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Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's Been ONE YEAR

This is the team I am very proud to say I am a part of now.  It's been one year since I started this new journey at Ebsco and in a couple of words, "It's a BLAST!"  The Community Involvement Team paired Ebsco with a local event to support breast cancer research and this pic shows how everyone gets behind the team.

I wanted to look back and share some of the lessons and experiences I've had over the last year. It has been a unique opportunity.  Many of the things I had taught at my previous job for over 30 years were really put to the test at Ebsco.   I'm proud to say I have come along way since that first day I took the wrong turn in the warehouse and got stuck in a dead end and looked foolish, only to compound it by pretending to look at boxes on the shelf like I had a clue.  Oh I still do stupid things everyday but now the team has learned to expect it from me.

I have always preached that any team will look at leadership, decide if they are going to succeed or fail and then set forth making their decision a reality.  Their determination on the leaders fate is based on if the leader cares about them and has the entire teams best interest at heart.  I really do care about the pink mob pictured above and I think they all know it.  They have responded posting one of the best years ever at Ebsco and driven positive change to new levels.  They are making us a success.  It took a little time but when we develop a relationship on trust, they responded. When I asked for ideas on change at Ebsco they responded and responded and responded.  It wasn't necessary to sell change to them, my problem was keeping up with all of their ideas for change.

Another point I have always preached was that management was the same everywhere.  You do not need to be an expert on the industry, you need to be an expert on caring and leading a team.  Again they have proved this correct.  I knew I didn't know anything about spring making when I walked in and the only progress I've made is to realized I didn't even know how much I didn't know.  That might not be completely true.  I found that people like to talk about their jobs and love to teach the boss.  They have taught me a great deal about spring making and Ebsco.  Now I might know a tenth of what they do, but they keep trying.

I read several books before starting my new position on manufacturing, lean, TQM blah blah blah.  what I found was none of the books had any answers.  What they did have was the questions.  They providing me with the right questions for the real experts, the Team Members.  The knowledge I gained from reading didn't apply directly to Ebsco but it allowed me to ask the right questions and they provided the answers. Reading can spark the imagination or start the kernel of an idea.  This is just the starting point.  People hold the answers.

I discovered that being a catalyst is an important trait for a leader.  Being inquisitive and asking why or why not sparks the minds of team members.  Those sparks lead to the fires of invention and unlimited potential.  When you can take the combined knowledge and experience of the entire team and create a spark, the results will often knock you down.  Coming in from outside gave me a real advantage at this.  I had a complete different wealth of experiences and didn't have the "we have always done it that way mentality".  This made it easy for me to "spark".  Now, what keeps me up at night is that I am becoming an insider and may loose some of that spark.  I have committed myself to continue reading, visit customers and vendors to see and experience new things.  I don't want to loose the spark.

I have discovered new perspectives of leadership.  In my new position I have the opportunity to see the mile high view.  At that level the details are very fuzzy and that allows the total picture to be very clear.  This is a big portion of my job.  I may not understand all of the details but I have the opportunity to see how the entire process works and the relationship between groups.  I have been able to relieve the boss of some of her day to day activities and allow her to step back even further.  I think this has helped her with some big decisions that have really impacted Ebsco.  I can't take credit for the ideas but hopefully what I have done has contributed to her being able to take a new perspective on things.

Organizational skills have turned out to be essential.  I've adopted a saying "Baby Steps... One Million at a Time"  To keep those million steps in line takes organizational skills.  A little OCD isn't a bad thing when herding this many projects.  Outlook has become my best friend.  i have always utilized planners but in this job it's my life line.  Without it, most things would just fall through the cracks.

So to recap, what have I learned.  A great deal and nothing at all.  I've learned allot about manufacturing, springs, ISO, Job Boss and many other specifics.  Generally though, I've learned nothing new, just reinforced what I knew all along.  "It's People Stupid"  With all the technology and management theory it boils down to that one simple phrase.  PEOPLE.  I'm lucky I have the people at Ebsco on my team. 




Saturday, October 15, 2011

Critical Mass

Critical Mass is the point when you have enough of the right materials, put together in the proper way to create a sustained nuclear reaction.  It's the point when it all comes together to make the BIG BANG.

Ebsco is reaching critical mass.  All the ingredients are coming together to create our Big Bang.

Ebsco listened and surveyed our customers to find out what was important to them.  What did Ebsco need to offer to create a Big Bang as there partner. This is what our customers told us were the right ingredients;
  • The Best Quality Springs
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Short Lead Times
  • Responsiveness to Needs

We then looked at what our competition was offering and set our goals to reach critical mass by exceeding what they had to offer. Ebsco fared well against the competition but nothing short of "World Class" was going to be good enough. We are going to reach critical mass.

The entire Ebsco team looked at every aspect of our company, searching for improvement. Communication and cooperation between every department reached new highs.  Employees took ownership and greeted the challenge with enthusiasm. Working together, with everyone's input we are finding new and creative solutions and I must add, having allot of fun along the way.

Every aspect of quality is constantly monitored, recorded and communicated.  Anything short of perfect is analyzed and corrected.  The Quality Control department is now Quality Assurance, as everyone has taken on the role of Quality Control. Specifications are checked and re-checked by several team members throughout the process.  When something doesn't meet our standards, everyone is involved in finding a solution.

