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Professionals who ascend to the heights of their respective industries often develop healthy egos on their way up. An inflated sense of self-confidence can be an asset in certain situations, like when company leaders are looking to inspire staff – an important executive capability that 70 percent of professional development experts believe is critical to C-suite success, according to researchers from Harvard Business School.
But corporate egoism can also cause problems. In fact, many executives who suffer serious career failures can link these collapses to unhealthy pursuits of power or status, Entrepreneur reported.
Collaborating with consultants is perhaps when most business leaders flex their well-developed egos to the detriment of the organization. Even while they suffer from operational deficiencies, business leaders often balk at the idea of taking advice from external parties, including those with decades of experience and demonstrable successes. This prideful approach can start leaders down the path toward greater dysfunction and even organizational failure. To cultivate strong relationships with third-party consultants, executives must check their egos at the door. How? Here are some tried-and-true techniques:
1. Know the signs of egoism
Having the ability to identify the point at which confidence unravels into arrogance is key to tamping down egotistic tendencies. Leaders who effectively work with outside experts know the signs of unbridled egoism, including constant complaining and an overwhelming urge to intervene in projects just to take credit, according to The Business Journal. If these inclinations sound familiar, it’s time for leaders to take a step back, evaluate and correct their behavior before things get out of hand.
2. Model the ideal collaborator
Few professionals enjoy working with narcissists. Many executives today probably remember a time when they worked for or with an egomaniac, but have since lost sight of the damaging power of egoism as they climb up the corporate ladder. Some even take on the qualities of the executive despots they once detested.
Business leaders who find themselves in such positions can reverse the damage by going back to basics and modeling positive collaborative behavior, Inc. contributor and Voray CEO David Olk found. Olk himself learned that by avoiding defensive, self-centered action and focusing on relationship building, he could accomplish more as a leader. These and other similar strategies ultimately make for fruitful collaborations with third-party consultants.
3. Take a step back and support
Consultants enter partnerships with one primary objective: helping the business address its operational pain points. They do not function in the service of executives. But leaders sometimes act as though this is the case, attempting to lord over external contributors by questioning decisions with which they do not agree, which can hurt the organization when it’s at its most vulnerable. The advice of experts goes unbidden, and without buy-in from top brass, their efforts for operational improvements never materialize.
Business leaders looking to improve their organizations with help from consultants must revert to a supporting role and focus solely on the company for optimal results. How? Maintaining an open mind and asking questions are two good places to start. Additionally, leaders who accept that they have blind spots are usually more open to ego-less collaboration and therefore more likely to facilitate consulting success.
Executives who are considering bringing in outside operational experts would be wise to embrace these techniques and strive for improvement, ego-free. Here at USC Consulting Group, we’ve spent the past 50 years helping companies achieve sustainable growth through the implementation of strategies centered around supply chain, operational excellence, and more. Connect with us today to learn more about our experience and how we can help your business find firmer footing in the marketplace.
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The way that small manufacturers operate holds valuable lessons for the industry as a whole. Armed with quick and flexible production schedules, as well as strong quality control standards, small manufacturers are able to compete with larger companies in a sophisticated market. While small manufacturers don’t produce the same type or quantity of products as their larger peers, the way that they operate is indicative of a tight and efficient management style that adheres to the lean manufacturing philosophy. These niche facilities are able to steer clear of common problems such as overproduction, over-processing and product defects.
Small manufacturers make big moves
In the U.S., the manufacturing industry has evolved through many iterations. Today, according to Manufacturing Global, there is a growing number of small manufacturers, indicating that the outsourcing trend may be reversing slightly. In 2015, there were more than 270,000 small manufacturers across the country. Many of these facilities have less than 50 employees, however, these companies are also responsible for 60 percent of U.S. exports. Contributing approximately 12 percent to U.S. Gross Domestic Product, it is clear that these entities are doing something right.
