Category: Embrace and Care About Your Team

Employee Safety is Job #1

Probably one of the hardest aspect to manage is increasing productivity without diminishing the focus on safety. The most important faction in an organization is safety. Without a safe environment your processes, team environment, and culture will severely deteriorate. There must be a plan to address any safety item quickly and earnestly. If you ask your employees to work harder and produce more, they must feel secure and safe. They also need to know that there is never a production need that circumvents superior safety practices.

The orchestration of productivity improvement is not one that is simple. First, it requires the dedication and commitment from the top level of the corporation or organization to commit to protecting employees at all costs. Sincerely, no one wants to get injured and management must endorse that safety attitude. From the President of a company to the lowest level of management, there must be a commitment to safety first. A vital part of the success in safety is the recording and mistake proofing of all corrective actions. Reinstruction and holding informational meetings stressing to your team that unsafe practices need to be halted is only the preliminary step. Management must analyze the situations and attempt to make each occurrence impossible to reoccur. There are tremendous technology innovations that can assist in making your facility injury free. Light curtains, dual electronic switches, and lasers are a few hardware improvements that expand all options. However, most injuries could be prevented by simple mechanical augmentation of the processes. One of the unfortunate anomalies of safety is that they usually are a repeat of a previous near miss that has now become serious. A foremost activity is to review all your recorded near misses during the last twenty-four calendar months and assure that the proper corrective actions have been implemented with some level of mistake proofing,

Management must understand that there is always a level of mistake proofing that can be implemented. There are always immediate corrective actions that are put in place after an incident however they are usually just an immediate action that will require follow up actions. There are times that after the initial corrective actions are in place, the focus moves back to production and a re-review of more robust corrective actions fall to the wayside. This cannot happen because a repeat event will deteriorate the workforce’s faith in management and production improvements will become more difficult to attain. Management can eliminate these shortcomings by having a robust safety counsel that reviews all incidents and adopts long term corrective actions with milestones and assigning task leaders. The council must hold people accountable to meet the milestone deadlines and mistake proofing must be a significant focus.

Once employees feel a sense of management support and embracement, they will react and understand that they must produce. Management cannot only take actions that are not all encompassing and robust but must assure that they take actions that evaluate all similar situations within the workplace and expand the corrective action plan throughout. Management will sometimes struggle to get funding for some corrective actions. We must step in the paradigm of the executives who have expending funding for corrective actions that were not effective and we now are asking for more funding to take additional corrective actions. They also may be encountering a facility where profits are not meeting expectations. Therefore, we must present sound corrective action plans that have an advantage to the business and will truly mistake proof reoccurrences. Too many incomplete or inadequate corrective action plans have cost companies monies without eliminating injuries.

Executives and management must keep employees safe not merely for productivity increase but also because we are morally obligation to care for their team members. Management has a responsibility to return employees home safely and, in the condition they came to work. We owe it to the employees and their loved ones to not hurt employees. We must take the moral high ground to protect employees because without them we have nothing.

Managing Culture Change

Managing culture changes up and down the organization can be challenging and tedious in a profit conscious environment. As we attempt to change the entire organization and methodologies in production, we encounter many different perspectives and paradigms on the path. Making a change to a leaner more productive environment will incur some costs, interrupt production in small segments, require training of employees throughout the organization, and demand patience from all aspects of the population. As we grow the mindset of the hourly and middle management associates, we must remember the true mission of business is profitability. Upper management and executives must remain patient as any quick changes are usually not sustainable and any long term changes to the business model will take time. The management of change will require a balancing of production’s current needs and the implementation future changes that will enhance growth and efficiency.

A sound plan for implementing lean and improved productivity needs to have a detailed approach. You will need to rely on your most experienced personnel and use them as a sounding board for the changes your want to make to the current model. However, those same employees may resist change as they believe they are operating as effectively as possible. You must share the vision and strategic plan with all levels of the organization and you must brainstorm the shortcomings and roadblocks the company will encounter. Employees at all levels must agree with the need for change and embrace the vision to be the “Best of the Best”. Middle management must allow employees to make decisions and empower them to design their own work areas. While all aspects of the plan may not be totally popular with the workforce, you must gain consensus. As an agent of change, you will need to prevent protectionism from the different internal business sectors. Individuals may resist anything that increases responsibility or work load. You can prevent this by guaranteeing employees that you will be keenly aware of the pain factors in the new organization and any undue workloads will be addressed and compensated with efficiency, teamwork, flexible work schedules and manpower changes.

