Category Archives: Growth Strategies

Bigger CI Gains Can Come With “Bigger” Challenges

We all strive to achieve breakthrough or “bigger” gains when involved in Continuous Improvement, and a basic fact of accomplishing this is to pursue cross-organizational improvements.

However, these efforts typically involve more people, and this size factor alone can make projects more difficult to execute.

Consider that the larger the group, the more effort is required to ensure that good working relationships develop among the team members. Scheduling meetings becomes more difficult, and individuals may take less responsibility because with a large group it is easier to assume someone else will pick up the slack. There is often a limited window in which people are available, and the more people who must participate, the more constraints the project leader must schedule within.

Here are a few recommendations on how team leaders can minimize these “size-related” difficulties :

  • Make sure each participant has a clearly defined role and that everyone is clear about why each participant is needed.
  • Develop (and continue to refer back to) a clear charter and mandate from senior management
  • Develop ground rules about how to handle absences in a way that ensures the project continues forward. Will substitutes be used? Who can substitute and how will the team make sure that a substitute will know what is expected of them?
  • Set up firm meeting times and locations at the start of the project.
  • Publish minutes so that everyone is clear about what was decided and who has what action item.
  • Publish agendas so that everyone knows what is expected to happen at each meeting. Send reminders to make sure that action items are ready when planned.
  • Involve a facilitator to make sure that everyone provides input and that discussions stay on topic. Projects without a good facilitator will lose focus.
  • Develop concrete time lines and scope, and “chunk the work.” Breaking the work into specific deliverables helps to manage the size and complexity of cross-organizational improvements.

Learning from the Marketplace to Promote Internal Change

As noted in our previous post, “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, and all sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change.

One very effective source of knowledge is our marketplace, which includes our customers and competitors.

By learning from the market we can often see possibilities for innovation that have been overlooked. Of course learning is only the first step, as the gained knowledge must then be applied.

For example, in the early 1980’s, Toyota believed that to grow their sales in the United States they would need to have manufacturing facilities here, but they concluded they did not have enough knowledge to do so successfully. So they entered into a joint venture with General Motors, opening the NUMMI plant in California to produce both the Chevy Nova and the Toyota Corolla in the United States.

After they achieved their learning goals, Toyota went on to successfully open plants in a number of U.S. locations, applying their knowledge each time.  While General Motors had the opportunity to learn the production systems that enabled Toyota to produce very high quality products at low cost, and while many individuals at GM learned a great deal through this venture, GM gained little more from the venture than the cars that came off the assembly line.

Learning from the customer can also open our eyes to new possibilities. But it’s important to recognize that customers may tell you what they want, but not necessarily why.

So making the extra effort to go beyond just “what they need” to gain knowledge is critically-important. Contextual inquiry is a method of learning more about the customer needs than the customer could tell you by watching the customer use the product in context.

What do they really value? How do they use or struggle to use what you give them? What are the things that you could do differently that the customers would not know to ask? And consider that they don’t ask because they don’t know enough about your process
to suggest it, and you don’t know enough about their process to offer it!

Similarly, knowledge of the competition can produce a greater sense of urgency or a heightened “willingness” to change, and in many cases can give us better insights as to the best ways to satisfy our customers and achieve a competitive edge.

The Most Effectively Managed U.S. Companies

On Wednesday December 6, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the country’s most effectively-managed companies as ranked by the Drucker Institute.

Interestingly, the selections were based on a “holistic approach, examining how well a business does in five areas that reflect Mr. Drucker’s core principles.” These areas are:

  1. Customer satisfaction
  2. Employee engagement and development
  3. Innovation
  4. Social responsibility
  5. Financial strength

In case you’re curious, the top 5 on Drucker’s “250 most effectively-managed” list are:

  1. Amazon.com Inc.
  2. Apple Inc.
  3. Alphabet Inc.
  4. Johnson & Johnson
  5. I.B.M. Corp.

It’s encouraging to see customer satisfaction and employee engagement/development atop the criteria list, as these emerging measures have proved to be common threads among the most successful organizations we’ve encountered — these organizations tend to enjoy a safer, more productive workplace, with low team turnover, high safety ratings, and high customer retention rates; they operate with a culture of continuous improvement, and they are consistently able to achieve goals through people in a measurable way.

Building a Performance Culture Infographic

Our previous post listed ten behaviors that have proved effective when taking a formalized approach to employee engagement.

But as noted in that, and other posts, engagement alone is not enough if the goal is to improve performance in a measurable way.

Not surprisingly, some of the highest achieving organizations with which we’ve worked are those that have successfully leveraged their engagement effort to develop and sustain high performance cultures.

The info-graphic  summarizes  steps you can take in order to achieve a high-performance culture.

