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No matter how you define it, diversity is important to every company, and every team within every company, looking to succeed.

Cross-functional groups, which typically consist of stakeholders from different departments, ensure equal representation at the table when decisions are made and changes are plotted. Ultimately, they serve to streamline internal operations and bolster efficiency, productivity, and quality – or, at least, they do when they’re effective. And not many are.

Only a small number of cross-functional teams actually manage to achieve these aims, according to research published in Harvard Business Review. Stanford University Management Science and Engineering Professor Behnam Tabrizi collaborated with fellow academics and consultants to assess the performance of almost 100 cross-functional teams at more than two dozen leading corporations. Tabrizi and his colleagues discovered that three-quarters of these teams failed to meet customer expectations, align with organizational goals, and adhere to established budgets, timelines and project specifications.

So why did these teams fail? Tabrizi linked the dysfunction to a lack of accountability and clearly defined metrics for performance evaluation. To turn this situation around, these and other struggling cross-functional teams must first figure out how to assess their efficacy. Here are some proven and actionable strategies for keeping such diverse working groups in check and ensuring they reach their potential:

1. Make success the primary objective

This may seem like an obvious strategy, but it often falls by the wayside because of the very nature of cross-functional teamwork. Since members hail from different departments, they often have discrete and sometimes conflicting priorities, which can undermine collaboration and set them up to fail. Organizations can prevent this outcome by encouraging team members to place the success of the project above their individual interests. What’s more important is ensuring decisions don’t adversely affect their departments in ways that co-workers from other departments might not notice until it’s too late.

2. Establish project milestones

While quality of output is certainly the most important metric for cross-functional performance, using this indicator alone can also increase the likelihood of dysfunction and failure. Businesses that focus solely on the quality of the end result tend to not track project progress in real-time and address collaborative or operational friction as it arises. This is why experts advise companies to establish milestones that measure progress at each stage of the project. With this multiphase assessment strategy in place, business leaders can not only effectively monitor team performance but also intervene to stabilize projects about to tip over the brink of failure.

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3. Mandate peer reviews

Cross-functional teams are only as strong as the individual contributors that staff them. Consequently, it is critical that companies looking to assess the effectiveness of these groups also evaluate how individual members perform. Of course, such groups often work in isolation, meaning external parties cannot observe team dynamics and compile feedback on specific members.

Peer reviews are a valuable option here, but enterprise leaders must be careful when using this information to drive improvement. Organizations that have management present peer review results should ensure that the feedback is constructive and framed in a positive way, as studies show that professionals do not respond well to overly negative feedback.

4. Involve outside team members

Cross-functional team members are best equipped to measure holistic success, as they live and breathe project execution. For this reason, many forward-thinking businesses allow these individuals to participate in the design of performance measurement systems for assessing the effectiveness of cross-functional collaboration, according to HBR. Teams can offer unique insights into how these groups should function on a microscopic scale and help build out key performance indicators that accurately contextualize outcomes at every stage of the project. However, business leaders should still provide some oversight and ensure that macro measurements comport with larger business goals.

5. Consider expert assistance

Sometimes operational leaders are ill-equipped to assess the performance of cross-functional work groups. Many shop floor supervisors and business leaders simply do not have enough time to build out effective measurement frameworks. Others lack the expertise needed to execute such tasks. In these scenarios, calling in an external partner can provide a much-needed outside opinion from an expert who has seen firsthand how cross-functional teams fail and how they reclaim what they lost.

Here at USC Consulting Group, we’ve been working with organizations across numerous industries for over 50 years, helping them transform their operations and adapt to marketplace shifts of all kinds. Connect with us today to learn more about our experience in team performance assessment, process improvement, and change management.


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Is successful continuous improvement a top-down or bottom-up initiative? Ask lean manufacturing experts and they’re likely to equivocate. It’s not really one or the other in all cases. It’s both and neither at the same time.

Good CI doesn’t have managers that dictate new laws from on high, nor does it have ungoverned employees who change processes as they see fit. If anything, the best CI is more bi- or tricameral, or maybe even “middle-out.” Unfortunately, this ambiguity can undermine a CI program before it truly rolls out. Focusing on people, however, can bring remarkable clarity.