Our team constantly evaluates every step of the process from the initial phone call to customer delivery. We look for more efficient ways to operate and reduce costs.  Beyond simply eliminating waste, we look for any opportunity to improve the process.  Our key to success is our team work.  Looking beyond ones specific job into the whole process is illuminating several new opportunities.  As we become more efficient we have been able to pass along savings to our customers in the form of better pricing.  Even with drastic material cost increases we have been able to hold many prices to our customers.

Our biggest successes from our team members has been shortened lead times.  Team members have followed work orders through every step of the process looking for wasted time.  Working together they have found new methods that have reduced lead times up to one half.  New technology has been implemented to focus these gains and continually monitor our efforts.

Customer responsiveness has always been a priority but like everything else you don't find opportunities unless you take a critical look.  We have looked and improved several areas.  From the first call from the customer (to a team member, no automated systems here) to our reply, a new sense of urgency exists.  We strive to respond to any customer request, "NO PROBLEM" and make that response quickly.

We are proud of the improvements the team has made at Ebsco and are closing in on the "World Class" status we have targeted.  We realize we haven't arrived yet but if you truly want to be World Class you will never arrive because it requires continual improvement. We are at a point that we can stand next to any competitor and say "We Are Your Best Choice" without hesitation.

We are extremely confidant in the abilities of our team to provide the BEST to our customers and now need to spread that word.  We have recently added a marketing department to support our sales department.  In addition to spreading the word about Ebsco, they will work with our production and process teams to produce and distribute valuable tools to our current and future customers.  These tools will assist them in cutting costs in design and engineering. 

Ebsco has reached critical mass and is about to make a BIG BANG in the spring industry.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Change Doesn't Just Happen

When you think of leaders, several traits come to mind;
  • Dynamic
  • Compassionate
  • Intelligent
  • Risk Taker
  • Decisive
  • Communicator
and several others. One that you don't hear often is a catalyst.  Dictionary.com offers the following definitions for catalyst
  1. a person or thing that precipitates an event or change
  2. a person whose talk, enthusiasm or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic or energetic
Many organizations, like Ebsco are moving responsibility and accountability to the entire team.  The team members are moving into new territory.  In the past team members waited for someone to tell them what and how and then executed.  In the new organization the team members are moving into the role of determining the whats and whys.  They have the knowledge and want to participate but this is a new roll for them.  Effective leaders in this new organization must become catalyst.

Team members will be apprehensive in this new role.  I can assure you that they have a great deal to say but will be apprehensive to talk in this new situation.  The effective leader must be a catalyst, creating enthusiasm within the group and reassure them of managements support. 

The leader will need to address three situations within the group;
  • Create enthusiasm in all members to participate and assure them of management support
  • Offer the group specific topics and examples to start the dialog
  • Push the group beyond ideas into implementation
Individuals will need to be encouraged to participate.  This is a new role for them.  Leaders will need to assure them that their input will be utilized.  Team members need to feel confident they can speak freely.  Management must create excitement within team members that they now have a say in the organization. Beyond simply being engaged, team members must be excited and have passion for the opportunities in their new role.

After you have assembled a group of passionate team members they may need help starting.  This is a new role for them.  Management should offer examples of what they want from the team and give them examples of how they would tackle the situation.  Management must be cautious in providing too much guidance.  The examples provided should just give the team a spark on where and how to start.  Any more will be kill the individuals enthusiasm.

One of the biggest issues in any organization is taking a concept to reality.  The new group, when sparked will have several ideas and solutions.  In most cases they will have no idea on how to bring the concept into practice.  The leader will need to stress to the group they are responsible from idea to implementation.  The group may need some guidance on where to go to next,  The leader must be available to them and provide the resources they need to succeed.

 In participatory organizations leaders must shift their roles away from directing and become catalyst for action.  As the team begins accepting responsibility for the organization, leaders must focus on creating the environment for the team to succeed.  An effective leader will become the spark to ignite the talent and passion of the team.

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

LEADERSHIP How Do You Know When You Get There

Leaders always set goals.  People need to know when they have arrived. Goals tell us when we arrive.  Good leaders always paint a picture of what it looks like when we succeed. Most leaders are good at this. BUT  How many leaders can paint a picture of success in their role?  What is the picture when they have succeeded as a leader?  Ask ten leaders and you may get ten answers and I will differ with all of them.  I would like to propose my picture of what it looks like to succeed as a leader.

To paint the picture I think we first must look at common definitions that do not work.

A successful leader beats the competition.
Beats the competition at what?  What is the companies vision?  Is it to be the biggest?  Is it to have the best customer service?  Is the victory achieved by short term strategies and can't be maintained?  Beating the competition does not necessarily measure a successful leader.

A successful leaders meets or exceeds all goals.
Who set the goals, the leader?  Were the goals a stretch?  Do the goals align with the long term goals of the company?  Are the methods used to meet the goals sustainable or were they short term tactics?  Simply meeting goals, usually established by the leader spell true success as a leader.

A successful leaders achieves record sales for the company.
If the company has performed poorly in the past is record sales really a success?  If you cut costs and profits to obtain sales is that successful?  Sales only are not a measure of success.