A major challenge for any transitional change is the ability to manage the “knee jerk” reactions of executives. When profits appear to be affected in a negative manner, many will try to delay, augment, and change the path you have strategically created. You must realize their position and their responsibility to continually turn higher profits. When business markets may slow, cost cutting moves may be necessary. You need to assure that labor and costs associated with the implementation of improvements are not significantly hampered. You must assure them of necessity for improvement and continually communicate your plan, the risks, and the timeline for recovery. No executive will force you to make improper decisions that will stymie long term improvements if they understand what is causing impacts and the duration of them. A change agent cannot be inflexible to executive’s demands and they may have to comprise the length and/or effects of plan. However, a well constructive plan will have those contingencies built into them and therefore the move to a more effective and productive environment will continue. Executives must beware of the miracle promising consultants and those that do not have a plan that fully explains the time elements, support and cost associated with their program. There are many books on the subject and how to implement but most are naïve, unproven, and without the strategy of managing the implementation. There are too many textbooks on the subject and few success stories from following them.

In conclusion, the greatest asset that you can contribute as a change agent is the understanding of the paradigms, the communication of vision and strategic plan, creation of a contingency plan for setbacks and creating open communication to all elements of the business environment. Be patient and do not expect everyone to accommodate your needs. As a leader of change, you must be the most flexible and adjust your plan to accommodate everyone else in the organization. However, do not let your plan be so manipulated that it is not effective. Compromise, embrace your organization, understand their perspectives and meet the needs of the entire company. If a culture change was an simple endeavor, it would have evolved naturally over time.

Work Life Balance is a Key to Success

Work Life Balance
One of the more difficult complications a leader will face is the maintenance of a healthy work life balance and how to create balance for employees. We must assure that employees also are not driven to an unhealthy lifestyle. As a leader, we can also become consumed with the job and drive ourselves to an unhealthy, unsustainable level of workload. A leader can become so absorbed in attaining goals that we raise our expectations of our team to an unhealthy level. To assure that we allow employees time to recharge themselves and become more productive, the following options should be considered.

Leadership Rules:
1. Allow employees to telework as needed. Allowing an employee the flexibility to carry on operations when employees can’t get to the office because of family complications and/or bad weather has an extreme payback. Conceptually we may think that people will not be productive while working remotely, but studies show the temporary relief will invigorate the employee’s outlook on work and will allow someone’s self-worth to increase. However, as a leader you must set guidelines as to the amount of time that is allowed and the requirements to participate on mandatory meetings.
2. Give employees the necessary technical tools to be effective. Offer to pay for part or all of devices that are necessary for the employees to stay connected. Studies show that employees will stay connected for longer hours if they have the devices that allow email and other communications to occur after hours.
3. Avoid directing employees from using the company’s high tech products for business use only. Past practices told employees that devices were only for business use. Unless restricted by information protection, the past practices have proven ineffective. Employees would shut the company’s cell phone off after hours and use their personal phones thereby limiting the benefits of having the device.
4. Set the standard that employees should not be called or emailed while on vacation unless it is urgent. Define what is considered urgent and do not violate it. Employees need the time to recharge themselves and need to feel that it is acceptable not to engage while on vacation. This also allows others to step up and demonstrate their worth and encourages their growth. If it is necessary for an employee to be available while on vacation or during down time, assure that the hours are limited. Contingencies should be planned so that there is someone that can assume the roles necessary.
5. Leaders and executives should never be off the grid for extended times. Employees must feel that they are not abandoned when the executive is gone. Emergencies do arise and leaders do need to make decisions. Employees will respect the executive’s need to be out and will not overburden them. If a leader does not accept this premise, then they are not executive material.
6. Set the standards to your team for communications when they are out. Texting and calling is for urgent issues, emails are for routine problems, and on line access to group folders is low priority. Never use social media (i.e. Facebook, Instagram etc.) to communicate company issues.
7. Establish face to face communications for important issues. This is the most effective communication and most of these can be preplanned.
8. Respect that people are different. Everyone has different priorities and we cannot expect everyone to accept ours. Let the employee return a call at a later hour if they are home. Employees have personal lives and they need you to respect their life as they respect your needs.

