How to Effectively Engage Employees and Achieve Results

January 30th, 2014
LMA Consulting Group, Leadership, manufacturing, supply chain

Great leaders know how to engage and empower employees to thrive in the new normal business economy.

In my recent conversations with clients and business contacts, a common concern has emerged: How to leverage the recovery to grow the business and increase profitability. There is considerable uncertainty surrounding how long the recovery will last, how healthcare reform will affect businesses, and what the impact of the global economy will be. Executives are now focused on how to jump start business in the recovery. Those companies who succeed during this “new normal” era and leverage the current recovery will have the opportunity to leapfrog their competition; however, time is of the essence.

In my experience as a former VP of Operations and Supply Chain, and as a global business consultant who has worked across multiple industries, I’ve found the key to success is engaging employees. Undoubtedly, the most significant bottom line results are driven by people, followed by processes, and then systems and technology. I’ve yet to find an example where this truism didn’t exist.

Thus, the question is how to effectively engage employees. Although it sounds a bit like motherhood and apple pie, I’ve consistently found the top three ways to engage employees include:

  1. Vision & goals
  2. Leadership that combines passion and focus
  3. Appreciation


  1. Vision and goals. One of the most common mistakes executives make is to have a clear vision, but they either communicate it ineffectively or do not communicate it at all. When employees do not know where they are going or why, they are not motivated to “get there.”Don’t be confused. Typically, those companies with vision statements on the walls are no better off than those without a vision statement. What matters is when the executives live and communicate the vision on a consistent basis. Is it part of daily conversations? Does it matter? How does each department, team, and employee contribute to the vision? Or translate the vision into goals? Clarity, simplicity and passion matter.
  2. Leadership that combines passion and focus. Day-to-day leadership and communications engage employees. It’s as simple as that: leaders do not have to be charismatic; they must be passionate and focused.For example, an organization I worked with that had the most engaged employees was led by a less-than-charismatic CEO; however, he had passion, drive, focus and integrity. Everyone knew where we were headed and which of their tasks were most critical to the current focus and direction of the company. There was no doubt what was critical. Priorities were clear. And everyone knew that it was likely that the CEO and/or other executives would stop by to discuss ideas and brainstorm about the company’s area of focus. Their input seemed to matter. Suddenly employees were engaged.
  3. Appreciation. A simple thank you can go a long way! It is amazing how much of an impact being appreciated has on an employee’s level of engagement. Unfortunately, I’ve seen countless examples of exceptional employees who don’t receive any appreciation, but instead get negative attention at times for bringing up potential problems or roadblocks that must be tackled in order to achieve the corporate goals. There is nothing more disheartening to an exceptional employee than a complete lack of appreciation for the results achieved.On the other hand, the best leaders who drive bottom line business results speak with their employees. They review goals on a frequent basis and discuss roadblocks. They show interest in the employee’s ideas and provide immediate positive and corrective feedback. The best leaders appreciate progress and congratulate success. And the best leaders with the most engaged employees give credit to their employees for successes and take responsibility for the issues.

Those companies who effectively engage their employees will be the ones to effectively leverage the recovery. And those who leverage the recovery will be the ones to lead their industries and thrive in the “new normal.” The question to ask yourself: Do you consider your employees your most important asset?


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The Skills Gap

January 28th, 2014
LMA Consulting Group Skills Gap

With an increasingly complex business environment, businesses need to know how to resolve skill gaps in their workplace.

The skills gap is a rapidly growing issue for manufacturers and distributors.  Almost every day that I go into a client, go to a trade association meeting or talk with colleagues, I hear of someone who has retired, decided to change careers, jumped ship for a better opportunity or I hear of a company with too few high-skilled resources for what’s required to succeed.  Worse yet, according to the survey my firm conducted in conjunction with APICS Inland Empire, 77% are struggling to fill these positions.

The business environment has increased in complexity. Just think of a few of the recent complexities:  1) global 2) extended supply chains 3) increased regulations, requirements & risks 4) the Amazon effect of the 24/7 customer expecting same-day delivery as commonplace 5) increased focus on sustainability.  Top talent is required to successfully simplify and navigate these waters.

