Clear Communication

road signs to success

If you and your employees were both asked what’s most important for them to achieve this year, would your answers match?  If you don’t communicate clear expectations with visibility to accountability for employees, and ensure everyone shares an understanding of what success looks like in each role, you’re falling down on one of your most important jobs as a leader.

If you’re like most leaders, you think a lot about whether your employees are being as productive as needed.  But have you ever looked at the other side of that equation and wondered if you’re standing in the way of their productivity yourself?

One mistake business leaders make when their employees are not meeting performance, attitude or competency expectations is to shift the work burden from the shoulders of the unsatisfactory employees onto the shoulders of the company’s best workers.  Ultimately, this type of management is nothing short of irresponsible.  With this reasoning, not only do you compromise the strong employees’ ability to meet their own performance objectives, but you also risk burdening them to the point where they leave your employment.  Should that occur, you would be faced with a staff comprised exclusively of incompetent employees.

One of the best ways I have found to keep employees on track and self-motivated is by setting clear goals and expectations. These goals and expectations set with visibility and accountability, when enabled by a platform like an ERP system, will allow employees to take action to resolve issues themselves.  From my experience, this approach has translated to unbelievable loyalty, work ethic and positive growth across many different business disciplines.  When we make it our policy to care about our employees, something really cool happens–they start to truly care about your customers.  That’s when the magic happens, because “caring” is part of an overall successful business culture.  It is contagious and profitable, overall it just feels good!

The importance of a tool that sets expectations and offers visibility, measurements and control cannot be underestimated.  The choice is yours:  empower and enable your organization to become GREAT.

Do You Speak Gen Z?

cracker jacksDo you speak Gen Z? In the multicultural world that we live in today, companies are communicating in more than just their home language to reach customers, clients, and even employees. It is also important to recognize that the newest generations of people speak, read, learn, purchase, and entertain themselves mostly through what they can do on their latest smartphone. Is this creating a “language barrier” in your business?

The Frito-Lay Corporation announced last week that they were no longer going to place toys inside their boxes of Cracker Jack’s. Instead, they will be placing a code for “mobile digital experiences.” Making this radical change, speaks directly to the Gen Z demographic.

In 1974, my dad owned two Shell Gas Stations. At that time, Shell Stations were giving away a free Hot Wheels Car with every fill up. This was the beginning of a very important marketing shift. Companies began to see that marketing directly to children allowed for a significant increase in sales. In the 80’s and 90’s, fast food chains began to give away toys with their kid’s meals. These types of youth-targeted marketing tactics are highly successful. But, times they are a changing! Gen Z kids, see the world through their phone or tablet screens. Companies are starting to notice the value shifting from things like toys and treats to items that add value directly their mobile devices. This plays right into this generation’s need for instant gratification. Very soon, this generation will be entering into the work force in droves. Meaning companies are going to need to shift their ways of thinking and communicating to effectively mentor, manage, and market to these screen loving young people.

To stay successful, you have to stay current. Being current today, means touching people through a screen. This involves your marketing, research and development, human resources and everything in between needing to rapidly become fluent in the digital language.

While I am sure that we will soon be hearing a degree of backlash about Frito Lay’s decision, mostly from toy collectors and parents of kids too small to be independently digital, I am personally excited that a company of their size recognizes that they have to speak the language! Don’t let this language barrier get in the way of your best!

Seated Workstation Challenge

seatedThe truth is, sitting isn’t killing us. But as this photo will demonstrate, sitting in poor postures for long periods with little movement and few breaks for standing or walking can impact our health and reduce our productivity.

Training and education are made even more critical by the realities of today’s workplace. Workers are mobile. Armed with smartphones and laptops, they can be on the move. But while the benefits of such movement are clear, so are the risks. Access to treadmills and height-adjustable worksurfaces doesn’t stop deadline-driven employees from spending five hours each day huddled together in a conference room, hunched over computers on their laps, interrupted by stints of texting and emailing on handheld devices.

You must be prepared to educate employees on the available choices, and on how to make the right ones. Your employees bear a responsibility too. The good news is, technology has freed them from the cubicle. The bad news is, they can still sit poorly at an improperly adjusted worksurface. Workers must become more aware of the options available to them and, as they move throughout the day, they must learn how to choose their postures and places wisely. You can leverage the physical space and options they’ve made available to increase employee accountability on such issues. In turn, you should tie the use of sitting, standing and walking options to bigger organizational goals. The result can be workers who not only feel better; they also are more engaged with their work and their peers. Ultimately, that leads to a stronger organization, overall.

Winning doesn’t always come with a Trophy!

