Visual communication is part of great customer service.

Visual communication is part of great customer service.

By Dennis Keay

I recently went on holiday and pre-booked a cabin at a caravan park. On the day we were due to arrive we were delayed, so our arrival was going to be well after midnight. So, I phoned the caravan park during office hours and asked them how to access the cabin after hours. Bev, the lovely lady at reception, told me she’d leave a map on the reception door (stuck to the inside so that no one could take it), leave the cabin unlocked, put the keys on the table, and put the heater on because it was going to be a cold night. It’s these little things and attention to detail that speak volumes in terms of great customer service and an efficiently run business.

The picture below shows the map. To make things extra clear, Bev drew how to get from reception to our cabin. Clear, simple, visual, and much appreciated in the very tired bleary-eyed condition in which we arrived.

It’s perhaps not surprising that we found the accommodation spotlessly clean and everything neatly arranged, including cutlery and kitchen utensils. (No shadow board, but still a good example at the philosophy of workplace organisation. 🙂)

I later enquired as to the age of the cabin. They told me it was 4-5 years old, though I’d have believed them if they said it was just 1 or 2.

The whole experience left us with a great first and lasting impression…including an impression of professionalism. Of course, we’ll be happy to recommend them to others…and isn’t that what every business wants!?

Examples of good business practices and pride in the workplace can be found anywhere, including caravan parks! Next time you’re out and about, even in the shopping centre, tune-in and see what great examples of simple visual communication and customer service you can find…and adopt in your workplace…and please let us know…we’re always happy to learn and share.

The best business management book I’ve ever read

The best business management book I’ve ever read

By Dennis Keay

There’s a book I read around 1990, early in my engineering and management career. It’s a business novel and it resonated with me immensely. It validated much of my thinking, and expanded it further. I’ve read it a number of times since.

What’s great about this book is that it takes you on a journey of discovery with the main character, a senior business manager, as he learns new ways to see his business (through a Yoda like mentor), and applies this to overcome various business challenges.

The book is “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt, an Israeli physicist and business management guru.

What I like about The Goal is that it starts with the main character running a business the way I see most businesses being run these days, and softly shows the many flaws in that business management model, while introducing a simple alternative that is much more efficient and which delivers superior results. I also like that it doesn’t use technical jargon or catch-phrases.  You won’t hear anything about ‘Lean’ or ‘Six Sigma’…jargon’s just not needed.

The Goal isn’t just a business novel, it’s a novel in its own right that can be read by anyone, simply for the pleasure of reading a good story. It could be read as an adventure story by a 14 year old, and without knowing it, they’d be learning advanced business concepts at the same time. If you haven’t read it, and you’re in any form of leadership or management position within your business, then it’s a book I’d put as priority # 1 on your reading list.

Goldratt developed and popularised the ‘Theory of Constraints’, which is really about bottlenecks in businesses or processes of any kind, and how to deal with them. He weaves this concept through the many business novels he has written. If you’re in a project management role I’d strongly suggest reading ‘Critical Chain’. The engineer and project manager in me found this quite fascinating.

Grab a coffee, put your feet up, and have a good read. It’ll be a great investment of your time.

Focussing on cutting costs is costly

Focussing on cutting costs is costly

By Dennis Keay

When I observe the actions of some business owners and leaders, they seem to have a very strong and single-minded focus on cutting costs and saving money. The business owners typically do it out of ignorance, that is, they simply believe it’s the best way to grow their business. They’re not necessarily doing it because they’re short of cash…sometimes they’ve got very healthy cashflow and plenty of money in the bank. They think that’s evidence that they’re running the business in the best way possible. What they often don’t realise is that their hidden costs and opportunity costs are much higher than they need be. Let me explain by way of example:

There’s a particular business in a rural town that a friend of mine works for. They’re in a very healthy financial position with plenty of demand for their product. However, they’re paying their workers poorly and pushing them hard. They have dissatisfied workers and several of the more senior management positions seem to be a revolving door every year or two.  What’s the cost of going through the constant recruiting cycle? What’s the cost of bringing people up to speed? And, what’s the opportunity cost when good people leave the business, and take their knowledge with them? When business owners don’t see the value in their people, and invest in them accordingly (not simply via the pay packet, but in many other ways), then they’ll only get a limited and short-term return, and a large longer-term loss. That’s the cost of ignorance!