A successful leaders achieves record profits.
You can slash payroll and capital investment for a year and achieve record profits, ONE TIME, is that a success?  If you raise prices and lower quality you can see a one time record profit but is that a success when all of your customers leave the following years?

A successful leader achieves record customer service scores.
If you throw payroll at the company you can increase customer service scores, but what about profit?  Even with satisfied customers, you can't sustain losses.

Looking at these common definitions it's clear that all of the above are factors to success but no single one measures success.  To say a good balance of all of the above spells success may be accurate but is very difficult to define.  The leader must establish the right combination of each will take the company to the intended destination. 

So how do we paint a picture of a successful leader?  How do we measure when we have achieved success?

To say one has achieved success as a leader.... the operation will continue and achieve the same results in the leaders absence as it would if they were there.

That's it, my definition for success as a leader. A successful leaders is the least needed person in the organization when it comes to day to day operations.  A successful leader effectively communicates his vision and culture to the entire team. Everyone knows where the company is going.  They train individuals to do their jobs. everyone knows how to do it.  They push things down through delegation.  Everyone shares the responsibility.  They instill ownership. Everyone takes responsibility. They encourage risk taking and individual thinking. No one is afraid to make decisions.  They create a motivating environment.  everyone is excited about the journey. they create team work so everyone shares in the process.
When a leader accomplishes this, the team takes off toward the vision usually leaving the leader in the dust.  What an exciting organization.  This allows the leader to sit back and observe the environment, looking for opportunities and hazards.  They can refine their vision and prepare for tomorrow.

A leader that has built his organization to be self sufficient without his input is the definition of a success.  Their team will be engaged taking ownership of the organization.  The leader will then have time to chart the next step for the organization. 

Funny to think that when you're needed the least, you have achieved success.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning is a time to open up the closets and garage and take accounting.  Put away the things from completed projects and new projects never begun.  Look at the half finished projects and determine if you want to make the effort to finish them.  Look at the future projects and see if they still have meaning.  Throw out things that have no meaning and discover things that spark new ambition.  It's time to put your life in order and focus your efforts for the future.

I've recently been ill and forced to take time off from the job.  Not something I find easy to do.  As I ease my way back into the office, I find myself somewhat overwhelmed with the missed deadlines and unfinished work awaiting me.  It has forced me to step back and evaluate everything.  It has forced me to do a Spring Cleaning of my time.

I began with my "daily duties" I imposed on myself.  I looked at the reports I create and review on a regular basis.  I evaluated all of the incomplete tasks still in my planner and finally the projects, many scheduled months prior.  What I discovered is that I'm working too hard, or maybe not working smart enough.  When stepping back and evaluating the true importance of many of these items I found I was waisting time.

My management style is exception based management, which I spoke of in a previous Blog.  I focus my efforts on a few under performing areas and as they improve replace them with new areas.  The problem is that many of the reports and daily duties I initiated in these focused areas was never stopped when my focus changed.  As each new focus emerged, I added tasks without removing old tasks.  Things that required daily attention before might only need monthly scrutiny now, but I never adjusted to the situation.  I have been piling task upon task that didn't reflect my current priorities.  With Spring Cleaning, out with the old and in with the new.  I feel better already.

Another realization is how everything is interrelated.  As we continue to move forward and improve, each improvement impacts the entire process, not just the specific area of focus.  Many projects and tasks that had importance at the time were now irrelevant due to other changes.  Fixing one thing often has a cascade effect and changes several things in their coarse. I found planned tasks and projects that were no longer necessary.  

Increased knowledge and capabilities also influenced my Spring Cleaning.  As we have developed our technology and I have better learned to utilize it, I have found more comprehensive and simpler ways of obtaining information and monitoring processes.  This has made me better at my job.  What I haven't done a good job with is alleviating some of the old methods as I develop new ones.  It's time to weed out the data and focus on the what gets the biggest bang for my buck.

Reviewing some tasks and projects simply left me confused.  I could see no benefit in if their potential results.  The reason for this is obvious. I was wrong in my original evaluation of the situation.  The purpose of the task or project was based on bad conclusions.  As time passed and more information gathered, the source of many opportunities became clearer and my original conclusions were wrong.  Time to accept that and not waist time on these.

I have always taught, preached and I thought practiced pushing things down.  Delegation is vital to the organization.  Delegation frees time to work on other priorities and prepares those being delegated to for taking on additional responsibility.  I discovered I am not as good at it as I thought.  Some things can't be delegated.  Whether based on specific skills, knowledge, access to information or availability of staff, some things must be done by ones self and can't be pushed down. I discovered many things I am currently doing should be pushed down.  At the time I took ownership of these responsibilities there may have not been someone qualified to accept them.  Some were the result of specific emphasis at the time that has changed.  The problems was that I did not constantly evaluate and continued doing the tasks after situations and resources changed.  Team members received additional training and moved into new positions that made them available to assume new roles.  I have began pushing things down, team members are exited about new opportunities (and will do a better job at them with their enthusiasm) and I now have additional time.