Small manufacturers adhere to slightly different management philosophies than larger companies when it comes to production. These facilities are able to achieve product customization by maintaining fast and agile production schedules. Employing the same methods that a larger facility would for achieving more efficient changeovers, smaller manufacturers understand that planning and scheduling make a big difference on output and the bottom line. Manufacturing Global pointed out that small manufacturers keep production costs low by following made-to-order production plans. The benefits of this approach include lower inventory levels, no overstock situations, and quality production. Inherent in this type of operation is a strict adherence to following procedures and doing things by the book – something that sometimes larger facilities let slip.
It is important to point out that supply chain costs increase substantially when companies either do not follow standard operating procedures or do not have the best processes in place. Product defects, idle time, and bottlenecks can occur when standards are loose, and these situations are best avoided through careful planning and execution. Small manufacturers are able to avoid common manufacturing pitfalls because production is based on continuously meeting sales goals. Additionally, small manufacturers emphasize the necessity for rigorous quality control standards, which leads to fewer manufacturing defects.
A more careful and diligent management style
According to IndustryWeek, the manufacturing industry is going through a business transformation. In response to shifting consumer expectations, global competition, and advances in technology, facilities are accelerating their production cycles to meet market demand. Similarly to small manufacturers, larger facilities must now exert greater control over the supply chain and adjust business models to meet customer expectations and keep the bottom line healthy.
When it comes to flexible production styles, quality control is key. Accordingly, if you want to make sure your organization is committed to quality, focus on these 3 points:
- Make quality a part of your culture
Strong leadership is essential for achieving a culture of quality. Management cannot just give directions to plant staff, they must make quality management education a regular item on the agenda. Today, at many organizations, executives think of quality as a department, not a company wide priority. Since the majority of facility employees do not work in the quality department, the responsibility of fostering a culture of quality falls initially upon the executive management team. When each person in a facility acts like a stakeholder in the production process, defects and deficiencies are significantly reduced.
- Align your KPIs inline with your end goals
At your facility, you should be able to monitor the success of any process at any point in time. Without effective organizational metrics, executives will not be able to track progress, set goals, or achieve results. Whether measuring costs, quality, or equipment effectiveness, having KPIs in the right places is paramount.
- Unite disparate systems
Quite commonly, facilities manage disparate systems – likely as a result of sporadic technology investment throughout the years. The best way to address a lack of uniformity in plant equipment is to make sure you have an effective management operating system. With one central resource standardizing processes and reports across departments, you will be able to operate in a more streamlined manner. Using the right system, manufacturers are able to manage fractured manufacturing operations, mitigate nonconformances, and take corrective and preventative actions when necessary.
What makes small manufacturers able to accurately meet their budgeting goals is avoiding costly production mistakes. Larger facility operators should follow this example and make quality an integral part of processes, culture, training, and management.
In today’s manufacturing industry, the “skills gap” is one of most pressing and talked about issues. Last year, many major media outlets covered the issue extensively, demonstrating its importance. Manufacturing requires a high level of technical proficiency and encompasses a wide range of competencies. At a time when the industry is witnessing the retirement of the largest percentage of its workforce, the lack of skill and technical knowledge of new workers is troubling.
The “skills gap” is a major problem in manufacturing today
The oldest baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, and each successive year, approximately 10,000 more seasoned workers will retire, according to the Pew Research Center. Fortunately, manufacturers can enact a few strategies to offset the impending brain drain that is taking place. IndustryWeek reported on a Pennsylvania chemical producer that faced the problem of having 150 skilled labor jobs open and unfilled. Ranging from welders to mechanical engineering technicians, the company struggled to hire qualified staff. The unfilled positions represented 38 percent of the 400 skilled-worker positions open at any point in time. The CEO of the company explained why it was so difficult to fill positions.
“In some cases [a position] takes as long as a year to fill because of a mismatch of skills — either in the skills area we need or in the geographic area where we need that skill,” said the CEO , according to the news source.
Lean methodologies will alleviate the skills gap problem
According to Reliable Plant, the lean manufacturing philosophy does great things for improving training practices and can help preserve expertise in a facility. When lean methodologies are used in training programs, the benefit is that a facility is able to make progress in multiple areas at once and keep best practices at the forefront. Instead of training employees and working toward continuous improvement in a silo-ed fashion, training should be ongoing and encompass continuous improvement principles to promote greater delivery and material development.