So, then there’s a sub-set of business managers (I hesitate to call them leaders) who rapidly jump from company to company, climbing the corporate ladder. They’re not ignorant at all. They know that short-term cost-cutting can lead to longer-term losses for the company…but they don’t care. They don’t have loyalty to the company…their sights are on getting their next role in their next company. For them, they develop a reputation for helping companies quickly cut costs and make the profit and loss sheet look good…in the short term. That’s pretty easy to do. Just defer expenses that you should be making now…let’s say, for example, let’s put-off major maintenance till next year…that’ll save a few bucks. Let’s cut the travel and training budget! That’ll save a few bucks more. Let’s cut some corners on investment projects to bring them under-budget.

All looks good for the next year or so until poorly maintained equipment breaks down and repair or replacement costs blow the budget; employee turnover increases through dissatisfaction because they’re treated as an expendable commodity; and the new investment project under-performs and doesn’t meet its original design intent because critical elements have been stripped away in the name of cost-cutting. But, by the time all this has started to bite the company’s financials and future…that’s someone else’s problem…the ‘cost cutting manager’ has already left the building…and is wreaking the same damage with their next employer. You may have witnessed the same type of behaviour in politics.

Well, that all seems like a bit of rant, but thankfully, there is a great flip-side.

I recently had a conversation with a rather humble and forward thinking business leader who, in passing, mentioned, among other things, that they’re doing quite well despite the country-wide shortage of skilled labour. It didn’t take long to realise that the staff turnover wasn’t because they were paid excessively, but rather, that they were appreciated, respected, and satisfied. Essentially, they were loyal, and that’s something you can’t buy with money. That speaks to the leader’s character.

This leader’s focus wasn’t on cost-cutting, and ‘saving money’ but on the bigger picture of ‘making money’ for the business, and doing it strategically by investing in good people, developing them, and retaining them.

If I ask a business owner or leader what their key priority is, and get the answer, “to save money”, I usually follow-up with a question such as, “What’s the purpose of the business…is it to ‘save money’ or ‘make money’?”.  Never has anyone told me it’s to save money. A simple shift in focus from saving money to making money brings with it a whole new range of exciting possibilities for the business. There’s an analogy that comes to mind…

I’ve done a couple of Advanced Driver Training courses in my time. Certainly not bragging…I’m no expert in that field, but one thing I learned is that you should always focus on where you want the vehicle to go. This is true even if you’re in an emergency braking situation heading towards a tree. Don’t focus on the tree…that doesn’t help you. Instead, focus on where you want the vehicle to go…you’re much more likely to end up where you want to be.

Your business is a vehicle for making money if controlled correctly. If your business purpose is to make money, then make sure you don’t simply focus on cutting costs, at any cost!

Crazy psychology – making the workplace tick and safer too!

Crazy psychology – making the workplace tick and safer too!

Case Study:  By Dennis Keay

Is it an absolutely crazy idea to put carpet in the lunch room of a very oily manufacturing facility…where lots of oil is used during the manufacturing process and oil on the shop floor is common place?

Most people would think so…even the workers initially! But it was done with a very specific goal in mind…to improve safety and to reduce costs…and it worked!

Here’s what happened:

I did some work with a very large steel production business and one of its service centres was devoted to metal-slitting where coils of steel sheet are slit into narrower rolls. A lot of oil is used in this process. It’s applied to the steel as it’s being unrolled and slit.  It splashes and drips, and the machines themselves often leak. It’s traditionally a messy business!

Two main issues were to be addressed:

  1. Safety:
    Oil on the shop floor presents a very real safety hazard – oily boots on a concrete floor can be like ice-skates.
  2. Cost:
    The cost of oil lost from the production process was significant—many thousands of dollars each year! Oil was being lost through leaks and spills, and left on the finished product.

One question was, “How do we get the workers proactively involved in minimising the oil wastage, stopping the leaks, and improving safety by cleaning the floor immediately if any oil lands there?”

To get people proactively involved in change means finding out what’s in it for them…WIIFT. Often, ‘more money’ is touted as a motivator, but that motivation is usually short lived. There are other motivators that have a deeper psychological impact…PRIDE and FEAR. I find that pride is the best way to go wherever possible. Honest appreciation and recognition for a job well-done goes a long way. It’s not that difficult…just treat others as you’d like to be treated. A sincere and heart-felt ‘thank you’ is a simple example. But let’s go further and look for continual WIN-WINs in a virtuous cycle.

I think WIN-WIN solutions are best, so finding out what workers value is a great start. How do you do that?  Speak with them…ask them what they might change at work if they had the opportunity. After all, they spend a large chunk of their life there, so making the workplace a more satisfying place to be has a number of benefits for both them and the employer. Better retention of people is one that the employer can expect.

Here’s some things they wanted:

  • A quiet, air-conditioned lunch room with a fridge and microwave oven. That’s because the factory was noisy and very hot in summer and cold in winter.
  • A safer more pleasant working environment in general.