Within this type of culture, people at all levels are encouraged to continually look for better ways of doing their jobs.  They are continually educated about, and coached to use, the tools of improvement; and to understand the link between individual or team performance and organizational goals.

Leaders within such a culture make available the necessary resources for helping people at all levels to understand the core competencies, values and beliefs which drive the culture.  These leaders also devote the necessary time and attention toward encouraging an environment that supports high quality and productivity, and toward effective performance management.

Improve Sales Too

It’s rare to find a business organization of any substance
that has not implemented at least some type of improvement initiative in their manufacturing, administrative, or service sectors,  whether it be the Conway approach, LEAN, Six Sigma, and so on.

But, as noted in a previous post, not as many have defined a sales process, nor have they taken the hunt for waste and the quest for continuous improvement into the realm of sales .

Selling is a process. The basic principles of work and process improvement certainly apply, and, just as these principles have brought about measurable gains in other sectors, so too, if properly executed, can they help those in the selling arena learn how to contribute more to the overall enterprise; how to work smarter, faster, and with more success.

These principles might also help a sales team stand out from the competition due to more effective execution.

By teaching the basic principles of studying, changing, and improving work and work processes to sales professionals, an organization can empower them to help themselves and the enterprise realize major (breakthrough!) accomplishments, such as:

  • Communicating at a higher level with customers
  • Gathering the “voice of the customer”
  • Interacting more harmoniously with internal customers
  • Selling more in less time
  • Managing key accounts more effectively
  • Increasing margins

As sellers learn more about the effects of continuous improvement, they will become better at translating the company’s true value-added message. They might even help to develop it!

As they become more educated and enthusiastic about the relevance of simple statistics, variation, and waste reduction, it’s likely that they will also become more effective at uncovering and expressing true customer needs.

And finally, a sales force so educated will more readily recognize the advantages of incorporating all of these principles into their daily sales effort. As a result, they will become more efficient. They will become more successful. Successful sales people stay on, sell more, and help the company grow more profitably.

Why not improve sales too?

10 Good Reasons for Defining (& Improving) the Sales Process

Have you formally defined your organization’s sales process?

In other words, have you documented the specific steps you or your sales team must execute to move from identifying a lead to closing the sale?

If so, are they the right steps?  Have you mapped the key objectives and activities for each step? How about measuring team performance on a step-by-step basis? Are people working on the right things? Have you identified the best opportunities for continually improving each step and, as a result, the entire process?

We’ve found that those who place a strong focus on these things are able to execute the sales process much more effectively and, as a result, enjoy a number of advantages, which include:

  1. Consistent approach which can more easily be analyzed and continually improved, most often resulting in a greater competitive advantage
  2. Common language throughout the organization, facilitating more effective strategizing
  3. More consistent and diligent lead qualification, thus promoting efficiency and reducing waste
  4. More precise definition of transaction status and progress, thus more accurate forecasting
  5. More comprehensive need assessment, which promotes a consultative selling style and higher margins; better assessment also tends to bring-about a heightened responsiveness to customer needs, interests and priorities, and often yields larger average order size
  6. Heightened ability to incorporate the voice-of-the-customer into organizational decision-making
  7. Higher levels of conscious competence and team development
  8. Shorter sales cycles
  9. More natural closing
  10. A better customer experience, as the “diligent” execution promotes differentiation

3 Big Barriers to Innovation

Our previous post referenced a common obstacle to major process innovation as being a reluctance to challenge the “status-quo.”

Three additional and significant barriers to innovation are:

  1. Time… Many organizations cite the lack of time and attention to innovation as a major barrier because people are simply too busy to think about innovation. “If my boss’s boss is too busy to think about new and better ways of doing something, I better be too.” This is a good recipe for keeping things exactly the way they are while the world passes by.
  2. Too much at stake… Innovation requires risk taking, and large, well-established organizations simply have a lot on the plate to risk. When a well established company with a broad customer base introduces a new product, expectations are quite high and risks must be carefully weighed. Each potential innovation must be considered and evaluated in light of the existing portfolio of products and commitments. Innovation becomes much more complicated and difficult.
  3. Too many ideas… While everyone realizes we cannot innovate with too few ideas, we also can’t get anywhere with too many. Innovation requires a well disciplined process as well as a fast flowing stream of ideas. An organization needs to have an effective way to pivot from idea creation to sifting, sorting, choosing, and doing. Ideas can get in the way of deeds, and effective innovation requires both.

Now that we’ve identified some of the most common challenges to innovation, our next post will focus on specific ways to overcome these obstacles and to develop a culture of innovation.

Organizational Agility?

Our previous post summarized the rapid acceleration in the pace of change that has taken place within the business world over the past ten years, and how the speed of change in the markets, competition, and technological capabilities has increased desire for greater agility.