Accordingly, here are 5 ways companies can work on developing highly skilled employees and closing the skills gap:
- Implement Continuous Improvement
One of the best ways manufacturing companies can establish lean operations is to always improve upon existing processes. As an organization commits to developing best practices on an ongoing basis, that effort should involve constant training of employees. Plant improvements must always be reflected in process documents and then incorporated into employee work routines. Companies should motivate staff to collect data, analyze information, and raise job performance to the next level based on the findings. The most important thing to remember is to always improve. If a manufacturing company is able to do this, they will find less of a skills gap among their ranks because project managers will continually educate their teams on the latest amendment to their routines.
“The best thing an organization can do is facilitate the sharing of information.”
- Encourage staff communication
Companies that encourage their staff members to communicate about work issues, across departments and geographies, will be able to retain a greater amount of valuable tribal knowledge, should seasoned workers suddenly leave. The best thing an organization can do to avoid a skills gap is to facilitate the sharing of information, so when experts leave, their information will have already been passed down to the next generation. Also, for training purposes, giving workers a voice results in more active training sessions and higher levels of engagement. That enthusiasm will carry through to the plant floor, where the workers can turn knowledge into results. The more actively a company involves employees in training, the more effective the results are.
- Focus on customer satisfaction
Interestingly, an effective strategy for raising technical expertise at a facility is making its training program very customer-centric. The lean manufacturing philosophy stresses the importance of creating value for the customer. Organizations can train their employees to think about the end result, regardless of their position. Someone on the assembly line with an understanding of what the customer ultimately wants to see is in a better position to make the right decisions. Likewise, managers can help their teams see what their individual skills gap is, and what they need to develop to excel in their job and create good products. It is important to remember that training employees to think of the customer is a way of putting his or her money to good use. Plant managers are also more likely to pass on their expertise when they understand how that act will benefit the customer in the long run.
Ongoing training programs are essential in the manufacturing industry.
- Address the reality on the ground
Often, plant managers will give directives to facility staff without getting involved in the day-to-day details those directives might entail. This is not an effective way to manage a plant and it is essential that managers take the time to get to know workers, listen to their feedback, and incorporate their opinions into company plans. When implementing a training program, management will benefit from this approach because they will have a chance to watch staff members perform their job tasks, which facilitates the development of better training materials. This approach is also helpful down the road, as managers will need to check to see if employees are putting their training to good use – preventing a skills gap.
- Develop and maintain proper documentation
The importance of updating standard operating procedures in a facility cannot be emphasized enough. Lean managers not only use process documents to guide their operations and decision-making, but they also use visual aids for brainstorming and conceptualizing projects. One of the best ways to understand a concept is to use diagrams and process maps. Manufacturers should use work flow maps, diagram their production processes, and always refer to SOPs. When a facility operates in this way, training is greatly enhanced as the company culture is already based on doing things by the book and the skills gap is more easily avoided. The effort required to change the way something is done is much less if it can be addressed simply by amending process documents. If a facility does not use documentation with vigilance, introducing a new process can involve hours of explanation and unnecessary work.
Ultimately, learning and development in the manufacturing industry is crucial. Given the aforementioned skills gap, as well as the proven benefit of making training a regular part of everyday operations, lean methodologies should be a part of every organization’s approach for managing their operations.
Tribal knowledge is ascertained through years of hard work and experience. Most plants and manufacturing sites tend to have seasoned workers that have worked on most facility assets and have seen it all. You may think that their skill and experience is an advantage to you, but tribal knowledge can be a dubious thing. If you do not formally preserve their knowledge, it is possible that senior workers will retire without ever passing that information on to others. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that tribal knowledge is not meant to be guarded and kept hidden, nor is it something to rely on independent of process documents. It is important to record all tips and techniques learned over years of experience into management system procedures, so that tribal knowledge can benefit the organization at large.
“11 million manufacturing workers employed in the U.S. are 55 years of age or older”
Consult with your gurus and soak up the knowledge
Manufacturing Business and Technology explained that since most organizations employ field service people who have worked on all assets of their plant, these individuals tend to have valuable insight with regard to things like best practices, maintenance schedules, and production idiosyncrasies. Manufacturers should always talk with these information gurus and learn what they have to say. Leveraging their tribal knowledge, you can witness considerable improvements in operations and raise efficiency at your plant. Digabit mentioned that when management employs a bottom-up approach and listens to the ones on the frontlines, they are able to incorporate better and more effective processes into standard operational guidelines.
