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Monday, December 27, 2010

What or How?

What is more important to an organization, What you do, or How you do it?

That's the question Bec Kennedy of Australia asked Richard Branson in Entrepreneur magazine.

Is the organization's purpose and mission more important, or are the methods and efficiency of how the organization works more important?

After reading the question, I was curious as to what Mr. Branson's answer would be. What would you say?

Mr. Branson answered that while efficiency and profitability are certainly important to every company, but acting responsibly is more important for long term success. Do you agree? It's hard to argue with the logic.

Acting responsibly helps to motivate and engage your employees. This is especially true for many non-profit organizations. Motivated and engaged employees strive to work more efficiently and effectively to continue with and build upon the success of the organization. Motivated and engaged employees translates into higher levels of customer service. Motivated and engaged employees search for ways to develop, build, and deliver higher quality products and services.

This all translates to more loyal customers, more customers, and lower operating costs. That leads to higher profits. Mr. Branson calls this the virtuous cycle. Does this work in your organization? Can it?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gumby Walk

The Gumby Walk, or Going to Gumby...

Oh,wait, that's not it. Gemba. Gemba, not Gumby.

If you are not familiar with gemba or the gemba walk, here's a couple of great posts that illustrate the concept so that you'll never forget it. The first is by Jon Wetzel at the Gemba Tales Blog, the second is by Norman Bodek. I heard Norman speak once. What a character! But also full of knowledge.

To summarize the concept of gemba in the Lean Management system, it means going to the source, or where things actually happen. If you want to know what's going on, go look. Don't just listen to what people tell you. Go look and see for yourself. If you run a manufacturing plant, go out onto the factory floor. If you provide services to clients, go to where those services are provided and see for yourself how it's being done. Go look.

As for Gumby? If you've never heard it, you have to listen to The Ballad of Gumby. Or, if country western ballads aren't your thing, try Zydeco Gumby Ya Ya.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Leading the Race?

... and it's Lean leading by two and a half lengths coming into the turn...

I just came across this report that says that Lean is leading Six Sigma as the preferred corporate improvement system. Maybe it is. Without reading the full research analysis I can only comment on what is reported in the press. But I am a bit skeptical about the whole thing.

A couple of points jump to mind. The first is that the analysis is based on job ads that list Lean and/or Six Sigma expertise and experience. I'm not sure how valid that is as a measure of the popularity of the systems. Sure, it says something, but what exactly I'm not sure I'd speculate about.

Second, I don't see these two management systems as competing against each other. First, they are complimentary systems. They work well together, and you could argue that either one is an extension of the other. Second, commitment and implementation are more important than which one you choose. Actually, what's more important is which one is the most appropriate for your organization at any given point in time.

A point I often make is that instead of focusing on what the particular system you're looking at using is called, understand what you're trying to accomplish and what tools you can use to get there. Use parts and pieces of the various formal systems and make them work for you.

Of course, many times it is advantageous to implement a formal, named, system, such as Lean, Six Sigma, or Sales & Operations Planning because that allows people to get their hands and heads around it and keep them focused. Only you know what's best for you.

But you have to have enough knowledge to make the decisions. My book will help.

Would You Like Customer Service With That?

Safeway has a new self-checkout line. Now you get to choose between poor service and no service.

Half the time the regular checkout is almost like a self checkout. Your existence barely registers a blip on their radar as they chat to their friends, check the break schedule, or get distracted by ... Oh! A squirrel! Sometimes while standing in line I move my hands back and forth like I'm scanning my items. No sense just standing there looking at a blank wall. No one notices. Except the people in line behind me. I tell them I'm playing air piano.

Customer Service is an integral part of Business Operations. Business Operations being the part of your organization directly responsible for the delivery of your products and services to your customers. Poor Customer Service means poor Business Operations. Poor Business Operations means lower profits, loss of customers, and in this economy can mean downfall of the business.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Cowsourcing - think the name will catch on?

There's an interesting article in Entrepreneur Magazine about what they call rural outsourcing. There is a growing trend among U.S. companies to outsource IT services to companies located in rural communities in the U.S., rather than overseas.

While the cost is still higher than many overseas locations, it is much less costly than in larger cities in the U.S. Add to the fact that the outsource partners are physically closer, which many people find comforting, the language and cultural gaps are far less. Though if you've ever watched the old TV program Green Acres (Ahh, Eva Gabor. Fellow Hungarian), you might disagree with that cultural gap.

I still like Cowsourcing...

I'm Somebody!

The Let's Talk Business! blog has been listed in Top 50 Resources for Students Attending Online Business Management Schools as a resource for Business Operations information.

But, wait, there's more.

I'm also listed in Top 50 Resources For Students Attending Online Organizational Leadership Schools.

I'm not sure what this is about. I usually ignore email like this, but I checked out the lists and looked at a couple of the other blogs listed. Some of them seem worth another look at. I'll take some time to check out some of the other blogs and list some of the ones I like here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

By The Numbers

Do you know who said this: "Guessing is dysfunctional. Ignoring prior experience is denial. Using valid numbers to project performance is rational."?

No? If I told you it was Harrison "Buzz" Price would you know? Don't know who "Buzz" Price is? I didn't either until today.

Mr. Price was a research economist. I don't really know what that entails, but Mr. Price was one, and he was very good at it. How good?

Mr. Price selected the site for Disneyland in Anaheim, CA in 1953. He also selected the site for Disney World in Orlando, FL. That's good.

