Improve or Die

You’ve either worked for, read about or know someone who worked at a company that made a ton of money for a long time doing the same things they’d always done. Then, all of the sudden, the market/industry changed. Now, efficiency and higher levels of customer service and speed are what it takes to compete. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have some or all of those attributes. This was mostly because they spent years or even decades without any quantum changes in their processes. Now what?

It’s time to get on the process improvement band wagon. You know; the stuff you’ve been reading about for years. It doesn’t matter what set of tools you use. My personal preference is to embrace Lean Enterprise because of its common sense thought process regarding waste elimination. I’ve found that every person in the organization can grasp its concepts. There’s also Six Sigma, TQM and a number of hi-bred programs. Get to learning and get improving. Not doing so will seal the fate of your organization.

More to come on this topic.

Integrity

As I watch, with my mouth likely hanging open, at the lies, vitriol, closed mindedness and overall lack of character going on in Washington, I find my self hoping this does not pour over as normal behavior into the rest of society. Now, Washington’s behavior shouldn’t surprise me. They continue to under-perform and fail to meet already low expectations on a daily basis (just look at their approval rating). However, I’m still amazed by the behavior of people who are supposedly adults; supposedly leaders.

As you look to set the course of your business, use the Washington example of what NOT to do. Whether you are the CEO, VP or the Mail room Manager:

DO treat people with respect and dignity.
DO communicate frequently and clearly with your team and your customers (internal and external).
DO maintain calm in tough situations. Your team is looking to be led.
DO lead by example.
DO involve your team in decisions that affect their day to day activities.
DO have something else in your life more important than work (your team probably does).
DO say please and thank you.
DO have open and honest dialog.
DO be a person of good character.
DO insist on absolute integrity from your team.

Let Washington be Washington. Emulate someone better.

The Three P’s

People, Processes and Products.

Simply put, if you have excellence  in all three of these areas, your organization is bound to be successful.  If you have been around business for any length of time, this isn’t exactly a revelation.  However, it keeps it simple (a common theme of mine).   When you are wondering why your results aren’t quite what you want them to be, come back to the three P’s to re-center yourself as a leader.  Analyze each of the P’s and find out where the weakness(s) lie.

People – We all want to hire the best people.  While it’s not easy and we do make mistakes from time to time, having a thorough and systematic hiring process will limit those errors.  Beyond hiring, we have to be aware that our business is changing.  Are our people keeping up with the changes?  Can they still handle the new environment?  Has the business outgrown them?  These are some of the things to consider to ensure that the three P’s stay in balance.

Processes – If you have great people, but the processes within which they work are not up to snuff, the opportunities for failure increase significantly.  Conversely, you can be successful with air-tight procedures and some average people.  Now, I wouldn’t recommend a whole staff of mediocrity because that’s asking for trouble.  However, the power of an excellent process multiplies every team member’s ability to succeed.

Products – This is where the rubber meets the road.   Do you have products/services that customers actually want to purchase?  Do they see enough value in your offerings that they will pay a profitable price or are you selling a commodity?  You can make money either way, but a commodity product requires a low-cost operation with a much smaller margin for error.  In my experience, a high-value product is a lot more fun.  You can afford a few more key people and the helps prevent your team from burning out.  Again, this is something that needs to be monitored.  What used to be a high-value product, my become commoditized one day.  It’s important to recognize this and be ready with new high-value offerings or be prepared to adjust your cost structure rapidly.

Our mothers used to tell us to mind our P’s and Q’s.  Keep it simple and just focus on the P’s.

Is Your Sales Team Really Selling?

Like any business leader, you probably watch your sales figures like a hawk.  You know full well that sales are your company’s life blood.  Undoubtedly there have been times when you have been unhappy with the sales figures.  You’ve probably wondered what in the heck your sales team is doing!  And why not; you have a great product, great service and you are competitively priced.

Have you and/or your Sales Manager ever spent the time to understand how your sales team is spending their day?  Are they really out there filling their pipelines or are they serving their existing business?  Worse, are they dealing with administrative issues or scrambling to cover for poor service?

Think about this:  In the rest of your operation, do you have people who specialize in what they do?    You have manufacturing, maintenance and shipping departments (if you are in a manufacturing business).  Do your shipping people go and run the production equipment?  Do your manufacturing people go into the office to do accounting?  Of course not.  Why?  That would be incredibly inefficient.  So, why does your sales team sell, serve and trouble shoot?  If you think that’s inefficient, you are right.

Take heart, however.  You are not alone.  This is a common problem throughout multiple industries.  Sales people work hard early in their tenure to build their book of business; selling and serving along the way.  Eventually, they become order takers and stop generating new business.  Now, I am not telling you to ignore your existing customers.  They are way too expensive to replace.  By all means, make them happy and loyal!  However, you don’t need to use your sales team to do that.