So as I have opened up the garage and the closets to do Spring Cleaning I have learned a great deal.  Things constantly change in a vital organization and require reevaluation. I am so committed to my Spring Cleaning I have asked my team to individually do the same thing.  They need to open there closets and garage and evaluate how they spend their time.  I have learned so much I plan to do Spring Cleaning twice a year from now on.  Maybe I will actually do one of them in the Spring.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Pinball Effect

Have you ever played pinball?  The shiny ball moves forward smoothly on a predictable path until it strikes a bumper.  Then chaos erupts.  The ball jumps from one bumper to another. There is no predicting its path as it spins wildly out of control (It's the springs that cause the reaction). The chaos of the pinball effect is very common in business.
Think about a calm day at work.  You have a plan for the day and you are consistently making progress in your efforts.  Then.... you receive a call from an associate,  Customer BIG TIME Inc hasn't received their order and is upset.  You fire off emails to two other associates asking why. They each shoot emails to two of their team members asking for information on the order.  Those four each ask two of their team to find documentation on the order.  A VP from sales calls one of the associates looking into the order on a different matter. They are  told that will need to wait because of the lost Big Time Inc order crisis.  The sales VP runs back to their office and emails their associates to make contact with the customer and assure them all is fine and your company is working on the problem. This VP copies senior management on their email and the Production VP, seeing that email contacts their associates to pull the production schedule to make arrangements to start production on a replacement order. These team members go on the production floor to give prepare technicians they may need to switch runs.  The technician informs them that scheduling called an hour ago saying they had an expedite on another order and need to know which is the priority.  An email is sent back through the chain asking about the priorities.  Everyone now is making calls and sending emails concerning the expedited order.  Big Time Inc calls and informs you that the actually have the missing order, it was delivered to the wrong dock and the crisis is over.  Not for you.  Everyone is now chasing the mysterious expedited order you just found out about. And the pinball moves on to the next bumper.

This only happens in GOOD companies.  It is rooted in, a sense of urgency, a desire to communicate and the drive to deliver great service to your customers. The very things that make companies successful, can disrupt production and create confusion.  While several people are acting on the "crisis" production is interrupted and other crisis maybe developing due to inattention.  Everyone is acting with the highest intentions, the problem is EVERYONE is acting.

The key to any "crisis" is establishing an event manager. Event Manager is not an individual or position on the organization chart.  It is simply a member of the team that takes ownership of the event.   

The event manager can be anyone in the organization. It is most effective when it is an individual with the authority to make decisions and whose responsibilities most closely correlate to the event. The event manager becomes communication central and directs the actions.  Others may provide suggest from their area of expertise but no action is taken without the direction of the event manager.  This allows most team members to stay focused on their responsibilities while the event manager only utilizes select people to focus on the event. The event manager will cut through the clutter, duplication of effort and conflicting directions to provide a smooth seamless conclusion to the situation and allow others to focus on current business at hand.

If you are pinball fan, I suggest you go to the arcade.  Use an event manager at work to coordinate your efforts and allow your team to focus on their jobs.

Monday, July 25, 2011

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Aretha Franklin made the word famous.  Respect. 

"Respect your elders."   "Respect authority"     "Respect the flag"    "Respect others rights"    "Respect the deceased"   Respect the environment"   "Respect other's property"   "Respect yourself" 

Respect is one of those words we throw around a great deal.  According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary:
a : high or special regard : esteem b : the quality or state of being esteemed c plural : expressions of high or special regard or deference <paid our respects>
For our purposes I want to discuss respect in relation to the workplace, showing respect and earning respect for leaders. 
In the work place you should show your associates respect.  It is an appropriate behavior. In some instances, showing respect to another might be seen as dishonest.  It is proper to show one respect even without actually knowing the individual.  To a greater extreme it is still appropriate to show a coworker respect,  feeling in some way they have not earned it. 
This form of respect is simply good manners.  It is a set of manners and communications techniques used at work.  In treating the individual with respect, you are actually showing respect to the organization and the other associates.  You are respecting the teams contributions, 
At Ebsco this is essential.  Each new employee, on their first day are communicated the importance of respectful behavior to all their coworkers.  True respect is earned but respectful behavior is always expected from the start. Each individual, in their own way and at their own level contributes to the success of Ebsco.  The Wolf Pack.  We are stronger for each of their efforts.  This contribution earns the respect of all other associates.  It is as basic as the motto, Together we stand, Divide we fall.
Earning respect goes well beyond simple good behavior.  Earning the teams respect is fundamental to a leaders success.  The team often shows respectful behavior to a leader due to the position.  Only when the leader has proven they deserve this do they become effective in their position.  Employees will do only what they must for a boss, simply due to his/her position.  Employees will do everything they can for a boss they respect. Their success depends on the respect the team has for them.  I would like to look at a few traits that the team will use to evaluate their respect for the leader:
  1. Caring No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Employees must be treated as your most valuable resource, not a commodity.
  2. The Golden Rule Treat the team as you wished to be treated.  Just because you have a position of authority, you are no better than anyone else.  Act that way
  3. Magic Words  Thank You,  Please,  Your Welcome,  You learned them in school.  They still apply
  4. WHY  It's never enough to ask them to do something.  Tell them WHY.   Beyond building respect, they learn much more and become more valuable to the organization
  5. Listen  You were not mystically endowed with all the answers when you became a leader.  The fact is those doing the job everyday probably know allot more about it then you do.  They have something to say. Listen
  6. Be an Example  Just because you are a boss means you are being watched.  There are no double standards.  If it is good enough for your team, it's good enough for you.
  7. Celebrate their Victories  Recognize and celebrate your teams success.  They need to know you are watching, you give them credit and you are happy for them.
  8. Involvement  Involve them in the decision process.  You will be surprised at the great ideas they have.
  9. Follow Through  When you say you are going to do it  Do it. 
  10. Lead  Don't be afraid to make a decision.  They count on you to lead. 
Pretty simple.  Most of these were taught to us at a young age.  Most are no more than doing the right thing.  Taken individually none of them are difficult.  Some take a little extra time and all take vigilance to constantly follow.  Without them you will have a team achieving little more than the minimum requirements.  With them you will earn your teams respect and have the privilege to lead a highly engaged, world class group,  and ... you might have a little fun while you are at it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