Proper documentation can preserve tribal knowledge
According to Digabit, one of the best ways to make tribal knowledge work for you is to document everything and compile valuable information into management operating systems. Maintaining one central repository of information takes tribal knowledge out of the hands of a select few and makes it available across an organization. After consulting these industry veterans, the information learned should be reflected in process documents, training materials, and safety manuals. By doing this, a facility will increase opportunities for talent sharing and guarantee knowledge is transferred, whether there is high employee turnover or not.
Continually train staff to avoid organizational ‘brain drain’
Manufacturing Business and Technology pointed out that, according to some experts, 25% of the 11 million manufacturing workers employed in the U.S. are 55 years of age or older. For most organizations this means that regardless of high turnover, at some point, if they do not preserve the knowledge of senior workers, they are likely to experience a significant ‘brain drain’ when these people retire. Digabit advised manufacturers to make training of new hires a serious and dedicated commitment. By incorporating regular training sessions into plant schedules, organizations can insure themselves against losing tribal knowledge. Keeping tribal knowledge alive in an organization contributes to innovation and fosters competitiveness. Even the most seemingly insignificant details can pay off in the future and raise efficiency at your plant.
Ultimately, tribal knowledge alone does not make a good plant. However, leveraging the skill and experience of seasoned workers at your plant, management will be able to encourage a culture of learning, improve production processes, and make sure that new hires are always trained with the best practices. The best knowledge is the type that is tested and tried at your facility.
Have you ever sent someone to the grocery store with a list of items to buy along with the money necessary, then had them return home after spending more than you gave them/budgeted? And that they bought flank steak instead of ground beef and both hard and soft shells for your taco dinner?
When asked why they bought and spent what they did, the answer is something like this:
“Your list just said taco shells, so I didn’t know what kind to get (brand or texture) and I prefer to use flank steak when I make tacos as its quality and taste are significantly better than ground beef.”
Essentially, there wasn’t a clearly defined spec that someone other than you could follow when shopping and there wasn’t alignment between you and the shopper on the recipe or quality that was to be followed in preparing the meal, therefore there was no cost management. The net result of these disconnects: an increase in cost and probably longer cooking (processing) time.
The household example above is simplistic and didn’t break the bank or result in dinner being on the table too much later than originally planned, but when similar situations happen in business the impacts can be far greater and include: significant cost overruns and reduced profitability, missed available to ship dates, and angst between functional areas and/or a company and its suppliers, thus the importance of cost management and a well-defined spec.
Proper Use of Cost Management Principles Can Prevent Costly Budget Overruns
We recently encountered a situation with one of our Spend Management clients where there were significant disconnects between functional areas as to the scope of work and specifications that a supplier was working to. The result was a major change in cost from the supplier ($10,000 – $15,000 per production unit) which when combined with budgeted internal expenses, ended up creating a negative impact on margin. To make matters worse, the supplier was still not covering costs with what they were invoicing and decided that each unit they would handle would need to be quoted separately. The cost overrun on the next production unit was expected to be close to $25,000 further impacting margin in the wrong direction.
How did these disconnects occur?
For starters, the initial spec that the supplier bid on was not complete. The client’s Purchasing Organization developed a spec that was used in the bid process without involving other functional areas to make sure that the entire scope was captured and ultimately aligned with internal quality end customer expectations. Since then, things have spiraled out of control with three things driving the cost increase:
- Other functional areas that interfaced with the supplier pushed work from the internal manufacturing process down to the supplier which has a cost impact on the supplier and in turn on our client.
- When quality issues arose, the Quality Control group didn’t work with Purchasing to provide timely feedback to the supplier and work to understand the root cause of the problem so corrective action could be taken. Instead, they developed a tighter quality inspection specification which they provided directly to the supplier without consideration for the impact on cost. Furthermore, they didn’t communicate the new spec to Purchasing.
