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Do you have any idea how exhausting making choices and using self-control is. Tests have shown that when people are forced to make difficult choices, they have very little energy left to make a second choice.  Even if the second choice is relatively easy! Change is hard because people wear themselves out, so what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

In their book ‘Switch’, Chip and Dan Heath refer to making choices as Riders and Elephants. The Rider gives direction and the Elephant needs motivation, one cannot work successful without the other. The Rider can only direct the Elephant for a short time, and if the Elephant is not motivated it will go its own way and drain the Rider’s energy as he tries to direct the Elephant in the direction he wants to go. If you can find a way to break through to feelings and emotions, things can change as the Elephant becomes motivated. If the Rider is unsure of the direction, he can lead the Elephant round in circles, and what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. The Rider needs to be sure of the direction to go in and the Elephant must be motivated to go with the Rider.

The third important factor is to ‘Shape the Path’. Guidance and clarity of the direction must be clear. Many times we think there is a people problem and there is but it’s not the people we think, it’s the leaders. Change is more likely to occur if leadership clearly presents the way forward and provides tangible outcomes. Change can be made despite having few resources and little structural authority. Wherever you want to make this change, you can make it happen if you direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path.

Be careful not to over analyze and end up spinning your wheels, this will happen if the directions are not clear. People must be shown where to go, how to act and what destination to pursue. One really good solution for problems is to look for the ‘bright spots’. This means when there is a problem, find the areas where things are working well and concentrate on them, find out why they are working well and how to replicate them. These bright spots give the Rider direction when trying to bring about change. This method works well, as opposed to finding what is broken and trying to fix it.

Human nature tends to concentrate on the negative instead of the positive, think about the news; bad news is always shown because if it was all good news people would not watch it. This is very sad but true and we need to find ways of concentrating on the positive and working towards replicating the positive and the good things – even if it goes against our human nature. We need to focus on solutions instead of problems. It is harder to think about and recognize what is working well and trying to keep it working well than it is to look for problems to fix.

At InSource Solutions and SightBridge Consulting, the culture of the company encourages this positive outlook and it spreads to our clients where we encourage them to repeat the good things that are working well. We look for the bright spots and work on replicating them rather than looking for what is broken and trying to fix it. As time goes on the good things that keep working well encourage clients to look for other areas where things are working well and replicating them.

Is Your Data’s Metadata Meaningful?

There is increased interest and popularity in using metadata as a foundation in data warehousing and Business Intelligence (BI) solutions. While a valuable toolset, there are definite limitations in effective deployment that we commonly run into with our manufacturing clients.

Metadata is basically data about data. A common, non-tech specific example is the Dewey Decimal System used in libraries since 1876. This extremely successful system allowed, prior to digital records, to locate information (i.e. books) using relative location (based on subject) and relative index allowing for changes / additions to the basic data set of books. The number of books can be increased or decreased without changing the relative location or index. And the technology required is only specific data fields on a 3 x 5 inch card (title, author, subject matter, and an alpha-numeric string indicating the book’s physical location in the library, etc.).

Conceptually, metadata is a simple and powerful tool. And yet in Bruce Telford's blog, “What Makes Managing Manufacturing Intelligence Data So Difficult?” we learned of several challenges in manufacturing technology deployments that also apply to data warehousing and Business Intelligence. The challenge is understanding and using legacy and current manufacturing data and performing holistic planning in regards to what is needed to drive Process efficiency and effective consumption by the People of the organization.

As a consultant working with clients the initial hurdle is to define the ideal end-state for data definition and use. A common but undesirable answer is “give us everything and we’ll decide what’s useful later”. This usually indicates a lack of understanding of their Processes and how their People use the data. Just giving them everything always results in dissatisfaction. Then application of Technology enables achievement of the idealized end-state.

From a People perspective, who are the data users and how will it be used? If there is no perceived benefit the data will not be adopted for actual use. It is vital that we work with the users to understand their challenges with the current data and requirements for any future enhancements or changes. IT often skips this step. They are more concerned with the capturing and manipulation of the existing data, not its applicability to the users’ world.

Processes need to be evaluated in terms of data capture including frequency and naming conventions. Often common data types such as work order number can be resident in various data bases / sources but might be designated in numerous ways (WO#, WO Num, wo_num, etc.) that will be integrated in the data warehouse / BI solution. These must be standardized to leverage the effectiveness of the data and associated relationships.