QUALITY Quality quality

"Quality is Job One"     Ford Motor Company
"Quality Runs Deep"     Rustoleum
"The Quality Goes in, Before the Name Goes On"  Zenith
"Quality at Your Feet"   John Brown Shoes
"Quality Foods"   John Sexton

TQM,   Total Quality Management,  Continuous Quality Improvement,   Total Quality Improvement
TQA,  Total Quality Assurance,   Lean Quality Management,   Quality Control

If there is an overused word in business, that word is QUALITY. 

Don't get me wrong, actual quality is the key to any businesses success.  It can be used to define almost every aspect of an organization and in today's world wide economy, lack of it spells demise.
My point is that the word is so overused that it no longer holds the impact it once did.  Quality is so important that we have overused the word to the point of loosing its importance. Companies actually are committed to quality but in their zeal have exhausted the word and diminished the passion it once evoked.  Quality has become a marketing tag line used by most businesses, including Ebsco.

Ebsco has always had a standard and reputation for quality.  We make parts that many of our competitors will not attempt.  Our customers have continually told us they count on our quality. Our parts are in applications that can't fail.  It has been part of our culture for years, long before the word became marketing copy.

The challenge is maintaining the culture of quality in your organization, as the organization grows and adds new team members.  Simply communicating the stereotyped word "QUALITY" holds little meaning for the newly arrived.  They have heard the word describing everything from spray paint to cars.  How does Ebsco maintain its culture of quality.

The answer is in ownership.  Who owns the responsibility for quality in the organization.  To maintain the culture new employees must learn the definition of quality in the organization.  What is "it" that you call quality.  They must learn the standards and what is not accepted.  They should become experts with the tools to measure quality and the required steps to monitor quality.  Most importantly they need to know that they are not just encouraged but expected to stop everything and shout out when they see anything that doesn't meet your organizations and their standards.  The ownership of quality is not part of their job, it is their job.

As I talk about quality as an overused word it is almost ironic that we recently changed the name of our Quality Control Department at Ebsco to Quality Assurance.  If the word has lost its meaning what is the value in changing the name.  It's a symbol of the ownership I'm speaking of.  If we expect everyone to take ownership of quality then why a department to control it.  Quality Assurance insures that everyone has taken ownership and produced the standards we expect.  They don't control it,  Each individual on the team, individually owns the responsibility to maintain Ebsco's reputation for quality.  A big responsibility.  The only way to put the meaning back into the word   QUALITY.  At Ebsco quality is more than a marketing tag line, it is our culture, today and for the years to come.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Chicken or the Egg... Employees First or Customers First

Employees first, Customers Second?  It goes against everything we have been taught.  The nice thing about things we are taught is that they are the beginning of the real learning process.  Opening yourself up to learning is the root of real understanding.

So... The Chicken or the Egg?, Customers First or Employees First?. 

I wont begin to address the age old chicken or the egg but I will tackle customers or employees first.

Customer or Employees first was addressed in 2010 in a book by Vineet Nayer, "Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down".  Nayer is the CEO of HCL Technologies.  HCL is a $5.5 billion global IT Service provider, based in India. Credit for HCLs rise to a world wide powerhouse in IT services is attributed to Nayer's "Employees First" philosophy.

The Employee First philosophy has always been a part of the Starbucks culture.  CEO Howard Schultz presented this culture as follows
"We built Starbucks brand first with our people, not with customers. Because we believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in our employees."

If you look at the history of management, employee relations, Employee First is a natural progression of this relationship.  Early management philosophy, coined theory X, was dictatorial.  Management considered workers as lazy. Fear of consequences was the prime management motivator.  As business matured, theory Y came into practice.  Theory Y assumes everyone wants to succeed and achieve.  People are motivated through recognition and want to be challenged.  Employee First is the next step.  Employee First establishes the team as the only important factor to success.  If you have a great team, success will follow.  It requires transparency and involvement of all team members in the organization.