General Rules:
1. Manage your time. When you show up to work, know your priorities and know how to assure what is reasonable to get accomplished within the day or week. Delegate out the remainder to assure it is completed. Make time for hobbies, passions, and relationships. Few of us live for work alone and it is not healthy to do so.
2. Take time for you. It is important to remember that all your free time does not have to be available time. Enjoy some alone time and time that you do things for you. Have a social life and schedule social activities where the phone is off. Enjoy weekends and vacations. Take specific parts of those times that you are out of communication with work. Let it be known in advance that you will not be available and then follow through and don’t be available. Arrange for coverage during these times for urgent issues. Post the contingency contacts and do not violate those times with work calls.
3. Make time for your family. Set those times aside for just them. Follow the same coverage rules aforementioned but give them the one on one time they so need and deserve. If you parenting partner is tied up in work, do not abandon everyone by getting involved with work issues. Ninety nine percent of the issues that come to you can be delayed or postponed for an hour or two. Make family time special and assure them that they are a priority by not being involved with work.
4. Get your home chores done. Take time for them and plan them. Be specific in the tasks you will take on and plan them out. Take on the least favorite task early in the week as that will allow the task to be taken on without the burned out feeling from a busy work week. If you leave hard tasks for when you are exhausted, they will become more burdensome and irritating. Realize that some tasks will have to get hired out to other people so only plan for a reasonable amount of work to be completed by yourself.
5. Finally, take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, make time for relaxation, exercise, volunteer, and be balanced person. Know when your life is out of control and if needed seek professional help.

Reflections on Successful Leadership

As we walk the path of guiding organizations to success, we need to question whether we are successful. Too many leaders are greatness in their own minds and they measure success merely by business metrics. As they progress down their strategic plan, one day they are woken to realize that their workforce in disengaged, reacting only to commands, lack empowerment, seek others to represent them, and are disillusioned with what success resembles. That leader will first defend their actions and accuse the workforce of being lazy, not motivated, and simply a reflection of a poor work ethic that is a culture problem. They will increase demands and employees will react slower and with resentment. Have you ever worked for a leader like this? We all have. They end up failing and hurting companies that take years to recover. They are the egomaniacs of the world. Every other sentence is “I”. They may not have started out this way but have slipped into a false sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
There are ways to stay away from the slide as a leader. You are nothing without your empowered, engaged workforce. You cannot lead a defeated organization using the same tactics that defeated them. Below is listed ways to avoid slipping into the trap.

1. Communicate every day with someone in your workforce. A regular conversation with the people from all levels of the workforce is necessary to keep a pulse on your organization. The continued communication develops relationships and allows you to receive feedback in a real time manner.

2. Don’t dismiss criticism. There are disgruntled employees everywhere but you cannot merely dismiss complaints as those of a poor employee. There is usually a shred of truth in every complaint or statement. It may be exaggerated and at times or may be something stated with an ulterior motive, but examine what is said. Do not over-react to every comment but place some credence in it and examine if what is told you is the truth.

3. Hold regular multiple group meetings. All Hands meetings should occur monthly, sub-groups should meet weekly and work groups should have a meeting format on a daily basis. While the finance world will measure this as indirect labor charging that shows a loss, the resultants for improved productivity will far exceed those small losses. There is no format for everyone. Some people will not speak out in a large group and some will feel secure in those groups and give constructive feedback. Small groups can also be intimidating for some people and there are work group clicks that will stop some from speaking up. Finally, hold regular skip level meetings on a regular basis. They should be a minimum of quarterly intervals. Skip levels eliminate the presence and intervention of middle management. People will speak more freely in these meetings and you will receive different feedback. Caution: Do not overreact or make promises to fix problems in these meetings. Doing so will result in group leaders and middle management feeling betrayed. You are there to gather feedback, describe your vision and strategic plan, and create list to investigate.

4. Be honest, loyal, ethical, and have principles each and every day. Do not deceive your workforce. There are always business situations that do not allow you to unveil everything to the entire workforce but you can merely state “I cannot comment on that now”, “We have not made final decisions regarding that matter and when we do we can discuss it”, “I understand your concerns and when we have answers to those we will discuss at the next meeting” etc. Do not lie. Your workforce will lose your trust and everything that is discussed at meetings will be merely dismissed as a possible misrepresentation.

5. Walk the walk of you employees. Walk their job with them for an hour every year. Learn what their job is and understand their challenges. While you walk their job with them, realize they are people that work to live. They have families, children, parents, schooling issues, financial burdens etc. Talk to them as a human being and a leader. Nothing makes someone feel valued more than when you walk the floor and can say, “John, how is the boy’s baseball team doing?” Mary, how is the daughter’s gymnastics coming?”, “Harry, how is mom doing”. It may seem impossible but you can easily take 250 hours a year and dedicate it to this activity.