So, how might we define organizational agility?

Some tend to think of being agile as being synonymous with being entrepreneurial, because vision, leadership, rapid decision making, and an intense customer focus are all necessary for agility. But the concepts are really not the same, as many entrepreneurs are not overly agile. In fact, many tend to “go it alone” and fail to leverage their organization’s knowledge and capabilities to make the most of developing opportunities.

Organizational agility is the ability to identify the developing threats and opportunities to the organization’s mission, and to quickly align or realign resources to thrive in the new or emerging environment.

Agility requires these two components:

  1. The ability to see and understand the external developments and what they will mean for the organization
  2. The ability to quickly adapt resources to leverage the emerging opportunities and to avoid the looming threats

These two key abilities together provide a profound competitive edge in an era of quickly-accelerating developments, and enable an agile organization to truly thrive.

How Strong Leadership Drives Innovation

leadershipandinnovationAs a final component to our series of posts on the subject of innovation, today’s post focuses on the critically-important role of leadership. Given the challenges of creating a consistently effective innovative organization, nothing is more important than leadership, which is required to empower and unleash an organization’s creative talents and energy.

An innovative culture is not the default position — it must be carefully created. But empowerment, important as that is, is nowhere near enough. Leadership must also create a challenging vision around which to rally the organization’s creative energies. This vision must be grounded in a deep understanding of the market and of the daily struggles of the people who make up that market — i.e., the market’s needs.

In addition, understanding the market is much easier for a small company where everyone deals with real customer needs every day. But as organizations grow, they expand like a balloon — more mass and less surface area. The surface area has the chance to get close to the external customer’s needs, but leadership must maintain or create a mechanism that will ensure that an understanding of the customer’s needs can penetrate beyond the surface area into the heart of the organization.

The same is true of internal functions that work together like a chain of customers. As organizations grow, departments grow and they too develop ‘more mass and less surface area’ — creating the familiar silo phenomenon.

Finally, leadership of innovative organizations must, without stifling creativity, challenge the organization’s efforts with the necessary, market-driven constraints.

Without the right constraints, empowerment cannot succeed. It is too easy to become satisfied with a creative idea before it has been developed into something really workable. An organization that tries to empower innovation without creating the right market-driven constraints, can easily suffocate in an avalanche of incomplete or impractical ideas.

This is a tall order, and it becomes easy to see why innovation isn’t easier to come by despite all the human talent and energy brought to bear. But creating an innovative culture is, in itself, a creative challenge. By increasing our understanding of the challenges and constraints, we increase our ability to focus our own leadership talents on the right things to make it happen.

Read the full article…

Innovation Enablers!

boxSince our previous few posts have focused on barriers to innovation, it only seems right that we might also review some ideas for enabling it…

These methods require strong and empowering leadership to lay out the market constraints, make clear the threats from the changing environment and the opportunities that may arise, and provide the amnesty to take a risk to put ideas and observations on the table.

Necessity
When, in the 1950’s, Taiichi Ohno led a delegation to visit Ford to learn how to build automobiles, he was dismayed by the inventory, the huge warehouses and sprawling production facilities, the staggeringly large workforces. Toyota had nothing like those resources to emulate that system. They lacked the capital for all that inventory and they lacked the space for those sprawling production facilities. They needed a much leaner system, and so they invented one – because they had to!

Another  company observed that when their very survival was at risk, they began to implement a program of Continuous Improvement that called on everyone to contribute innovative implementable ideas. Because they had to develop new and better ways of operating, they did!

Similarly, a start-up company with few resources must innovate or quickly wither away. And it must be less scary to try something new and risk failure than it is to stay with the status quo. To create this condition, you must provide amnesty to reduce the risk of sharing new ideas; but it also helps if the status quo looks pretty untenable.

Outside the Box Thinking
Outsiders often come up with the best innovations, because they have no ties to the status quo. But outsiders often have a difficult time effecting real change because they are outsiders. A senior manager of a once innovative company wryly observed, “We say we like to bring in outsiders with fresh ideas, but when they share them we explain that’s not the way we do it here.”

Imagineering
To foster process innovation we must summon the courage to acknowledge the deep areas of waste that are part of our standard work. We all have this: inspection or rework or moving or waiting that is so intrinsically a part of the way we work that we cannot envision the work without it.

Because we cannot immediately think of any possible alternatives, we look the other way and thus we cannot innovate.

Summon the courage to put that waste on the table, calling it what it is. We have seen remarkable feats of innovation inspired by this simple act — recognizing waste for what it is. Go ahead and imagine the process without the steps that add no real value — that just compensate for a flaw somewhere in the process — and then take the time to search for ways to get to that vision.

Imagine perfection.