of the five racks of balls during the competition. As a player took a shot, groupings indicating where the ball hit the rim/basket were inserted in real time, showing where the ball landed on the rim or inside the basket.

“It’s a bridge between the deep analytics that teams are using and the average fan,” says RSPCT COO Leo Moravtchik. “Viewers can understand shooting accuracy faster and better without having to dive into analytics; they clearly see groupings of shots and why a shot is made or missed. Last night, if a player missed all five shots of a rack, you could see why: if they are all going right or all going left.”

Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal’s ShotFactors from the Three-Point Contest. Notice the groupings: offset to the right in Rack 1, centered in Rack 4, and very
good but not centered on Rack 5.
The system, which can be set up in just 30 minutes, consists of a small Intel sensor mounted behind the top of the backboard and connected wirelessly to a small computing unit.

“We have some very sophisticated proprietary algorithms on the sensor,” says Oren Moravtchik. “The ball arrives at a high speed from the three-point line at various angles. We can [capture] the entire trajectory of the ball: where it came from, how it flew in the air, where it hit the basket — everything. We know the height of the player, the release point, and where it hit the basket, and then we can extrapolate back from there.” 

The RSPCT sensor on the basket can be seen here marked in red.  Although Saturday night marked the debut of the RSPCT system for the NBA, Leo Moravtchik sees far more potential once complete data sets on players can be captured — such as a full playoff series or even a full season. 

“There may be an amazing player shooting 18 out of 20 from every [three-point] location, but there are differences between locations beyond just field-goal percentage,” he says. “Based on our data, we not only can show them [that] shooting [tendencies] can predict, [that] we can actually project their field goals for the next 100 shots. We can tell them, If you are about to take the last shot to win the game, don’t take it from the top of the key because your best location is actually the right corner.”

RSPCT is not only focusing on sports broadcast and media clients but marketing the system as a scouting and player-development tool.
“We’re [targeting] NBA teams, college teams, and even high school and amateur teams,” says Leo Moravtchik. “Wherever there is a basket — camps, gyms, schools — people want to see how they are shooting. We can bring it there because it’s a 30-minute installation and very cost-effective.”

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