Finally, the Technology can be deployed. But applying Technology without considering People and Process implications is the path to a suboptimal solution that will not be sustained over time. Who is driving your data warehousing / BI initiative? Is your data metadata meaningful or are there People and Process issues that need to be addressed first?

What Makes Managing Manufacturing Intelligence Data So Difficult?

Some time has passed since a previous blog where I discussed “Manufacturing Data”. Since then I have noticed that the problem prevails and organizations continue to make the same mistakes. There are a few overarching issues with manufacturing data and its collection.

Legacy and current data in manufacturing plants.

  • Data continues to be driven by immediate need without regard to data that has already been collected and any relationships between these data sets. Likewise the storage medium is often varied.
  • Managers/owners often take the path of least resistance in solving their data collection requirements, likely because their need is immediate and is limited to their influence or budgets.
  • These solutions are generally not holistic (corporately integrated) and invariably do not use standard data relationships or nomenclature, making the data extremely difficult to include in a MI solution.
  • Data systems are frequently driven by current developer preference and capability, and these systems don’t always conform to the organization (Flat Files, Access databases, spreadsheets with macros, database tables without relationships, etc.). They are often just a quick fix.

Lack of holistic data planning is the primary reason for the struggle to acquire meaningful data and, more importantly, actionable data.

  • We refer to “People, Process and Technology” more frequently these days, but too often manufacturing and/or IT groups believe that technology alone will solve the company’s data problems.
  • Plan with People in mind with regard to standards and usability, and especially with data nomenclature. Above all, be consistent (example, “Line 2” cannot also be referred to as Line B or the cookie line).
  • With regard to Processes, their consistency and standards need to support repeatability. This will drive a requirement for consistent data collection which, in turn, will support usability and make it actionable, especially where there are exceptions.
  • Focus on data that drives corporate objectives, standards, quality, and manufacturing performance (reduced waste, increased production, reduced costs, consistent product, reduced inventory etc.). This requires thought and deliberation.
  • Beware of collecting everything available. Too often, when asked what data should be collected, the answer is “I don’t know (not sure), why don’t you just give me everything, so that I have it if I need it?” For the most part this shows a lack of understanding of one’s processes, and is distracting and inefficient. Remember “more is not better”. Time can be wasted on chasing the minutia as opposed to concentrating on those things that really matter which, if given the correct attention and acted upon, will generally take care of the minutia for you.

In conclusion, plan holistically, standardize data nomenclature for columns, labels and formats, collect what is known to matter to the organization, and align data collection at all levels. Above all, keep it simple, manageable, and be consistent at every level.


Whatever Happened To The Good ‘Ol Days?

A company for years had celebrated great product volume, good customer recognition of product name, and a wide variety of diversity in product. Return on investments was good with great profit-sharing to the employees and management team.

Change didn't happen for well over 50 years because the adage was if it's not broke don't try to fix it!

The company and management team didn't have to worry about diversity of their products because their world hadn't changed. Americans showed loyalty to the successful product names that they had grown up with as they watched their parents buy goods and services from name brands that they respected.

Then something happened. The world changed and changed fast. Customers wanted diversity in their products. They wanted the products that they purchased to have fewer calories, be healthier for you, and they wanted more product for their money not less.

For years this company never looked at Key Performance Indicators that drove Ownership, Accountability, Growth, work that Standardized activities across all shifts in the plant. As a result when product issues occurred across the plant they relied on word of mouth communication and tribal knowledge to resolve issues. They never got to the root cause of their issues and they never had to enforce expectations for getting to the root cause of problems. They looked at going after opportunities to improve performance as people issues. Change the managers or employees and your issues go away!

Because of the stale work practices and being reluctant to change the company's product volume fell well below 50%. The diversity in product fell from around 47 different product packages down to around 19 different product packages. The result for the company was lower profit, fewer employees, and a work force that hadn't changed for over 50 years.

Change had to happen and happen fast. The company has recognized that by identifying the right Key Performance Indicators and holding all employees accountable for them is the company's number one deliverable. They now understand that to be successful at producing quality products on time daily they have to get to the root cause of issues and take action the resolves them, forever.

Driving Ownership and accountability is now at the forefront of all daily, weekly, and monthly meetings to ensure that all plant issues are addressed. And last but not least, standardizing work across the entire plant for all shifts will enable a well - trained diversified work force that can deliver more volume with fewer employees in less time. Being accountable to their Key Performance Indicators drives improvement.