TrophySometimes its not all about winning a new customer, winning the bid on that big project or winning that job. Winning sometimes comes without a trophy.

Every pinewood derby season, I open my shop to parents and children for bonding, creativity and mentorship. As you might imagine, people really nerd out over how to make the best Pinewood Derby car, and a lot of it could make your eyes cross if you don’t have a degree in physics, a ton of power equipment and quality hand tools.

There is an enormous amount of unsure science in pinewood car culture.  Should you put the weight on the back of the car or the front?  Should you make it so one wheel is off the deck a little bit?  Should it be aerodynamic, or does that really matter?  Only a handful of engineers know the truth, but only because they have done empirical tests.

What’s great about the Pinewood Derby is that it is one the most memorable activities that a young boy will have … of all the trips and campouts and hikes and things that they get to do in Scouting and growing up in general.

The whole purpose of the Pinewood Derby is to allow the parents and the child to bond through a physical, hands-on, do-it-yourself kind of project, because most kids today don’t have shop class and they don’t have an opportunity to use any tools and materials and work with their hands.  I believe it also teaches young people sportsmanship, craftsmanship and safety. The way we handle it in my shop is as follows:

Day 1:  Rules and the technical principals behind the physics and Newton’s laws. Then the child picks a theme and design which they draw onto paper explaining how and why the design will work based on the principles taught.

Day 2: Shop safety, personal protection equipment (PPE), with tool and equipment safety.  We use scraps to teach the fundamentals on how the design will be built—safely.

Day 3:  Build time!  We tweak the theme and design based on what has been learned to date– cutting, shaping and sanding.  But always, building with PPE is a must!

Day 4:  Final assembly.   The child gets to sand, paint, attach weights and wheels, etc. Kids are proud to say, “I worked hard on my cars and so did my father.”  Actually, maybe it was harder on the parent not working, allowing the children to make mistakes and learn for themselves what live challenges can be.

Pinewood derby racing is some of the most competitive racing in the world, because the modifications are not always applied to just the parts. One child with a huge imagination, One adult with life lessens, One piece of wood, four nails as axles and four plastic wheels. In the end, it isn’t all about winning (though that’s certainly fun!).  It’s really about building confidence, taking pride in learning new things, developing good work habits and creating memories in a spirit of fun. Values earned at a very young age that will last a lifetime win or lose…

Positive results of Accountability

accountabilityAccountability means being held answerable for accomplishing a goal or assignment. Unfortunately, the word “accountability” often connotes punishment or negative consequences. On the other hand, if approached correctly, accountability can produce positive, valuable results.

The positive results of practicing a constructive approach to accountability include:

  • improved performance,
  • more employee participation and involvement,
  • increased feelings of competency,
  • increased employee commitment to the work,
  • more creativity and innovation, and
  • higher employee morale and satisfaction with the work.

These positive results occur when employees view accountability programs as helpful and progressive methods of assigning and completing work.

Overall, shifting to constructive accountability may require a culture change, but managers will find the results well worth the effort.

Team Collaboration

Team CollaborationHow often do you find a marketing project with considerable naiveté, largely unaware of how much cost would be and how difficult it might be to pull off? But, naiveté kept you going and the final result could have certain limitations because you were attempting to do so much with so little. So, you steal an idea from another agency via the internet. All you’ve managed to create was a mess of someone else’s old idea, a bad marketing space and another unsatisfied customer.

I’ve witnessed a lot of marketing fads, gimmicky techniques that were all the rage for a year or two, only to fall out of favor with marketing agencies and/or CMO’s in no time. I’ve also witnessed many project managers who became intoxicated with too much work and took on an impossible travel schedule with a litany of high-pressure assignments—to the point that eventually, they just walked away from event marketing completely because they burned themselves out. You’ll last longer, and live longer, if you don’t take that approach. And, by the way, from time to time, don’t be afraid to totally reinvent yourself. There’s no better way to get out of a creative rut than to involve others.

Surround yourself with people that are stronger in areas you are weak. Learn to create a more powerful marketing displays for your customers with a team. Event marketing spaces can bridge the gap between creative vision and customer expectation. A good display connects all of the elements of an experiential marketing experience, bringing everything together in a pleasing or provocative way, and revealing a heart-felt message to the audience.

The creative vision process of the display is rooted in the practice of hearing, interpreting and re-imagining the stories of your customer’s perception of engagement. Look for alignment with these values of engagement, while appreciating that we seek to instigate change using the aesthetic and social contexts of the marketing experience, where change is needed to improve the human condition….

