Archive For January 14, 2015

Organizational Uniqueness #1

Organizations Need to Value their Difference

When I was young, I had a semi-broken down car that I drove everywhere.  Whenever I needed to go somewhere new, I consulted a map and plotted out my trip.  This was a more complicated process than just finding the interstate and the appropriate local exit.  My car had a cracked brake fluid cylinder and leaked fluid slowly but surely throughout any drive.  Because I did not have the money to have the cylinder replaced, I carefully plotted my journeys to minimize stops because braking forced fluid out of the cylinder.  To my dismay, driving at high speeds also had a similar impact on the brake cylinder, as the jostling of the car increased the leakage.

Consequently, I plotted a tortuous but low-stop, low-speed route to my destination.  I worked around major hills and mountains to avoid having to brake going downhill and to minimize the strain of the engine going uphill.  I, of course, carried a brake fluid can with me on every trip. Therefore finding a safe, easy place to pull over also needed to be factored into my travel route.  For my car and my budget, this was the best way for me to find the optimal route to my destination.

Maps show you how to reach your destination.  A good map will provide you with enough detail to let you develop multiple routes to your destination, so that you can take advantage of your vehicles shortcomings – or its strengths (like working brakes).  A good map will have the detail to enable you to plan the fastest way to your destination, or the slower, scenic route, or a combination of both depending on your unique preference.  It will provide you with the information needed to craft your own route, capitalize on your own strengths, and work around your weaknesses.  It will allow you to leverage your unique capabilities.

What is true for my journey, and its use of maps, is also true for your organization.  Your organization has a destination, a strategic target, and niche that it must reach to serve.  How your organization gets there is all about leveraging its unique capabilities and traveling its own route to success. Strategic execution is not about who you are compared to competitors, but about how you leverage and evolve your uniqueness. To do this, you must accept your uniqueness and plot a route that best fits your organization.

Preparing for Lean Manufacturing Training

by Alan Severance

There are many ways to train your supervisors once you have decided to implement a training program. The next step, though, may be trickier. If you really want to change behavior and reinforce your message about your Lean Manufacturing transformation throughout your company, you must find a way to reach every employee.


Many times I have seen firms use their supervisory training as a screening process to look inside for new managerial talent, but this may lead to rising expectations among all participants, even those who will be screened out by this process. In any case, it’s neither designed nor utilized to reach everyone.

The best way is to combine general population training with the Lean training and the screening process: use the same materials and same approach by actually putting all your employees through this training. Structure the class as one of general employee communication and “prerequisite” to the Lean training that you want them all to participate in. No expectations or hopes are raised, but you still have a great opportunity to see who is truly engaged and might be good candidates for promotion.


Start with key communicators such as line leaders because they have to give direction anyway. And your old hands who always have a lot to say are going to talk no matter what you do, so give them the correct message to spread. This includes shop stewards if you have a union shop; make them feel important to this process. Include the material handlers because they get around to many parts of the building. Of course you will mix in some of those who might make good supervisors, the ones you have already identified as having the behaviors you want reinforced. There’s no need NOT to use this opportunity!

Other than time away from the manufacturing floor, this does not have to cost a great deal. There are canned programs you can purchase; you can train one or more of your people to be a trainer and facilitator. You can run the classes during your slow cycle if you have one, or whenever your schedule allows. If the time is planned and well-managed, this investment in your workforce will have minimal impact on deliveries or your bottom line in the short run, and a heavy positive impact on both for the long term.


Organizational Uniqueness #2:

One Approach Does Not Fit All

Consultants frequently hear from their clients how different and unique their organization is. They typically listen to this, nodding their heads in agreement, while silently identifying all the companies they have seen that are very similar to their client’s. Consultants rightfully pride themselves on being able to categorize clients. After all, professionals depend on categorization to rapidly identify a problem and develop a plan to address the client’s pain.

However, executives need to beware of ideal models that companies should emulate. Companies have their own unique blend of mindsets, processes, and behaviors, that when aligned, provide the company with the foundation to succeed. This blend is not permanent; it must continuously evolve with the changes in its environment. But it is unique and that uniqueness must be respected. The symptoms of not respecting a company’s uniqueness are many, and almost all are painful. Greatly over budget ERP implementations that do not meet minimum expectations, and failed acquisitions that produce little or no synergy, are typical symptoms of not respecting an organization’s uniqueness.