6. Protect your workforce. Watch and listen for unreasonable management and team leaders. Pay attention to safety and join a safety committee. Realize ergonomic challenges. Prove to people you care because you do care and react quickly to safety issues. People are your greatest asset and protect them like the jewels they are to the organization

Be a leader that people embrace. Reward, recognize their achievements, thank them and show them they are important. If you do not understand or agree with most of these items, you are on a path to failure. Don’t delegate these items to others-walk the walk each and every day.

Commitment to Safety, Compassion and Ethics

As we make every attempt to improve our leadership skill set, there is one path that always underlies real success. That path is one where leaders are compassionate to their employees, guarantee their safety and provide an environment that is based on ethical behavior. At all costs we must be compassionate to our team’s needs and provide for their utmost safety. Leaders must walk the path of their workers, understand their concerns and embrace their concerns. We have a social and moral responsibility to provide a workplace that is safe and ergonomic. If we do not address those safety needs, our team will become disengaged and less productive. Ignoring the productivity side of the equation, leaders have a moral responsibility to provide a caring environment for their teams. Employees and their families have the undeniable right for their loved ones to return home in the condition they came to a place of employment. The lack of compassion of this need will undermine anything else the workplace and leaders can provide. This expectation ties into the need for an ethical as it is only ethical to provide this environment to the team. Everything else a leader can provide is secondary. A leader must care for their team and walk the processes that employees are expected to execute. Ask questions, offer solutions and follow through on providing resolutions and your team will then provide the utmost for the company. Leaders who sit at desks and do not know the risks in the day to day activities of their employees will fail. Delegation of this activity is not as effective as a leader walking and talking the life we expect others to live.

Embrace, Lead and Mentor Your Staff

Mentoring is one of the best tools that any leader can use within the workforce. The benefits are unlimited and the value is unmatched. While this is a time consuming activity for both parties, the long term benefits will create a better leader and an engaged, enhanced, and more skilled workforce. Academia can teach the basics of business philosophy and various modeled techniques, but the inside experience knowledge that education lacks is the understanding of the real workplace. Most textbooks are dated and because the workforce is fluid in their establishment of norms and it is difficult to continually update them properly. In addition, the act of mentoring builds relationships, trust, ethics, and team building virtues.

The mentor benefits greatly from the act. This process allows the mentor to give something back to the organization and the people in the workforce. It reminds the mentor to listen and actually sharpens their communication skill set. Intrinsically, mentoring also builds on the mentor’s self worth as they are usually listened to by the mentoree with enthusiasm. As a leader , the act of mentoring strengthens our interpersonal skills and builds relationships with our coworkers. Mentoring also takes the time to understand details that hinder people’s personal and professional growth. Finally, as we mentor we re-examine parts of our own self as we, as managers and leaders, do not always do what we preach to others. Employees will also include personal aspects of their lives ad that enhances the bond between a leader and their teams.

The mentoree feels valued through the time a mentor spends with them. The exude a self confidence as they go forward. Through the process the mentoree if forced to construct logical communication paths and improve their communication and listening skills. We also bridge the gap for the mentoree regarding conversational methods to speak to management constructively. The mentoree improves their interpersonal skill set and breaks down barriers that may have inhibited communication in the past. The most important factor in the mentoring process is the mentoree begins and continues to understand the organization, goals, culture, and business innuendos that are critical for them to advance.
The process is simple and should discuss some of the following:
Where are you going in your career?
What are your visions as an employee?
What are your aspirations?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses and how are you going to correct them?
Identify their top three goals.

You should make it personal if appropriate. Find out what the employee wants out of the relationship and determine the deliverables of the mentoring process. Set a time and time limit for the meeting and shut off all other communication during this time. Setup a schedule and stick to it. Discuss the options and opportunities for learning and development. Ask for a critique and constructive criticism of the company and its leadership. Most prevalent, break down the conversation barriers and truly embrace their ideas and concerns.

It is the duty of the organization to assure that the mentoring process is active. The top leadership should insist that every manager mentors someone and preferably not in their direct reporting chain. This process shows the entire organization that the organization does care about their development and as the process develops montorees will begin to mentor others. This process develops loyalty and understanding and creates a contiguous positive culture where we foster skills sets and empowerment. Finally, it creates a culture of cooperation and takes communication to new levels. Do not wait for your executives to insist on your mentoring others. take it upon yourself to embrace the process and also seek out a mentor for yourself. Your mentor may not be within the your company as there are times that we want to seek mentors that look at new perspectives. Take the leap and mentor and your will soon see the rewards. Care about your employees and take an active role in their development.