- Sales didn’t understand the spec that work was being performed to and therefore wasn’t appropriately managing the end customer acceptance process. They also weren’t appropriately pricing what they were selling based on COGS.
The new, even higher quote triggered a lot of anger, frustration, and concern throughout our client’s organization and a request to solve the problem immediately. Likewise, the supplier was very frustrated which was evident in conversations with them as we sought to understand and solve the problem.
When the quotes came back, our supplier had sharpened their pencil overall. (Win #1) We then presented the quotes to Quality and Sales and asked them to make the final decision as to what the inspection criteria would be since this drove the difference in cost between the quotes. Quality deferred to Sales. (Win #2 as Sales has to manage the customer, not our internal Quality Group.) Sales decided to go with the lower cost option and agreed that they would manage the end customer to the correlating inspection criteria or charge more for a tighter spec. (Win #3) Lastly we gained alignment internally and externally that all direction to the supplier would flow through purchasing and that the supplier was not to take direction from any other member of the organization. (Win #4)
After gaining an understanding of the situation through conversations with the supplier and numerous people in the client organization, we pulled together a cross functional team of people (the users) to review the current scope of work and inspection guidelines, make adjustments, and ultimately develop a comprehensive scope of work agreed to by all involved internal parties that could be provided to the supplier for a revised quote. We also asked for quotes on several inspection options so the cost vs. quality trade-off could be weighed appropriately. Lastly, we explained the margin situation to the supplier and asked them to sharpen their pencil as much as possible on this quote while we worked to develop a new bid package for them to respond to.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Everything starts with the specification development process. Without the input of a cross functional team, there is high risk of missing parts of the specification/scope of work leading to unrealistic cost expectations and the potential for frustration and poor supplier relations. Furthermore, if the cost isn’t right, you can’t develop the right selling price and present options to customers that maintain margin.
You should care about your online reputation, as it can overshadow the reputation you try to build in person. Anymore, if you’re scheduled to meet someone for the first time for professional reasons, they have probably looked you up online before you walk in and shake their hand. And honestly, you probably did the same to them.
Like it or not, everyone can be found online. Even if you keep it simple and don’t actively participate in any online communities, chances are there is still a decent amount of information about you available for anyone to find. Whether you’re job hunting, meeting a new client, or are simply networking with other business professionals, you should do your best control what other people uncover about you and be aware of how your online presence can impact your real-world experiences.
While you may believe your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other various online profiles are personal and completely separate from your LinkedIn profile, think again. Just because you only post “professional” content on your LinkedIn, doesn’t mean everything else you post everywhere else online has suddenly vanished and your connections won’t see it.
Take a minute right now to search yourself online (just type your name into Google and see what comes up). What did you find? Is your online persona reflective of how you want to be seen professionally? Were the majority of the results actually about you or other people who share your name?
If the results were less than favorable, maybe it’s time to reassess your online activities. I’m not saying you should delete all of your social profiles, but you should take extra care of the privacy settings, be mindful of your friends/followers/connections, and think before you post. You can’t control what is online about other people with your name, but you can control what you put online.
If your Facebook is full of personal content (status updates, pictures, videos, comments, etc.), don’t “friend” your colleagues or clients. Your vacation pictures may be fine for your friends/family to scroll through and comment on, but you may not want upper-management seeing your pictures and the comments.
When your friends reminisce on Thursdays by posting college photos to Instagram and tag you in them, #tbt doesn’t justify your questionable behavior or clothing choices to your new clients, especially if college wasn’t that long ago. Keep track of what you tag and are tagged in, and know who is able to see those pictures.
Tweeting about your long work week, how much you dislike new company policies, or how incompetent your superiors are may be your way of letting off a little steam, but your current employer and potential future employers will not look favorably on those kinds of comments.
By actively cultivating a positive online presence, you can shape what other people discover and the impacts of those discoveries. It’s never too early or too late to take your online presence seriously. Our lives become more public every day, so getting ahead of it and putting your best self forward will prove beneficial in the future.