Introducing Employee First into an organization is difficult. Even with open minded management, Employee First creates apprehension.  Establishing a level of trust when providing transparency to the entire team is a difficult step.  Employee First literally turns the organization upside down.  It creates an inverted organizational chart.  first line employees are at the top and senior management at the bottom, serving the levels above.  Management becomes accountable to the employees.  I call this organizational chart the inverted pyramid.  With honest examination it makes sense.  The worker produces the goods and services the customer pay for.  Management simply provides the workers with the tools and materials they need.  The worker is the profit generating level of the company, not the management.  If the organizations purpose is to produce profits, it should be led by the group that generates that profit, with all other levels supporting them.

How does this apply to Ebsco?  Actually it has been a part of the Ebsco culture for the past 10 years.  It is ingrained in the personality of our current CEO, Ms. Dooley.  From personally serving hot cocoa on cold days to investing in additional AC units to make the shop more comfortable, Ms. Dooley simply cares about the team.  As we grow and define our company, we included Employees First in our Mission Statement.  One of the four pillars that guide Ebsco is our employees.

Mission statements are great and make great plaques and posters but how does Ebsco practice Employees First in day to day operations?

It starts with the courage to honestly listen.  If employees are first, you must listen to what they have to say. This take courage.  Many times you will not like what you hear.  It can be easy to take their criticisms as personal.  You may find policies you instituted for their benefit have failed to deliver results.  They may tell you some policies and directions you have set are not making their way through management to the team.  You will probably be surprised to find how out of touch you really are.  It's hard to hear about your failures, especially when you had such great intentions.  If you want to put employees first, you must muster the courage to listen.

We're doing this at Ebsco.  We have created several employee teams.  Not only are we listening to their input, we have empowered them to make and implement decisions.  Who better to understand what is important to the team than the team members themselves.  We have instituted monthly departments meetings.  In our meetings we ask for the teams input.  We have established an employee survey.  We ask for honest anonymous input from everyone.  After grouping their responses we sit down with small groups and drill down on their responses.  We dig to understand what they are really telling us.  Then, with that information we address their concerns and discuss how to make things better.

Transparency is another major factor in Employee First.  If the team is first, they must know how the organization is doing, what directions and changes it is making, and what other areas of the company are involved in.  It is intimidating to some leaders to share this much information with workers.  They hesitate to trust and question the importance of such detail communication.  Again, if employees are first, it is a must.

At Ebsco, we are becoming transparent to our team.  This Blog is one such example.  I attempt to explain the reason behind the direction and decisions of Ebsco.  Our department meetings are another factor.  We attempt to keep all employees informed on our progress and current strategies.  They can't make it work if they don't know what "it" is. We believe the employees will make the customers first if we make them first but they can't do that, without having all the information.

Training is an essential element to Employees First.  Without providing the tools to succeed you are not making employees first. You must provide employees with training beyond how to do their jobs.  They must understand the whys and how their job contributes to the entire organization.  You must also provide them the training to advance beyond their current level.  This is one of the major stumbling blocks for many companies.  Training is expensive. The time and lost productivity during training is seen as waisted overhead in many organizations.  This is short sighted.  The result of training is better equipped, more productive team members. Training is an investment that almost always pays huge dividends.

We are embracing training at Ebsco.  I have spoken about our commitment to training in several previous Blogs posts.  Our training program is still developing.  We have moved beyond task training into developmental training at all levels.  We are committed to training and look at it as an investment in our future, both short and long term.

The Employee First philosophy is relative young in the history of business.  It is not a "fad" but a logical step in the progression of employee management relations.  The lines between worker and management  are becoming less rigid and blurred.  Employees are finally given credit for their contributions to the company.  Companies are realizing that the "worker" is the one that generates the profit, understands the system and are the key to the companies improvement.  Ebsco is committed to our employees and is a leader in realizing their importance and contribution to the companies success.  As we re-invent ourselves for the next decade, you will find the employees leading the change.  At Ebsco, Employees are First.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Up or Down, Nothing Stands Still

Every business has a life cycle.  I have seen the cycle broken down into four to seven stages.  For my purposes today we are going to simplify this to four stages.  The stages are;

     Introduction or Start-up
     Growth or Development
     Maturity
     Decline

All businesses follow this cycle.  When you hear a business owner say they are happy with their current sales and just want to maintain, they are already in decline. Maintaining the statuesque is not possible.  When a business remains static their environment continues to move forward, leaving them behind, in decline. 

Competition is always seeking to take your customers.  Competitors in the Growth stage are striving to improve.  They seek new ways to produce a better quality, less expensive product delivered to the customer at a faster rate.  If your business is simply trying to maintain they will take your customers and you will decline.

Technology, machinery and materials are constantly improving.  Companies that are in the Growth stage will take advantage of this.  If your company is not, they will beat you in the market place and your company will decline.

In the Maturity stage companies begin to accept their processes and techniques as successful.  They are at their peek and want to begin capitalizing on their investments over the years.  They become emotionally tied to their processes they invented and don't want to change.  They begin to see record profits and are blinded to the fact that competitors have made them  the target.  At their peak, it is the beginning of the end.

In the past, this cycle took many years. Changes were slow and the cycles long.  In today's world, with rapidly changing technology, world wide economies and lightning fast communications shortened the cycle. Companies rise quickly to the top of their industry and then fade away in only a few short years.

If the cycle is short and inevitable for all companies, how do some companies prevail for years?

