Diedria Preston, Project Manager of Process Excellence at Staples Financial Shared Services Center, speaks with us about upward moves in her professional career defined; by her ability to handle workplace relationships with style and grace.
She speaks about steps it took to achieve her level of success. One could learn a lot from Mrs. Preston when navigating their path to success as well as how to approach differences with co workers and find solutions in problem based systems.
A mother of two, a wife, still a career oriented lady; for me it was another immense opportunity to ask, just how do you do it?
Diedria, be very candid and give your greatest advice about balancing the day to day; between working, being a wife and still being actively engaged in your children’s life.
To an educated, young mother, entering the workforce; what do you tell her about approaching and embracing the change? Look at change as an opportunity to move to another destination in life that God has for you. Do not stop embracing change. Once you stop doing this, you become stagnant in your career. Surround yourself with people who support you and encourage you to change. Be open and honest about your feelings during the change and develop a plan to mitigate the negative feelings.
What is your role as a Process Excellence Manager? I am responsible for helping others understand and use a disciplined approach to identifying opportunities within broken processes and managing implementation of the change. This disciplined approach is called Lean Six Sigma. This approach can be applied in any work environment. Believe it or not, it can also be applied at home! I use it on my husband sometime.
Glad you mentioned the Lean Six Sigma. Talk to us about your Certifications and the importance or advantages of having them
I am a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Within my company, it is a big deal. To get this certification within my company, I had to do more than just attend classes and pass exams. I had to demonstrate my ability to apply the knowledge learned on-the-job for up to 2 years and save the company over $1 million annually. I also had to demonstrate my ability to interact with people of all walks of life and influence them to make change. This certification has opened doors for me within my company and outside of my company. This is a transferable certification that can be used within any field (i.e. manufacturing, financial services, human resources, real estate, advertising, etc…). Because of my certification and my MBA, I was recently promoted and asked to travel internationally to support global process improvement projects.
Talk to us about the streamlining processes you have implemented on the job.
Sure, I will describe a very simple example of a process that was streamlined in recent years. A few years ago, my company’s annual credit card chargeback costs were over $1M. The chargebacks emanated from customer disputes through the banks. There were several reasons why we incurred chargebacks. We focused on a key root cause for chargebacks: The chargebacks were incurred because of our associate’s lack of timely, accurate and complete rebuttals to the chargebacks. The associate’s rebuttal process was to fax proof of receipts and fax rebuttal statements separately. The rebuttal statements were not complete because associates did not fully understand all the requirements needed to rebut the chargeback for each bank. The following improvements were implemented: 1) Trained associates on the rebuttal requirements for each bank, 2) Uploaded rebuttal statements plus the receipt copy directly into a database vs. faxing separately and 3) Created metric tracking. As a result of the improvements, we increased our chargeback reversal rate from 56% to 71% at the end of the project.
Do you think more companies should offer internship or co-ops programs? Why or why not? Yes, I believe that more companies should offer internships or co-op programs. I benefited from these programs while I was in college. I learned basic skills needed to interact effectively with other employees and customers. I also learned basic technical skills in my area of interest. When I was interviewed for my first job at 3M Company, they asked me about my internship experience. They expected me to have some internship experience in addition to a GPA above a 3.0. Hiring managers for entry level positions will pick the candidate with internship experience over the candidate without internship experience assuming the GPA is equal.
What was the hiring process for this position? It was not easy for me to obtain my position. I had to consistently demonstrate to my company that I was, at minimum, competent in leading others, building and maintaining relationships, influencing others, and analyzing and improving complex business situations. I interviewed with several managers prior to getting hired for my job.
To a recent graduate, seeking employment; what are some of the qualities an employer would look for when filling a position such as yours? In addition to the competencies that I just mentioned above, an employer will look for a strong ability to foster all types of relationships with people of diverse backgrounds. The employer will require a strong analytical background and maybe a strong technical background depending on the industry. A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification may also be required.
What would you say are the normal challenges if any that your position may present? This is a great question. My normal challenge is influencing and motivating people to embrace change. I spend most of my time trying to move the “Elephant” in the room. The technical and analytical skills do not matter if you can’t move that elephant. A change will not be successful or sustainable. This is my experience.
How important is it in your role to be able to work with teams within your department or with other departments in the company? I have to be able to work with cross functional teams. I purposely request team members that represent my department and other departments within the company. This is what I call “Healthy” diversity. This type of team setup allows for healthy debates and creative process improvements.
Define the culture of your company. We have a culture where people can have open and honest discussions, where people can share big and small ideas without feeling that the idea is not a good one, and where people can take risks on implementing ideas and have fun! We value diversity, we value community and giving to others.
Would you say you ever had to take one step backward in order to take more steps further in your career? Yes, I had to take two steps backwards in order to take one huge step forward in my career recently. I have a BS in Chemical Engineering and I worked as a process improvement engineer for ten years prior to transitioning to my most recent job four years ago. This was a big shift in career for me. I had to take a salary hit of $20K for the first year in my new job. I am thankful that I had a supportive family during that transition. I stayed focus on my new job and as a result, I was able to advance within the first two years of being on the job.
What are your greatest achievements? I was able to successfully transition from being a process engineer to managing a process excellence deployment in the financial shared services industry. The path I traveled was bumpy and not easy; however, it was rewarding.
How important is it that supervisors have open door policies? Supervisors should have an open door policy. This helps with building trust and open relationships. Supervisors are able to better influence change by having an open door policy.
What would you say are key elements that can make or break a company? One element that can make a company is to be attentive to the changing work environment and adjust as needed. One element that can break a company is to not do what I just mentioned.
When building relationships with your co- workers, how do you maintain professionalism and ensure lines are not crossed where friendships can be jeopardized? I do not have “friends” when I am at work. I maintain professionalism and ensure lines are not crossed by being respectful and caring to others. I always focus on what is good for the business and let factual data drive decision making.
How have you handled conflict in the workplace? I handle conflict in the workplace by stating my feelings about the situation in a professional way and working with others to develop a plan to mitigate the conflict. My plan may sometimes include evaluating myself and how I contribute to the conflict. I am always aware that each conflict that I encountered may require a different plan. I am open to this.
End of Interview.
It was very much a delight to interview Diedria Preston and acknowledge her contributions to the workplace. I was very impressed at her success. Her hard work, skill and dedication exemplifies the true meaning of leadership and excellence. She is indeed a face of Cornelius&Associates, “Legacy of Leaders” Summit 2013