Who Are Your Stars?

July 21st, 2019

In our 14 years of consulting experience and almost 30 years of working experience, we have found that 80% of executives spend the majority of their time with the 20% of employees who do not achieve results. Unfortunately, this means they don’t have time to spend with the stars who achieve 80% of the results. Do you fall into this trap as well? As executives commented in our 2019 predictions document, talent is a hot topic in today’s tight labor market. If you aren’t paying attention to your stars, they will jump ship to someone who does pay attention.

People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses!
As an executive, stop to think about what questions you are asking. Do you ask your direct reports about their stars? Could you identify the future stars of your organization? Or are you just addressing issues as they arise? Key customer issues. Board questions. Performance problems. Etc. If so, undoubtedly, you are receiving information from stars or they could be working behind the scenes, invisible to you. We find that these stars can be easily overlooked because they might not like the spotlight or they are likely to be the person to bring up unpopular topics. Does your culture support these stars or encourage them to stay hidden?

Here are ways to find your stars:

  1. Pay attention to who your leaders go to in order to get information. There is always a star behind the scenes who has the information when you need it. It is likely this person could be several layers below you and so you’ll need to pay attention.
  2. Have you asked old-timers for information or ideas lately? Ask employees who have been around a while. If they feel overlooked, they aren’t going to offer ideas and information until asked. However, when valued, you just might be surprised with some amazing results. We have had countless numbers of clients with this sort of hidden gem! Typically there is at least one person like this in every organization.
  3. Look for someone who might be unpopular in meetings because they’ll bring up issues. Frequently, there is someone who is willing to speak up about issues who becomes unpopular because the rest of the team doesn’t understand or think the issue will occur. This person is also seen as delaying the process. Sometimes, these folks are just problem employees but often they can be your stars. Stars are willing to speak up about issues, and if you listen to them, they will save you from all sorts of problems. Of course, if it was only that easy! Typically these folks might not be the best communicators, so they aren’t seen as stars by their managers. You’ll have to look hard.
  4. Look for the influencers. Although not typically in a position of power, the masses will follow them because they trust their judgment. This isn’t obvious because leaders aren’t involved. Look for who employees go to with questions or look for who they will go to if issues occur.
  5. Ask each employee about his/her ideas and/or create small group discussions. Once you gain trust, you’ll rapidly identify your stars.

Since your stars are responsible for 80% of the results and are the go-to people for any project worth doing, there is a dramatic ROI in finding your stars and embracing them. It certainly seems worth the effort of checking in on a few employees each time you walk through the office. Don’t stop and talk with your favorites or those with which you have common interests. Instead, stop at the first desk that wouldn’t part be part of your routine. Be interested and listen. We’ll bet you learn compelling ideas rapidly. Let us know how it goes and what strategies you find the most successful in finding your stars! We are always interested in this vital topic.

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

Employee Performance: Do Not Ignore Your Stars

People Rule!



The Beauty of the World & Why It Relates to Work

June 5th, 2019

This is the Piazza IX Aprile in Taormina, Sicily, which is a square known for the breathtaking view of the azure Ionian Sea and of the Mount Etna. I adored this night view from a nearby rooftop (of course while sipping limoncello, an Italian lemon liquor known in Southern Italy).

I came to Sicily to meet my strategy group.  We had some excellent sessions.  However, that isn’t the tie that I refer to in the title of this blog. Seeing the world absolutely relates to business. Of course, this would be done ideally in person but you can also absorb quite a bit watching TV or by reading magazines. Understanding different cultures, business customs and what’s relevant to a country or area will come in handy. We live in an interconnected world with customers, suppliers and other trusted partners throughout the world. I cannot think of a client that doesn’t have a material that originates in another country somewhere down-the-supply chain or one that sells to other countries at least somewhere up-the-supply chain. Can you?

Understanding what is important to your customers, suppliers, employees (as they also come from around the world or have related interests) or colleagues is quite relevant to bottom line business results.

One tip to implement this week:
Why not ask your top customer, supplier, employee or colleague about what is important? You could ask about materials relevant to your supply base. Undoubtedly, you’ll find out about something relevant or interesting to build a stronger relationship at a minimum. You could ask your customers about where they sell your product or how it is perceived in another country, etc.? Of course, your question will relate to what type of product or service you provide, so you should make it relevant to your business.