Getting Your Business Visual

One of the most difficult phases of improving business efficiency is implementing a visual workplace. We have all seen the isolated examples that consultants and academia recite but getting the correct systems in place for your business environment is essential. Do not adapt huge expense in getting the methods in places in their infancy of the conversion, but place simple methods that may require more administrative effort during development. Visual systems tend to evolve as the workforce becomes familiar with them and offer suggestions.
The most important visual systems are ones that show what is expected for outputs. You may want to simply invoke a white board that is updated daily with an indication of what is expected daily. As your system develops, you will include meaningful metrics of performance. This can be, but not limited to, a weekly output, monthly output, year to date outputs, efficiencies, productivity etc. The workforce will tell you what is meaningful to them and that which allows them to know how they are performing. Most industries show do not go beyond monthly information at this stage and save the year to date performance for all-hands meetings. If is essential that the posted information is meaningful. The system should evolve to a visual display of takt time versus performance. There are several digital displays that allow people to hit a toggle a button or switch every time a deliver is made. Either the lead or supervisor in the area can administrate the takt time. This allows a real time display of performance that is accurate to the minute.

Another vital part of the visual system is an Andon light. This is an indicator of two elements. The first is the performance obstacles in the cell. A red, yellow, green light display is easy to understand. A green light may indicate the work cell is on target and all assets are running correctly. A yellow light indicates that takt time cannot be met but all assets are running correctly. A red light that indicates there is an asset problem or material shortage that is slowing of shutting the cell down. The yellow light indicates that manufacturing or industrial engineering needs to speak with the cell for changes and/or resolution. The red should require that management, your maintenance group, or engineering needs to expedite resolution. It is essential that we react to those lights expeditiously because the lack of response will evolve a culture suggesting that the light is not valuable and executing the visual signal is therefore useless. The second type of Andon light is usually used in an assembly environment. This light would be a digital readout of any parts holding up the production of a cell creating delays and wait time. This light requires that communications be made to the cell and timelines associated with resolution be developed. None of these lights should get turned off or returned to green unless the issue is totally resolved or parts are now on hand. These lights should be periodically reviewed by dedicated personnel and certainly reviewed during a daily Gemba walks.

The next part of a visual workplace is a visual workflow. A hospital may put different stripes on the floor so that everyone understands where to go. It also can be signage that shows the steps or stations in a process. This allows everyone to identify workflow and observe any bottlenecks. This is easy to accomplish in a standardized high volume tasking but can be more contrived in a mixed model or tasking flow. However, they are all attainable and easy to implement.

Finally, we need to create Kanbans, Heijunka box or wheels, or other visual signals to accommodate lean pull and overproduction elimination. As we progress through lean, we will continue to reduce inventory and waste through more efficient methods of lean tool usage. There are many other tools and methodologies that can be implemented. Educate your workforce and empower them to implement what is the most effective communication methods for good productive flow and waste elimination. They know the processes and know what will indicate to them their performance. Enjoy the process and admire your workforce’s knowledge of lean implementation. They will make your system successful if you engage and empower them.

Standard Work Assures Consistency and Opportunities for Ever Evolving Improvement

The misconceptions of standard work throughout the consulting sector is staggering. Standard work is not merely written work instructions. Standard work is the application of the proper resources to the appropriate workload. It is the standard by which we can measure productivity and also allocate the proper resources to assure efficiency.

The simple portion of standard work is the visual written work instructions to all elements of the business. The instructions should assure that all personnel could complete the tasks with little or no training. While that is simplistic in nature and assumes there are no skill levels required for tasks, it is a goal that if not attainable can be closely assimilated. When we think of standard work instructions, we think of the operational ends of the business as it is a simple interpretation. For these work instructions, we should have step by step instructions stating the tools required, quality requirements necessary, critical features identified and visuals to assure interpretation is correct. However, the implementation goes greater than the operational end of the business. The application should include all interests including, procurement and the appropriate decision trees for a make /buy decision, financial reporting to assure consistency during attrition, management practices for capital ROI decisions and headcount allocations, sales with standards for meaningful profit margins, maintenance for continuous allocation of resources, quality for standardization of inspection standards, and many other elements that are necessary for the business. If these instructions rely on IT functions, screen shots should be part of the standard work.

