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“I really don’t take a one size fits all approach to my client interventions.”

Dave Wakeman is a leader in the consulting field working with organizations to improve their performance and to stop wasting time and money on solutions that will never work.

He has worked with international leaders in their category like American Express, Madison Square Garden, and Marriott to improve their business offerings and to get better results from their time and money. Wakeman Consulting Group is a boutique management consulting firm that focuses on helping companies achieve better results in their investments of time and money.


BusinessInterviews.com: What the some of the common barriers you see your clients facing when it comes to running a company efficiently and effectively?

Dave: I’m pretty fortunate in that I work with clients in a number of areas, so I get a wide array of exposure to management issues. While the industries may vary, 3 common barriers arise fairly consistently in my practice:

Marketing and sales issues: These issues break down into issues about not having a good marketing message or having a sales team that isn’t living up to expectations.

Leadership: This might actually be the one that shows up the most often. Too often I find executives and leaders that have fallen into what I call the “leadership trap” and they feel like because they have a title or position in the company that everyone should fall in line behind them and that some great leadership skill has been laid upon them because of this title. That’s not the case. So I have to work really hard to teach and coach executives and managers that leadership isn’t something that you have, but it is a skill that you develop.

Overall Organizational Effectiveness: I get called in a lot by companies that have a litany of issues that have been causing them pain. Sometimes they can do a very good job of identifying the point of pain, but not a great job of diagnosing solutions. So I come in and help leaders and executives uncover the root causes of these issues and we work to develop solutions that create a holistically stronger team or company.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some ways that you help increase employee satisfaction for your clients?

Dave: I really don’t take a one size fits all approach to my client interventions. So the ways that I help my clients achieve employee satisfaction varies on a project by project basis. A few things that I am consistent in emphasizing to executives that I work with as they work to improve their team’s performance are:

Empower Your Employees: It is almost absurd how often you hear managers and leaders talk about how they can’t do things by themselves…blah, blah, blah. But when they are put on the spot, too often people fall back on the old trying to do everything themselves crutch. I am adamant about getting leaders I work with to empower their employees and to not micromanage.

Communicate: I’ve been in organizations where rumors and gossip become the primary way that information trickles down to the staff. In every case, these companies are sick and have low employee satisfaction. When I work with clients, I tell them that they have to fill that knowledge gap or it will be filled by someone else. And, just as in public relations, if you aren’t defining the conversation, you aren’t going to be happy with the results.

Make Work Fun: I did a project in 2012 working for a direct mail firm in Washington, DC. And, I have to say that I haven’t worked that hard or long in a very long time, but I never regretted the experience or complained about the hours because it was fun. I’m not talking about ping pong tables in the office and trips to the bounce house like I’ve seen some companies promote, but fun in the sense that the team that was put together was great to work with, the work was challenging and stimulating, and I felt like what I was working on was going to be important and make a difference to the community. That was fun and I tell my clients to be really aware of ways to encourage your employees to have fun and enjoy their jobs…it doesn’t have to be extravagant, but the effort will go a long way to improved employee morale.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share some of your tips when it comes to creating a strong project team?

Dave: Creating strong project teams is one of the key things I am known for these days. And, I think I am good at it now because I used to be unbelievably bad at being a team leader. So I have a few tips that I use as the starting point when I am trying to coach project managers and leaders on building strong teams, or if I am building a team of my own.

These are:

Over Communicate: I don’t know that I believe that you can over communicate, but as the team leader, your success or failure can be determined by how effectively you communicate with your team and your stakeholders. So I teach the idea that you need to really make a communication plan early and implement the thing.

Understand Your Team Members’ Goals: Each project has goals and objectives that need to be achieved…it’s the nature of the work. But one way that I have found that helps me build stronger teams is to really try to understand what my team members goals are and to use that knowledge to help effectively manage them during a project. This can take the form of allowing someone to use a different skill set, develop new skills, or gain additional knowledge. I’ve found by being conscious of the dynamic of someone else’s goals, I have become a better project leader and someone that my team is more eager to work for.

Be Flexible: A good project manager spends a tremendous amount of time on 2 key areas: communication and planning. But too often a project manager makes a plan and once the project kicks off gets pulled in a thousand different directions and quite often the project plan becomes a calcified document and not a living document that changes with the circumstances on the ground. So I try to really be conscious of coaching project managers and leaders to plan, but to be flexible when implementing their plans.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some emerging trends that you’re excited about?

Dave: I get asked this question pretty regularly and there really is a lot to be excited about whether you are discussing social media, leadership, management, technology, or anything else, but as we are discussing this now, I have a few things that I am really excited about:

Technological Innovation: I’m still super excited by how quickly our technology is continuing to improve. About 8 years ago when I started an e-commerce business, we were saddled with all kinds of issues that the cloud and advanced Internet tools have eliminated. Also, I find that I can now almost 100% run my business off of my iPad Air. That’s unbelievable when you consider that I was the only kid in my dorm at Alabama that had a computer when I was a freshman in 1993. So I see the move to more wearable technology and more powerful mobile devices as a really great trend.

