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A True Leader

There are seldom times that you can work for a true leader. Not only was I blessed with working for this man, but I was blessed for over ten years. I sit back and wonder why this leader was so effective and beloved by his workforce. The attributes of this man were outstanding and I have taken the time to reflect on what made him great and listed them below. He was a driver and drove his workforce to levels that the company had never seen and will probably never witness again. He was a compassionate leader who understood what it was like work his way up in a company. He did not forget his roots and his team had an allegiance to him that was unmatched. These are the attributes that made him so great of a leader.
1. Reward success. We are always under budget restraints but he taught me to take the time and money to reward a successful team. The text books will tell you that money is not the greatest motivator but there are times that you must make the financial life easier for your team because of the time away from there family that is required. It is not always money, if could be a dinner, an outing, a picnic, or just a simple reward of no intrinsic value. But you must reward success to be effective.
2. Lead by example. Whether it is ethics or principles, one must always take the high road. As a leader your team will follow your example. A great team always sustains by superior values and ethics
3. Recognize performance. A verbal recognition of a team goes a long way. A “Thank you”, “Good Job”, “Great Effort” means so much to people. Seldom do we work to merely get a check. People go the extra mile because they want to be successful and please others.
4. Mentor people. We all believe that we are good workers but we all know, or should, that we have deficits. We have strengths but there is always room to improve. A great leader takes the time to mentor people to a more successful career. They do not mentor when it is time to reprimand poor performance but they take the time to explain why we haven’t risen to the next level.
5. Drive performance with measurable metrics. People need to know what success looks like. They want to succeed but many times a leader does not spell out what success is. Give our team objectives that they can drive forward towards and be successful. Discreet, measurable, and attainable goals are necessary for a team
6. Be a good human being. Many times there are people that are successful because they drive a team. But will the team work so hard so their leader is proud? Not always. The leaders that have a team that will put their heads down and work themselves to new levels and repeatable sustain are the ones that are led by a good person who cares about each and every one of them. The team will recognize that and will follow that leader through every challenge to assure his/her success.
7. Be honest. You must tell the truth because you need your team to believe in you. You may not be able to say everything to the team at all times and a simple “I can’t discuss that right now” earns more respect than a deceitful answer. Tell the team of the challenges that it has to face and the repercussions of failure. Don’t dodge the hard conversations. We all fall short of expectations in time and a leader understands. A great leader can discuss the shortcomings and will coach the team in how to be successful next time.

There are successful bad leaders who the team has no real respect towards. They cannot sustain and at the end of the day the teams dismisses their leadership skills and seek out new opportunities that are led by a true champion.

As productivity rankings are released, the United State’s manufacturing sector appears to be gaining momentum

Globally, the U.S. continues to gain ground in the manufacturing sector. With the renewed capitalization of the industry, the renewed government interest in growing the sector, and the knowledge of lean manufacturing, the U.S. will continue to grow in this sector. The sector was once battered with old technology and excessive inventories that drove cost numbers to be uncompetitive with competing nations. There is a new generation of manufacturing that emphasizes standard work, quality, increased throughput, and lost cost that will capture the market. It is through the balance of low cost labor and the aforementioned with implementation of automation where is intelligent to automate that will make the U.S. a premier supplier of high technological production.

Where Do You Begin?