As we assimilate the standards, we then need to look at our value stream maps to assure that the standard times for operations are level loaded through the production cycle. Once we have a level loaded value stream, we then can calculate the resources necessary for the volume increases and decreases. Our value stream should engulf more than a statement of operations and work tasks and should include the min/max of personnel and shift allocations, resources necessary to support those functions, and standards for operational efficiency. Finally, the value stream maps should then include a standard work contingency for each operational failure that can occur. Once those failure points are established, a risk level needs to be assigned to them. We can then prioritize the contingency plan development needs.

Standard work is ever evolving and is the backbone for predicable production and financial success. Implementation of standard work must grow with the evolving culture change to a leaner environment. The culture must understand that standardization does not threaten their job security as they define tasks, but allows them to spend their resources on creativity and strategic development. We must be patient with the evolution of standard work. If the workforce embraces the conceptual, we will actualize the benefits in a shorter time span.

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.

Plan Ahead and Succeed

It is the time to set next year’s goals and expectations. You should not wait until the first of the year arrives and attempt to set the plan and goals for new year. We all have completed our pro forma for next year and estimated our EBITs, but have we created our strategic plans that will yield double digit growth? Estimating the financials for the upcoming year will not suffice and allow success. Below is a short list of initiatives that we should look at for the upcoming year.

1. Set your goals for cost of poor quality. Understand how you are going to measure it. Are you going to include the rework, the loss of productivity due to poor quality, customer returns and investigation costs, and repair costs? Whatever you measure in the upcoming year, assure that you show a reduction and have projects with milestones established to begin in January. Do not set yourself up for the next year by having a bad first quarter and chasing the year’s goals to recover those costs. Make your goal a reflection of projects you will manage and not a wish list. Spell out the plan’s expectations month by month with start dates, cost realization dates, project completion dates, and determine who the leader is for each project. Set your report out dates for the next year and schedule the team’s calendars to assure that teams know when they are going to review projects with the executive team.

2. Create a process improvement team and set expectations. You should know where your efficiency losses are and establish which ones you are going to tackle and the order and timeframe for those projects. Set a reasonable amount of tasks. Many businesses will create a wish list that is too large for the staffing. Scheduling too many tasks for your workforce can only lead to frustration, fractured efforts, and a disengaged workforce. Strategically assign those tasks, determine reasonable expectations, and set a detailed review schedule for the plan’s events on a regular basis. Become involved as a leader because your workforce will prioritize their efforts by the attention and involvement your leadership displays in the upcoming year.

3. Assure that you have an active environmental health and safety plan to improve the safety and ergonomics of your operation. Remember, people want to be treated fairly and they will engage more if you are concerned for their well-being. Strive to improve the ergonomics in the workplace. Recordable and lost time injuries are bad for a business’s reputation and finances, but they also can disengage a workforce quickly. Care about your employees and make it a passion to evolve the workplace to a safer environment. Embrace their concerns as you would your family members. They are your livelihood. If you do not have a methodology to collect the employee’s risks, hold a “stand-down” for four hours to collect ideas from employees. Take those ideas, Pareto them by risk to employees and aggressively burn them down. Assure the plan attacks these on a monthly basis. Form subcommittees to address these ideas. Everyone in the organization can take ownership of a task as safety is everyone’s job.

4. Train your employees early and on a repetitive regular schedule. You should have already met with your employees and determined their training needs. Now you must schedule a plan to deliver on those internal and external needs. Do not leave this as a human resource task. It is a leadership responsibility that our reports are enriching themselves each year. You may want to look at your most unproductive weeks in the previous years and declare them training weeks. This allows you to write off the week from deliveries and profit based on poor historical performance. Typically, the first week of the year, the week of July 4th and Labor Day week are poor performers as the previous quarter has just ended and people include additional vacation days to long weekends. Put training into this week and declare the week as a non-production week. Planning this activity allows customer commits to be maintained by overproduction in prior weeks and planned delivery commits pushed out of these weeks where possible.
5. Create production start plans that are visual and observable to all employees. Plan on Gemba walks daily and review these start plans. These plans are critical to success. If you start on time, you will finish on time. Don’t leave the plan’s execution to the planners and materials department to manage. All directly involved employees must understand the plan, discuss it daily at Gemba walks, and assure that procurement, operations, quality, and the materials department understands when the production starts for every job. This is critical for mixed model production. This plan is should not be in a notebook but must be displayed on some visual system that all employees can monitor. The more visuals you have in your company, the more self-managed it becomes.

Remember that strategic planning will assure 2016 will be better than 2015. Don’t wait until the year begins to invoke the plan as you will have an overly burden the last two quarters of the year. If you have not already shared your vision and plan with the entire organization, do it early in the year