Both of these examples are directly caused by failure to respect an organization’s uniqueness. One-size-fits-all project implementation does not work. An organization’s uniqueness is created by the natural variation of its mindsets, processes, and behaviors. The variation is created by the organization’s interaction with its environment in the past and present. When an ERP implementation is done without acknowledging the organizational uniqueness, it is rejected – or at least rendered less powerful than expected.

Just like an organ transplant, a whole slew of factors – in this case organizational elements – need to match to have the transplant work. The devil is in the details, and organizations are filled with details that can trip up an any implementation. Just search the web for the estimated failure rate of ERP implementations – it ranges from 50% to 80%. One reason the rejection rate is so high because the consulting and management team failed to respect the organization’s uniqueness. Any project implementation or acquisition integration must acknowledge that the host company has its own unique blend of elements that must be measured, understood, and changed to achieve expectations.

Make Training Work for You

Excited about training?  Probably not.  Too many owners and managers see training time as a necessary evil at best, something to be accomplished as quickly as possible so that the trainee can start contributing to the bottom line, instead of taking away from it.

Instead, make training work for you as part of your culture.  Train your trainers; provide time, support and encouragement to both trainer and trainee; be the champion and chief cheerleader.  Then watch the impact on your bottom line!

Don’t piecemeal LEAN

Don’t piecemeal Lean. Picking and choosing ideas from Lean may provide some short term relief from current problems, but will, like any good band aid, mask the real issues. Go into Lean mode with a serious plan and a commitment to make it a continuous improvement effort.

Lean Manufacturing efforts are often started by companies already in trouble. Owners and managers hope that they can regain lost market positions with reduced costs and improved throughput times. While a great many of the ideas and techniques associated with Lean can be useful outside of that context, Lean Manufacturing is a best done as a new way of working, a new company culture. Don’t promote or reward the old behaviors; don’t reward mere problem identification; don’t make some small gains in costs and think you are done.


Instead, get your company or your team to commit enthusiastically to the new behavior. Make waste reduction the new company sport! Let everyone know that their input and participation on a team is valuable and appreciated. Look for naturally occurring teams – production lines, departments, shifts, buildings. These are already comprised of people used to working together. Speak to them about Lean and tell them you will listen. The suggestion box is dead. Ideas will be shared on flip charts and white boards, and the proposals these teams make will come to you as solutions.

Organizational Uniqueness #3

variationVariation is a Key Driver of Performance

Executives have learned over time to value diversity – in the statistical world, better known as variation – as good business because it creates a richer, broader perspective to solving and executing strategy. But to manage variation (diversity), leaders must accept each team member as an individual, perhaps as a recognizable personality type, but with distinct strengths and capabilities.

This principal of recognizing and accepting each person as an individual applies to companies as well. Variation in companies is the unique mix of the key elements, mindsets, processes, and behaviors that blend together to form the companies backbone. As with individuals, this variation is a result of nature – the company’s interaction with its environment – and nurture – how the company has been, and is, managed. If the elements are aligned so that the elements create synergy with each other, the company performs well. If the elements do not create synergy, if they conflict, or fail to support each other, the company performs poorly.

Although aligning the elements is more complex than that of a team, the basic approach and thought process is the same. A good team leader knows her team members well, has the analytics to understand them deeply and knows how to manage them to create synergy. Executives of successful companies do the same at the organization construct level.

Creating the Culture for Change

strategyredcogsIf you are looking at Lean as a way to transform your company’s culture to improve your bottom line, beware!

To accomplish any major strategy change in your firm, you need to understand that you will be challenging and changing your existing culture.  Do you know what your culture is now?  Do you understand what parts of it impede change, especially dramatic change?  What current strategies will support your initiative?  How can you prove that change is necessary and desirable – to the doubters within and to your board?

Most manufacturing executives decide to plunge ahead with a Lean Manufacturing initiative because they have been convinced it will begin contributing to the bottom line immediately (true) and because the effort itself will change the company’s culture to one of team effort and active problem solving (maybe).

