Ep. 119: Mark Forsberg - 1-on-1 Leadership

Mark Forsberg, CFO at Culligan Water and Distinguished Toastmaster, joins Count Me In to talk about the value of 1-on-1 leadership. Managing with a specific emphasis on 1-on-1 conversations has a particular benefit for the employee, the manager, and the organization. Mark, a Chief Financial Officer for a franchise company, Board Director, former auditor with a Big 4 Firm, and lifelong learner and volunteer, explains how he has used and seen the benefits of 1-on-1 relationships. From nurturing an effective relationship to better growth and retention, this conversation offers great insight into how managers and organizational leaders can better communicate and lead. Download and listen now!

Contact Mark Forsberg: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-forsberg/

Culligan Water: https://www.culliganwater.com/

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Adam: (00:00)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson here to bring you episode 119 of our series. Today's conversation is between my co-host Mitch and the CFO of Culligan Water, Mark Forsberg. Mark is a senior leader who oversees the finance, human resources, and risk management functions. He is a distinguished Toastmaster and considers himself a lifelong learner and volunteer. In this episode, Mark emphasizes the value of one-on-one leadership and the return on time invested for the manager, the employee, and the rest of the organization. Keep listening as we go to their conversation now.
 
 Mitch: (00:45)
 So the purpose of today's conversation, what I would like to start things off with is, how is one-on-one leadership and one-on-one management different than traditional leadership conversations that are typically had in the workplace?
 
 Mark: (01:05)
 Well thank you Mitch, for the opportunity to be on the program today. If we give some context to this, one year ago, when COVID hit the United States, we had millions of people that went from working in their offices to working at home. And this was a real stress test on communications and managers, we all went to our bookshelves and re-read things like it's important to communicate, communicate, communicate. And another word that came up was the word essential. What's essential to happen. And I think what we all discovered with what's essential is the fundamental employee to supervisor one-to-one meeting. And in general, these meetings are weekly, biweekly, monthly check-ins with the employee and their boss and their employee directed talking about projects and priorities. Before the pandemic I would guess that many times these meetings fell off the radar, but after the work from home initiative started, they became really important. And I hope that many of the members in the community are continuing to do those because this is really not so much about why, or I should say it's more about why than it is the how. You can look up a lot of info on the web about these, but I would say that from my experience, I recommend scheduling one hour every two to three weeks, you ask open-ended questions and you get the employee to open up about things and you're there as a guide to them. As accountants, we all justify ROI on technology, on equipment purchases, on process improvement, but the ROI on that time with employees can really pay off at times. So what value do you place on investing time to gain that mutual trust and confidence? The end message really is the employee's work matters and they matter.
 
 Mitch: (03:28)
 So as far as the work that matters in these conversations, I agree, there certainly was a period of time when everyone was trying to adjust and figure things out for themselves and now we have to touch base again and make sure that we are all moving in the same direction within the organization, particularly within our function. So, once these one-on-one conversations either continue or pick back up, what are the added benefits after the fact?
 
 Mark: (03:55)
 The manager/employee or the supervisor/employee relationship is a special relationship and I like to give pause and think about if you're a manager, is it possible for you to compile a list of all the people that you've hired and supervised? And it may be hard to do that if you've been a supervisor manager for a couple of decades. But for all of us, leaders included, going back to that first W2 job, could you make a list of all the people that have hired you? And my guess is you get pretty darn close. There's a book, Truth About Leadership, and it gave me an insight and the insight has stuck with me for a long time and the insight was when they interviewed surveyed high school students and they asked who they envisioned as a leader in their lives. Number one was a family member, typically a parent. Behind that it was a teacher or a coach. But when they interviewed or surveyed people in their thirties and forties and asked who's a leader in their life, they said a parent, grandparent, family member, but number two was a boss. And the trust and confidence that can come with that relationship and the power of these open honest two-way conversations is not to be understated. And I think from that you really springboard to a lot of other opportunities. And I would close that question out by saying, get to know your employees as people, they're people first and what they do second. You might think of Jodi as an accountant who's been with you for eight years and she handles the Western region so on and so forth, but Jodi's got a life before coming to work for you and is doing other things on the side. Perhaps she's a mentor in the big sister program. Maybe she played college tennis, whatever it might be, get to know them as people and they will feel that. And then that's where sometimes the magic happens on employees becoming more engaged with the job and the supervisors and managers being more enlightened and you're really developing people versus supervising and managing people. They are developing right in front of your eyes.
 
 Mitch: (06:36)
 And then how does this one-on-one leadership from the manager/supervisor perspective, ultimately result in what I guess we could assume is better employee growth and retention?
 
 Mark: (06:49)
 Yeah in my career, the fundamentals of employee retention haven't changed all that much. You know, there are really four (fundamentals), employees like the work, they like who they report to and they trust and respect, they like what the company does and sees that the company has a future, and then they see an interesting future with the company. And I think an important message that I would share and it came out of, as I prepared for this is, you will walk into or stumble into conversations and opportunities for people to develop in their own job. You know in sports, a lot of times people will earn a position due to injury or be granted an opportunity due to injury of a player. And in business, a lot of times it's an unexpected employee turnover or planned transitions. And in those transitions, then there's an opportunity for people to grow on the job and for them to find that more interesting and holds onto a retention. I think also another point I would make is if you're doing one to ones over a period of time, let's say you have someone that reports to you for three years, you're going to have 50 one-on-ones over that time frame. What you'll get then is you'll get the opportunity with a huge sample size to really see how that person performs, their personality traits, how they fit values, are they naturally curious or assuming, do they expect responsibility or do they sometimes dodge it? And I think those are things that factor into your coaching of the employee as well as their advancement.
 