Execution vs Disciplined Execution – Meetings

Like most folks that have been managers for a while, I've been sitting in and leading meetings for a long time but I am always looking for a new twist to improve. Over 10 years ago, Patrick Lencioni published a book entitled Death by Meeting. I recommend it if you're looking to improve the execution of your meetings and engagement your leaders; here's an example of ho I applied some of what I learned.

I host a meeting for my team every two weeks. Our team is distributed around the country and often engaged at client sites so they are hosted as a conference call using some web sharing application. Hosting the meeting every two weeks provides a consistent vehicle and known environment in which information can be exchanged and collaboration can be promoted. Depending on the initiative of those in attendance, it may inform and even cause discussion on unplanned topics. But without planning, preparation, and setting expectations for outcomes the only sure result is that it will happen every two weeks. It happens as a result of compliance or simply execution.

The real value for those in attendance is realized by setting the agenda, communicating expectations, and then engaging those that are on the call. We use the time to check performance and update or generate actions that get resolved. But there is one more assumption that needs to be addressed; alignment with the organization's overall business objectives. Without alignment, was value really achieved? Or did we just check the box?

Meetings are great examples of where simple execution can be overvalued. With some discipline around preparation that  insures alignment to business objectives and setting expectations for participation, you can shift from simple execution to disciplined execution where real value is achieved. You'll find it actually takes a lot less time and your people are energized by the activity instead of approaching them with dread. Might the same apply to our daily and weekly routines?

Accountability in Business Today

So, "Why accountability?" Everyone talks about it. Leaders want it. Employees are often afraid of it; shareholders demand it, and stakeholders insist on it. But exactly what is accountability, and how do you get people to take it?

Some have defined accountability as “the fact or condition of being responsible.” In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, outcomes, decisions, and policies. This includes the administration, authority and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position of the organization. It takes into account the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting outcomes (Event + Response = Outcome).

As we build effective teams to deliver key performance goals and improvement, accountability will be a foundation for individuals. How we display accountability in your daily work principally defines the working relationships fundamental to every activity that occurs within your organizations.

What will individuals need to be accountable for in their roles and responsibilities? There are many ways to approach this topic, and some may consider this intimidating. As a leader applies the appropriate feedback with consistent reinforcement of clear expectations our team members begin to own their goals and actions. In an improvement journey, our employees go beyond showing up for work to receive a paycheck and developing into a goal oriented stakeholder with ownership.

Through continual engagement, leadership consistently reinforces the responsibility of an individual and that our people hold others accountable as well (and for many, it is difficult to do this effectively).

Accountability offers:

· Trust through transparent communications, establishing clearly understood expectations and agreed on results

· Aligned behaviors with for the organization to sustain and improve stakeholder outcomes

· A commitment to actionable measures with continuous feedback and reinforcement of objectives

· Competencies aligned to standardized procedures and processes that support consistent systems

· Disciplined execution to sustain role ownership and improve objectives with high performance work team ownership

When we think of accountability today, it can be influenced by the level of leadership engagement. We can use accountability as a method to grow our organization. Or we can use it as a management process of intimidation and fear.

Why accountability? Implementing a positive approach to accountability helps ensure that associates at every level of the organization embrace accountable behavior and attitudes that can shape daily responsibilities to achieve organizational results. Developing roles and responsibilities centered on accountability provides the key to successful of organizational initiatives and builds discipline in business today.

Does, Just Improving the Process = Excellent Customer Experience?

Who is your boss? Oh, that’s easy, if you are an operator on a manufacturing line, you may respond, it is my supervisor. If you are the supervisor, it is the operations manager or plant manager. We can conduct this exercise all the way up to the CEO and still miss what I believe to be the right answer. You know the right answer, don’t you? That is right, it is your customers.

Every company needs to be financially successful to survive. They need to maintain and increase sales and decrease costs through effective operational improvements to maintain a competitive position in their market. Therefore, they strive to accomplish these goals through technology improvements and  operational excellence programs. Having and focusing on these critical business components and disciplines, i.e. IT systems and effective management practices, are needed for any organization to survive in today’s world market. Many companies are now including these proven strategies in their day-to-day operations. However, why do some companies utilizing these improvement tools and selling the similar products enjoy higher revenue and margins?