New Healthcare Law’s Implementation: I’m not excited about how the rollout has gone. But the simple fact is that the new healthcare law is going to be good for the country and it’s business climate in the long run. From a business standpoint, I am excited because anytime a new program like this is rolled out, there is going to be huge opportunity for innovation and for entrepreneurs to solve problems.

More Awareness of Institutional Activities: The global economy is still sputtering along in what is being called technically a recovery, but which for too many people is a painful extension of the economic collapse. Out of the collapse came a renewed focus on corporate and government responsibility. With things like the London Whale, the NSA spying, and many other instances have shown, we are still facing a leadership void throughout the world, but this has led to people being more aware of the activities of the leaders of various institutions and with the power of the Internet…people can more effectively mobilize their collective voices in response to something that they feel doesn’t reflect their worldview. This cuts both ways, but I have high hopes that this trend of citizen empowerment and awareness of institutional activities can lead to some really positive changes.

BusinessInterviews.com: When it comes to wasting money, what are some of the biggest areas of expenditure that are often overlooked?

Dave: Even though I have worked with the biggest organizations in the world, I started out with small business and the idea that cash flow is king and that you have to make every penny count. So the wasting money area is one that I focus on often and that when I see companies wasting money, drives me nuts. That said, some of the biggest areas I see are:

Not knowing what business you are in: I go to businesses all the time and we have conversations and they roll out these super impressive sales figures, but they aren’t making any profit. So one of the things I counsel my clients to do right away is to know where they make their profits and where they don’t make profits…so they can more effectively market and sell profitable products and services. Which means that they can stop spending money on marketing, selling, and servicing products and services that don’t make them any money.

Bad Pay Incentives: This has been a topic that has come up pretty regularly as of late. I will talk with a client and they will tell me that they can motivate their employees are their sales team. A lot of times this is caused by bad incentive structures. So these companies end up wasting lots of money paying employees to underperform because their pay structures are all off.

Being cheap and doing low value tasks: I was recently talking with a senior member of the team at a large consulting company and she told me that she doesn’t have an assistant and that no one on her team has an assistant. So they were frustrated because the team felt like they spent a lot of their time doing low value work like submitting receipts, filling out expense reports, and other things that interrupted their day and ate time away from their core competencies. This happens too much and companies are wasting millions and billions of dollars in worker productivity because they want to go cheap on support staff or because employees aren’t aware that they are focusing on low value tasks and assignments.

BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?

Dave: I’ll take a little latitude with this question and say that I have actually taken 3 really great risks in my life and they have all played big roles in helping me become a better businessperson and a better entrepreneur.

I moved from South Florida to St. Louis to help open a nightclub: At the time this was a huge risk because I found myself in a position where I was really stuck and not sure what to do with myself. Fortunately, I had a really great friend offer me the chance to take part in opening a new nightclub concept in St. Louis. The nightclub didn’t do so well for reasons we probably couldn’t have foreseen at the outset, but the risk in moving to a new city with few contacts and starting over gave me the strength to move to Seattle a few months later without knowing anyone and that strength of character that came from this self confidence probably helped me land a job working for Paul Allen…which was the first big step I took in my career and it allowed me to do work with some really great clients and provided a huge stepping stone forward.

Moving to New York City from Seattle: At the time I left Seattle, I felt like I still had more growing to do and upon reflection, I felt like if I were not careful, I would fall into a comfortable spot and never reach my potential. So I packed up my stuff with a good friend and moved across the country to New York City. Moving to New York opened up some entirely new opportunities and I was fortunate that I got to take a really huge step in my development because a small business owner named Jonathan Radler took a chance on someone that was promising, but didn’t have a background in Broadway or in dealing with really large Fortune 1000 companies. The experiences that I had working for Jonathan at his company, Americana Tickets, provided me a hands on executive education and one that I would never have received if I hadn’t worked for him.

Going out on my own: The biggest risk I ever took was leaving a job that paid me more money than I probably ever thought I would make as a kid growing up in rural Georgia. But as has happened on many occasions, I had a feeling that I still needed to push myself to grow a lot and that if I weren’t careful I might fall into a rut and not achieve everything I could achieve. So when I had the chance to start a business with 2 partners for about $3,000…as scary as it was, I took it. In the 18 months we were together before I sold my shares, we took the business from $0 to a point where the company was valued at approximately $4M. The great thing about this was that those first months were terrible…we were doing everything ourselves from the IT to marketing to partnerships and we had a little money coming in, but we were also extremely leveraged and there was no guarantee of success. Ultimately, we did well…but having those doubts and ultimately overcoming them was really fantastic and taught me a lesson about perseverance that I have been able to apply ever since.

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