Recognizing your business’s need to make changes to your operations is the first step in the process improvement process, but how you go about it will make or break your business. When you engage only internal resources to make a plan for improvement and then implement that plan, you are at the mercy of their time and knowledge. While you know your business better than any outsider, you are also limited to possible solutions because you have not been through this a hundred times before. You’ll suffer through the trial and error process at the expense of your business.
Within any organization, you’re constantly keeping up with everyday maintenance, finding ways to improve upon your current state, and monitoring what your competitors are doing to increase their value. There are plenty of things you can do on your own to help improve certain aspects of your business, but when you need to make a major overhaul to one area or the entire organization, it’s time to call in the experts.
Your Business is Like Your Home
When renovating your kitchen, you wouldn’t hand each family member a sledge hammer and tell them to start the demo or let each of them take a corner of the room to put in the specific things they want. During the renovation, they also have to keep up with their regular duties throughout, so the improvements would be done at different paces, with different levels of craftsmanship. Unless your family is made up of an interior designer, an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter, and a general contractor, your kitchen probably isn’t going to turn out better than it was before.
When your organization approaches process improvement plans, a functional cross-departmental plan is unlikely to emerge in a timely manner. Even with a plan, you need to trust that your people know what they are doing and can actually do it while keeping up with their regular workload. Does your organization have an expert for each aspect of the change who can devote the necessary time to execute the process improvement plan on time? If not, this may not be the right approach.
If you are able to complete this change without outside assistance, you may enjoy some short-term benefits. However, when things start to breakdown, you will have to go back and try to fix them, adding to the cost of the process improvement. Continuing to patch-up parts of your business over the long-term will reduce your overall efficiency and chip-away at your bottom-line year after year.
Buying the “How To” isn’t a Sure Thing
Some organizations believe that they just need the right plan, and everything else will fall into place. These organizations will pay an outside firm for an assessment and purchase a “How To” guide based on the results. While they may have the manual telling them what to do to make the changes they desire, they are often unable to fully implement the outlined process improvements.
If this was how you planned to renovate your kitchen, the results would be better than the first approach. Hiring an interior designer is the right move, but reading about how to install electrical, gas lines, and plumbing doesn’t guarantee everything will function.
Leave it to the Experts
By bringing in outside resources specializing in operational process improvement and organizational restructuring, you remove much of the risk and stand to achieve better results in less time than an internal approach. Their people will do all of the work and your people will reap the benefits. While having someone else complete the entire project from development through implementation may cost more in the immediate future, the guaranteed success and long-term benefits make it the obvious choice.
Selecting a contractor with an experienced crew to design your dream kitchen and meticulously complete each piece of the renovation to your exact standards, will ensure your kitchen is done right the first time. Investing in the right resources adds value to your home and increases the overall functionality of your household.
Taking the opportunity to invest in your business when making process improvement changes is crucial to achieving your long-term goals and ensures the change doesn’t shift your business in the wrong direction. In the end, your staff will have the tools and training to maintain the new processes.
In my previous post, I explained how building strong client relationships makes the project process easier and increases overall success. As a company, we pride ourselves on our ability to integrate into our clients’ organizations, find the right solution, and leave them with the capability to continue improving after our project is complete. Part of this comes from our client-centric mentality and constant efforts to be a positive force for our clients. This can at times be difficult for both sides, as it involves a change process that many people are naturally uncomfortable with. The discomfort occurs especially when employees are perfectly content with their positions within the organization. It also involves a large amount of patience from our team. We must explain the process, allow it to sink in, and continue to reinforce all of the main points. Often times a client may develop their own view of the intent of a Management Operating System (MOS) and it is important for our team to remain calm, stay focused, and continue to work with the client to repeatedly direct their attention towards the valuable output of an MOS.
Listening and Understanding
Our first task at every project is understanding our client’s issues, perceived limitations, and goals. We strive to learn their working style, culture, and comfort level. It is during this initial stage of the relationship that we can quickly lay the foundation for success or failure. The quicker we are able to learn our client’s likes and dislikes about their job, the more time we have to build upon that later. This can sometimes be a balancing act between providing impact at a focused level or at an organization level. We recently ran into an example of this at a logistics site office. A site director could not understand why the specific changes he requested were not being completed immediately and were not on the top of the priority list. When dealing with such a decentralized organization, communication and coordination of changes in the management system must be consolidated. This process can sometimes take more time and energy than the client is initially prepared for. The communication of this at the beginning of the engagement is very important so that the client can be prepared for the project as well.
