What We Can Learn from Jack Welch

October 29th, 2015
people first

Successful companies put people ahead of strategy, process, and systems.

While attending APICS 2015, I heard Jack Welch, former GE CEO and best-selling business author, speak about the value of people. My ears perked up as I have found that the best processes and systems will fail miserably without the “right” people processes. For example, what is your culture? How strong are your leaders? Do you have a deep talent pool? These are key questions to consider. A few of the main takeaways from the speech include:

  • Allow employees to fail – this is the crux of creating an innovative environment. If employees are concerned that they’ll be beat over the head if they make a mistake, how innovative can they be? My consulting mentor Alan Weiss did his doctoral on a related topic. In essence, although an unexpected result, he proved that it is not important to hire people with innovative tendencies; instead, what mattered is as it is to make sure the leaders create an innovative culture.
  • People first; strategy second – give me the best people any day (even with mediocre strategy, processes and systems) vs. the best strategy with mediocre people.
  • Purpose – do your employees know how valuable what they are doing is to the company? Do they understand how they fit? Make sure your employees are crystal clear about their purpose and all else will fall into place.
  • Don’t tolerate bureaucracy – bureaucracy hinders workers. Since people are at the heart of success, you must blow up bureaucracy.
  • Simplify – we tend to make simple things complex. Make it a priority to think about whether you are simplifying on a daily basis. There is no value to complexity.
  • Supply chain leaders are desperately needed – we are at the heart and soul of our companies. We need to stand tall, speak strongly and be proud. We are value-added. Let’s start acting like it. 

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Empower Your People to Grow

October 27th, 2015
employee empowerment

When you empower your people with the right tools and decision-making, they take share in the ownership and business success.

Businesses must capture opportunities rapidly to outpace their competition. Thus, it is even more important to be the best at identifying, prioritizing, and implementing opportunities which will deliver bottom line business results. The time to leapfrog your competition is now.

Why is empowerment the key to success?  Empowered employees achieve substantial results which also tie directly to what’s required to succeed in the new normal: 1) Reduce costs & delays. 2) Deliver exceptional service. 3) Innovate in alignment with vision.

Or, just think about the Ritz Carlton. Their employees are empowered and will make sure their customers are happy. If you’ve experienced the service at the Ritz, you won’t want to go back! Why not have your customers experience this same success? Thus, consider the following steps: 1) Clear vision & boundaries. 2) Develop the skills and attitudes. 3) Control over their work. 4) Leadership. 5) Communications. 6) Tools & support.

  1. Clear vision & boundaries – If there is a key to empowerment, it lies in creating the playing field. Employees need to understand where the company is headed and why. They need to know how they fit into the big picture, why it’s of value, and what is “in bounds” and “out of bounds”. The boundaries could be legal, ethical, financial, etc. Last but not least, it is vital that the employee knows that on the field, he/she calls the plays.
  2. Develop the skills & attitudes – It is not enough to declare, “You’re empowered”, and then disappear. Have you and the employee brainstormed as to what types of skills and tools he/she will need to perform the role? How about customer service skills? Communication skills? Attitude is vital – does the employee accept accountability? Develop a plan together of what’s needed to ensure success. Provide support and feedback. Address issues upfront. Celebrate successes.
  3. Control over their work – Having control over your work is vital to empowerment. If you don’t believe you can control your destiny within a set of guidelines, you will not feel or act empowered. This is probably the hardest part of empowerment which is why I’ve seen so few cases of true empowerment. The most successful lean environments typically support empowerment as it is core to success; however, it is surprising the number of touted lean environments which do not hold up muster when push comes to shove.
  4. Leadership – The key to empowering and engaging employees begins with leadership. I’ve yet to work with a client that had empowered and engaged employees with a weak leader on top. Yet I’ve seen the least likely suspects turn into empowered and engaged employees with an exceptional leader on top! For example, one employee would rarely if ever make a decision as he was interested in being “under the radar” and keeping his job. With enough encouragement that we wanted his input and wouldn’t hold him responsible for a bad decision (so long as it didn’t occur repetitively), he eventually spoke up and was an invaluable team member.
  5. Communications – A simple word for a vast topic – nothing is more critical. This must start at the beginning with the vision and encompass the entire process through metrics and feedback.  Begin by clearly articulating the vision and goals – why does it matter? Why is the employee important to the vision? How does he/she tie in? Most importantly, do not say you’ll support empowerment and not live up to your promise. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. You might agree in concept but when your employee doesn’t handle a situation as you’d prefer, you might be tempted to intervene. Don’t do it! Those who empower even when it’s inconvenient or difficult will be those who succeed.
  6. Tools & support – Empowered workers will expect the appropriate tools and support to expertly perform their work. No need to jump on the latest bandwagon and think these cool tools will be desired by your high performers. They’ll be unappreciated – or worse, a distraction in supporting your high performers. They will know the right tools for the job and will request them. Listen, ask questions, push back when needed (as would be expected from a top performer) and make the tools needed for success a top priority.
  7. 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 appreciation; worse yet, they gain unwanted 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. 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.    