How did he do it? By using numbers. Data, that is. Facts. He analyzed numerous factors, information like population trends in the area and how accessible the area was, to determine results. He didn't use gut feel or just follow what someone else was doing.

Today, we might say that sounds like Six Sigma or some other management fad (did I just call Six Sigma a fad? I didn't mean it to sound that way, because it's not.), but back in 1953 they probably just called it being smart.

Oh, the quote at the beginning of this post is from Mr. Price's book Walt's Revolution! and I read about him in the November, 2010 issue of Inc. Magazine

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who are They?

I know the name, but I no nothing about Richard Branson. Sir Richard Branson, I should say, of Virgin Group fame. Obviously successful, but when you only know someone from news stories about them you usually have some pre-conceived notion about them. Since I've never really paid attention to Sir Richard, I didn't really give him any thought beyond "probably just another arrogant rich guy."

But I read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine written by Sir Richard (what's the proper way to address him?) yesterday, and I now have a positive opinion of him. He makes some very insightful comments about something you probably haven't given any thought to, but certainly will if you read the article.

He writes about employees using the term "they" when speaking about something negative, but using "we" when talking about positive things. Very interesting, and thinking about it will change your perception of the culture of your workplace. As a leader, you want your employees to think "we" whether the news or issue is good or bad. "They", or Us vs. Them, is a mentality that hinders your organization's performance and must be overcome.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010 Vietnam National Quality Awards

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced that 96 Vietnamese organizations received National Quality Awards this year, 11 at the Golden level and 85 at the Silver level.

Having just served as an examiner for the Arizona Excellence Award this year (and for the Hawaii award in the past), I know the level of commitment that it takes to earn recognition in these programs. Congratulations to all the award winners and all participants.

I could only find this one announcement, or press release, with no information on the winners. Maybe later, as the award ceremony will be held at a later date. Here's two links to the same article, this one without a picture, this one with a picture (just in case having a picture with your text matters to you).

I've read articles that quote various numbers for how many countries have National Performance Excellence or National Quality Awards. They say things like "over 85 countries" or "over 120 countries". So I started to wonder just what countries, exactly, do actually have active programs. I started to put together a list, but haven't finished it yet. The most accurate starting point I was able to find is at the NIST website, home of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (that's the U.S. national program). But I've found that the list is either out of date or incomplete.

It is interesting, though, to see the list of countries that have programs, many that I would not have thought of. Narrow mindedness on my part, I guess. When I get my list done I'll share it here or on my website.

If you are not familiar with the Criteria for Performance Excellence, you should definitely take the time to look at it. Even just reading the Criteria and being aware of the requirements will help you look at your organization differently, and lead to improvements.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Front Page News

OK, maybe not the front page, but there was a good size article on Hawaii Rugby in Friday's Honolulu Star Advertiser. Check it out here.

USA Rugby's head coach (men's) says that Hawaii is an untapped resource for rugby players. He'll be here to lead some clinics and scout some players. With the youth rugby doing well here, and the adult league continuing to progress in terms of organization and building the rugby community, there will be more and more high quality players coming out of Hawaii. Some are already making names for themselves.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Can't Get No... Job Satisfaction!

According to some recent research, the number one reason that employees leave their jobs is because of their relationship with their direct supervisor. There are many factors, of course. Some people will remain in a job even if they have a very poor relationship with their supervisor, but in many cases, employees leave because of their boss.

I once went to work for a company that had an extremely high level of turnover and an almost toxic environment. This was a small company, and the owner directly supervised all the employees. The owner knew he was the cause of the problems and hired a consultant to help him. One of the results of the consultant’s work was that I was hired to manage Operations and supervise the employees. In effect, I was a buffer between the owner and the other employees.

I was a good buffer. Eventually, it didn’t happen overnight, I stabilized the workforce and the Operations of the company. However, the effects on my health of being the buffer were not good and I left the company. But the experience did give me first hand knowledge of the effects of bosses on employees.

Other research has looked at the factors of job satisfaction. I was looking at this after a question was asked about how to retain employees when, in the current economic conditions, the company could not give raises or bonuses to employees. While base pay is an important consideration in job satisfaction, it is not the top factor. The factors that affect job satisfaction are complex. Base pay is usually ranked in the top 5, but a survey done by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) in 2009 showed that job security and benefits ranked the highest, with compensation coming in third. Given the state of the economy at the time of the survey, that is not surprising, but that would not be surprising even in a good economy.

Many factors contribute to job satisfaction, but if you look beyond job security and compensation, you will see that there are a number of factors that relate to the job or the work itself. And, of course, relationship with supervisors and management are important. The factors that relate to the work and the relationships with management are important for Business Operations professionals.

Employees want to perform work that utilizes their skills, and they want to perform work that is meaningful. What does meaningful mean in this situation? It means that the work they do is important for the success of the organization, and in many cases, important to the health and well being of society in general. For Business Operations professionals, the challenge is to ensure that the employees work is meaningful. How can you do that?

One place to look is within one of the core principles of the Lean Management system. Lean advocates, no, relies on, employee participation and input. Workers play an important role in designing and improving processes, establishing procedures, and developing work systems. When the workers themselves are heavily involved in their own destiny, their satisfaction with the job is very high.

The takeaway here for Business Operations professionals is to tap into your employees knowledge, bring them into the process of designing and improving how you do things, and understand and improve your relationships with your employees.