Tips for Successful Performance Reviews

July 31st, 2015
performance review

Employees might feel that they’re under the microscope during performance reviews, but supervisors should try to provide feedback on a regular basis for better job performance and motivation.

As mundane as performance reviews can be, they are vital to success. Hopefully you are spending time with each of your direct reports weekly; however, at a minimum, performance reviews should summarize what you’ve been discussing throughout the year. It is one of the only times you dedicate solely to each employee. Make it count!

1. It’s not an event; it’s a process – if you look at the yearly review as an event, it will be a waste of time. Instead, view it as a part of your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly routine.

2. No surprises – you should never show up to a review and be surprised. The most successful and respected leaders provide immediate positive and constructive feedback.

3. Track progress – even more important than a yearly review is a brief review of progress, goals and potential roadblocks on a quarterly basis. Why wait a year to find out you are way off course?

4. 360 degree assessments – these can be a good vehicle for obtaining well-rounded and actionable feedback on strengths and opportunity areas.

5. Leverage strengths – don’t waste all of your energy and focus on correcting weaknesses. You’ll gain more by focusing the 80/20 on leveraging strengths

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The Power of Communication

July 28th, 2015

Make improving communications the cornerstone of your goals and you will have more engaged participants willing to help you achieve the rest of your goals.

If there is one thing that ALL of my clients have in common, it is that communication always needs improvement. It almost seems like no matter how much effort is placed on communication, improvement opportunities exist. In essence, just like in real estate where “location, location, location” is #1 to success; in business, “communication, communication, communication” is paramount.

In order to communicate effectively, here are a few tips to be as effective as possible:

1. The Rule of 7 – the rule of thumb is that people need to hear a message 7 times before it is absorbed. Repetition is your friend!

2. Varied messages – do not repeat the exact same message. Instead, vary the phrasing while keeping the meaning. Different phrasings might get through to different people.

3. Varied media – different people learn (and remember) in different ways. Email appeals to some. Phone calls to another. Physical letters to others. Social media to others. TV/video works for many. Vary your media for different styles.

4. Consider your audience – change your communication style to appeal to your audience. It is natural to use the style you are comfortable with; however, it is not what will be most effective. Find out what will appeal to your audience.

5. Spend more time listening than talking – as odd as it might seem, listening will enhance your communication skills. Listening allows you to know how to tailor your communication to be effective. Presentations are often boring whereas discussions can be engaging.

6. Consider pace – talking at 100 miles an hour can be very hard to follow; however, slow communication can be equally challenging.

7. Remember tone – Have you ever heard someone drone on that could make landing on the moon seem mundane? We all have! Align your tone to the situation. If you want people to follow, be engaging and communicate excitement.

Those who communicate effectively will thrive. Undoubtedly, a strong communicator with medium technical skills will outperform a weak communicator with strong technical skills every day of the week.

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The Power of Databases

July 27th, 2015

supply chainI’ve been working with a client recently on a SIOP (sales, inventory and operations planning) program. We are gaining access to powerful information that will help them hire at the “right” time (not too early – and, more importantly, not too late when considering growth & ramp up curves), train/cross-train at the right time (as growth requires new skills), upgrade and purchase machines at the “right” time (certainly, who wants to spend millions in capital too soon – or worse, too late as customers will be up in arms), buy new buildings at the “right” time and so on.

Databases can have great power if you set up the “right” categories and access the “right” information at the “right” time! In essence, in SIOP, databases help us automate and access critical demand and supply information to make key decisions and visualize the current state/future state. At my client, although we are in the design stage of the process, we are using what makes sense immediately and have already received positive feedback from their #1 customer. Nice way to end my week!

One tip to implement this week:

Databases are powerful for countless business decisions and programs. You could be trying to determine pricing, where to focus your sales force, where to focus efforts in manufacturing, how to eliminate waste and so on. Think about what data is important to your company – and your role.

If data is being tracked, gain access to it and think about how you could analyze the data. If it isn’t being tracked, start by tracking a few key metrics. The nice thing about data and trends is that you’ll have a trend after two days of tracking data. Eventually you’ll be able to look at not only yesterday vs. today but last week vs. this week and last month vs. this month and last year vs. this year. Once you look at it this way, new ideas, opportunities and potential bottlenecks will naturally emerge.

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


Collaborate for Project Success

July 23rd, 2015

Create fresh business ideas for your project by collaborating with diverse groups in your offices and along the supply chain.

Collaboration has come into vogue. In my experience working with clients ranging in size from $4 million to multi-billion dollar enterprises across a multitude of industries, spanning building products to aerospace to consumer products, the more collaboration is valued, the better the company has performed over the long-term. Certainly, project results are directly tied to collaboration as the vast majority of projects are cross-functional and cross-company in nature.

Collaboration will drive bottom line business results. If you look at collaboration as a way to combine 1+1 = 99, you’ll achieve dramatic improvements and happier employees and supply chain partners.

