The truth about ‘Lean’ and why you’re not getting the results you want.

The truth about ‘Lean’ and why you’re not getting the results you want.

By: Dennis Keay

If you’ve tried applying ‘Lean Manufacturing’ or ‘Lean Thinking’ principles in your business, and you’re not getting the results you were expecting, it’s most likely due to one of the following reasons and it’s not your fault:-

You’ve been sold a lie

You’ve been led to believe one or more of the following:

  • Lean is just a set of tools
  • Lean only applies to manufacturing / production areas of your business
  • Lean is a ‘project’ that you implement then it’s ‘done’, rather than a way of operating your business
  • It’s ok to have your people trained in Lean while you and the leadership team go about business-as-usual
  • Once people understand Lean principles, they will, or should just go and apply them
  • Your business is too small for Lean
  • Your business may not be ready for Lean

Now try replacing the word ‘Lean’ with ‘Continuous Improvement’ in all of the dot points above. Would those dot points then seem contradictory to common sense?

The Truth

The term ‘Lean manufacturing’1 was used to create an immediate mental image of a highly productive manufacturing system in comparison with a slower more cumbersome one with a bit of ‘fat’ that could be trimmed. Think about the mental image of a lean and fast animal such as a cheetah, in comparison with a slower cumbersome one such as a walrus. The term got interpreted differently by different people over time, so now, if you ask 100 people what they think Lean Manufacturing or Lean Thinking is, you’ll likely get 100 different answers.

Lean IS about Continuous Improvement, across all facets of the business, including Sales and Marketing.  Sure, it’s about removing fat or waste from processes, but it’s much more than that.

A key point is that it’s a way of thinking and operating your business and if done properly is very people-centric. You need people at ALL levels to understand and embrace it for it to be truly effective. It’s NOT something that senior management can simply delegate to those below. The leadership team needs to be fully involved…and in fact, it’s their responsibility to do so if they want the type of results that Lean can actually provide. I’d go so far as to say it’s a Strategic Imperative and should be treated as such. It can give you the edge over of your competitors you’re probably looking for.

Obstacles

It’s all about mind-set! The main obstacle as I see it is that many business leaders believe they know exactly what Lean is and aren’t open minded enough to accept that they don’t, or aren’t willing enough to explore further. They’re the ones that won’t be reading this article.  They’re the ones that say, “We’re already doing lean!”, or “We tried it last year and it didn’t work!” But that’s OK, there’s no law that says businesses have to improve the way they’re doing things and become more productive and profitable.

It’s commonly believed that people don’t like change. Sometimes business leaders tell me that their people don’t like change or will be resistant to it. The truth is, people love their comfort zones!

But ask yourself…would you like your business to run more smoothly and profitably? Would you like it to change for the better?

That’s the point…people embrace change if they see that the change can be painless and benefit them, or that the pain is well worth the gain. All things being equal, no one will object to a change in their pay rate provided it’s an increase and not a decrease! No one will object to you helping make their life easier, provided they’re convinced that that’s what WILL happen as the changes are made.

To that extent, implementing change is about engaging people and preparing them for the changes they will be involved in. It’s about marketing the benefits to them and selling them on the idea. But be prepared…you need to deliver what you promise, otherwise Lean will just become another fad in your business and people will convince themselves that ‘we tried it and it didn’t work’. To this extent, it’s best if you implement it right-first-time, otherwise resistance may build and you’ll have more convincing to do second time around…still doable though.

If you’re already applying Lean principles and practices in your business and are wondering how to put your results on steroids, or if you’re not yet applying Lean across various aspects of your business and want to know the best way to go about it, just contact us via and let’s have a chat.

1 In 1988 John Krafcik, a Mechanical Engineer who was doing research for his Master’s Degree, first applied the term ‘Lean’ to describe highly productive manufacturing systems. He was studying under James Womack who popularised the term as joint author of the 1990 book “The machine that changed the world: The story of Lean Production”.

[CASE STUDY] – An alternative to more leads

[CASE STUDY] – An alternative to more leads

Case Study By: Dennis Keay

When I ask business owners what they need right now, they often answer, “more leads”. But when we start analysing their sales flow, we regularly find they have more than enough leads to keep their sales pipeline / order book full. It’s not more leads that they need…it’s more sales CONVERSIONS of the RIGHT TYPES OF JOBS for their business.

Seems logical, straight forward and easy to say, but what’s missing? That’s what we’re going to cover here.

Case Study: 

When we started working with one particular client they were looking for more leads. We analysed several aspects of their business. The Sales Process was one of them, Marketing was another.