What can executives do to proactively approach this skills gap dilemma?  Three of the top strategies include: 1) Retain your talent.  2) Develop your talent.  3) Attract top talent.

1.   Retain your talent:  Although this might seem obvious, it is the most often overlooked strategy for success.  As employees are gaining comfort with the recovery, they are pursuing opportunities that offer greater responsibility, opportunities for career progression, flexibility (including remote work and/or are closer to their home), and money – just to name a few.  Are you thinking about how to retain your top talent?

Of course there are a few reasons which are tough to avoid such as retirement and a dramatic reduction in the commute; however, in my experience, the vast majority of reasons can be avoided.  It boils down to leadership.  Do your leaders appreciate their employee’s value?  Do they hold folks accountable?  Interestingly enough, top talent will stay when they see that non-performers are being addressed.  Yes, you must make the tough decisions!  Do your leaders make time to talk with employees about goals?  Offer support?  Who do they prioritize?  The lack of time is not a resource; it’s a priority.

Don’t even think about training and development programs or recruiting if you don’t have solid retention programs in place.  You’ll be even busier and yet still fail.  Instead, you must start with this fundamental!

2.   Develop your talent: In my experience, there are two key ways to develop your people:  1) Training and development programs.  2) Mentor programs.  Exceptional leaders do not consider this an either-or situation but instead require both.

Training and development programs achieve the following goals:  1) Show the employees that you value them.  2) Provide training on specific skills.  3) Provide development opportunities required for career progression such as an international assignment or a cross-functional role.

These types of programs can be an essential element of a significant culture change such as the journey of lean, SIOP (sales, inventory & operations planning), an ERP upgrade and a merger and acquisition.  What better way to bring employees up-to-speed on new concepts?  In addition, these programs can be invaluable in training for new job skills.  As the business environment becomes more complex and employers are reluctant to hire up to pre-recession levels, a broader range of skills is no longer a nice-to-have.  It has become a “must”!

Mentor programs can be invaluable.  In order to develop new behaviors required for a job, there is no alternative.  Mentoring gives the employee a way to observe someone who has “been there and done that”.  Then, the employee can trial or test out new behaviors, and the mentor will provide feedback and guide them to success.

3.   Attract top talent:  This is third by design as it is often more successful to retain and develop than it is to hire new talent.  With that said, you must always be on the lookout for top talent – and ensuring your organization will attract top talent.  Would potential employees want to work for your company?  Your leaders?  What do they hear in the press?  What will their friends and colleagues tell them?  In today’s world, the best employees come via referral.

Hiring is a much tougher task than it seems.  I venture to guess that almost every hiring manager has “stunk” at the hiring process at one point in his/her career.  I certainly did!  How do you know the seemingly perfect candidate will deliver?  You must do the hard work to decide what you expect of the potential hire.  Don’t worry so much about the typical job description information – a compilation of tasks.  Instead, what results are you expecting?  How can you be assured your candidate will be the right one?

My colleague and friend Janet Boydell has an effective process that she calls the Fast Forward Resume which has proven highly effective.  It is well worth reading up on and pursuing – IF you want to hire the right person. She has two books on the topic – A Hire Connection and You’re Not the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent.

My passion for my original brand Profit through People is not by accident.  I’ve always believed in pragmatic and tangible results.  These cannot be achieved without top talent.  Thus, you must circle back to the fundamentals.  Even in today’s complex world, these successful strategies of retaining, developing and hiring top talent are quite simple.  Simple but not easy to implement…….will you be one of the few to pursue?

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Critical Priority: Retaining Top Talent

How Do You Implement Lean for Project Management?

January 23rd, 2014
LMA Consulting Group, LEAN, project management, manufacturing

Apply lean methodologies to project management to gain a competitive advantage.

There’s no doubt that there is a vast amount of interest in lean principles.  I’ve had multiple client requests – both ones who are interested in doing the latest and greatest program that they think might be the answer to “all their issues” and those who are interested in implementing culture change.  I find that those clients who view lean as a culture change and are focused on long term fundamentals leapfrog the rest with bottom line results.

