Question: Part of leadership is the ability to make a difference under difficult circumstances. With this in mind, describe a situation in which you exhibited such leadership.
The leaders who drive innovation, shape public policy, and facilitate growth all possess an amazing ability to think strategically about the future and see opportunities where others do not. In order to effectively implement such broad vision, an organization requires strong tactical leadership capable of overcoming challenges and obstacles at all levels. I have relied on robust organizational and interpersonal skills, as well as a keen ability to understand and frame a problem, to provide this type of guidance and direction in one small corner of a global company.
In the Public Services sector at [Company 1], each partner group faces the sometimes competing demands of meeting internal business goals, serving shareholder interests, and working with the Federal government. Though these requirements are not mutually exclusive, success in each requires constant management attention. My efforts to reorganize and streamline my team's internal financial management and compliance functions have improved group performance and efficiency significantly. Six months after I joined [Company 1], my manager was promoted to the partner level, and in turn, five new managers were promoted to run our group's engagements. These individuals were suddenly responsible for meeting new, aggressive goals without the benefit of a standardized team process and set of tools to equip them with consistent information about group benchmarks and performance. In our company, key performance information is disseminated down to the individual teams via a number of different reports, none of which provides a completely integrated picture of group performance and compliance. Utilization statistics, new business leads, engagement financials, and business development expenses are reported separately, even though they all drive growth and profitability. The lack of leadership experience on our team exacerbated unfamiliarity with these disparate reporting devices, leading to substandard performance for much of the year.
Our new group was also inconsistent in its compliance with key internal management systems. We had no processes in place for gathering the information and documents required to accurately populate the forecasting system used to give revenue projections to Wall Street analysts or the contract management system used to organize information for government auditors. As is often the case, the catalyst for change came in the form of bad news; our group used its entire business development expense budget in the first nine months of the year. In response, I was tasked to take the lead in reevaluating engagement and resource management for our group. This project presented a number of difficult challenges. As an analyst, I did not have an in-depth understanding of the company's accounting system, performance metrics, and project management procedures. Additionally, the managers in our group are geographically dispersed, travel often, and did not use any standardized management tools or spreadsheets. Thus, in order to reduce negative attention from leadership and meet annual goals, we needed to develop a solution quickly. Step one was to determine the metrics on which the group is measured, the specific targets, and the information necessary to manage project financials effectively. I studied internal management reports and briefings, spoke with contacts in the accounting department, and obtained input from each manager. Once the requirements were set, I developed a prototype automated spreadsheet tool that combined key information from all available management reports, provided a standardized project management template, added projected resource hours and expenses to current financial data, and estimated the impact of changes in key variables. In addition to the previously described functionality, the current version of the tool also provides aggregate information in chart and dashboard form to allow quick assessment of the status of projects and metrics.
I recognized that our group required not only a new management tool but also a new management system. In order for the managers' projections to be relevant, the tool must be a living document. Leveraging an internal intranet site, I established a process and recurring timeline for the managers to input updated future resource requirements, provide explanations for abnormal billing items, and submit comments on project status. I also worked with other consultants in my group to delegate responsibility for the forecasting and contract management systems.
The group quickly incorporated the "dashboard" into our standard business processes, and this accomplishment was instrumental in my early promotion to Consultant. I now monitor the tool and advise my Managing Director of issues requiring his attention, while working with the managers to address billing and resource concerns. Group performance against our goals has improved dramatically in the current fiscal year. For example, net unbilled hours, a key measure of how much work has been performed without invoicing the client, recently hit an all-time low for our group, which I believe is due in large part to increased financial visibility. I feel that success in this leadership capacity has contributed more to my professional development than anything else I've done at [Company 1]. The experience has given me an in-depth understanding, far beyond what someone at my level would have ordinarily, of how the company measures our performance and how our team manages it. As a result, I've been able to contribute more substantively to business development and team strategy planning, and have a greater appreciation for time and expense management. Management is about efficiency and execution; leadership is about influence and vision. Both of these skill sets are critical to success in the business world and require the ability to analyze, organize, communicate, and motivate. I believe this project demonstrates my capacity for being both an effective manager and an effective leader. Faced with a set of challenging circumstances, I was able not only to ensure that a high quality product was delivered in a timely fashion but also to alter and redefine the fundamental way in which my group conducts and measures its business, leading to improved performance and efficiency.
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