And, yes, never stop trying to connect emotionally with the audience within the event space. For a successful marketing experience, the creative team and the audience become a part of the same community, even for a brief time.  Examine the story being told and how it relates to achieving successful ROI goals. Each team member (AKA subject matter expert) brings value by hearing, feeling and understanding something unique about the project. Success through team collaboration is the key.  It’s often said that great event spaces are made – not copied.

Vision…. Wah Wah Wah Wah

PEANUTSAs a general rule, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that one exists. Seriously? Who gives a rat’s … tail? But, When you speak, your employees can’t understand what you are saying. You remember Charlie Brown’s teacher, right? The cartoon character would sit at his desk and scrunch up his face as his teacher droned on, “Wah wah WAH wah wah …” Now that’s great for a cartoon, but when you’re among your peers and employees, it can be very frustrating.

Your vision is a roadmap for employees, communicating it is very inportant. While your vision is probably clear to you, how well do you think your employees know it? Try asking them… and don’t be surprised if they’re unclear or confused.

One of the ways I have learned to engage employees is through story telling. We are all hardwired for stories. And if you are going to include a story, make sure it’s a good one – with a beginning, middle and end, some characters, and a challenge to overcome. It could be said that the principles of engagement are based upon truth, positivity, effectiveness, efficiency, and a desire to move forward. Speak in a language that your employees will understand and it will be easier to bring them on board with your initiatives. You’ll be in a much better position to have real and effective conversations.

We all have to go to work each day, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be enjoyable. When’s the last time you laughed at work, or encouraged your team to enjoy themselves, or did something playful, or any one of a thousand other things that could improve what is usually a pretty drab and colorless environment? C’mon… lighten up, and you’ll be surprised how much more people can do when they’re enjoying themselves . Employees who are informed correctly and enjoying themselves, can and will be motivated to move mountains. Perhaps the most important part of your job is communicating effectively. The best communicators know that business is about human drama: Facing challenges, overcoming threats and making new discoveries that sometimes change the world. If you can share the rich stories behind these, you create memorable and engaging narratives that will bring your business to life.

Don’t treat the symptoms, solve the problem.

root causeAs we go about our daily jobs and deal with the problems that crop up on a regular basis we have a couple of choices, put out the fires over and over or to eliminate the fuel that feeds the fire. With analysis and recognizing pitfalls we begin to see problems in our daily lives. Eliminating the fuel is the preferable route to take but is often the hardest to accomplish. There are many companies out in the world that talk about and teach root cause analysis. Root cause analysis, as it is taught, tends to be theoretical in nature. In a perfect world we follow what we have been taught, find the problem and put in a solution. However, engineers, maintenance personnel and management tend to look at a problem and want to deal with it quickly and make it go away so that they can deal with the next fire that just occurred. As management professionals we are looked at as a source of information with the ability to solve problems. Even though a supervisor’s exception report quite often ends with the sentence “further investigation required” we still need a solid understanding of what our people maybe go though investigating that problem. Solving problems means having a system, one to look at everything associated with the issue at hand.

Whether we do this in a formal team environment or by ourselves, having a system and being able to recognize the inherent potential pitfalls are critical.

Problems are everywhere in our workday. Problems are waste. There are several types of waste in our day. Waste eats up our day by consuming time, energy and resources. How often have we sat back at the end of the day trying to catch our breath and asking ourselves why does this keep on happening? Even though we may have thought through a problem and implemented a solution it seems that we are rudely pulled from a sense of security months or years later when the same problem rears its ugly head again. When this happens, how many times have the words “I thought we fixed that” been spoken? Or “we spent a pile of money on that new gadget that was supposed to eliminate that problem.” Even though we may have identified the “root cause” of the issue we were likely the victims of a pitfall.

Dealing only with symptoms during root cause will cause teams to go into directions that will most certainly create ineffective solutions. Asking “why five times” and utilizing cause and effect diagrams will assist in determining what a cause is and what is an effect. I have seen many times where a team has confused the effect with the cause and put a solution into effect only to have the issue come back at a later date.

Make an effort to make sure that everyone knows who solved the problem.

Have the general manager make an appearance and state how grateful they are for the hard work and resourcefulness shown. Buy them dinner, a hat, time off.

In my experience the best reward was the manager calling in each person and personally thanking him or her, one at a time. Done in a sincere manner and with a few details on each person’s contribution it goes a long way to encouraging others to participate.

Even if it was only yourself that had the problem, looked at the problem, fixed the problem and made it go away, pat yourself on the back, brag about it, write a paper on it, get recognized for it. Most of all “Be proud” about the effect it will have.

What is Six Sigma?

What is Six Sigma?

My Disclosure: Six Sigma is not a simple system, it does not apply to every industry the same, and it can’t be taught in eight weeks for $489.00. It’s not a book, blog or video on the web.