Hub-and-spoke model for continuous improvement

Picture a business as if it were a wheel, with executives at the hub, rank-and-file workers around the outer tire, and middle management as the spokes connecting the two. CI can come from the C-suite, where concentrated experience informs initiatives. CI can also come from workers who have valuable first-hand experience with assets and workflows. Finally, middle management can also lead CI by noticing problems at the hub or the tire that neither party can identify on its own.

But regardless of which direction CI flows, everyone agrees that people are the most important drivers of strong, reliable CI systems; ideas for improvement emanate from operators on the shop floor, managers in the back offices and executives in the boardroom to the rest of the business. Therefore, a company that empowers its employees simultaneously empowers its CI.

Why is that, and what can businesses that lack people power do to strengthen buy-in?

Cross-functional involvement: The other CI

An earmark of any CI initiative is the preference of long-term positioning over short-term gains. Rather than push through a change that might net a fleeting financial return, CI challenges businesses to restructure in ways that perpetually grow revenue, eliminate wasteful actions, and capably report on progress regarding both.

This horizon-line vision, however preferential to shortsightedness, conceals one crucial component of CI: At the end of the day, process improvements are carried out by people, all of whom have ideas and opinions about what’s new and what’s passed. Clashes are sometimes unavoidable. As they say, you can’t please everyone all the time.

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What’s more important than satisfying professional egos, however, is remembering that every CI-related decision, no matter how small, affects the entire business. Companies must build cross-functional involvement into its general CI process, preferably during the initial strategic planning meetings. By considering everyone at the outset of every CI project, businesses retain one of the greatest tools for ensuring CI success. No one person or department should monopolize ideation.

With that said, project managers must act as countervailing forces to stakeholders and their input. They alone must place the recommendations of each into the context of the greater CI mission to justify their effect on how any given project is carried out.

Timeliness is as important as insight

According to an oft-cited survey of 137 enterprise managers conducted by renowned professors of quality management Clinton Longenecker and Joseph Scazzero, three of the top five reasons why businesses fail to uphold quality include “communication breakdowns,” “ineffective corrective action procedures,” and “lack of teamwork/conflict.”

What does that tell us about CI, which is arguably all about managing quality? CI isn’t only about what your team knows but how quickly and completely your team acts on what it knows. A business with a suggestion box emptied once a year takes, at best, a year and a day to make a single change. We all can and should aspire to much better.

Consummate advocacy among cross-functional team members makes for not only excellent ideas on how to change, but also excellent ideas for how to prioritize and implement change. Once businesses have nailed down how they ignite possible improvement projects and collaborate among relevant stakeholders, they must then lay the groundwork for frictionless execution, be it through daily meetings before every shift, efficient documentation, and/or redefining employee hierarchies regarding who reports to whom.

Again, we ask that you exercise caution and moderation. When it comes to CI project workflow, you don’t want too many restrictions preventing your team from completion, but you don’t want unrestricted processes either. Instead, take a phased approach, sometimes referred to as a gated approach: Once first steps are wholly finished, then everyone can move onto next steps.

Speak to the operations management consulting experts at USC Consulting Group to learn more about how to drive the fundamentals of continuous improvement at your business.

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In theory, the continuous improvement model encourages organizations to advance positive changes frequently and smoothly. But what about in practice? How can an industry such as oil and gas, currently struggling with so much disruptive change these days, reach a point where practical CI is even possible?

It all starts with culture, that fertile ground from which continuous improvement compliant principles grow into day-to-day practices and work is carried out to completion time and time again.

The roadmap of Continuous Improvement culture-building

There are several aspects to developing CI culture, some of which require creative, as opposed to formulaic, thinking. Think of CI culture-building like preparing for a long journey. Its steps include, but are not limited to, identifying the following:

Armed with an overview of what continuous improvement culture-building entails, let’s turn our attention back on Oil & Gas and discuss why rapidly developing an internal environment for supporting these methodologies matters.

1. Oil & Gas has room for improvement

Many influential organizations have called on Oil & Gas to acclimate to a world driven by environmental and cultural sustainability. Earlier this year, the United Nations Development Program, along with the International Finance Corporation and IPIECA, published a report detailing how private-sector Oil & Gas companies can integrate 17 sustainable development goals into standard operations around the world.