Awareness of the cycle and courage to change when things are good, is the key to long term success 

To survive the business cycle and not enter into decline, companies must reinvent themselves at the peak of their success.  Most companies move into the decline stage, find external excuses for their slide and wait to react until it is too late.  Others accept the true reasons for the decline but have waited too long to initiate changes and struggle to the end.  The key to longevity is to understand the business cycle and begin the transformation when they are at the top. 

 It is against human nature to make drastic changes when things are good.  "Why Change a Good Thing?".  Change is difficult and there is always the fear that you will make the wrong change.  When things are in decline it's easy, Can't get any worse.  When things are good people do not want to mess them up.

To make successful changes, the company must retain it's core principals.  The core principals that established the company allowed it to achieve initial success and will guide them in there transformation.  They form the culture and reason the company exists.  Loosing track of these essentials during the process will insure failure of the change process.  The employees, your most valuable asset work for the company because of the culture and core values of the business.  Abandoning the core values will not find support with the team.  Without the team, change is impossible.  It is okay to develop and refine the culture, but never abandon it.

Ebsco is currently in the maturity cycle. We have found success and respect in the industry.  Now is the time for change.

We are looking at every process and finding ways to improve.  We are investing in equipment and materials to increase quality, reduce costs and lead times.  We are enhancing and expanding our training program to equip our team with the best tools available. We are investing in software to help us manage the process and provide better communications. Ebsco is transitioning from the maturity stage back into the start up cycle.  We are rigorously maintaining our core values and culture to insure our success.

So, as the competition establishes Ebsco as the target, we not only are moving the target, we're changing the target completely.  We are taking what the competition does well and setting it in our sites while maintaining our strengths. 

We are not starting over on the cycle.  We drug the entire cycle up to where we are, and are starting UP from there.  The process takes time but it's one hell of a ride.  I hope you'll join us on our ride.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Technology Servant or Keeper?

This last week I spent time with our Internet SEO company, Quantus Creative looking at Google analytics.  I also attend meetings planning a major software purchase that will automate and tie together several front end processes at our company.  I marveled at the capabilities and vast quantity of information these two systems offered. To truly utilize the power and information in these systems is a full time job, hence our relationship with Quantus.  This led me to consider the question, In business today are we utilizing technology to serve us or have we transformed our jobs to manage the technology?

I began my management career in 1979.  This was at the leading edge of the technology boom.  Technology at that point was isolated to large corporate main offices and had not trickled down to the operations level.  Management was considered both an art and a science.  There were proven systems, processes and theories that were widely utilized, the science.  The art of management was still a huge factor.  Managers utilized intuition and gut feelings to make decisions.  Successful managers had a real connection to what was happening and intuitively reacted to capitalize on the circumstances.

Today much of that intuitive art of management has been replaced by technology.  We have real time data available that will communicate the current situation.  Intuitive programs with historical data can accurately guide decisions makers in their response to the data.  Formerly, managers made observations as anecdotal evidence, formulated conclusions and made decisions.  Now managers have real evidence at a touch of a button.  Often we are able to "drill down" several levels for specific data and rearrange the data to identify trends and patterns before they make impacts on the operation.

So it would seem that art of management has been replaced by technology.  I propose that technology has not replaced the art of management but changed it.  The art of management now lies in the ability to discern what information and how much information is utilized by management.

When we become servants to technology, we loose control of the operation.  Managers often feel it is their job to be on top of everything and that is not entirely incorrect.  The art of management is the ability to determine how they will accomplish this.  Many fall into the trap of attempting to analyze every report and date source, to drill down and understand every detail.  This becomes a "can't see the forest for the trees" scenario.  Chances are in their attempt to see everything, time constraints will only allow them to see a few things in detail and never address other topics at all.  They will spend all of their time collecting data and never addressing corrections and opportunities the data presents. Most importantly they loose touch with their most important resource, their team. Failure is imminent.

The art of management now is in the utilization of technology.  Successful managers know how and where to obtain the information they need and to do it quickly.  Sampling data for trends is an effective use of technology.  Entire fields of study have developed in time management centered around the use of technology.  Auto generated reports at pre-determined intervals harnesses the power of technology effectively.  Managers must constantly evaluate the benefit of technological outputs and only utilize those that have utility to them.

One of the most effective management utilization's of technology is exception based management.  It is established on the time proven 80%-20% rule.  Concentrating on the most important 20% of your business will produce 80% of your results.  To impact the remaining 20% will require 80% of your effort.  It makes sense to stay focused on the areas that you can have the greatest impact.  Technology is the best tool to assist you in identifying those areas. Obviously you would not want to see customer service at 81%, quality at 82% and safety at 79% and determine to focus all of your energies on safety. Hopefully no company would be satisfied with 81% customer service and 82% quality.  Each aspect would be looked at individually.  KPIs or Key Performance Indicators would be identified for each area.  Monitoring these KPIs, within each area will allow you to focus your resources effectively.  In customer service you may have identified on time delivery, communication, accurate billing and fast customer response as your key elements. You would establish data reports evaluating all of these aspects.  After identifying the weakest category you can drill down into the data to identify root causes of your performance.  You will then focus your efforts on improvement of that category.  Exception based management should produce a stair stepped progress.  You improve the weakest aspect, after improvements, it is no longer the weakest and you shift your efforts to the next weakest aspect.   You will only spend time with detailed data on the areas of focus.