For example, at PaperPak, we collaborated with customers and suppliers in order to design new materials and new products that achieved a “win-win-win” – better product performance for the customer, better cost structure for us, and an innovative new material for our supplier. It led to over a million dollars in savings.

There are a few strategies to ensure success with collaboration: 1) Avoid the project leader as a “know-it-all” 2) Seek out diversity 3) Look for the “and”.

1. Avoid the project leader as a “know-it-all”: Since I work with a diversity of clients, it dictates significant project diversity. It’s interesting how much more successful the project results are for those projects where the leader believes in collaboration than those where the leader “thinks they know it all”. Even good, smart people fall into the trap of thinking they already know the answers, and devaluing input from those who might be in lower positions. A key to the dramatic results I help clients achieve is to listen for and find those people with good ideas who are being ignored. Fortunately, it is easy to find multiple opportunities of undervalued and overlooked goldmines.

For example, I remember one medium-sized manufacturing client who wanted to fire one of their only experts with knowledge on a few topic areas because he didn’t have an effective communication style. As important as communication is for leaders, it is also important that a leader recognize the strengths of their team and search for hidden value. Look for untapped value beyond how something is communicated. In this case, the employee had at least one million dollars of cost savings ideas and strategies that would support increased sales and customer satisfaction. This project leader would have been significantly less successful if he ignored this communication-challenged employee.

With another client, there was an undervalued employee with significant ideas on how to dramatically improve service levels. Improved service levels would directly contribute to bottom line results and an enhanced collaborative environment with key customers. Even if you think you know the answer, do not voice it. Instead, ask your team members for ideas. Collaborate with customers, suppliers and other supply chain partners. Results will follow.

2. Seek out diversity: Look for people with different strengths for your project team. It might be more natural to look for people more similar to you and who you prefer to spend time with; however, if you find people who can add value in areas where you are weak and vice-versa, you’ll deliver substantial results. The bottom line is to get out of your comfort zone and seek diverse ideas. Give them a chance. You’ll be pleased with the results.

For example, in a middle-market, value-add distributor client, we developed a cross-functional team with participants from all sites. There were several different personalities with conflicting goals who saw different solutions for reducing inventory levels. However, by getting the diverse group together and providing common expectations of collaborating as a team, we found ideas that resulted in a 30% reduction in inventory, freeing up millions of dollars of cash flow.

3. Look for the “and”: One of the best ways to create a collaborative environment is to provide typically “either” “or” situations and ask the project team to look for a way to achieve both. I find that stretch goals spur out-of-the-box thinking and interactive discussion.

For example, on several client projects, I’ve helped my clients find ways to reduce inventory levels by millions of dollars while improving service. Typically, this can be thought of as an either/or equation: if you have inventory to cover potential sales, you will likely increase service levels; however, we created an “and” by freeing up cash and improving our service levels by having the “right” inventory in place at the “right” time.

Collaboration is no longer a fluffy concept; it will drive accelerated cash flow, improved margins, increased business value and sales growth. 

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The Value of Process Flows

July 21st, 2015
process flows

Being a systems pragmatist is critical in not making assumptions about your processes, but rather review every production step to uncover any issues that were not being addressed.

When the idea of The Systems Pragmatist service line popped to mind, I was thinking about the critical importance of systems and processes. I had just left a strategy session with the former head of HR from Cisco, and she gave me a new respect for the value of process flows. Previous to that session, I saw them as just an assumed part of the process. It was great to gain a new appreciation for one of my strengths!

Thus, I thought I’d share the value of process flows. As much as we think we know our processes, we don’t. I’ve yet to find a situation where we didn’t learn something by creating and documenting process flows. For example, while working with a client on production scheduling, the supervisors and managers thought they knew what was being scheduled and the process to schedule it; however, they didn’t. When we documented the production schedule and associated processes, we found several scheduling issues no one was addressing. This simple finding led to dramatic improvements in service levels as we could better identify root causes.

Lately, I’ve been working with several clients to design and implement SIOP (sales, inventory and operations planning) programs as it is a great way to align all functions of the organization on one plan that also balances demand with supply. We recently developed process flows to support the demand and supply processes, and it was enlightening.  At a minimum, it provided clarity to the process steps and accelerated our progress because it facilitated communication and collaboration.

Process flows provide clarity in several respects: 1) Which direction the process flows. 2) Who is responsible for the process step. 3) Whether a decision is required. 4) The sequence of process steps. 5) A visual representation of the process.

Contrary to popular opinion, process flows do not have to be complex. Although Visio creates perfect process flows, it does not have widespread use. In the SIOP example above, we went down the simple path and created them in Excel.  Being fancy isn’t essential and can add complications. Consider what will facilitate communication, collaboration and aid in achieving results. Simplify and focus exclusively on what will provide value.  

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