Additionally, the latest information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only one-fifth of all U.S. oil and gas extraction jobs, even though women occupy about 47 percent of the entire labor force. Creating environmentally sustainable operations and having more female representation in Oil & Gas both represent worthwhile justification for starting the continuous improvement cycle sooner rather than later.

All Oil & Gas workers, regardless of role, deserve CI value boosts.

2. Individual value creation is imperative in low-price environment

At its essence, CI trains organizations to target and remove waste ad infinitum, which increases the value of the work each CI-compliant employee performs. It also incentivizes leaders to invest in training, as doing so will maximize their returns in the form of a highly intelligent workforce.

Automation in Oil & Gas behaves in a similar fashion, reducing work that doesn’t add value or actively depletes value. Both continuous improvement and automation are necessary, and can easily play off of each other, as Oil & Gas companies aim to minimize their operating expenses in the long term and adjust to a financially leaner industry climate. However, in many instances, CI is the figurative fuel that powers the engine of cost-saving innovations like automation. Advanced software and technology-driven processes will not succeed without a culture that clearly defines their significance to the organization utilizing them.

3. Forming the right Continuous Improvement team takes time

Any business undertaking CI methodologies must first build a team of core members who will strive for success. That takes a lot of careful planning, scheduling, and even permanent alterations to roles within a company.

CI team members must possess a deep understanding of their industries, market performance and the challenges of their unique businesses – all signs point to the inclusion of senior-level management, as well as perhaps a few executive stakeholders, along with a cadre of rank-and-file workers with highly developed skills and specialized knowledge.

But instead of piling continuous improvement related duties on top of traditional job specifications, Oil & Gas companies must rewrite all internal roles to account for CI, which will also mean delegating legacy duties once intended for upper management to new parties down the chain of command. Those are not decisions to enter into lightly, so it behooves businesses to start planning now to implement continuous improvement as soon as possible.

Continuous improvement puts the future of Oil & Gas within reach, but companies must first develop a culture conducive to best practices. From there, augmenting operations and incorporating new elements into the greater business schema will become far easier, and Oil & Gas companies can adapt intelligently to whatever tomorrow brings.

For more information on continuous improvement and operations management in oil and gas, contact a USC Consulting Group representative today.

When undertaking a new project or process improvement, organizations create action items that set change in motion. As the name suggests, an action item is a discrete task meant to be carried out to achieve a common goal. In regard to optimization, managers or supervisors typically assign action items after group meetings or cross-functional collaboration with leaner or more streamlined operations as the core objective underpinning everything.

Although action items may appear like simple tools anyone could master, they are, in fact, quite nuanced. Developing clear, concise action items improves a project’s chances of success and prevents risks from slowing projects down or dismantling them altogether.

Pay attention to the three prongs of every prosperous project
For a project to be considered successful, it must adhere to three standards:

All action items comprising a project must distinctly address each of these components. Project managers who assign action items must, among other things, ask themselves:

Not following through may bring disastrous consequences. One study from the Project Management Institute reported low-performance project management organizations, those who did not heed these elements, risk much more money than high performers if given the exact same budget. With $1 billion to fund projects and little to no observance of these three principles for project management, low performers could endanger as much as 28 percent. High performers that keep goals, money and time on their minds only risk 2 percent.

Action Items

Be careful when assigning one action item to multiple people
Some project management experts will argue the ratio of action items to people should always be 1:1. Others may allow leniency for a small group to take on an action item. And honestly, whatever verifiably works for an organization should be the rule of thumb.

However, a word of caution: When project managers appoint many people to perform a simple task, they imbue the assignment with unnecessary complexity. If managers feel like groups are crucial to finishing an action item, perhaps the action item in question hasn’t been reduced to its lowest common denominator. Project leaders may find it beneficial to continue dividing and assign action items from there.

“Uncompleted or incorrectly completed action items always create more action items.”

Understand how today’s action items branch off into tomorrow’s action items
Action items typically delineate stages or phases in a project, each one progressing further toward the accomplishment of a goal. The completion of one action item may, in turn, give rise to another or to multiple others. Employees assigned action items, as well as their managers, may find value in considering what lies ahead and how that may impact present work. If an action item involved travel to a remote location, for example, and managers knew another action item a week later would require the same trip, combining the two tasks may present savings in time and labor costs.