DMAIC

Before, January 15, 1987, Six Sigma was solely a statistical term. Since then, the Six Sigma crusade, which began at Motorola, has spread to other industries that are continually striving for excellence. I was first introduced to the methodology in 1994 through VDO (the instrumentation company). I was trained to use Six Sigma in motorsports to set strategies, techniques, and tools for process improvement. At that time, this methodology was not used outside of manufacturing. Adapting some but not all of the processes then extended and evolved from a problem-solving technique to a quality strategy and ultimately into a sophisticated quality philosophy. These unique philosophies soon became a successful business strategy and were the turning points for NASCAR’s car of tomorrow. I have personally adapted and used these philosophies in raising two daughters, maintaining a healthy home and privately owned vehicle maintenance. I have used parts of the methodology in manufacturing hybrid buses, modifying shipping containers into useful habitable structures and to make many companies safer places to work.

Six Sigma has evolved over the last two decades and so has its definition. It has literal, conceptual, and practical definitions. As Six Sigma has evolved, there has been less emphasis on the literal definition (counting defects in products and processes) and greater emphasis on the conceptual and practical definitions. Six Sigma has grown into a full-fleged business improvement methodology that focuses an organization on:

  • Understanding and managing customer requirements
  • Aligning key business processes to achieve those requirements
  • Utilizing rigorous data analysis to minimize variation in those processes
  • Driving rapid and sustainable improvement to business processes

At the heart of the methodology is the DMAIC model for process improvement. DMAIC is commonly used by Six Sigma project teams and is an acronym for:

  • Define opportunity
  • Measure performance
  • Analyze opportunity
  • Improve performance
  • Control performance

Through my experience, I have learned that the disciplined use of metrics and application of the methodology even together are still not enough to drive desired breakthrough improvements and results that are sustainable over time. I have learned that Six Sigma is a top-down solution to help organizations:

  • Align their business strategy to critical improvement efforts
  • Mobilize teams to attack high impact projects
  • Accelerate improved business results
  • Govern efforts to ensure improvements are sustained

A Six Sigma Management System drives clarity around the business strategy and metrics that most reflect successful execution of that strategy. It provides the framework to prioritize resources for projects that will improve the metrics and it leverages leaders who will manage the efforts for rapid, sustainable, and improved business results.

In closing, Six Sigma is not a simple system, it does not apply to every industry the same, and it can’t be taught in eight weeks for $489.00. It’s not a book, blog or video on the web. It is a methodology! Something you live, breathe and use in your every thought. As cliché as it may sound, with some effort and focus you can retrain your mind and you, too, can change the world.

 

Mentorships

Helping each otherI am a firm believer on Mentor/Mentee relationships and I often find myself reminding my employees that everyone is responsible for their own career development. Sometimes, a mentor in a different area can offer a creative perspective or provide a new set of skills. You can also learn from talented managers, leaders, and executives outside your group to polish your skills.

Earlier this month during one of my Mentor/Mentee lunch meeting came this question; “Why would a privately owned company rather hire a fresh non-qualified sales person than a smart sales executive who has run his or her own business?”  Having working for many years on both sides of this question, I total understand their reasoning.  The only way to become a successful entrepreneur (privately owned company) is to learn lessons for yourself and sometimes that means enduring pain along the way.

The Ego’s of many entrepreneurs have slowed many companies success. One of the bigger ways Egos stop success is in the hiring process, where entrepreneur do not follow their companies job descriptions and employment expectations. A familiar example in many companies is; “We had no idea why our product and message wasn’t resonating with our prospective clients, but after a lot reflection we came to a tough realization.  We were simply not very good at sales.“ Building a product and developing a strategy is easy.  The task of crafting a message that spoke to their customers and finding ways to connect with them on a personal level proved to be difficult.  In the end it all came down to arrogance.  Just because they were good at building a product they automatically assumed that they’d be good at selling it. The job descriptions for sales staff were very clear and employment expectations set but ego’s got in the way during the hiring process. Not only is it not fair to the sales person, but ego hiring can also slow the company’s success as a whole. If you think about it, successful companies have advisory boards much like mentorships to keep egos in check.

Develop a Mentor/Mentee group or groups of your own, which compensates for your areas of weakness. This is often easier said than done so don’t be afraid to reach out into your network to find the right candidates.  The people that you trust, respect, and admire will often be able to point you in the right direction.

Someone once said that mentoring is great because “a lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” Those words still motivate me today, and I hope they’ll inspire you too, as you take charge of your own career development. Perhaps in taking advantage of mentorships, you’ll one day become a mentor yourself and pay it forward.