One major difference I've seen is the focus on the Customer Experience. Insuring its integration into the organization with proven effective work processes, IT systems, and management practices / disciplined routines (i.e. Leader and Operator Standard Work) is the next critical opportunity. Companies must continue to focus on improving management processes. Improving customer experiences does not replace any of these required business improvement tools and disciplines, but complements them in an effective way.

So, how do companies focus on Customer Experience? Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, they must become the best company they can be from top down to bottom up in the eyes of their customer. Frequently, manufacturing plant floor leaders are the last to realize that a customer requirement / quality issue is wrong. At this level, clear and timely customer feedback is crucial. The floor operators need to understand the impact specific work tasks and activities they have control of is meeting or not meeting critical customer requirements. The Voice of the Customer (VOC) must come alive to all individuals that touch these products. Seeing the customer’s face and aligning it to the product being produced is a way of making the VOC come alive. Therefore, the communication strategy is critical. An approach would be for companies to provide channels where customers participate in strategy, story / case studies, and brain storming sessions. Additionally, companies should provide plant tours enabling customers to see how their products are manufactured and actually meeting the teams that produce them. This practice will help to enrich the customer feedback.

Second: Companies must be proactive and intentional to creating remarkable customer experiences. These experiences will not happen by accident. This means that companies need to do the work to understand how the customer values their product. See it from the customer’s perspective, as well as from their own internal operational processes. When an organization aligns work processes to customer expectations, they will see how those customer experiences are produced in their company.

Third: Always think of ways to delight or “Wow” the customer. Do something unexpected. Here's one that might be a bit 'out there', in a manufacturing plant you may put the pictures of the actual operators that made the product on the packaging. The customer puts a face or faces to their product communicating a sense of pride by the operators. Additionally, the company drives operator ownership for the product.

Fourth: Embrace all customer complaints. Do not look at a customer complaint as an inconvenience. The complaint gives you an opportunity to rectify the problem and in doing so, provides an opportunity to improve your processes. This will enable you to learn faster and be better quicker.

Fifth: To sustain the ability to always deliver excellent Customer Service, companies must know how to listen to customers. Many companies define listening as the act of capturing what the customer say, when they say it. This is not really listening but hearing. Listening requires a disciplined planned practice involving concentration, purpose, and the intent of hearing the VOC and turning it into action that makes a difference. The art of listening is what leads to learning and doing.

So, if you were to evaluate your company's operating processes, do you think you are customer focused?

Selfies or Servant Leadership?

In many instances, selfies are a form of self-expression bordering on the narcissistic; mostly they are about calling attention to one’s self. The usual desired outcome is recognition, positive or negative via social media. Even though they are meant to appear as spontaneous and casual they are often elaborately staged to elicit the desired effect.

There is an interesting corollary we see in manufacturing plants known as the corporate visit. Not in all but the majority of times, we see that senior managers frequently visit their manufacturing facilities expounding on the latest corporate directed improvement programs. The meetings have various corporate designations like town halls or meet and greets, but locally these events are referred to as “dog and pony shows”. This is the corporate equivalent of a selfie. Refer to the description of selfies above. The manager receives the desired recognition and has provided corporate leadership and support. Now the local plant just needs to go do it. It really doesn’t matter what the “it” is only that corporate management has decided that it is desirable to do and local engagement is limited to making sure everything is setup for flawless execution…insure that everyone looks good.

Servant leadership takes the traditional management control pyramid and stands it on its head. Autocratic management is replaced with participative leadership involving delegated responsibility and collaborative decision-making. Developing subordinates becomes the highest priority of the leader. The challenge is take employees that are only at work for their paychecks and transform them into “owners” of their work, their environment, their company. This leads to delegation of effective decision making to the lowest appropriate level in an organization (based on the traditional organization hierarchy) without second guessing. Mistakes will be made, but employees need to believe that their boss will “cover their backs” and not sacrifice them to upper management. To be successful servant leadership must be based on trust. Don’t misunderstand, senior leaders visiting their plants is a good thing…but the expectations, and means of engagement have a greater impact than we realize.

And a culprit that reinforces the negative is a focus on just the short-term results, for example the monthly financial indicators. Less emphasis is afforded longer-term organizational development and continuous improvement. Decisions that do not have immediate positive outcomes are critiqued and challenged. There are consequences. When your boss has to answer to his boss, is he the servant or does he transform into an autocrat? When a poor decision is made by your subordinates, is it used as a learning opportunity or as grounds for negative consequences? Do your metrics reflect a short term focus? Are your plant visits more about those who are visiting than those that are being visited? Are your attitudes that of the selfie-leader or the servant-leader?