And many other executives think that Lean Organization is their goal for the same reasons.  There is so much literature touting the positive effects of Lean thinking, that too many company owners and executives think that accomplishing change is akin to pressing the Staples EASY Button.  Do not reach for the button!

Instead, follow current thought and create the culture necessary to support a successful strategic change.  Just as there are current discussions of the difficulties with this, there are some significant tools available to bring this about.  A thoughtful assessment of your firm’s readiness to respond to support you will provide both the present picture and the steps required to align your culture with your proposed changes in strategy.  Think how much more successful your change initiative will be with the critical mass of your people in aligned in support.

Organizational Uniqueness #4

Leveraging Organization Uniqueness to Increase Performance


The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s lenses into evolution.  Made famous by Charles Darwin’s astute observations about the changes within species, brought about by natural environmental pressures, the islands are still intently studied today.  In an almost beyond belief discovery – one that seems to parallel the rapid change in the world of homo sapiens –  evolutionary biologists have observed how one bird species – Galapagos Finches – changed the shape of its beak within a generation to adapt to the loss of its traditional food and the arrival of another.*

Not all the birds of the species adapt, but more than enough to ensure species survival.  This again is another uncommon parallel with the current business world; rapid change, rapid adaptation, rapid death, for those organizations that do not quickly adapt.  Organizational uniqueness, the exclusive blend of mindsets, processes, and behaviors, within each organization, is essential to this evolutionary process.  The greater the variation within the species, the greater chance of survival, is true for all living organisms, including organizations.  More specifically, the greater the variation, the faster the development of new ways to execute, which in turn enables new business models to evolve and thrive.

What are the implications of this for strategy execution, managing the daily operations?  There are three key implications: (1) executives need to know, understand, and manage their organization’s uniqueness; (2) executives must regularly mix and match their organizational mindsets, processes, and behaviors, to match or anticipate changes in their markets and customer bases; (3) executives need to learn that they will need different mixes and matches of the key elements in different markets, different customers, and different products.

*Here is the book, the authors and the link, How and Why Species Multiply:  The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches, Peter R. Grant & B. Rosemary Grant,

Are you passionate about your business?

5sIt seems to me that more organizations than ever are talking about 5 S, the widely-adopted Japanese program of simplifying organizing and spiffing up production stations. The term and the techniques now pop up repeatedly in literature encouraging every part of every organization to do the same.

When you think of 5 S, do you have a picture in your head of how nice the shop looks, how clean the warehouse is, the crisp, professional look that visitors to the front – and back! – offices see when they walk in?

If you don’t, it’s likely that your people don’t either. They heard you tell them to straighten up. They sat attentively through your 5 S presentation. They even had fun running loose in someone else’s department with the red tags and red tape you provided. Did they have as much fun when they returned to their own department and had to deal with the red tags left for them by other teams? Did they get it? Did they understand that this is the new way of life? Were you able to demonstrate your own passion during the exercise and the resulting clean up and organization?

A former colleague recently started his new plant on the journey to lean, and after setting up some training sessions and handing red tags and black-and-white tape, saw a flurry of activity. When he walked through the shop, people were indeed cleaning up, marking and labeling key spots in the work cells. By the following week, the activity level dropped to normal. The new black-and-white lines were being employed properly, the red tags were gone and the areas remained clean.

Wondering why the progress had slowed, he approached the closest line and asked. The line leader proudly showed the changes made the previous week and announced they had finished the 5 S “project.”

Oops. To succeed at this kind of transformation, you must find a way to keep everyone engaged until most of your people can internalize the change and make it their own. One person’s passion was not enough by itself.

Here’s what you must be prepared to do to make this kind of dramatic change stick. Keep talking about the change and keep leading the charge. Remind your management team that that there is no hand-off. Others will commit, and you must encourage them to keep showing the new behavior, but you cannot let them pinch-hit for you. Keep broadcasting the message, broadcast every success story. Post signs in areas of significant improvement that identify the OWNER of that area or production line.

Recognize and reinforce the production teams that are moving closer to Sustain. Ask them to invite individuals and teams to visit. Get them trading ideas with each other. You manage by wandering around so encourage them to do the same.