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It Takes All Types of Managers for Success

October 26th, 2015

supply chainMy Dad’s funeral was this weekend, and it went as well as a funeral can go. We tried to make it a celebration of life. He certainly was a family man, and it was easy to remember all his good qualities. He drove me to skating at 4 a.m. many days when I was young even though I’m sure he was tired from a long week without ever complaining and even made a game out of catching green lights on the drive to the ice rink.

I also learned from some of his co-workers from his electrical engineering manager job prior to retirement (9 years ago) that he was amazing in that he was able to effectively perform his position without ever raising his voice or ever getting upset. I’ve found that all different types of managers can be effective – some are gregarious, some are creative, some are motivating, some demonstrate through action and the list goes on. I think it boils down to the following: is your heart in the right place, are you trustworthy and are you competent? If so, you’ll be respected.

One tip to implement this week:

I find that excellent managers defer to those who are gregarious or authoritative. Why are you doing that? Take a step back and think about what type of manager you are and what type you’d like to be. One is not better or worse than the other. Instead, think about your strengths and leverage them. If you build on strengths, you’ll be a better manager than if you try to follow some sort of “model” for good managers. Also, think about your manager. What is his/her strength or talent? Can you point that out to them?

If you are an employee, think about the leaders you interact with every day. Which do you know you can count on? Which would you go to for advice? Encouragement? You might find that you are under-appreciating someone. Take notice and say thank you. It could go a long way!

Several of my colleagues, clients and friends went over and beyond to lend support during this difficult time since my Dad’s stroke and passing. It certainly helps – what you might be able to do that takes 1 minute could make someone’s day or provide just the encouragement to take a leap forward.

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…”


Project Leadership Remains #1 Key to Success

October 22nd, 2015
project leadership

Whether a project is successful or not will depend on many variables but none plays a larger role than leadership.

In thinking about the hundreds of client projects I’ve completed over the last ten years, if I had to pick one key to success, it would be project leadership. For example, I worked with one client on multiple projects simultaneously with several project leaders over the course of many months. The same senior leadership sponsored every project. A few were downright frustrating as we struggled to move an inch a week whereas others leaped forward a mile in the same timeframe. Of course my focus was to accelerate progress on the ones that inched forward; however, significant acceleration could go from an inch to 5 feet; still slow as molasses as compared with moving a mile.

While leading and/or participating with hundreds of projects with manufacturers and distributors across multiple industries, geographies and company sizes, several keys to project leadership success emerged. What successful leaders have in common is worth noting. Thus, it seems discussing top strategies for success would be of value. Instead of limiting it to the top 3, I thought I’d share a longer list that arose during observation.