Their Sales Conversion rate was around 5%, winning 1 in every 20 jobs quoted. They had more than 100 quotes sitting in limbo…emailed out to prospects but unsure if the jobs were lost, delayed, or what! They complained that they didn’t have time to follow them up because they were too busy, amongst other things, quoting new jobs.

What made things worse was that their costings for the quotes were often ‘rule of thumb’ using fudge factors someone had devised in the past that allowed them to create the quote faster.

Sometimes they were under-quoting and winning jobs they should have said No to, or should have at least quoted at a higher price on. No point quoting if you’re going to lose money before you start!

They figured that if they acquired twice as many leads they’d do twice as many quotes and win twice as many jobs. Sounds logical…but it also means they need to do twice as much quoting, spend twice as much time and labour in the Sales process, and create twice as much confusion.  Unfortunately, we’ve found that this approach is remarkably common across a range of industries.

What they really needed was a better Marketing Process to ensure they got fewer but better quality leads, and a better Sales Process to increase their sales conversion rate. They also needed a better Quoting Process to ensure their costs were accurately known and covered, with a solid margin, before submitting a quote. These things would give them a better Win Probability and increased profits.

Think about it: A better upfront qualifying process means less time wasted quoting jobs that are never going to convert because, for example, the prospect:

  • Isn’t ready to buy (i.e. they’re just window shopping)
  • Is simply Price Shopping or wants a Rolls Royce product on a shoe-string budget
  • In the end isn’t willing to comply with your Terms and Conditions (e.g. unwilling to pay a reasonable deposit)
  • Isn’t really a good fit for your business or match for your capabilities, but you’ll consider almost any job because you desperately want to win jobs.

This means fewer quotes have to be done in the first place and provides more time to spend on getting each quote right and to follow-up. It also means more time to build up a relationship with your prospective customer and ensuring you’ve properly understood their needs and wants.

If you think about it, if out of every 20 quotes that are sent out, if you’re only winning 1, all you need to do is win another 1 from the 19 others and Bam!, you’ve just doubled your win rate, without having to find another 20 leads and do another 20 quotes.

Because this is such an important concept for the success of small to medium sized businesses, we’ve developed specific Lean Sales and Marketing training to help SME’s.

Feel free to reach out via if you’d like to find out how this training may help your business win more of the profitable work you’d like to be doing.

Short of labour and struggling to meet demand? Try this…

Short of labour and struggling to meet demand? Try this…

By: Dennis Keay

Most business leaders I speak with are caught in a vicious circle, suffering the same fundamental issues.

Can you relate to any of these?

  • They hate saying ‘NO’ to more work…mainly due to the fear of what may happen if they do say NO. So, they say YES and take on more work…then worry about how they’re going to complete it on time.
  • Demand is higher than their ability to meet it so they try recruiting more people. They have trouble getting suitable candidates to apply, so, they work overtime trying to keep up
  • The overtime costs kill any expected profits (since overtime wasn’t budgeted for in the quote) and working capital decreases
  • They try hiring casuals from labour hire agencies…the prices are excessive and the quality unimpressive. The costs weren’t allowed for in the original quote on the work!
  • Cashflow becomes an issue, so they desperately take on more work to boost revenue, but short-term deposits immediately go to paying existing bills and they’re under even more pressure than they were before.
  • Poor cashflow means they need to use over-draft and credit facilities, further increasing their costs. Ouch!
  • Poor cashflow also means they delay paying bills and sometimes they’re put on Credit Hold by their suppliers…making it difficult to get the materials they need to complete the next job on time, so they can’t finish it, invoice for it, and receive payment from clients. Meanwhile, the costs of input materials keeps going up and that wasn’t allowed for in the original quote. Doh!!
  • Extra pressure on cashflow comes when the end client is experiencing the same nightmares and who is also slow in paying you for completed works. That kills your cashflow even more!! Sh#*!
  • Any quality problems, or rework of any kind (which of course wasn’t budgeted for in the quote) just adds to the cash drain. The stress and pressure mounts even further! Grrr!!!

If you can relate to these scenarios, then here are some things that may help get your business back on track…

Breaking the vicious cycle

You need to break the vicious cycle. This starts by confronting the brutal truth, because doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of madness.

A couple of things to consider:

  • If you can’t get the labour you need at a sensible price, then you need a different strategy to solve your problems.
    • Taking on additional labour also means that there’s a risk that, if, down the track you don’t get sufficient work coming in, you’ll have the extra labour costs on your books while people twiddle their thumbs.
    • If, like most business leaders I speak with, you try hiring casual labour, you’ll still struggle because it often comes at a premium cost for sub-standard results. The costs outweigh the benefits.
  • Learn to say NO! Don’t simply take on more work in desperation. Understand that taking on more work for no financial gain just makes you busier and life harder, not more profitable.

