Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting

YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

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  • “Don’t aspire to make a living.  Aspire to make a difference.”  Denzel Washington

    In my very first job out of college, I vividly remember observing what was going on around me; how leaders treated their staff, how organizational goals were set, how performance appraisals were done and how budgets were put together.   I saw some good things, but mostly I saw opportunities for improvement.  Looking back, this set the stage for how I think about leadership and how I have personally led individuals and organizations.

    There are two prongs to my philosophy:  [1] always put your people and the organization first and [2] continuously look for improved ways to get the work done.

    Putting people first means that you work to help individuals grow and pursue their career aspirations in a way that is meaningful for them.  You should not assume that everyone shares your personal aspirations.  I have had staff report to me from both ends of the spectrum.  Some are extremely content with their current position and do not desire additional responsibility.  On the other hand, some wish to be CEO someday.  The coaching and mentoring you provide should be personalized for each individual.  The good news is that each individual is satisfied with achieving their personal goals.  The folks that wanted to hold the top jobs have gone on to become CEOs and CFOs.  Others have worked at knowing their specialties inside and out.  As a result they are highly valued team members and are sought out for their expertise.

    Putting the organization first means that you and the team objectively set goals for the year and throughout the year all your effort is focused on achieving the goals.  Do not allow yourself to get distracted by things that may be personally interesting but not relevant to the task at hand.

    Both of these things are harder to do than they may seem.   This is why I love the term servant leadership.  A servant is at the bottom of the pyramid supporting their team and organization, not the other way around.

    Critical to the long-term viability of any company is the ability to grow and adapt to the changing business environment. This is why continuous improvement is so vital to success.  As a leader, you have responsibility for some portion of the operations within your company.   Your unending focus on improving the customer experience [internally or externally] and eliminating defects and unnecessary work will create an organization that people are proud to be a part of and will significantly enhance overall performance.

    James Kouzes and Barry Posner say it eloquently in their book, “ A Leader’s Legacy”.   Here is a quote from page 18, “We’ll all be remembered for something.  The question is, for what?  What will others say about you when you’re no longer around?  Each of us live on in the memories we create, in the systems and practices we set in place (or don’t), and in the lives we touch.”

    What do you want your leadership legacy to be and how will you create it?

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  • My previous post talked about the steps you would follow when attempting to identify process improvement opportunities.  When doing something for the first time do not jump into the hardest stuff immediately.  Try out some of the basic tools first to build your knowledge, confidence and success.  Mastery of any topic is a journey.

    Based on my experience of leading and implementing significant process improvements you need a quality toolbox that contains tools, techniques and concepts.   Below you will find key elements of process improvement work and the list of tools/concepts that will help you get started.  [Note:  there are definitely more tools that are not mentioned.  For a full description, of the tools, refer to the books I have listed at the end of this post.]

    [1] Working with numbers and analyzing data:  You need to be able to count things, identify and track trends, measure relationships, summarize data, recognize the source of variation, present frequency distributions and pinpoint key problems.   These tools provide the ability to analyze the data: tally sheet, histogram, pareto analysis, run chart, scatter plot and control chart.

    [2] Generating Ideas: To improve you need to generate a high volume of new ideas, gather/group the ideas, find relationships, identify root cause, visualize the process, understand the positive and negative impacts of change, weigh your options and rate organization performance.  Here are the tools to use when evaluating ideas: affinity diagram, brainstorming, cause and effect diagram or fishbone diagram, flow chart, value stream map, radar charts, force field analysis, 5 whys and prioritization/voting.

    [3] Working together as teams.  Idea generation and the creation of solutions can only happen with a team.  The process improvement team will need at least one person skilled in facilitation and conducting effective meetings.  Energy is drained from a team that is not focused and efficient.  A good facilitator understands many of the lean/six sigma tools and when/how to use them. They are trusted by the team and support/manage the group’s social and cognitive processes so that the team can put their full energy into the issue at hand.  [Note: Much has been written on conducting effective meetings so I will not duplicate that information here.]

    [4] Concepts of Lean: Tools and techniques are necessary, but so is a belief in the concepts of lean. My favorites are:

    • Genchi Genbutsu:  to best understand an issue go to the place where the work is done.
    • Kaizen: change for the better requires a focus upon continuous improvement
    • Muda: all processes contain waste.  A key element of improvement is the elimination of waste in all of its forms.
    • Poka-yoke: fail-safe your processes to prevent mistakes.

     

    There are many wonderful books where you can gain significantly more insight into the tools, techniques and concepts mentioned above.  Of course, Wikipedia is also a wonderful source of information as well.