Additionally, while the potential of one action item to create another may not necessarily hold true, uncompleted or incorrectly completed action items always create more action items, many of which a project team may be incapable of solving. Let’s say an employee completes a task but spends much more of the budget than anticipated. What happens? This dilemma births action items focused on trimming costs elsewhere to make up from overspending in that one area. As such, project managers must stress to team members the importance of sticking to the script when carrying out action items. Failure to do so will only create more work for everyone and put more space between them and their objective.

Compartmentalizing project management into discrete chunks and delegating intelligently helps organizations home in on the finish line one step at a time. Before your next big project, be sure to review the finer points to creating action items so the whole team stays on task.

Manufacturers who adopt a lean operations manifesto for their business should also be willing to beef up their employee relations to attain their maximum potential. As feet on the ground, managers and supervisors must be able to place a lot of trust in their workforce to report problems and brainstorm strategies for continual improvement, or kaizen, which connects with several sets of tasks, all of which employees already perform on any given day.

But without a few considerations for their staff, a lean operations approach runs the risk of compromising their groundwork and any future endeavors. How can process industries both support their workforce while simultaneously ensuring lean business practices?

What do employees need from their employers?
To know where to start, companies will need to assess what it is exactly employees require to stay motivated and responsive. According to a study published in the International Journal of Production Research, keeping employees involved breaks down to four basic concepts:

Essentially, this demonstrates how a strong relationship between businesses and their staff includes both tangible, quantifiable human capital as well as small changes to managerial tone. For instance, in an examination of why employees leave businesses in the first place, the Harvard Business Review found a link between turnover and lack of training. Employers who don’t value their staff enough to devote a portion of their budgets to proper training may actually spend more money in the long run. When companies don’t put an end to the “revolving door” of employee turnover, they hemorrhage funds when they could be investing wisely in an intelligent workforce.

But sometimes, providing employees with an environment conducive to positive morale and lean operations resides more in a manager’s approach as opposed to dedicated resources. When supervisors understand the manner by which employees like to communicate – like through email versus face-to-face conversation – or simply tailor the rhetoric used when addressing employees, they can open lines of respect and create an atmosphere that is both professional, yet informal.

Lean OperationsPromoting communication and responsibility among manufacturing workers makes lean operations deployment more organized and concise.

How does this factor into lean operations?
So what can these core values do to help promote lean operations for process industries? It comes down to the exact reason why any employer hires employees in the first place: trust. Workers are paid a salary to perform duties an employer trusts they will perform admirably. In many process industries, one untapped, unwritten condition within the greater pantheon of employee duties is identifying problems. When properly managed, employees should be free-thinking, independent problem solvers who have legitimate expertise completing tasks, meeting deadlines and collaborating with other workers. Armed with these characteristics, employees can become watchdogs and whistle-blowers for areas of waste and extra sets of eyes on a performance issue that just won’t go away.

Alternately, revamping employee-employer relationships can also drastically affect how quickly manufacturers will be able to implement new processes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, kaizen hinges on a speedy turnaround once an area of inefficiency has been identified, typically a 72-hour window. Anything less runs the risk of acting as a temporary bandage to a chronic complexity, anything longer could jeopardize capabilities by having them succumb to unnecessary downtime. For truly lean operations, manufacturing employees must visualize the importance of the change, but to accomplish that, managers have to instill those principles in meaningful, resonant ways.

Lean manufacturing isn’t all about hedging costly inconsistencies, but developing the tools and resources necessary to project those values onto the people who keep the gears moving day-in and day-out. Manufacturing managers who can rise to meet this challenge stand to benefit greatly from their efforts.

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:

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Skills Gap

Ongoing training programs are essential in the manufacturing industry.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Tribal Knowledge

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.

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.

One of the benefits of working for a consulting firm is the exposure to a wide range of industries and working environments that a majority of the population will never have the opportunity to experience. Most people will never step foot in an underground gold mine, a candy factory, a pulp & paper mill, or a chemical processing plant, let alone work in all of those places in a given year. We are not most people, and we work in all types of places with all types of clients. It’s the variety of situations that draws us in and the need to improve those situations that brings success to our clients.