 Mitch: (08:45)
 And how about the bigger picture? So obviously we have employee retention, employee growth, you know, they have an opportunity to develop this strong relationship, the supervisor is able to kind of mold the employee and really enhance their working relationship and the job that gets done. But beyond that, what other effects does a strong supervisor/employee relationship have on other aspects of the organization?
 
 Mark: (09:11)
 You have to think about what's going on throughout. And these connections that happen between manager and employee throughout the organization are powerful if they're all happening, for example, if you take a CEO that wants to introduce a new program or new product, and they give an articulate 10 minute video message that gets out to the employees and the GM of the division performs well on a town hall virtual meeting, at some point you have to have a conversation between the manager and the employee about their role in this. And John, the owner of our company is good at describing rationale. And he will say, people really do need to hear it, understand it, and buy into it. And you're not always going to get a hundred percent buy in, but think about this happening across hundreds of conversations in an organization about something that's new or about something that needs to be addressed. So I would just highlight the fact that you're going to get traction throughout the organization when managers and supervisors are doing this all at the same time.
 
 Mitch: (10:32)
 As far as traction goes, our listeners may be interested in ramping up their one-on-ones, or coaching others how to effectively facilitate a one-on-one with their employees. So, are there some examples or best practices that you can share with everybody to really nurture this effective relationship and ultimately reap the benefits down the road across the organization like you just said?
 
 Mark: (10:59)
 Yeah, well one is you need to prepare and you really need to show up. The manager needs to think at least for a few minutes Mitch, about what they want to cover and what the employee might want to talk about because we all live in a busy environment and a lot of times we have meetings that go back to back to back, but prepare for it. Make a couple of notes, especially on recognition in that one to one, you want to identify something or have in mind something that you want to recognize the employee for, or appreciate them for and share that and have it be sincere. Mark Twain said it, “I can live two weeks on a really good compliment”. And I really, I think that's true. In terms of the beginning part, the beginning would all be on open-ended questions and you see where that takes you and you need to listen carefully. So I would recommend as a best practice if you're distracted and you don't feel that you can put your attention into the discussion, reschedule it. If the employee is too busy, if they would rather reschedule it fine, but hold them and hold at least one or two per month.
 
 Mitch: (12:25)
 Now taking a step back when it comes to facilitating these conversations and really having these open lines of communication, I'm sure, there are personal skills that an effective supervisor must possess in order to get the message across and continue this employee growth. So I understand you being a Toastmaster, how has that helped you better communicate, be a better speaker and how do those skills all play a role in this conversation we're having today, as far as one-on-ones?
 
 Mark: (13:00)
 Well when it comes to soft skills, you need to learn those soft skills somewhere, you need to know the techniques. And I’m mentioning, emphasizing skills. Toastmasters is a great place to learn and practice. And many people think it's all about giving speeches and it's not. It's really many aspects of leadership, speaking, and listening. And what I would invite the community do, your listeners to do, is if you have not been to a Toastmasters meeting, just go to one. And if there is more than one where you live or work, go to both and see which one might be a better fit. And it may not be something that you want to do yourself. Maybe you don't want to join. However, you think of someone on your team that you could recommend to join. And I've talked to people and people will go, well I do speaking, I think I do a pretty good job I don't really need Toastmasters, but there's probably some aspect of communication, listening, and speaking that they can improve on, or they could help others improve on and be a mentor in that club. Now, by chance, I did meet my wife through Toastmasters so I'm probably biased, but there are ways to grow your skills and speaking and I would just encourage everyone to know about the program and if you find a good club, recommend it.
 
 Mitch: (14:36)
 So I always like to wrap up these conversations kind of summarizing everything that we discussed here and give the speaker an opportunity to share some future thoughts. So we talked about one-on-one leadership, we talked about communication, the soft skills, how do these skills really impact finance and accounting professionals moving forward? What are some of your thoughts as far as, how our listeners can really take this information and hold onto it for future reasons? You know, what might those reasons be and how do you see them playing a role in the profession down the road?
 
 Mark: (15:13)
 Well, soft skills are critically important. They, how they will play a role down the road is as communication gets more digital, the need for that to be a clear, more articulate, our time in meetings and with employees to be clear, more articulate, I would use the example of in giving speeches, I've evaluated great speakers and I thought, that's a great speech, but wrong topic. It's really about being more effective communicators and I think that is the key for leaders, is to be able to be comfortable in that role, in one-on-ones, in department meetings, in opportunities that come up and a lot of that really comes down Mitch, to preparation and skill training over time.
 
 Closing: (16:17)
 This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

©Copyright 2021 Institute of Management Accountants. All rights reserved.