And, lastly, why not talk bring the topic up with your employees and colleagues. You might find that they have customs that are important to them or something quite relevant to doing business in that country or area. Just by posting pictures on Facebook, I found quite a few contacts who love Taormina. Who knows what will happen when I ask them about it!



People & Robots Can Co-Exist Successfully

May 23rd, 2019

We held an engaging executive panel discussion at our APICS Inland Empire spring symposium on the topic: “The Talent Transformation: People or Robots? There is quite a lot of hoopla in Inland Southern California as this geography is larger than all but 24 states (and soon will take over Lousiana) with a strong manufacturing and logistics base.  Yet, the threat and opportunity of automation is close at hand. According to a University of Redlands study, most large metropolitan areas are subject to losing 55% of their current jobs due to automation. In Inland Southern CA, that number expands to 62%. What will this mean? Disaster or opportunity?

According to a robotics expert with a background in industry, Carnegie Mellon and Harvey Mudd, the CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP), a Director at Honeywell and a recruiter and practice lead at Aerotek, we can rest assured that people and robots can co-exist successfully. Of course, this assumes we are proactive in thinking about automation, retraining and educating our workforce and providing the insights and collaboration opportunities such as the executive panel event.

We had some probing questions from the manufacturing and distribution professionals in the audience, but it was unanimous that a solution exists. We also talked about Middle Harbor which is a high-tech area of the ports. This has proven more challenging as negotiations have put some people out of a job yet still getting paid for it. With that said, there were many examples of success with business growing 3-fold while the company doubled the workforce and more. Hiding under a rock is definitely not the route to success. Instead, be a part of the collaborative effort.

As a Board member of IEEP and a supply chain expert, I am helping to lead a consortium for advanced manufacturing and logistics success to address just this topic (resulting from the Brookings study research). If you are interested in staying in the loop with updates, please email me. I’ve created a special interest list for this topic.

The students from Harvey Mudd presented some exciting robotics research they are conducting with industry on how to successfully navigate cluttered workspaces (as most manufacturing and distribution clients require). Much progress is being made.  And, robots aren’t going away. There are many positives in terms of consistency of quality, replacing competitive motion tasks, reducing workers compensation and labor risks in addition to cost savings. With that said, there are also some challenges to overcome such as what happens when technology goes wrong (like with the Boeing 737 Max). There is always risks to mitigate and people who are overlooked. The panel discussed the Challenger disaster and the employee who warned ahead of time to the technical glitch.

What are you doing to evaluate technology from a strategic standpoint? Will you be left in the dust? Grocery stores might have been a bit complacent before Amazon bought Whole Foods. Are you complacent? On the other hand, please don’t follow fads. When everyone thought outsourcing was great and Boards insisted on following the trend no matter the total impact, several companies outsourced and were sorry later when service went down and costs weren’t saved. If you’d like an assessment, contact us.

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

Profit Through People

The Talent Transformation: People or Robots?

The Resilient Supply Chain: Do You Have Resilient Employees?



Are Your Ready for a Systems Transformation?

August 12th, 2018

The topic of Systems Transformation seems to be arising more frequently lately.  How do you know if it is time to consider a systems transformation?

Let’s start by defining a systems transformation.  In essence, a systems transformation is an upgrade to the way you perform business – inclusive of your people (allocation of resources, skillsets, etc.), processes, systems and information flows/ collaboration partners.  

Although there is never a bad time in terms of elevating your business performance, the investment and disruption might not be ‘worth it’.   In other words, does the return on investment make it the ‘right’ time?  

Here are questions to ponder in answering that question:

  1.  What are your growth plans? – If you are performing well and growth is slow, you are unlikely to require a systems transformation.  However, if you expect solid levels of growth, you’ll need one. There are two reasons: 1) Even if you are providing an exceptional customer experience currently, to maintain that with growth is a different ballgame.  2) As you grow, if you don’t want to add people to support each new level of growth, you’ll need to devise systems to grow in a scalable, profitable way.
  2. Will your margin levels sustain your business needs?  – Of course, no one would complain about increasing margin.  However, the key question is what has to be done to achieve the result?  Take a look at whether your profitability and margin levels are sufficient to satisfy stock price expectations, investor needs, reinvestment plans, business valuation goals etc.  We have run across “cash cow” businesses that yield enough profit for the owner’s lifestyle and objectives. There might not be a reason to invest in an upgrade. After all, there is risk and disruption with every activity of this magnitude.
  3.  What are your customers’ expectations? – No matter your growth and profitability, if your customers’ expectations are changing or increasing (as they often are in today’s Amazonian environment), the key question is whether you’ll be able to meet them with your current setup.  We see that it can go either way – depends on the industry, your customers, the marketplace etc.
  4. What are your employees expectations and capabilities?  – Will your employees stick with you if everything remains status quo.  This can completely depend on your employees. We have run across people who prefer “what works” and are quite happy not to upset the apple cart.  On the other hand, we have also seen many job seekers look for new opportunities because the executives weren’t interested in growth – the company’s or the employee’s.  It is important to think through what will happen. If you choose the status quo and your employees don’t align, it might force you into a different strategy, and you’ll be worse off for not thinking proactively.

On another note, if you don’t have employees capable of leading a systems transformation, you will need to shore up your team.  Certainly you can supplement with short-term resources to fill in gaps and consultants to advise on skills not required over the long-term but you might also need to fill in gaps within your team.  Don’t overlook this critical component but also don’t let it deter you from making the leap.

  1.  Do you have the funds?  This is the one that deters most executives.  It is quite tempting to hold off until later when it seems like it is a ‘better time’.  However, are you defining better time as one when you feel better or one as defined by the questions above?  As my consulting mentor says, there is always money. It is a matter of priority. Recently, we ran into a client that has never borrowed money.  It can be a smart and prudent strategy if it supports your business objectives. However, the CEO was questioning whether he should continue this strategy.  If it is the ‘right time’ for an upgrade and it will provide a return on investment over the long-term, he should absolutely borrow to fund the near-term investment to gain the value down-the-line.  

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should dig a hole the size of the Grand Canyon to fund your systems transformation.  We have seen many executives accidentally throw money out the window when it wasn’t the best timing or get carried away and spend ‘too much’.  In these cases, you might never recover from your upgrade! Gain advice from experts with an eye to return on investment. Keep in mind that taking prudent risk will be required!



People Rule

July 4th, 2018

Why does Southwest Airlines outperform the competition by a long shot in employee turnover (7% vs. 25% industry average)?  People!

As our long-term readers know, we believe that people rule!  There is just no doubt about it – our most successful clients are similar to Southwest and JetBlue as it relates to people – executives view them as assets; not costs.  Instead of stifling creativity and success, they encourage it!

We have to imagine that no one sets out to stifle creativity when they leave for work in the morning (it sounds like a miserable existence) . Yet that is what we find in the vast majority of companies.  Sometimes, it is due to the rules and regulations that are supposed to protect threats.

For example, recently we received dismal service from a major bank.  Certainly, the employee helping us with the transactions meant no harm and wanted to help. However, her overriding need was to remain employed which meant following rules to the T….and beyond.  Taking zero risks while servicing customers is clearly celebrated and we felt the pain. Our account kept going on hold for no reason. Checks bounced. Silly requirements were communicated (we ‘the bank’ missed a space on this form and so you must jump through 10 hoops so we can get our paperwork in order). The list wents on. We went up the chain to no avail. We must follow the 10 hoops, avoid cracks on the sidewalk (reminded me of Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets), swim the English channel and more…

On the other hand, a business bank focused on service was able to navigate the same federal and state requirements remotely and immediately.  What was blamed on rules and regulations were clearly bank policies. Are you making your customers avoid the cracks in the sidewalk to work with you?  Or are you rolling out the red carpet? It didn’t cost more at one bank vs. the other, although we would have paid more by the time we went through the first few hoops.  

Do you care about what your customers care about or do you care about rules for the sake of rules? Or, put another way – do you care about the customer result or the process used along the way? (assuming no bad motivations)

Related statistics
According to Gallup, 85% of employees are not engaged at work.  Yet, companies with highly engaged workers outperform their peers by 147%.  

We have no doubt the employee at the large bank fell into the 85% category whereas the business bank is more likely in the 15%. We know the banker at the business bank will go over and beyond.  

Which employee would you rather have service you and your firm?