Why do we love consulting so much? Because…

We are genuine problem solvers. The thrill of taking on a new project with its own set of challenges is why we are in this business. We’re hungry for the chance to apply our unique set of skills to a project and see it through. We like to find the source of each issue and apply the right solution to correct it. It’s not a problem for us to fix, it’s a puzzle for us to solve.

We are driven to improve upon the status quo. We don’t like living with things that are good enough; we want them to be the best. We know that processes can always be improved and small changes can make a huge difference. It’s this need to constantly evolve the way we do things that gives our clients the results they desire.

We have the capacity to see more. From within an organization, it’s hard to see where the disconnects are or imagine doing things differently. When a client opens up their doors and lets us in, we see the potential for what their business is capable of. This outsider’s perspective often reveals more than internal audit. We are not bound by the limitations of how things are, we visualize how they could be.

We get to learn from everyone. The knowledge gained from all of our various work sites is a major asset we can bring to our clients. A seemingly unresolvable issue in one industry may have a solution discovered in another. We get to apply our knowledge from several industries to problems in completely different ones. We can apply solutions from mines to offices or hospitals to manufacturing. By coming in with a different outlook, we can suggest an alternative not previously considered.

As a consultant, the experience gained and the opportunity to make a difference for our clients is unparalleled in any other job. We get to bring our ideas to the table, work to implement those ideas in the real world, and see the results. Every client is different, but the desire to succeed at each project is always there.

Below is the second half of my interview with our CEOs, George Coffey and Jim Ostrosky. In this section they discuss who we are as a company and how we make a real difference for our clients. Read Part 1 of our interview.

CEOs Pic

How do you feel USCCG is different from other firms? How are we unique in the market?

George: Many of our clients who have had extensive experience with other firms tell us that we develop a greater depth of understanding of their business and the issues they face which enables us to better design pragmatic solutions to improve performance. Many also feel that we have a more effective approach to engineering change in their organization that fosters ownership by their people. Prospective clients will ask us what we are good at and what makes us different. What we are good at is achieving results. We are able to generate substantial results in a relatively short time while enabling our clients to sustain and accelerate improvements .We strengthen their internal continuous improvement capability with enabling tools, skills, infrastructure, and culture. Generating near term results, while strengthening on-going organizational effectiveness, makes us different from many other approaches.

Jim: I believe a key differentiator between USCCG and our competitors is the depth of experience that our consultants possess in the various industries and domains we service. In this age of specialization, it has become more and more challenging to maintain a cadre of capable resources, but we have been able to do exceptionally well at that over the past 4 ½ decades. We continuously train our people utilizing internal methods as well as memberships in various professional organizations that offer certifications and continuing education credits. Perhaps, more importantly, we have been able to retain our people, which is also a key success factor. In addition, our deployment methodologies have proven to be very effective. We look at the processes by which a client operates, the technology they deploy, and the skills of their people. Real changes are realized when you link all three things together: their People, Processes, and Technology. We feel we do that better than most and that is what makes us different. Another key difference is that we involve ourselves in the implementation. Many consulting firms will analyze a company, and compare current performance to industry norms and benchmarks, create a road map, and leave behind an answer, but it often times that solution will never get implemented. When practical, we prefer to be involved in the implementation of our recommendations, so our clients can realize the value and we can change the processes, the systems and behaviors, so the results last. When we are engaged to work at the process level of a company, we believe that enables us to cause even more fundamental, lasting change. Much of what we are doing in regulated industries, such as Oil & Gas, Energy, and Healthcare, are at the process level. As the government regulatory agencies issue changes and directives, our clients need to verify they are in compliance and understand where they’re lacking. They must put auditable processes in place to keep them in compliance as well as doing so in a cost-effective manner. We have been doing a great deal of work in this area recently.

What makes a successful project, both from our end and the clients’ end?

George:The most critical aspect of a successful project and a successful client relationship is communication. We find when we’re talking to our clients routinely and objectively about how the project is going in a very open and forthright manner, we are able to understand and mitigate issues as they arise over the course of a project. We believe that we are putting the success of the project at risk if too much time passes without meaningful communication with all levels of our client’s organization to get a shared understanding of exactly where we are, what we can do to improve the process, and take corrective action. We typically organize a steering committee protocol to enable efficient communication and decision-making. The steering committee is kept absolutely abreast of where we are with respect to our projected improvement and also to the specific tasks associated with that.