There’s a better way!

One element is Labour and Resource Sharing

  • ONE of the things we’ve started doing is facilitating Labour AND Job Sharing amongst some of our clients so that when one has some temporary excess labour they can ‘sell’ it to another company in the group, and vice versa. That helps one party reduce costs associated with over-time and hiring casuals, and increases labour utilisation for the other. It improves cashflow and profitability for BOTH!
    • It means they can effectively pool resources and skills and jointly work on a client’s job to get it done faster. This also means it can be delivered and invoiced earlier. (It’s not just limited to Labour sharing.)
    • It needs to be done carefully to protect both businesses, and does require trust and agreement between the parties. It tends to be us that introduces the businesses to each other, and we’ll only do it where we see a win-win for each of the parties
    • There’s also some ‘secret-sauce’ we add to the mix to ensure that:
      • The type and scale of jobs taken on are appropriate
      • The roles and responsibilities of each party are clear and optimised for each party
      • The terms and conditions with the end customer are clear and conducive to the arrangement so that it’s set up for win-win-win at the outset
      • The job is managed with over-all efficiency in mind, with right-first-time quality all the way from marketing / customer enquiry, through the sales and quoting process, through to delivery and invoicing. That’s where our expertise really kicks in, reducing overall job costs and delivery times and freeing up capacity to take on more profit generating work for each of the parties.

There are several other essential elements to consider that we don’t have time to go into here…things that bypass many of these common issues listed above and stop the madness of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If you’d like to understand more about our unique approach, and how we may be able to help your business implement it, then contact us on 0431 927 337 or at to arrange a brief discovery call.

Leadership secret: Gamify the workplace to kick big goals!

Leadership secret: Gamify the workplace to kick big goals!

By: Dennis Keay

Want your people to kick big goals at work? If so, then gamify the workplace!

I often hear business leaders bemoan the fact that some of their people come to work with a poor attitude and work ethic.

It’s easy to blame the workers, and yes, there are some that should never have been hired in the first place…but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job. Human nature though, means that they do what they perceive is best for them. It’s the old ‘WIIFM’ – ‘What’s in it for me?’ Examples may be:

  • taking it easy at work, enjoying a cushy work life;
  • working hard to get personal recognition;
  • working steadily to avoid making mistakes and receiving criticism;
  • working steadily to ensure job security;
  • getting personal satisfaction from doing a quality job;
  • gaining satisfaction from learning new things and developing professionally;
  • meeting the challenge of solving problems that others can’t solve.

There are many, many more examples.

When a business leader blames the workers for poor performance, I ask what they’re doing about it and what they’re doing to motivate their workers. A fairly common and predictable response is:

They’re getting paid. Shouldn’t that be motivation enough?

This response tells me something about the leader and his or her thinking, and the gaps in their understanding of motivational psychology.

Here at two contrasting approaches:

  • Leigh Matthews, a legendary Australian Football League player who became Coach of Hawthorn Football Club said words to the effect:

The players get paid to turn up. It’s my job motivate them…

  • Elon Musk after becoming CEO of Twitter gave an ultimatum to his employees:

Work hardcore or leave!

Both have high expectations of their people…but their approach to motivating them are vastly different. One looks to get results through inspiring and leading his team; the other has a totally different management style (with several resignations by top performers in senior positions at Twitter).

One of the problems with creating such an atmosphere is that top performers may lose job satisfaction and leave, even if they don’t have anywhere else to go…so it’s not money that’s motivating them to stay. A case in point is Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety who resigned within 2 weeks of Musk becoming CEO and siting Musk’s management style as the reason.

If you think about it, those who are NOT top performers are the ones who are less confident in getting a job elsewhere, and they’re the ones more likely to stay! I digress…

When you boil it down, there are fundamentally two key motivators for people to perform: Fear and Pride!  The examples above are evidence of this. Money may be an enticement, but typically has limited effect as a motivator for peak performance.  Ask yourself, does a top basketball player work twice as hard for $20M as they would for $10M?  Does a rich philanthropic person (e.g. Bill Gates) support charities and special causes to make more money…or do they do it for some other reason?

Kicking Big Goals – Gamifying Your Business

Look at how ecstatic players are when they’re part of a victorious World Cup Football team…and how devastated they are when they’re part of a losing team. Do you think they’re thinking about the money at the instant that they win or lose? Or do you think it’s more about pride and glory, or defeat, shame, loss and grief? Do you think a Goal Keeper who let the winning goal sneak past him would feel he’d let his team-mates and even his country down by not making the save?