Uncovering Opportunities Together
After we understand the issues, we move forward in discovering the solution, keeping in mind all that we have learned about our clients so far. Their acceptance is important, so we make sure we adequately explain what we plan to do and how we plan to do it. This can be difficult as it requires a certain degree of finesse. It is important that our clients design the answer and we simply facilitate. It is not a game of who is smarter, but rather a training process to view issues as opportunities. We believe that permanent change must always come from within. We will often work through the brainstorming process several times on our own before working through it with a client. This is especially important for the problems that the client feels cannot be solved. One of the first steps we took at a recent project was to train the office staff on identifying issues within the process they were using. This may seem like a straight forward task however, it can be extremely difficult when a “work around” or broken process is part of your day-to-day routine. We worked one-on-one with the office staff to help them review their individual processes by having them decide if each activity is value added or non-value added. We also asked them if they thought there might be a better method of doing each specific activity. Once they began to make this distinction, true exception time (office non-value added time) can be measured and quantified. You can really surprise a client when you help them solve a problem that they truly believed was just the “nature of the business”. One of my first posts described in detail the Root Cause Analysis process; this same process can be applied to any issue or problem, and with the right expertise in the room, will often uncover some interesting solutions to the main issue. While working through this process one client remarked that, “We would never be able to get rid of this problem. It would always occur as it is part of our business.” He was entirely accurate in his statement. However, what if 60% of the issue could be reduced? The business essential 40% would remain, but the capacity from a 60% reduction in major office issues would open up, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Making the Real Change
The implementation of our proposed solutions can be the most challenging phase of a project in regards to our client relationship. Often, this is where other firms will stop and leave the most difficult portion of the change process up to the client. This is the most powerful stage in the process, as it can merit our client’s infinite trust or make us seem like we’re “all talk”. When we actually start changing the way things are done, we are met with more questions and contentions. An immediate overnight change is very unlikely, as real change is a process that takes energy and problem solving. Our clients realize that we have not just shown up with the answer, we’ve begun to provide them with the tools to expose the answer. It is common to experience a significant amount of push-back from direct managers. This is in large part due to the proximity they have with their employees and their day-to-day understanding of their own KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). At a recent project, one of the managers was questioning the difference between having the numbers on paper coming directly from day-to-day operations and having them in his head from speaking with his people throughout the day. A comment was made that he knew the business and the reports would only confirm what he already knew. There are several issues with having all of this information in one person’s head. Firstly, if he was sick or on vacation there would need to be a suitable replacement that could decipher the same information. In addition, on a day-to-day detailed basis, management may have a good general sense of the state of the business; however, they typically can’t speak to a weekly trend, monthly trend, or correlations between various KPIs. We need to think about the future. What will the requirements be when the business grows? What happens when there is a shift in management reporting structure? What is the true cost of doing business? If all of these questions can be answered accurately, the management team will be ready for growth. If not, they may be able to maintain and sustain, but will have a large degree of difficulty when it comes to change and growth.
Training for Sustainability
After the changes are implemented, we invest time in training the client team to sustain and continue improving their processes. By transferring the ownership over these improvements to their people, we ensure our solutions last. We know as soon as we get to this phase whether or not our client truly understands that value of what we have put in place at their organization. If they understand this, they will gladly take over any and all responsibilities as they will be receiving 100% credit for positive change and have been given to tools to drive it. This is an excellent final gauge to understand if your implementation was initially successful. If you sense hesitation on the client’s part at this point in time, you must quickly identify the frustration source and review the intent with the client. At this point in the process, the client should be seeing the value and wanting more. With each significant change they are getting closer and closer to perfect.
At the End
Our projects are only complete when we are confident that our client is able to sustain the changes we have implemented. By understanding their issues, working with their people, and providing adequate support and training, we know we are leaving our clients in a better place with the tools necessary to succeed. We leave behind a management team prepared to take on the challenges of the business equipped with the tools to do so. This is our commitment to each and every client.
