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Are You Thankful for Your Employees?

November 27th, 2014
star employees

The best companies thrive because their employees are valued members of the company – everyone’s labor matters and they know it.

Are you thankful for your employees? And do you see your employees as a cost line of your P&L or do you consider them an asset? In my experience in working with many companies across a wide range of industries, geographies and company-sizes, it is 100% true that those companies that consider employees as assets thrive – hands down.

Succeeding in today’s new normal business environment requires a well-thought out and fundamentally different strategy than five years ago.  Standing out from the crowd requires innovation.  I’ve yet to find a client with an innovative culture that didn’t value its employees. Top on the list is to view your employees as assets. According to LMA Consulting Group Inc. research, 87% of manufacturers and distributors are experiencing a skills gap. Thus, it doesn’t require a Harvard PhD to see the value of retaining top talent.

A few simple yet highly effective strategies to retain top talent include: 1) Find your stars. 2) Focus on your stars. 3) Be an effective leader.

1. Find your stars: Your star employees will make the difference between being stuck in survival mode and THRIVING. Thus, you must begin by identifying these stars. Many times, these employees are overlooked – heads down, delivering results, leading projects, etc.

Since they aren’t typically focused on politics, they are likely to be under the radar. And worse, since they are focused on delivering results, they are likely to bring up uncomfortable topics and ask for tough decisions. Thus, they might not be considered a star. Unfortunately, I’ve found that leaders tend to think stars are those who are liked, agreeable and hard-working. For example, employees who work long hours are in this category; however, that doesn’t necessarily relate at all to whether the employee achieves and accomplishes anything while working hard.

Instead, look for those leaders and employees who consistently deliver results. You’ll have to look hard, as they might not have time to promote their results since they are focused on ensuring they occur. Who is not complaining? Typically, when employees complain, we immediately wonder about the person being complained about. Why? The deviation from standard is the person complaining. It’s fascinating how we can chase our tails without considering the facts. Look for informal leaders. If someone has an issue (not a complaint), who do they go to for help?

2. Focus on your stars: I cannot tell you how often companies make the HUGE mistake of ignoring their star employees. What could be easier to deliver your growth & profitability numbers than leveraging already-existing assets? Why must leaders jump to the conclusion that they can solve “all the company issues” by replacing star leaders and employees? Sound ridiculous? Absolutely; however, it occurs every day. And why do they treat the leaders and employees delivering results poorly? In my experience, it’s because the pragmatic approach to management can be uncomfortable.

It requires hard work, commitment and integrity. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts. For example, instead of focusing on understanding roadblocks, emphasizing results and being an example, isn’t it easier to say “if we replace Sally, it will solve our problem”? After all, is it more comfortable to want to spend time in meetings with those who will agree with everything you say and appear supportive than those who push back and bring up potential roadblocks?

Those companies who THRIVE will be those who not only identify their stars but also focus on them. Find out what they think. Ask for their ideas. Promote them. Appreciate them. Explain how their value contributes to the company’s success. Invest in them. The bottom line: Treat them like your #1 asset.

3. Be an effective leader: Last but not least, star leaders and employees crave effective leadership. I could write another 500 pages on effective leadership; however, a few musts include: 1) Establish goals and discuss. Both easy goals and unrealistic goals are not only ineffective but are also a de-motivator. Goal setting isn’t simple but it’s core to success. 2) Provide support, tools and appreciation on an ongoing basis. The hard work begins. These cannot be empty promises with your star employees. You will work harder than ever before to succeed. 3) Continually work together to find opportunities and evolve in a way to ensure success.

My passion surrounds delivering bottom line results with people. It doesn’t require capital or cash; instead, it boils down to leadership. Is it worth investing effort into your people to grow your business and accelerate business results?

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Do You Have Engaged Employees?

November 25th, 2014
engaged employees

Having engaged employees improves everything about the work experience from job satisfaction to elevated performance levels.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged.  What a startling statistic!  Through observation of clients, trade association members, and colleagues, I’d agree with that statistic.

During my presentation at APICS 2014 on “Empowering and Engaging Employees”, we broke into small groups to discuss strategies for achieving these objectives.  A few of the top tips to keep in mind include:

1. Vision: Clarify the vision. Where are you and the company headed? Everyone wants to understand their destination.

2. Top Goals: Help your employees come up with 3 key goals for the next quarter. If you are the employee, take 3 key goals to your manager to review. You’ll see how what you’re doing fits in with the vision.

3. Provide the freedom to experiment: Employees want to know that they can have an effect on their work and that their ideas are heard. Provide opportunities for employees to test new ideas. Accept that failure is a part of the process.

4. Encourage collaboration: Who doesn’t enjoy a good brainstorming session and coming up with ideas that can make a difference?

5. Celebrate success: Appreciate the seemingly small stuff that plays a pivotal role in achieving success.

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The Value of Simplification

November 24th, 2014

supply chain

I just left an executive SIOP (sales, inventory & operations planning) meeting with a client. We are rejuvenating the process to gain alignment and to spur a rapid improvement in on-time delivery (which will be followed by a reduction in lead times). I’ve been working with quite a few of these types of projects lately, and they have reminded me of how easy it becomes to get caught up in non-essential detail. Since SIOP process relies on data, the natural tendency is to dig further into data and think up all sorts of interesting ways to look at information; however, what I’ve seen “work” is simplifying with a relentless focus on the critical success factors.