How would it be if your employees felt they were part of an elite team with ambitious goals to kick? How supportive of each other would they be if they knew they had to depend on each other to achieve it? How elated would they feel in achieving it?  How bonded would they feel in celebrating their win? And of course…what would be the reward for winning?  Glory alone…which may be sufficient if they’re competing against another team…or perhaps some other tangible reward?

Win-Wins

The team needs some motivation in the first place…they’ll soon lose motivation if they think they’re simply being used as pawns to help the employer win at the expense of the workers good will and effort. It has to be an honest Win-Win for everyone…the employer and the employees. It has to be fair! There has to be some recognition and reward for effort, not just outcome!

I find that the best rewards are NOT monetary rewards. Monetary rewards are soon forgotten and don’t carry the emotion. How often do you hear highly paid athletes or business leaders boasting that their best achievement was the pay-packet?  That’s not the thing they take most pride in.

In my personal career, one of my proudest achievements was putting a great team of various trades people and engineers together and helping them complete some outstanding projects.

So, yes, people get paid to turn up to work, and if that’s all you want them to do, then fine. BUT, if you want the best results for the business, then you need to create the environment for your employees to perform at their best…and that’s about creating a high performance TEAM.

There’s quite a lot to this, and it includes, but is not limited to:

  • Choosing the right goals
  • Ensuring the team has the right mix of skills
  • Choosing the right metrics
  • Clarifying the rules of the game and how to win
  • Ensuring appropriate team-based rewards
  • Adopting an appropriate leadership style and creating the right environment for the team to perform at its best
  • Make it FUN!

If you’d like to hear more about our approach to gamifying the workplace, reach out to us at .

Is it a poor sales team or something else?

Is it a poor sales team or something else?

When it comes to sales, there are more factors that affect a business’ ability to convert a lead than just the sales person. We find it’s a common approach to look at the sales team and try to identify why there might be some “poor” performers and how to “fix” them. Is this really the best starting point?

We can’t disregard that conversions can be dramatically affected by the sales person. That been said, it’s always a good idea to look at your sales process end to end before deciding on what is causing the sales roadblock.

While looking at your sales process ask yourselves, have we made any changes to the process recently that could be affecting our conversions? Have we always had less than desirable conversions? Has the volume of leads dropped? These are some questions we ask while helping businesses find ways to improve their sales conversions.

Why these three questions?

If you’ve changed the process, it could be that your new process is just not effective or you haven’t accounted for the time it can take for your sales team to properly adapt to the new process.

You may not be aware that your business has always had a low conversion rate until someone makes you aware that what you thought was good is quite the opposite.

If your lead volume has reduced, your reliance on maintaining a higher conversion rate will become more evident, to the point you convince yourselves that the conversion rate isn’t good enough. Daniel has first-hand experience with this. In one company he worked in, their lead volume had reduced to 1/3rd of what it had been prior to him starting with them. They hadn’t realised this for over 12 months because Daniel was converting at a rate 3 times what the previous sales people had. It wasn’t until the lead volume fell even lower that they started questioning his performance, blaming Daniel’s conversion rate and not accepting their lead volume had become an absolute joke.

A common cause often overlooked or ignored

Having trained many top performing sales people and followed their individual journeys, the most common response to the question “why aren’t you able to convert better?” is usually a variant of “because the leads are ****”. For many, this can seem like an excuse and it will be treated as just that. We’d agree too if it weren’t for having personally trained those individuals.

What they are trying to say is the leads they are getting are of people who aren’t ready to have a sales conversation. But isn’t it the sales persons job to make them be ready? NO!

It’s like going home to cook a specific meal for dinner without having the ingredients you need. If it wasn’t your job to buy the ingredients, just cook the meal, how successful are you going to be in that situation?

What if you’re given a bunch of ingredients, none of which are for the meal you’re meant to be cooking? Would you be able to cook the meal then?

How about if you have some of the ingredients you require? You’ll be able to make a portion of the meal but you’re still unlikely to be plating up the meal as it was intended.

The point

Leads are much like a bag full of ingredients, you’ll either attract bags filled with the right ingredients to give to your sales people to “cook the meal” or you’ll attract bags with all/some wrong ingredients.

Over the last couple of years, the environment has changed due to COVID as we are all aware. This could mean that you might of had bags full of the right ingredients (leads) prior to COVID, but now, the ingredients in the bag have changed (market changes due to COVID) at no fault of your sales team.

No sales person, no matter how talented they may be, can ever cook you the meal you’re after without a bag full of the right ingredients.

So is it wrong to look at the sales people first? Not always, we just want you to be aware that it’s not often the best place to start if you’re after a long-term improvement with your current sales team and future teams.