While I’ve spent a significant amount of time working with some of our mining clients, I have recently had the pleasure of working with a client in a much different industry, with a new set of challenges. Joining this project has afforded me the opportunity to get to know a new type of business and work with two individuals who have placed a large emphasis on building a long-lasting relationship with this client. Over the course of this project, they have both given me some valuable insight into the kinds of solutions we can provide for this type of client.
The true strength of this relationship became evident through early discussions with the client during the analysis phase; they clearly already had a great understanding of our process and the effectiveness of our methods. As we explained where we believed the opportunities could be found and what we felt the estimated return would be from capitalizing on these opportunities, they didn’t hesitate for a second. They knew our company, they knew the management, and most importantly, they knew what we were capable of.
A Little Background
Our client is a worldwide logistics organization that has worked with USCCG for several years on multiple projects. It’s been a very interesting portfolio, resulting in a true partnership that perfectly models our “client for life” mentality. They understand that true change is a leadership responsibility; but at the same time, they set high expectations for the organization to deliver for both internal partners and external customers. This client relationship is based on mutual respect, which sometimes means we have to discuss tough, uncomfortable subjects; but they know we hold all aspects of the business in high regard for cost, quality, service, and people.
Our Goal: Streamline Fragmented Logistics Processes
The term logistics is often applied to the planning of one or more complex tasks. Traditionally, it has been associated with moving material or people through a process. We like to consider a more broad-based holistic view-point. Logistics is the planning, scheduling, controlling, monitoring, and delivery of goods and/or services from order to cash.
Our process in this arena focuses in large part on the communication loops, either between people or systems, as this is often the greatest area of delay which results in increased costs, decreased service, deterioration of quality, and people’s frustration. The transmission and handling of information behind each customer order is astonishing, especially when you consider the end result of moving a product from A to B. The complexity of this process increases when you consider the multiple business units and multiple modes of transportation, along with the multiple systems being used to manage all of these transactions.
Consider a very practical example: When you look behind your TV at home and see a complete mess of wires running in every direction, you’re not exactly sure how everything functions properly, but it works so you leave it alone. A problem arises when you decide to purchase a new stereo and must remove some cables to plug-in others. You waste an enormous amount of time working through with this tangled mess, and when you’re finished, something isn’t working as it did before.
Our process here began with straightening out each cable one by one. This in itself was a very important exercise to truly understand the current state inner workings of the client before we began. It can at times be the most delicate balance to stay focused through the noise of working with such a large decentralized organization, while at the same time taking in the opinions of each and every employee you meet along the way. Every single opinion or suggestion, regardless of the source, could have an incredible impact on the success of the project. We absorb every piece of information, opinion, and suggestion, and then analyze it until we can draw a conclusion. I can confidently say that we truly leave no rock unturned. Once we have straightened all of the cables out, we began wrapping them up together to create uniform lines of communication.
We’re able to help improve logistical processes by fully understanding the reason for every transaction, reducing/eliminating duplication of effort, engaging enabling technology to improve communication and signals, and having robust business processes for both real-time and long-term decision-making capability. We looked into everything from booking services to dispatching line haul assets to deliver goods.
We didn’t come to the table with a pre-defined solution or software package. By engaging all of the employees in the development of the approach, from C-suite down to hourly, we could truly find a better method and teach the organization how to constantly move towards best. By truly understanding the current state, we could quickly go after gaps and disconnects in the existing processes to drive immediate change. Then, engage the organization in any requisite major changes to better deliver on cost, quality, service, and people issues.
Change is a Process, Not a Destination
Our methodology of discovery, prototyping, and implementation ensures that we have lasting impact and true organizational change. As we like to say, “Change does not take time, it takes energy.” While implementing changes, we always strive to make sure the USCCG project team executes on the deliverables we have committed to, without compromising our client’s values or mission statement.
Our client’s absolute trust in our team has given us the freedom to implement the best solutions possible for their unique situations. Their unfaltering zeal to embrace our recommendations and training has made the change process easier and faster, getting them to a better place in less time. This mutual commitment to support each other’s efforts has been vital to the success of this project and overall client relationship.