    I would value the opportunity to have a confidential and complimentary discussion of your company’s situation.  My phone number is (585) 329-3754.

    References:

    Brassard, M., and Ritter, D., The Memory Jogger II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement & Effective Planning. Methuen, MA: GOAL/QPC., 1994. Print

    Crosby, P., Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York, New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1979. Print

    George, M., Lean Six Sigma For Service. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2003. Print

    Ishikawa, K., Guide to Quality Control.  Tokyo, Japan: Asian Productivity Organization., 1984. Print

    Keller, P., and Pyzdek, T., The Six Sigma Handbook. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2010. Print

    Liker, J., The Toyota Way. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill., 2004. Print

    Wikipedia Lean Concepts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lean_concepts

    Womak, J., and Jones, D., Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.  New York, New York: Simon & Schuster., 1996. Print

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  • What is operational excellence?  I think Swati Ranganathan’s definition states it well, “Operational excellence is executing in an efficient and effective manner across the value chain with a focus on delivering value to customers.”  Appropriate metrics will assist you to monitor your progress and successes.

    If you are not sure how to start on your journey of operational excellence, here are 6 steps you can take as a leader to get started.

    [1] Review your work flow and processes.  Lean work flow and processes mean that you have minimized waste of all types.  Teams are then positioned to focus their efforts on adding value.

    [2] Ensure fluid communication flows.  To produce exceptional results you need to have the appropriate and most current information to do your work.  Assess how your current communication flow works.  Undoubtedly you will find a way to improve the timeliness, effectiveness and completeness of your organizational communication.  Then implement the appropriate changes.

    [3] Create a culture that values continuous improvement.  Very few processes exist that cannot benefit from improvement.  No one should rest on their laurels and accept the status quo.  Staff should be encouraged and reinforced for seeking out process improvements.  A very effective way to accomplish this is to include it in individual’s personal goals.

    [4] Leverage and value diversity of thought and experience.   Solutions to problems are a result of creativity and thinking outside the box.  A team with diverse experience and thinking will be able to innovate more quickly than other teams.

    [5] Think like a customer.  A customer can be internal or external to your company.  The best solutions come when you “pretend” you are a customer and think about the problem from their perspective.  This approach helps to minimize re-work.

    [6] Look at and listen to the data.  You must spend the time to define the standards and measures of goodness/excellence.   Data is impartial.  When you measure the result then everyone knows what actions need to be taken.

    Operational excellence is critical to the success of any business.  If you are not sure how effective and efficient your work flow and processes are follow these 6 steps and address any improvement opportunities you discover.

    If you would like to discuss how to use these steps in your organization, please call me at 585-329-3754.  I would be most happy to have a conversation with you.

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  • A lot of emphasis is placed on creating a customer 1st focus when dealing with external customers.  It is not always clear, however, what it means when you are part of an internal support organization such as finance or human resources.

    As a member of an internal support organization, most likely you are a technical expert in your field.  When you interact with others outside of your department they will not have the same knowledge and expertise that you do in your field.  However, no one works in a vacuum.  All functions are inter-linked with the overall end-to-end enterprise process.

    Here are six steps that will carry you a long way in terms of delivering exceptional internal customer service.

    [1] Understand what the information you are providing will be used for. It is very easy in the rush of day-to-day work to not ask clarifying questions.  Be sure to ask enough questions so you provide the right information the first time.  By doing do you prevent re-work.

    [2] Share your knowledge with the department so they grow and learn.  For example – in finance it is easy to rely on policies and procedures and tell other groups what they need to do.  However, explaining “the whys” helps others understand.  Additionally, you may discover a policy or procedure that needs to be revised or an exception that should be granted due to business circumstances.

    [3] Agree up-front on timing and deliverables. Then ensure you deliver on-time.  One key advantage of setting expectations up-front is the ability to iron-out differences immediately.

    [4] Ask for feedback on how to improve both the deliverable and the interaction with the individual or department.  Asking for feedback does not mean you have to comply with every request but it opens up a dialogue. You can then commit to an agreed upon improvement.

    [5] Visit “the shop floor” and get to know the business you support.  The more you know the business, the better you will be able to anticipate their needs.

    [6] Eliminate surprises to the best of your ability.  Business by its very nature can be unpredictable.  However, in that rare case where you cannot meet a commitment, do not wait until the precise time it is due to tell your customer.  Let them know the moment you do.

    What actions have allowed you to deliver exceptional customer service?

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