Is Stewardship Partnership?

Have you ever thought of those companies you partner with as looking to you more as a steward? Stewardship is the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something. Weekly as I enter our client’s plants and engage with their employees my goal is not just to deliver great service or insure our products perform as expected, but to be the best steward that I can be. As a good steward I strive to be the most positive leader that they will come in contact with during that week.

As partners we go into companies and engage in all aspects of the business, but what is valued in the partnership is the degree to which we are a good steward. I walk in confidently knowing that as a partner I get to make a difference in the work place if I am a good steward of my partner’s confidence. Not just the production related issues but quite often numerous other areas as well. We can be a great asset to the plant manager by providing an objective view of the leadership team that they can employ to better lead, guide and direct the organization.

And, when I engage the associates on the floor, I start with asking how they are doing. How has your day been? What can I do to improve your work place? We find that the associates take a deep breath and then exhale, and then proceed to unload. At the end of the conversation we have the associate’ thoughts of how they view the company, their leaders, and some ideas on what can be done to improve the company.

Why is that? The contact they have with their first line leader is normally in the form of directives and deliverables. The leaders are often so busy that all of their efforts are geared to getting the product produced and shipped out. And, it’s not necessarily because they are doing something wrong. They could simply have more on their plate than they can handle.

As good stewards we are a positive example to the plant of how good partners champion the cause by encouraging all that we come in contact with to embrace change and to deliverer solid results daily. As a former plant manager I distinctively remember companies that I chose to partner with to complete capital projects and new product installs, and what stood out with those partners was the fact that they worked as hard to be a good steward of my company as I did each day. A good partner but better, a steward.

Leadership World View

Leadership, whether effective or ineffective, is the common description of an individual’s ability to direct, motivate, guide and usually manage people or an organization.  Leadership is regularly characterized by style. These styles are grouped into three, or five, or six, etc. categories that describe the direct interaction of the leader and others depending on the researcher. A widely accepted classification of styles was developed by Daniel Goleman in his “Leadership that Gets Results”, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000 p. 82-83. In it he describes six styles of leadership (Commanding, Visionary, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coaching), their situational use and the blending of emotional intelligence to increase effectiveness.

Going beyond style, a leader's world view should also be considered. A world view is the framework of ideas, attitudes, beliefs, etc. that individuals hold about themselves and the world, as well as their organizational responsibilities. Leaders, no matter what their framework, use a combination of styles, consciously or unconsciously, to try to increase their effectiveness. These should be integrated with their world view for a more complete assessment. Three overall world view categories that are commonly used in organizations everywhere are the Engineer, Accountant, and Entrepreneur.

Engineers, from the Latin ingeniare ("to contrive, devise") and ingenium ("cleverness") are as their name implies practical problem solvers. They see a problem, devise possible solutions and expect the solution to be implemented. The struggle here is to get organizational buy-in and support. Others are considered “doers” by Engineers and should execute without question. A quote from a manager that I once worked with summarizes this world view. “We all know what the problem is. Why don’t they just go out and fix it?”

Accountants harken back to the late Middle Ages from the Old French “acuntant, to account” and are recognized in common vernacular by calling them “bean counters”. Their focus in an organization is about categorizing and tallying financial resources. Their emphasis is usually more on reducing expenditures (the annual cost reduction initiatives) than growing revenue. Capital expenditures are based on achieving a mandated ROI, rather than overall improvement in a process or product. Their challenge is trying to drive cost cutting as a strategy for organizational success. A singular focus with this approach can lead to a death spiral where investment is based on volume (revenue) where decreasing market share has curtailed investment in new products, equipment and processes. Without changes this leader will cost cut an organization into bankruptcy.

The term Entrepreneurs dates to 1723. They are commonly characterized as leaders that value initiative and risk taking. Even though Entrepreneurs are usually associated with start-up organizations they can be found in established companies too.  If you think of people who have the initiative to take on challenges, actively grow an organization, and are focused on driving customer benefits you are identifying Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs drive growth through innovation and risk taking.

What world view do you have when dealing with your organization; problem solver, cost cutter or risk taker?  Who would you want to work for?