You have taken on a new position or decided that a step change needs to be made to improve your business’s efficiency. Where do you begin and how do you make the transfer effective without slowing down the business to an unprofitable margin, alarming customers with late deliveries, or creating a total disarray of the business? We have witnessed many businesses over the years go through a restructuring plan that has severely effected the business in a negative financials and has forced the owners to recoil initiatives. These businesses then pull back to a ’year over year’ small percentage change and never make the step changes necessary to evolve the business thereby capturing new markets. There are steps that can be taken and a strategic plan that can be developed whereby all owners know what is expected and the pace of which improvements will occur. The following points must be considered to be successful on your journey.
1. You need a Vision that states where you want the company to evolve to in one, three, five and ten years. That vision must be accepted by the CEO, COO and the Board of Directors.
2. There must be a yearly strategic plan. This plan must be clear and must state details, expectations and risks.
3. Know your risks and the impacts of them. Divulge them at your strategic plan discussions. Too many plans are overly optimistic and do not inform the owners of the inherent failures that can happen to even the best strategy.
4. Contingency plan every avenue of defined risk. It is acceptable to have different levels of risk in your plan. Categorize them and all high and medium risks must have contingencies constructed ahead of time to ensure that the effects are minimized.
5. Do not change the plan to hit financials quarter points. You can adjust your strategy to accomplish the tasks necessary but you must not chase a metric for a quarter point and change your strategy in a haphazard manner.
6. Assure you understand how changes affect costs, workers and managers. Minimize wastes of people waiting, overproduction, procurement or idle equipment, and excessive stagnation and transportation of product.
7. Process change one piece at time. When you process change in too many areas, you cannot understand the data and the attributes. Therefore, you cannot construe a cause and effect relationship as the changes and their effects are muddled together.
8. Use Kaizen bursts to implement small changes to a larger value stream improvement.
9. Realize that new capital is a financial drag. The more the expense that capital incurs, the more cost structure you must absorb immediately. Think small and less expensive. Anyone can engineer a process with the most elaborate equipment. A good plan is one that uses current resources and equipment with some intermediate investments.
10. Realize that this is not easy. Never become discouraged. A failure or setback is merely an opportunity for improvement. You can accomplish the tasks if you plan out your process improvements. We tend to apply these improvements to the manufacturing world. In reality, the service industry needs the same overhaul and drive for efficiency.

Re- invention – the Key to a Company’s Success and a Key to Your Survival

We continually speak of a short term and long term vision. We usually back them up with a strategic plan. Be very careful with your vision. You may have to look at your vision and listen to your customers regarding their wants and needs. Customers will tell you what they are looking for in the future and you may want to give serious consideration to amending or augmenting that vision. We can all remember the industries that did not listen. Do you remember the lines and availability at the video stores of the 1990s? Those companies died because they did not listen. Imagine if those companies changed to on line stores, Netflix would have not owned the industry. Customers have told the American furniture industry that they do not want to spend a fortune on furniture but they want something that has a better longevity. They are not listening but the European and Middle Eastern companies are responding. What will the furniture industry look like in ten years? We cannot say today but we could predict they are on the same predicted path. Lean up your business, reduce costs of production by eliminating waste, change the culture and stay as a world leader.
Leaders need to drop their egos and re-examine their vision. There is not an easy fix. Automation works in some industry facets but not all. Reduced cost of materials can assist you margins but only in areas that do not effect quality or the customer. Don’t work faster, design processes that work smarter. Lead the industry you are in by examining your vision and adapting. Your competition may have a hard time challenging an ever evolving target. Listen to your customers, embrace your employee’s ideas, and own the industry.

Running a Business by Metrics

Many businesses were known to manage their activities by metrics (MBO). Metrics are a measurement of the effectivity to your strategic plan. They are a tool and not the driver to how to execute a daily business model. Metrics are useful in determining your whether your strategic plan is working but business practices should not change daily or weekly to compensate for metric improvement. We all know that metrics are reviewed and demands are flowed down to improve certain elements but we cannot not fall prey to changing our mode of operation and vary from our strategic plan. If metrics indicate that our plan is not executing properly or was mis-defined during plan development, then we may need to re-group and revise our plan. However, strategic plans are derived via multiple perspectives and with concurrence of our leadership team. It is unlikely that the plan is totally flawed but a redirection after repeating results don’t meet our expectations may be necessary.
Don’t over react to short term misses. There are times you must stay the course to redevelop your business even though metrics may state otherwise. Drill down into the data and if the metrics validate that the long term improvements and enhancements are being met, continue the path. It may indicate that the risks associated with the plan were not realized at its conception and the next time you formulate your yearly plan you will now understand some of the unrealized impacts. Stay the course if the plan is executing properly. While the world seems to recognize short time goal attainment heavily, you must drive the business to new levels by step changes and in the long term you will succeed.

