You can’t take a magic pill to drive HUGE results in your manufacturing or distribution company, but rather look to the tried and true methods that drive business growth and productivity.

As the year winds down, it seems like a great time to “take stock” – what is “hot”?  I am not a fan of fads – although many fads such as lean manufacturing are right “on the money” from many respects, there is no magic pill in going down the lean path.  That’s true with most other touted manufacturing programs – Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, SIOP, and the like.  Instead, what really works?

If I look across my clients which span $5 million dollar family owned companies to $50 million multi-generation companies to $100 million dollar private equity backed companies to $25-250 million dollar facilities of multi-billion dollar companies, what’s “hot” has much in common.  As my mentor from early in my career used to say, he paid attention when I said “HUGE”.  I never realized I used that word until he pointed it out to me.  Thus, here are those that consistently drive HUGE results:

  1. Blocking & tackling – Seems quite boring; however, it is consistently the most overlooked secret to success.  Interestingly, one of my speeches this past year was requested solely for this reason – inventory accuracy never goes out of style!  What are you doing to make sure your basics are in place?
  2. Planning – It is surprising how often I am brought in for this topic.  Lucky for me, it is a definite strength – and often desperately needed across-the-board.  Whether planning relates to demand planning (customer forecasts), master scheduling, detailed planning, kanban systems, planning the constraint, project planning, cross-functional planning, or just referred to as “make sure the right items are in the right places at the right time with minimal inventory, maximum efficiencies, excellent service levels and shortened lead times”, it is hot!
  3. Leverage systems & data – Systems help to automate, reduce errors, improve efficiency, grow the business without adding hard-to-find and expensive resources and better support customer needs.   As supply chains have become more complex, it is a “must” to properly leverage systems if you want to grow profitably.  Also don’t forget your data.  Your system collects more data than imaginable.  How can you analyze or utilize this data for success?
  4. Top talent – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the tenets ALL of my clients have in common – the need for top talent.  As supply chains have become more complex, global, surrounded by risk, tied down in rules and regulations, and the like, it has become even more important to retain, find, train and develop top talent.  I mention them in this order because I cannot tell you how many clients I’ve run across that have a superstar employee that is overlooked.  Perhaps they need a tool, or to be turned loose (empowered), given permission to focus on a particular project, or provided training or mentoring in enhanced communication skills or use of language.  Provide it, and suddenly your profits skyrocket.  Why not take a look around you or hire someone who can help you find these stars in your midst?
  5. Metrics – I’ve also found that my best clients put the “right few” metrics in place. Are you tracking responsiveness, reliability, performance, agility and cost (return on your assets)?  Which are important for your business?  It is easy to get caught up in measuring useless metrics because we’ve always done it that way or because the boss requested it.  But why?  Metrics should provide us with a guide of how we are performing vs. what is important to success.  Success is not the same across companies – or even industries.  What does it mean for you?  And can you tell whether you are making progress?

Although this list doesn’t sound sexy, it can be extremely sexy to investors, Boards of Directors and employees on a bonus plan tied to performance.