For example, if the data shows we have 50% excess capacity for a particular work center, it doesn’t matter whether it is 40% or 60% or if the numbers were calculated before or after an accounting adjustment. The point is that 50% is a significant, directionally correct number. Put together plans to leverage this new finding. Thus, in this example, perhaps you could re-allocate crews from this work center to a different overloaded work center if you provide training during the transition.

One tip to implement this week: I find that the vast majority of my clients get hung up in finding the “perfect solution”, in analyzing “one more” set of data and the like. On Monday, take a step back to think about your top 3 priorities. Then, re-evaluate the metrics being tracked and your performance to the metrics. Ask someone intimately involved in the day-to-day process for their thoughts on the topic. Simplify: decide what is relevant, stop focusing on the non-essential (which can be a significant portion of our day) and move forward. Progress and results will accelerate!

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain talent? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

 



Innovation is a Must for Project Success

November 20th, 2014
innovation for project success

Projects often have a way of going from exciting ideas to abandoned ventures. Successful project management feeds off a culture of innovation to sustain projects all the way to the finish line.

In today’s new normal business environment, innovation is a must for project success! Often, I hear my clients think “I’ve designed this project for success; now I’ll hand it over to the worker bees to execute”; however, this approach is no longer enough. No wonder we have so many unfinished projects and disheartened project team members scattered throughout my clients! Instead, we must create a culture of innovation to ensure project success.

We must find a way for execution and innovation to live hand-in-hand in business, from the executive suites to the shift workers on the production floor. Certainly one possibility is to embrace the lean culture; however, I find there is almost more confusion than clarity among organizations in how to ensure all these “great” concepts yield results. Instead, think of innovation as deeply rooted in your culture. It is not complex or confusing. Innovation must start as culture change.

According to “Inside Steve’s Brain” by Leander Kahney, a book about the late Steve Jobs and creative innovation, innovation doesn’t have to be complex: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Thus, innovation is not some complex, non-understandable phenomenon. In addition to pure creativity, it’s about re-packaging—literally and figuratively—by connecting the dots in a new way and seeing trends and hidden profit opportunities. Who is typically the best suited to find these types of opportunities? Not the executive suite! Not managers! Yes, it is the people who perform the work – project team members. Thus, why would we think it would work to give them “what is best”, tell them to execute and typically, although we voice support, we don’t support with our actions when it gets tough (such as cross-functional turf battles or ideas affecting month-end performance)?

So, instead of following this path to work hard yet leave many half-finished projects hanging around, we need to create and implement a culture of innovation. How do we go about doing that? There are four basic ways: 1) Focus on the customer. 2) Value your project team members’ input. 3) Support trials & failure. 4) Encourage flexibility.

1. Focus on the customer. No project sponsor would say they aren’t thinking about the customer’s needs but do they? Are they doing what they think the customer wants or are they asking those closest to the customer (project team members) and the customers themselves? Instead of assuming you’ve completed this step, take a step back and talk with the project team members who interface directly with the customer and those which directly support customer needs. You’ll be surprised what you find.

2. Value your project team members’ input. It might sound strange for a discussion about innovation; however, the best people will create innovative ideas, products, and services. Ask your project team members for ideas, input, threats etc. Do NOT ignore them when they push back. See your team members as your customers and dig into what they tell you. Listening is the 80/20 of creating a culture of innovation.

3. Support trials & failure. One of the best ways you can show that you value the ideas of your project team members is to give them room to try them out. The quickest way to kill a culture of innovation is to encourage ideas but not follow through and support them. It is much harder to implement than it sounds! In my experience, the first time an idea fails and causes month-end issues or customer problems, innovation is stifled.To counter this, we must reward mistakes as it is a critical component of cultivating a culture of innovation. At best, I see this philosophy at 20% of my clients. If it were easy, we’d all have a culture of innovation. Give your employees the tools and knowledge and get out of the way. Celebrate failure. If they haven’t failed, they haven’t pushed the envelope far enough. This will encourage further innovation.

4. Encourage flexibility. Do not become married to one idea, one product, one customer’s perception, etc. Instead, create solutions that build in flexibility — think of the nontraditional “and” of two, seemingly opposite ideas. For example, instead of thinking that shortening the project timeline will require an increase in resources for the project; consider thinking about ideas for achieving the “and” – shortening the timeline without requiring more resources. Perhaps there is an overlooked idea which can be uncovered if the project team brainstormed. What if you encouraged a devil’s advocate process to bring out potential roadblocks upfront? Ask your project team to think about how to build flexibility into the process. It will give you many more alternative paths to success when you run into an obstacle or the situation changes due to external forces (which happen daily in the vast majority of my clients).

Think about creating a culture of innovation, and you won’t be disappointed. No one can do it alone; why not get your entire team thinking of how to “win”?

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Data Driven Leader

November 18th, 2014
data driven leader

Actionable data drives the most successful businesses. To cut through today’s information overload a data driven leader has to be incisive, creative, and decisive.

One of the concepts that came out of APICS 2014 was the concept of a data driven leader. We are overloaded with data and messages on a daily basis yet the most successful leaders find ways to rapidly sift through the data to see trends, formulate ideas, and make decisions. To be successful in today’s environment, we must be FAST. Thus, being a data driven leader can be a key to success.

For example, in my recent Amazon Effect research study about the impact Amazon and other mega-distributors are having on manufacturers and distributors, executives are saying that the importance of data is increasing. Customers are providing additional demand data, and technology is providing access to many new types of data. The key is to leverage the data for elevating business performance.

What reports do you review on a daily basis? weekly basis? monthly basis? Do they provide the information you need to run the business? Slash the number of reports you receive but make sure the ones you receive are key to driving progress.

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