In today’s new normal business environment, sales are lackluster and resources are scarce yet customers expect more for less.  Thus, the traditional avenues to success will no longer yield the same results.   Instead, we must try new approaches and “think smart” to thrive in the new normal business environment.  As project results can be a significant contributor to the bottom line, there is no better time to think about how to succeed in new ways.  Why not incorporate the lean concepts that make sense to project management?

In my experience as a business consultant, a not-for-profit leader and a former VP of Operations, I’ve found that there are several lean principles which align with project management success.  The top three include the following:  1) Focus on the customer.  2) Eliminate waste.  3) It’s all about the people.

1. Focus on the customer:  Similar to implementing lean in manufacturing environments, first take a step back and think about the customer.  Who is the customer of your project?  Or, said another way: who will benefit from the project?

For example, one of my client projects is focused on reducing the past due metric. In this case, the customer connection is obvious – the fewer customer orders which are past due, the better service the customer will receive.  Yet, even in this case, truly understanding what the customers’ value is important.  Would the customers prefer a delivery date that is achievable and reliable or would they prefer a shorter lead time with less reliability?  I’ve yet to work with a client who didn’t have customers who value different aspects of service higher than other customers.  Find out and optimize based upon what each customer values.

In another example, another client project is to implement an inventory management system.  Who is the customer?  There could be several:  The end customer will likely receive better service with improved inventory accuracy.  The CEO will likely improve profitability as the inventory management processes are optimized.  The CFO will be much better equipped for a financial audit.  And the list goes on.  Although it is helpful to brainstorm all the benefits, it is vital to understand which is of value to your customer.

2. Eliminate waste:  There is a plethora of waste in project management.  First, look for waste.  Taking a step back, since it’s unlikely we’ll be looking for machine waste in project management, we should think about the best definition.  I like the following – waste is that which doesn’t add value to the customer (and that which the customer is willing to pay for).

It is interesting how often we become used to waste and don’t see it anymore.  Thus, you need to put on a new pair of glasses to see the waste all around you.  Can you accomplish the project in a fewer number of steps?  Are you following up on every task or focusing attention on the critical path?  What will provide a return on investment?  Are you asking the project team for input and ideas to eliminate waste?

3. It’s all about the people:  Last but not least, those who succeed with lean initiatives understand that it’s all about the people.  In essence, it is not an event; it is a culture change.  Do you engage your people in the project?  Do you ask for their input?  Do you explain the project scope and its value to the organization?  Do you do what you say you’ll do?  I find this is much harder to do than it sounds yet it is a secret to unleashing your project talent.  In my experience, an exceptional project team with a so-so project will beat a so-so project team with an excellent project every time!

Implementing lean for project management doesn’t require cash, capital or extra resources yet it can ensure that your project is delivered on time, on budget and with dramatic results.  Although it is a good idea anytime, it is a must in today’s new normal business environment.


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Project Failure: How to Avoid Top Causes

The IT – Business Partnership

January 21st, 2014
Successful companies forge partnerships with their IT departments to create an ERP system that provides data to make good decisions and provide their customers with an exceptional experience.

Successful companies forge partnerships with their IT departments to create an ERP system that provides data to make good decisions and provide their customers with an exceptional experience.

Is IT viewed as a partner to your supply chain or manufacturing business? Or a necessary evil? Or something in-between? Successful companies go down the path of partner. After all, critical business processes (which drive profitable growth) are connected with systems – you cannot succeed with one and fail with the other. Thus, you must think about strengthening the link.

Larger companies have folks termed business analysts who understand business and help translate business needs into technical specs and systems analysts who come from the technical side and think through how to translate technology into business results. However, the vast majority of companies are considered small to mid-size businesses and might not have these positions. There’s no reason to despair…. I often times find people who are capable of performing this role for your critical business requirements. The key is to look for them. I’ve worked with a few of the BEST, and I guarantee that although often undervalued, these folks had a direct correlation to tangible business results.

Even if you have these folks identified, it might not matter if you don’t view IT as a strategic partner. You better! Your ERP system can make or break your ability to succeed (as witnessed by the resounding failures of some new system implementations we’ve all heard about in the news or from our network… and the dramatic negative customer consequences to follow).