Take a good look at your sales team and how they spend their day.  Look, also, at their skill sets.  Are they hunters or farmers?  If they still can hunt, let them hunt.   Set up the sales organization so it feeds the service side of the business.  Let the service oriented farmers take outstanding care of existing customers.  In other words, use each person’s best and highest purpose.

This change won’t be easy.  There are compensation issues and you may even lose someone.  However, you’ve got to utilize your team the best way possible and keep the pipeline full.  Even before doing this, you can probably find a lot of administrative busy work that can be eliminated, streamlined or re-located in order to let your sales team sell.

Dig in and sort it out.  Make sure that Sales is what they are really doing.

What Happened to Courtesy?

Is anyone else tired of people hiding behind their email?  It was bad enough when voice mail was created (yes, I was there when it all began).  With voice mail, we were pretty sure they got the message since we recorded it ourselves. If they said they didn’t, it was a safe bet they were lying.

With email, they can always tell us, “I never received your email.”  It’s tough for us mere mortals to disprove.  What a bunch of baloney.

Have some courtesy and respond when someone emails you.   I’m guilty, too, so I’m not on an I’m-better-than-you-are kick.  Just send a few words to acknowledge receipt.  If you don’t want what they are peddling or you simply don’t have time to address what they are inquiring about, TELL THEM.  Put on your big boy/girl pants and respond with the facts.  Be humane, but factual.  If they can’t handle that, then they need to put on their big boy/girl pants and get over it.

Stop being a coward and treat people with a little common courtesy.  You can’t possibly be THAT busy.

Consistency

In sports, coaches constantly talk about consistency.  They do so for good reason:  it’s very difficult to win on a regular basis if you don’t do things well every time you step onto the field (or court, etc.).

It’s the same in business; the ultimate competitive sport.   Having months of high peaks and low valleys in terms of sales volume will really complicate your business.  How do you figure out what capacity is needed?  How much staffing do you need?  If you have this issue, you need to realize that all business is not necessarily good business.

Similarly, processes have to be performed the same way every time (until you’ve changed them via a process improvement initiative such as a kaizen event).   Everyone needs to know their job and how to do it.  More importantly, they need to do it that way every minute of every shift.

Complicating matters are having multiple facilities.  Now we’ve introduced additional personalities of the plant managers, regional and cultural differences and egos.  Everyone thinks their way is best.   “Nobody is going to tell me how to run my plant.”

It doesn’t have to be that complicated.  But, it won’t be easy.  It takes someone who can oversee the process of creating best-in-class processes and then work with key people from each facility to weave them into a complete fabric of processes that will delight the customer.  That is the key mentality.  It sounds simple, but someone has to be driving that message home.  If this person can boil the issues down to doing whatever it takes in order to accomplish some overriding goal, then each facility will understand it’s big-picture mission and get on board.  This central figure will have to decide if the plant leadership can be brought on board, as well.  If not, he/she will have to make some leadership changes so that all the facilities ultimately are producing their work in the same manner.   Only then, will the customers know they will get consistency no matter which facility produces their products.

They are paying for it and they deserve it.

No Time Like The Present

If this equal opportunity recession has had any impact on your business at all (and I suspect that it has), you probably are finding that you have some excess capacity.  Most likely, you’ve dealt with that by reducing headcount or at least reducing hours of operation.  If you’ve been seriously impacted, you are probably selling excess equipment.

However, before you let every useful person go, why not reallocate the resource to examining your processes?  All work is a process so, unless you have the leanest organization in the history of TPS, you have some improving to do.  Start with having a team look at your most expensive cost center.  There are probably a dozen or more pieces of low-hanging fruit that you can pick.  Make sure the team has clear goals and expectations.  Give them the leadership they need, but don’t smother them.  Also, commit the resources needed for them to be successful.  Remember, this is about getting ready for your future; you know…the turnaround that will happen.  It will happen, trust me.  Once the team has finished, move on to another cost center and do the same.  The momentum will build and, before you know it, continuous improvement will be part of your culture.  Then when you do pick up, you will have a leg up on your competition in terms of cost and service level.  You and your customers will be smiling.

If you don’t think you have the talent in-house, there are a number of places you can turn.  There are traditional consulting firms, accounting firms and Lean experts.  Another choice is the rapidly growing are of Business Coaching.  They typically partner with you for the long-term and help you avoid adding headcount while still getting the advice and assistance that you need.  However you get the help, just do it!

Why wait to improve your business?  Get your business back in shape.  There’s no time like the present.