  1. Vision: As all executives know, having a vision is essential to success. What do you expect your project to accomplish? Why is that of value to the organization? How does it fit with strategy?
  2. Communication: Having a vision does little for success if no one hears about the vision. Communication skills are essential. This is the bedrock for any leadership role. However, it tends to be even more critical on projects as the majority of team members might not report to the project leader for their day job and so communications might be limited.
  3. Energy: It helps to have a project leader with energy. Being excited about what the project can achieve goes a long way to making the team interested in being a part of that objective. Demonstrate excitement through your tone of voice, language, through promotion, etc.
  4. Competence: As effective a communicator you might be, it is still essential to be competent in the subject matter related to the project. There is no need to be an expert; however, you need to have a basic knowledge to be able to lead effectively.
  5. Ability to ask questions: One of the keys to success is the project leader’s ability to ask good questions. I have worked with horrible project leaders who asked “stupid” questions – it was obvious to the team members that they weren’t capable and/or were annoying; thus, no matter what other qualities they had, their project progressed slowly at best. On the other hand, I’ve seen people with zero knowledge of engineering successfully lead a group of engineers by having enough knowledge or logic to ask a few good questions to keep the process moving.
  6. Ability to think of the critical path: One of the most important aspects of project management is to know what is important to the success of the project. Not all tasks are created equal. In today’s busy world, there is rarely time to focus on all tasks to the desired degree; thus, focusing attention on what’s important is critical. The critical path will make it obvious which tasks should be the focus as they will hold up the rest of the project.
  7. Ability to facilitate teamwork: It is important for the project leader to facilitate teamwork. Typically the project team might be from multiple disciplines/functions who might not know each other and who might be in conflict in terms of daily objectives. Thus, the project leader needs to facilitate the common objectives and find strengths to leverage while making all team members feel included in the process.
  8. Ability to push back: The best of managers, when all is proceeding smoothly, can become the worst of leaders if a roadblock arises. It is critical for project leaders to be able to address issues head on in a respectful and proactive manner. This often requires pushing back on executives who might have conflicting interests. Turning it into the best interest of all parties helps the leader push back successfully.
  9. Follow-up: No project is successful if follow-up is lacking. A key part of the process is being proactive about which tasks are coming up and making sure the task owners are ready and potential roadblocks are resolved. Checking in with the project team, sponsors, related/impacted employees and the like is key to success.

Since project leadership proves to be #1 to successfully achieving objectives, it is worth additional focus. Are you assigning whoever is available with some level of competence to your project as resources are scarce or are you carefully considering the options? Since the vast majority of cost improvement, new product introductions and the like are accomplished through projects, it is worth extra focus to ensure project leadership success as these results will impact growth, profit and cash flow.

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Data Migration

October 20th, 2015
data migration

Data migration may seem like a mundane and even daunting task, but the ability to leverage your system to get information to make better decisions will have a profound effect on your business.

I’ve been involved in a few projects lately where data migration has been the hot topic. As much as it seems quite mundane, it can make or break success. When moving to a new system, it is your opportunity to start with a clean slate.

A few tips to think about with data migration:

  • Start early: You cannot start too early. The more time you have to cleanse your data, the better. Eliminate obsolete items. Review items you haven’t used in the last few years, customers you haven’t sold to in a few years, suppliers you haven’t utilized. Should you move them to the new system?
  • Data setup: Think through data setup in the new system. How will the flags you set affect your business processes? Find out what they mean. Think about expansion from your current practices. What does that mean in terms of data setup?
  • Keying vs. automation: Consider keying dynamic information such as sales orders, work orders and purchase orders. It will be a good opportunity to clean up garbage, close old work orders, etc. It will also give you a good idea of how the new system will work so that you have a leg up with your first day of transactions.
  • Ask for clarification: One of my clients is proactive on this topic. She wants to know how each field is used, how it will affect reports, etc. This is the ideal process because the more you know about how the field will be utilized or could be utilized, the better opportunity you have to utilize it for success.
  • Excel: Excel can be your friend when it comes to cleansing data. If you take it out of your current system, massage it in Excel and then upload it to the new system, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. It isn’t always feasible but it is viable most of the time.

Remember to give data migration your focus as it will have a profound impact on whether you’ll be able to leverage your system for success.

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