Jim: Communication is a critical component, but to communicate effectively, we need to always do our job at the front end of a project to create a crystal clear shared vision. As we engage with a client, it is imperative that we fully understand what must change and create a clear vision of the end result that is co-owned by USCCG and our clients. It then becomes our job to create a change model to continually reinforce the vision adjusting as we go to make sure that we’re of one mind with all levels of the organization. We believe it to be very important that everybody feels like they’re doing what’s in the best interest of their company as most employees have pride in their company and they want to succeed. Our change model is one where we involve everyone in the organization from the process owner on up to the highest level that we can access on a regular basis. The difference between a good project and a great project: in my experience, it has been the amount of involvement we can gain from our clients especially at the Steering Team Level. We built our change model around a shared vision of employee involvement, combined with the appropriate changes to the processes, the technology, and the skill sets of the process owners and their managers all which serve to make our model very effective.

In what ways have you noticed technology’s impact on our project process and how has that changed what we offer to our clients?

George:One of the more important aspects and benefits of being able to deploy and utilize more technology is the sustainability of our efforts. Good management practice depends on accurate data and timely information. Earlier on, we had to depend on the manual collection of data and the manual preparation of reports. As a result of that, it was very difficult to sustain some of the procedures we would put into place because they were very demanding from a time standpoint. Now, that information comes with a lot less pain, very often automatically. It makes all of our efforts, processes, and procedures easier to sustain. Since we are getting the information more quickly, good management requires timely corrective action when issues are identified. We are able to do more effective problem solving with a greater sense of urgency as a result of having that information more quickly. The whole business intelligence aspect of performance improvement is absolutely critical today.

Jim: With current technology, data has become readily available in various forms and in some cases, in excess. Some of our clients feel as if they have too much data and not nearly enough information. Often our job isn’t to provide clients with more technology, our job is to help them leverage the technology investments they already have made by sorting out the data they currently have and making it actionable. To do this we filter it, slice it and dice it, create meaningful metrics and Key Performance Indicators out of that plethora of information. In many cases, there have been tremendous investments in technology, but sometimes these systems leave out a key part of the organization: the people at the execution level of the process. Management and accounting have better information than ever, but the people who actually execute the process often times don’t receive timely accurate feedback of actionable information. Our job is to make sure we link the data and information from the board room to the process owner, and every step in-between. By sorting out the data, making it relevant, and holding the people accountable at the points of execution we leverage technology to help provide the underpinnings to meaningful lasting change.

What hurdles or objections do we encounter most often with respect to beginning an initiative with a new client or even a new project with an existing client?

George:Sometimes clients feel that they have so many other issues and programs underway, that it’s difficult to add yet another project to everyone’s to-do list, even if it clear that something should be done. There’s never a good time to start these initiatives and there’s never a bad time to start making the kind of dramatic near term and strategic improvement that we can make in business performance. To start, we really have to talk through how many resources we have to bring to bear and get a good solid understanding early on about what the time requirement are going to be for our client’s people. These requirements should be properly assessed, understood, and planned for. There aren’t any businesses or organizations out there that don’t have many different distractions, different initiatives, and different problems. We are very effective at being able to come in and integrate into our client’s organization and be a net increase in their resource capability, not a distraction or a dilution to the already existing initiatives underway.

Jim: One of the questions that comes up often in the early phases of a relationship with a client is, Do you think I have the right organization in place? Or, I don’t feel that I have the right organization in place, therefore now is not the time to begin a project. It can be difficult to see the organization through the client’s eyes, but if the client could see their organization through our eyes, they would understand that it likely is an appropriate time to start. We can optimize their processes, upgrade their skills, implement systems, and technology to help enable their people to become better at what they do. A manager who may not be quite as effective today as a client would like them to be, after having gone through a USCCG deployment will have tools, improved supervisory skills, and will be much more effective than they would have been prior to starting the project. From our perspective, there’s rarely a bad time to start a project as in today’s competitive world improved performance is an imperative to survival. Perceived organizational deficiencies aren’t always a reason not to get started; often they are THE reason to get started.