Upfront, Honest and Ethical

There can never be a sustainable successful organization if is veiled in secrecy and mistrust. Employees have the right to work in an environment that does not but them on edge guessing, “What’s next?” That is old school management that has never succeeded for any length of time. Leaders owe employees the truth even if it is difficult. When confronted by employees, leaders must look square into the eyes and tell those people the honest answers. If you are not honest with your team, why should they excel at their activities? There are times when a leader cannot divulge the truth fully to an employee because of company strategies that need to be kept close to the vest. A true leader will tell the employee, “I can’t tell you now but when I can, I will”. Working for a company with executives that have a secret strategy and vision will never sustain any success. Besides the fact that employees will never trust them, they truly will not do what is necessary for the company to succeed. Be honest, ethical and treat employees, as you want to be treated. Finally, realize that karma is real and if you have a hidden agenda that hurts people, it will eventually come back and haunt you.

The Total Package

When we try to improve productivity and efficiency, seldom are sustainable results easy to enact. We can attack the specific problems on limited areas but we need to look at the possibility of systemic changes. Efficiency improvements are not gained on a long term basis by “block and tackle”. We tend to chase a metric and not the root cause of why we are not improving. Sustainable improvements can be only gained by culture, vision, strategic planning, employee enhancement, lean processing, standard work, mistake proofing, cross training, and employee recognition. That sounds too large to tackle at times but as long as we direct the business to attack each area in small bits, the long term gains will sustain for years to come. Management does some of these well but lacks in others. A vision needs to be shared and a strategic plan presented to the entire organization for inputs and confirmation. If we do not take those steps, culture will flat line itself. Engaging employees on the understanding of lean techniques and how they fit into a vision is essential for success. Many leaders know the tools to improve efficiency, but have we educated the workforce why we are doing things? Success comes easier when you have the entire workforce driving the business down the same path. The resistance and failure of most consultant companies is the lack of embracing, educating, taking input, and reacting to employee suggestions. Changing a business effectively comes in small steps that add up to a dramatic overall change. There are no easy answers and nothing in the text books that reveal a hidden secret. The answers are right in front of us and in the heads of our teams. We can teach them new techniques, but they already have the real answers to success. They will drive the change because they want to be part of success. Change the total package and you will attain double digit productivity improvements year after year.

Sourcing Decisions – Do You Re-Shore, Near Shore, or Remain Outsourced

The decision of re-shoring work to domestic suppliers and internal to your own operations can be a contrived and convoluted strategy. Many corporations have historically arrived at the conclusion that the short term savings from global outsourcing would benefit the company to extremes that were not realized for extended timespans. In addition, the quality from developing nations and low cost initiatives require a larger infrastructure to support in both the quality and logistic factions. The incurred costs for excessive quality checking and support infrastructure can undermine any potential financial savings and often substantially increase overall costs. Attrition is intensifying offshore, leading to inconsistent and unsettled operations. Combined with a rise in global salary demands, improper offshoring has driven overall costs to an uncompetitive state. This does not translate to a total de-globalization of supplies but has created a multifaceted solution for sourcing strategy. Approximately twenty to twenty-five percent of products that were outsourced globally over the last decade are projected to return to the United States in the next five years. Therefore, there is credence in re-shoring but logic must direct the operation.
There are several steps in the decision process. They include financial modeling, footprint optimization, site selection, production planning, supply chain selection, manpower needs (support and direct labor) and most importantly the implementation of lean. The process is one that will take substantial effort but developing your strategy is the most important faction of your justifications. The process needs to start with an efficiency and cost analysis of products procured and produced. You need to construct a model that takes the cost of the product, the cash conversion cycle costs, the cost of cash velocity, the cost of poor quality and its effects on customers and the required inventory costs that are required to offset longer delivery distance and delays. After that comparison is completed, you need to analyze the impacts of delivery delays and poor quality on customer retentions. While a subjective conversation will occur, there can be a valuable cost associated with outsourced product’s impacts on customers that can be quantified. The analysis will lead you to a pareto analysis of high cost and high pain products that are currently outsourced.

The next step is analyzing the top ten to twenty percent of these products and determining if you have internal capabilities or will need to near source the products. Near sourcing may be more profitable if you do not have the capacity and capability to insource them to your facility. After the pareto is completed, your procurement department must then quote sources for external suppliers and the operations management within your company must analyze the internal production costs. This will allow a full comparison of price. There may be decisions that sway internal or near sourcing that have quality performance indicators in them. You may need to review supplier quality performance and customer satisfaction with peer companies. You will find that companies that are involved in the re-shoring of manufacturing are eager to share the data they have collected. Your internal operations may not be the best answer as your quality performance may be lacking in certain areas. Factor your quality into the equation and determine if you are indeed the best option for production. When all your data is collected you will have a list of products to possibly go forward with for insourcing efforts.

