Chris Crace is the Veteran’s Advocacy Leader for PwC. He leads PwC’s ongoing commitment to investing in diverse talent, which includes the implementation of an enhanced strategic roadmap and operational model for attracting, hiring, onboarding and retaining veterans, service members and military spouses. In this role, Chris also collaborates with leaders of the firm’s Veterans Affinity Network (VAN) to mentor new and existing veteran team members, and increase their opportunities for personal and professional development.
Before joining PwC in his current role, Chris was a Senior Director with Kforce Professional Staffing. Prior to that Crace served seven years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps as an Artillery Captain and deployed to Iraq in 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
DiversityInc reached out to Chris for career advice from a veteran, particularly on skills he gained in the Marines that could be applied in a corporate setting.
DiversityInc: What advice would you give to people on overcoming roadblocks and getting back on track?
Chris Crace: I have a few areas to touch on in regards to overcoming roadblocks and getting back on track.
Involve Key Stakeholders
The biggest piece of advice that I can give would be to involve stakeholders and team resources in the planning phase of any initiative that you’re leading. The more collaboration you can have with a team from the start of your initiative, the better off you’ll be. The project will run smoother, buy-in from stakeholders will be greater and the end product will be better. Additionally, you should not try to overcome every roadblock by yourself. You should ensure you have buy-in upfront, so you can leverage stakeholders for support along the way.
Delegation is a constant challenge. Always stick to delegating to team members based on the position they hold within the company and the associated responsibilities according to their job description, rather than basing it on the skillsets they possess outside of those areas. The reason I say that is because oftentimes you have great, talented people within an organization that can do many different things, and our tendency when it comes to projects is to leverage them to the fullest extent possible. These are also the type of people that are going to volunteer to take on more workload and responsibility. However, the risk is that if the task you assigned them wasn’t part of their job or within their department’s scope of responsibility, then when it is time to get final approvals and go live you’re not going to have the buy-in from the stakeholder(s) that actually own the activity and the project will be delayed. Delegating according to roles within the organization is critical and it’s a lesson I learned the hard way early in my career.
The Schedule is the Bad Guy
Letting the schedule be the bad guy is definitely a best practice. In order for a project to stay on track and meet deadlines you must clearly identify and assign milestones along the way. You also need to publish a project timeline so team members can better understand the impacts they will have on other milestones (and team members) if they do not complete their assigned tasks on time. Post the schedule where all team members and stakeholders can see it and track progress. Update it regularly and highlight milestones and task owners that are running behind schedule. Oftentimes, the healthy public pressure that is created by this approach is enough to keep everyone on track and you can avoid having an awkward accountability conversation.
Recurring Checkpoint Meetings
Checkpoint meetings are an excellent way to crowdsource solutions to any roadblock. They also add some healthy tension to folks to make sure that their action items are completed on time, and give them a better understanding of what those impacts may be if action items aren’t completed on time.
Anticipating Friction Points
Anticipating friction points is something most of us did/do very well in the military. We move forward according to the plan, but we all expect the plan to fall apart at some point during the execution phase. That dynamic doesn’t change in the corporate environment. You always have to expect friction points and anticipate when they may occur. If you identify a team member that is not being responsive or not able to provide detailed updates on the work that they’re doing, then there is a good chance that a friction point may lie ahead. If this is happening, it’s very important to dig in and make sure that there’s not something ugly lying beneath the surface. I think the concept of “trust but verify” is certainly applicable in almost any corporate setting. Communicating often with your project champion and key stakeholders, to keep them up to date on recent activities as well as next steps, is a great way for them to help you to be able to identify potential friction points or roadblocks. Experience is often the best teacher, but there is no reason you should not be able to learn from other people’s experiences as well.
You Don’t Have All the Answers, but Get Involved
When challenges arise, make it a team problem. It’s not your responsibility as an individual to have all the answers. Ask your stakeholders and team members to identify and acquire additional resources to handle challenges that pop up. Don’t feel like you have to own them yourself. However, personally getting involved is key and you are responsible for driving toward the solution and communicating with your team and key stakeholders along the way.
DiversityInc: What advice would you give on not being afraid to fail, and learning from mistakes?
Chris Crace: Most military organizations display somewhat of a zero-defect mentality, obviously not with their words, but from my experience, definitely in actions, and for good reason. The missions and the training you’re responsible for executing in the military have life and death and/or personal property impacts so there is little room for mistakes.
However, when it comes to the civilian sector, things open up a bit, and you shouldn’t be afraid to fail because it is going to happen. Obviously, your ability to learn from experiences (both positive and negative) is going to be critical. In the military, everyone has many responsibilities, but you always know who is responsible for what and where to find subject matter expertise.
However, when it comes to a corporate setting, most companies operate a matrixed environment, so everyone has different levels of experience and are participating in many projects and initiatives areas across their company. So, anticipate that it will not be as easy to identify the proper resources and that folks are going to be overtasked (or at least, they will tell you they are anyway).
There are some other variables that are challenging, if not impossible, to control, such as the skillsets and the experience of the team members that you have access to and resource constraints when it comes to time, budget and competing priorities. Additionally, many times, you will be operating in a decentralized execution model, where you may or may not have any control or oversight into what the final product looks like and/or the rollout of the project.
Discard the Zero-Defect Mentality
You can’t be paralyzed by having a zero-defect mentality, trying to plan for everything. You have to be prepared to fail. Ultimately, as long as you include the correct stakeholders in the communications throughout the project, you’re going to get much more of a semblance of shared responsibility, rather than everything falling on your shoulders. If you’re the critical point of failure and all information is running through you, and you’re not sharing that information, then that’s not the best way to go about it and you’re going to put more stress and pressure on yourself.
As long as you don’t fail based on improper planning, or because you were disingenuous or hid information, you’re ultimately going to come out of it with a learning opportunity and you’re going to move on. Remember, in the civilian sector we are all only as good as our last project anyway. So, if you do experience failure, then seek out another project as quickly as possible, apply lessons learned and keep moving forward toward another opportunity to build your reputation.
Asking for Feedback
One critical aspect of learning from your mistakes is asking for feedback. Asking for feedback in a corporate environment is very different than what we experienced in the military. Many times you may not get constructive feedback if you don’t press for it. We constantly deal with situations where many times we’re only getting feedback once a year during an annual performance review, and oftentimes, even that feedback is not as detailed as we would like it to be. You really do have to take control and press for feedback.
Ways to ask for feedback include letting folks know that you’re seeking their insight and you value it. Let them know you’re looking for self-improvement and ways to make your products better for the organization and for others in the company. Many times, even if you follow this approach, you’re still going to have to request feedback multiple times. Oftentimes, folks are uncomfortable or don’t feel they have all the information to be able to provide constructive feedback. You’re going to have to get past the “You did great and I can’t think of anything you could have done better” response and respectfully press for tangible feedback if you really want it.
Here are a couple of techniques that you can leverage to set yourself up to successfully obtain performance feedback. First and foremost, you should let folks know ahead of time that you’re going to be asking for feedback, and that you desire candid performance reviews. If they’re not ready when you ask them on the spot, you can schedule a follow-up meeting to give them time to organize their thoughts and prepare. And, as always, make sure you thank them for taking the time to share with you.
Additionally, you should seek opportunities to apply lessons learned as soon as possible and go back and say, “Hey, this is some feedback that you provided. Here’s how I applied it, and here was the outcome.” Show them that you’re really interested and you’re taking their feedback to heart to improve. That’s going to make your relationship more open, and they’ll be more willing to proactively give you performance feedback in the future.