Here’s something the business wanted:

  • A safer work environment with higher production volumes and reduced oil consumption.

The WIN-WIN

The WIN-WIN solution was to build a dual purpose room that met more than the basic requirements of an air-conditioned lunch room with fridge and microwave.

The room was called the ‘Reliability Centre’, and it included a computer with maintenance management software installed. The idea behind this was that those responsible for machine maintenance would much prefer to work in an air-conditioned room scheduling and planning preventive maintenance rather than working under a hot and broken slitting machine at short notice.

Preventive maintenance is usually quicker and easier to do than breakdown maintenance, and, because it’s scheduled, there’s less time pressure to get the machine up and running again right in the middle of a production run. So, preventive maintenance is a WIN for the maintenance crew. Of course, it’s also less expensive than breakdown maintenance, so that’s another bonus for the company.

The name ‘Reliability Centre’ was chosen for psychological reasons, because it sounds more professional than ‘Maintenance Office’ and the focus is on machine reliability rather than machine maintenance.

But why put carpet on the floor? 

Well, that was another psychological part of the exercise. Two parts, actually.  Often, having air-conditioned carpeted offices for Management / Office-staff helps create an ‘us and them’ type mentality. That’s something we were trying to avoid.

Also, we were trying to help create a greater sense of pride within the workplace and show that management respected that the workers would try to keep the carpet clean. They did! They cleaned up any oil spills or drips as soon as they were noticed, and of course, tried to prevent these in the first place.

In the above example, the investment required to build the Reliability Centre was easily funded by improved productivity (due to reduced breakdowns) + savings in oil expense. There were also a number of other WIN-WIN pride enhancing initiatives that made the workplace a much nicer place to work in.

The Point

The point is, continuous improvement is much more about the people than it is about the business improvement tools. Psychology is important! Honest respect for people at all levels is important!

Good leadership is about finding ways to foster teamwork across all parts of the business and trying to create WIN-WIN’s for everyone. Some of that includes breaking down ‘us and them’ barriers, and engaging everyone in daily continuous improvement activities to make their working lives better, while helping the business become as competitive in the market as possible.

I often hear business leaders say, ‘our people are our greatest asset’. It’s something I know to be true. However, I also see many businesses that miss great opportunities because they don’t treat their people as their greatest assets…and they often lose those great assets to other businesses.  Good workers are in high demand…so I’d encourage you to truly value them and work with them to develop them and keep them. Again, treat them as you’d like to be treated. If you’re already doing that, you already know the benefits…and if not, you may be surprised by what’s possible to achieve.

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!

Article:  By Dennis Keay

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!

This is a quote attributable to Henry Ford, and I pretty much agree with it. Our belief systems are what often holds us back in business, and in life. These belief systems or ‘paradigms’ can be hard to change. So, starting off with an appropriate belief system gives you a kick-start to keeping your business moving forward and breaking new ground.

Since starting Lean Logic in 2006 I’ve keenly observed the characteristics of business leaders I’ve interacted with, and their approach to continuous improvement in their business. Some of these leaders have become clients, and of these, here are some of the common characteristics I’ve noticed in those who most effectively implement continuous improvement strategies and get the best results:

  • Self-awareness: in particular, being aware of their weaknesses, not just their strengths
  • Openness: they’re willing to admit mistakes they’ve made during their career
  • They are typically humble people regardless of their successes…and know they don’t have all the answers
  • They’re life-long learners. They know there’s always a better way and strive to find it
  • They’re happy to share their knowledge…even with some who may be considered competitors, and always look for win-win opportunities
  • They care deeply about their team: They look to build their people, not just their business
  • They’re very customer focused
  • They treat everyone with respect and compassion
  • They give credit where credit is due and motivate people via pride rather than fear
  • They have an ability to step back and prioritise the longer term important over the short-term less important but urgent
  • They’re a real pleasure to work with.

These are characteristics of people I choose to work with not only because they’re a pleasure to work with, but because they inspire me. I love helping them fill some of the knowledge gaps they may have, or even just act as a sounding board. I learn from them too!

You may have noticed that academic achievement IS NOT one of the common characteristics I’ve observed. I’ve worked with some people whom I consider to be academic geniuses, and some who left school early and consider themselves as poorly educated. Makes no difference! They’re all extraordinary people!

But, is it as simple as, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!”? After all, many people who go into business, ‘Think they can!’, yet their business still fails.

I think the belief that you ‘can’ is necessary, but not sufficient. It needs to be coupled with at least a smattering of the above characteristics, not the least of which is knowing that you don’t have all the answers, yet continuing the quest to find them.

If that’s you, then good luck with your quest. I already know you can!