The next stage is the estimation of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your plan. This is the risk assessment that accommodates the financial conclusions. Weigh each element and create a numeric score for each category of risk and opportunity. Of course, risk to the customer carries the highest weight and discretion. The cumulative score then can create a cost factor to apply to the financial data. An example of this is a product that is significantly higher cost in the domestic market because of environmental, technical expertise, health and safety risks to employees and regulations, capital re-investment necessity, and supplier developed nuances that you have no knowledge regarding processes. This would carry a higher percentage factor that would be applied to insourced costs.

Finally, create a contingency plan for each part number. Do not assume that the current supplier will provide products expeditiously if you fail in your re-shoring efforts. You must create a sound contingency plan as this effort is not an easy one. You may also want to review your business strategy for a “Made in America” product line and a “Global Product” line. Many initiatives are in place to promote re-shoring efforts and customers may be willing to pay a premium for the “Made in America “line. There is so many intricacies in these decisions that they should be low risk, well analyzed, and be part of an overall vision and plan for your company.

Micro Management Can Kill an Organization’s Creativity

Managing your team is key to success. That does mean micro-managing them, but merely is the re-enforcement of the common vision, cross checking to the strategic plan, and removing the roadblocks that may be interfering with their success. Many of today’s leaders believe they must micro manage their team. That quickly tells the team that you do not trust them or their skill sets. It eventually removes the ownership of accomplishing the plan from the team to the leader. Team members begin to become less driven to accomplish goals and feel that any accomplishments will be minimized or second-guessed by the manager. So why do managers micro manage? If you read textbooks, they will tell you that it is their own insecurities or their belief that they are more skilled or talented then their team. If that is true, these leaders should not be in a leadership role. There may be people who have unique talents or skills in distinct areas but few people are so ingenious that their knowledge surpasses a team of skilled people.
A true leader is a visionary that polls their team for unique strategic plans. A leader is not more intelligent or driven than his/her subordinates but respects the team and seeks out ideas that will make the team successful. Micro managing is a disease to the engaged workforce and sustainability of the mission. Be a leader and embrace the team’s ideas. It is acceptable to hold the team accountable to deadlines but be willing to remove roadblocks and celebrate success. Recognize the team’s abilities and enhance them with vision and support.

Transitioning an Organization by Concenus

Transition to success is not an easy task. The underlying tasks may require a culture change. That culture change is easy if you are passionate, empowering, ethical, honest, and embrace your employee’s values. Many leaders derive their vision in a vacuum, form a strategic plan with a few select team members, and roll out a plan that may or may not be appropriate. The flaw in this leadership style is that it is exclusive to themselves and a small part of the population in the company. If one wants to truly drive an organization forward and change a culture, they need every person in the organization to help develop it and agree to it by consensus. Cultures need the buy-in of the entire workforce. Leaders must be willing to compromise their initial vision to accommodate the paradigms of the entire workforce. Sit with your entire staff in groups and explain what you want to accomplish. Take their inputs and amend your vision to one that may not be your ideal vision but it will be one that has employees understanding and support. After you reach a consensus, present it to the entire workforce so they all understand the compromises met.
Next you need to form a strategic plan to support the vision. It should have a detailed short range plan, followed by a two, five, and ten year plan. The more distant the timeline, the content will be more philosophical and less detailed. This can be accomplished with the same “vision groups” or with representatives of those subgroups. The strategic plan is a step-by-step plan with milestone dates and agreed upon methods of verification. When the plan is agreed to with the subgroups, you must present it to the entire population.
Finally, you must put a system in place to measure the results and take input from the workforce. It is key that you and your leaders pay attention to the workforce’s questions and concerns. Your plan will only succeed if you cheerlead the group on and remove the barriers that inhibit their success. Reward and thank people again and again. Realize that without them you will not be successful. Culture change only occurs when people change. You are responsible as a leader to lead the change and support the entire workforce. They are the backbone to your success.