Once you have a critical mass of people understanding that 5 S is “what we do,” the teams will be ready for the next part of your Lean initiative. Successful teams can speak with those still learning to share ideas that lead to success. Peer enthusiasm is even stronger than peer pressure.

Take advantage of it to share your passion and your vision for your organization. Align your team behaviors with your organizational values to achieve the organizational goals. Without such alignment, your efforts will not achieve the full potential you are counting on, despite your personal passion.

So You Want Your Employees to Take More Initiative

Executives often express to me their desire for the company’s employees to think strategically and to act strategically. Always in the same conversation, they also talk about how disappointed they are that this seldom happens. Most employees will not take the initiative and will not take the risk to do what they think works best for the strategy. Rather, employees prefer to follow the rules, do what they know has always been done and play it safe.

As we dive deeper into the topic, the executives have plenty of stories that exemplify their concern. An insurance company executive who described an interaction he had when walking around and talking with employees (Remember managing by walking around!).


He saw a photo of a two story house, with a flat roof that has two lawn chairs perched by the edge of the roof. When asked if that was her house, she replied, “no.” It is my shining example of how our clients take risks that we have to pay for later, when someone tumbles off the roof. She had met with the house owner to discuss a minor claim and had seen this major liability. She cited how expensive that would be for the company and how she had warned the customer not to go on the roof. The executive asked if she thought that the warning would be effective. She said, “No way.”

The executive then asked what would work. She said, “Oh that is simple, they need to put a railing around the edge of the roof.” “But they cannot afford it and it will never happen.” The executive suggested that maybe the homeowners would put up a railing if they were incented by a discount in their policy. The employee said, “Yes of course that would work but we are not allowed to do it.” He asked why not and the employee responded that she could not because it was against the company policy. He explained to her that the company was in the business of preventing losses not just paying for them. Her response was “Yes I know but it is not the job of the claims department.”

A critical strategic value – avoiding a loss – was negated by misaligned department policy. The employee clearly understood business and the two sides of the insurance ― claims and prevention. Her department was focused on the claims side and she was not “allowed” to help the company on the prevention side. She knew how to prevent the potential loss (and physical trauma to a policy holder) but felt powerless to stop it because she had to follow policy. The executive thanked her for her story and moved on with his visit.

The moral of this story is clear. Even if an employee understands the mission of the company and can recognize an opportunity to further the mission, she is often stopped by policies and processes that are misaligned with the company’s strategy. Not fulfilling the company’s mission is often not a lack of understanding.

The Value of Living by Your Principles and Being Fired

managerswayWhat happens to managers who are caught in a culture they don’t fit into? Do they change themselves? Do they knuckle under, weighed down by the power of the authority above them? Do they stay true to themselves?

Which strategy are you using to stay sane in a disagreeable environment? All of the above and combinations of all the above have been used by people like you. Each of us has to answer for ourselves so that we can sleep at night, or at least only stay awake over the rest of the issues facing most of us.

Many years ago, with a fresh MBA in Organization and Management and a job managing other people, I got hooked on McGregor, Townsend, Peters, Levitt and others who told me that the best organizations were those which focused on people. Theory Y was so much better than Theory X. It certainly was the way I wanted to manage others and to be managed myself.

I quickly found myself in the minority. While some peers and a couple of members of the senior management team thought this way, my own boss did not. Instead of finding ways to please him, I stubbornly hung on to my vision of “how things ought to be.” I led my small staff the way I wanted to be led. I developed them as managers and supervisors. I created teams to solve problems.

I developed my own skills. I learned how to listen well, to coach myself to be patient when I wasn’t, and to be a skillful facilitator who was able to bring people with disparate points of view together to create a consensus with a bias for action.

I was demoted.

Then, when my boss was fired, I was given his job.

But wait! It doesn’t end here.

The Plant Manager who promoted me was replaced by Corporate and the game changed again. And again I was asked to give up my game for another one. So……

When you find yourself here, take heart! You’ll be fired!

No, really! This is a good thing. It means that your integrity is still intact. Now go find the right company, one that will appreciate your contributions, let you lead others the right way, even let you teach your way to your peers.