No company can run without financials – at least not for long. Financial reporting is tied to your ERP system. I’ve seen really impressive manual systems; however, even in the best case I’ve ever seen (which also happens to be the only case I couldn’t recommend low-hanging fruit because their manual network was so extensive), the reason I was talking with this client is because they had to upgrade and better leverage the system to support growth plans and service requirements. It is no longer acceptable to not know order status at all times!

Do you consider your IT or ERP experts as strategic partners?

Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic: Lean IT

Project Failure: How to Avoid Top Causes

January 16th, 2014
LMA Consulting Group Project Management

Communication is vital to project management success. Are you looking for different methods to make certain your messages is getting across?

So much of an organization’s success is tied to project success!  Can you think of any significant organization initiative or improvement that didn’t tie to at least one project?  I’ve worked with many organizations, across diverse industries and globally, and I cannot think of a single example.  Therefore, what could be more important than figuring out how to ensure project success?

I did a quick survey of clients and business contacts to find the top three causes of project failure. If we address these, we’ll greatly increase our chances of success. The survey identified the following as the three most common stumbling blocks on the path to project success:

1. Lack of a Clearly Designated Project Leader:  It’s amazing how many times this seemingly simple issue arises.  There are many reasons:  The project team is a group of peers and no one is assigned or assumes leadership.  No one wants to assign a project leader because everyone already has a full-time job and is swamped (especially in today’s business environment!). Each department assumes the other department will lead the project.

However, there is nothing more important to project success than the project leader.  There are countless reasons. A few of the most vital include: the project leader must clearly articulate the project’s goals.  The project leader must facilitate the development of the project plan with clearly designated tasks, milestones and accountabilities. The project leader must proactively address roadblocks and ensure the team completes the tasks on time and within budget.  Finally, the project leader must communicate progress to the appropriate parties.

Undoubtedly, your project will derail without a clear project leader!

2. Lack of Clear Expectations and Goals:  Following on the heels of no clearly designated project leader is no clear expectations and goals.  Even the best project leader cannot succeed without clear expectations and goals.  What is the objective of the project?  Why is the objective important to the organization?  How does each project team member add value to achieving the goal?  Is the goal clear?  Is the timing understood?

For example, for one client, the end goal was clear (inventory reduction); however, the project team didn’t have clear expectations and goals at first.  Thus, the branches had no incentive to share inventory figures, which was a main component in reducing inventory. As a result, progress was largely at a standstill until the project objectives and metrics were clarified.

3. Communication Challenges:  Communication challenges are common yet can deter even the best projects.  Even in the best of circumstances, it is easy to suffer from miscommunication and confusion.  Did you play the game of telephone as a young child?  Just in case you haven’t, I’ll explain – the game starts with a person who communicates a message to the next person.  And it continues until the message has gone around to the last person in the circle.  By the time it gets to the last person, it never resembles the original message!  Thus, it can be a lot of fun to hear the mixed up messages your friends come up with after 10 to 20 interchanges.  And this is when each person is trying to convey the correct message.  So, imagine what occurs when organizational confusion and politics get involved.

Aside from typical communication issues, there is also a plethora of other communication challenges, ranging from cultural and language communication barriers to functional communication barriers (such as sales people communicating with technicians and finance folks talking with R&D).  These can pose a serious roadblock.  For example, I’ve worked with many project teams containing numerous team members where English was a second language.  Typically there have been two or three different primary languages.  Even with an excellent project leader it can be complex to ensure that communication is clear and that everyone on the team is aligned with the path forward.  Otherwise, it can be easy to run around in circles – even well-intentioned ones.It is vital to communicate, communicate, and communicate.  I’ve found that you have to repeat important project communications multiple times.  Try saying it in different ways.  Try different communication vehicles.  Ask team members for their understanding.  Send reminders.  Follow-up.  Never stop communicating.

According to my clients, if you can mitigate these three most significant causes of project failure, you’ll be one of the few to succeed – on-time, on-budget, and on-expectation.  Why not become the organization to “get it right” – and pass your competition by accelerating project results?

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