When evaluating the use of your time utilizing technology it is essential that you NEVER loose focus on your most important resource.  Your team.  Nothing happens, nothing is produced and profits don't exist without them.  Technology is merely a tool.  It is up to you whether you utilize it to serve you or subjugate yourself to maintain it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Quality Assurance

Most companies say they are committed to quality and continuous improvements but the truth lies in their actions.  Are they changing? Are things different now compared to a year ago?  If the answer is no, then they are not committed. 
I have attempted to document Ebsco's journey in continuous improvement in this Blog.  At the beginning of our journey we created a new mission statement defining who Ebsco is.  It is all about quality and our commitment to continuous improvement.
We recently completed a project that improved the entire process in our Quality Control Department.  To say I'm proud of everyone's  accomplishments would be an understatement.  We have drastically reduced Que time in the department and completely modernized the physical surroundings.  What better way to drive quality than to improve the quality control department.  We accomplished our objectives in QC.  I was ready to check that project off and move to something new when I was asked a simple question. "Is it Quality Control or Quality Assurance?"  Who is really responsible for quality?
When Toyota created TQM the responsibility for quality was instilled in everyone.  Everyone was empowered to shut down the assembly line if they discovered a quality issue.  Quality was at the root of everyone's job. 
Everyone at Ebsco have always been committed to quality.  Individuals in all departments have provided input into the quality system and taken responsibility for the quality of their work.  If they had not we would not have the reputation for quality we have today.  The question was where was my responsibility in the process. 
Ebsco had NCRs, Work Order Exceptions, CARs, PARs and the entire collection of quality improvement alphabet forms.  Previously these forms went to the Quality Systems Manager who investigated, reported and logged the document. One person handling the entire system.  It was difficult to manage the information much less report changes to the team. 
Now the forms go to the responsible Vice President.  Liz and I are responsible for sharing this information with everyone involved and coordinating their corrective actions. We have the responsibility to drive the team to the root cause.  Now that everyone sees a commitment from management people are encouraged and are submitting problems.  The team creates solutions and everyone sees the benefit of their efforts.
With these changes, we are changing the name from Quality Control to Quality Assurance.  Quality control is everyone's job.  The Quality Assurance department is responsible to oversee and verify their efforts.  We are also reviewing all job descriptions and adding quality control to the basic job requirements for every employee.  We are developing training for our Team Leads in root cause analysis.  Quality control lies with each individual and management is behind them 100%. 
As I have mentioned in previous Blogs, the key to Ebsco's success is leadership.  Not management leadership but the teams leadership in driving change. The simple action of showing management's support for their ideas drives them to take Ebsco to our ultimate goal of becoming a World Class Manufacturer".

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Everyone is Handicappeed

Last week we began looking at adding Handicapped individuals to our team at Ebsco.  We hosted a meeting with representatives from the Oklahoma Department of Rehabiltory Services.  It looks very promising and we hope to add new team members soon.

For this initiative to succeed it is important, to both the applicant and the company, that we do not change our standards and expectations.  The key is to do a detailed analysis of the jobs requirements and match them to the individual.  Exactly what we should do with any applicant considered.  When matching the applicants capabilities to the job you may need to make accommodations allowing them to be successful.  Again, the same for any applicant.  As management one of our primary responsibilities is to remove obstacles that impede success for our team members.

So what is different in hiring handicapped employees?  According to Encarta, the definition of handicap is "hindrance: something that hinders or is a disadvantage to somebody or something". 
My question is;
     "Isn't Everyone Handicapped?"

I had dreams of becoming a rock star.  I play guitar.  I practiced for hours when I was younger.  I never made it.  I didn't have the talent.  Desire and practice didn't make a difference. I was handicapped from being a rock star.  Most people have similar dreams of becoming a top athlete and don't have the physical attributes to succeed.  Are they handicapped?  Kim Peek, the inspiration for the movie Rain Man, is as a savant and posses incredible math and memory skills that most are unable to match.  Is everyone else handicapped and Mr. Peek not? 

I am in no way trying to diminish the obstacles the handicapped confront.  My point is that they posses qualities, talents and abilities the sames as every other person.  The defining difference is society.  The handicapped find obstacles in what society has established as "normal"  If everyone was in wheel chairs, buildings. cars, homes and everything in society would be built to accommodate wheel chairs.  The minority, not in wheel chairs, would be the handicapped.  If everyone had the ability to recall dates as Mr. Peek has, their would be no need for calendars and calculators. Those who did not posses Mr. Peek's abilities would be handicapped. The difference is accommodations.  Society sets expectations, processes and how things are constructed to the capabilities of the majority.  These decisions become the obstacles for the minority, the handicapped.

When you view handicaps as a simple issue of accommodations, you open a new source of labor for your company.  Most companies do not consider the handicapped worker.  This is a great opportunity for the companies that do.  Studies have shown that handicapped workers dependability, retention and productivity exceed non-handicapped workers.  They get the job done.  Obviously this is a generalization and you must look at the individual but isn't that what the employment process is all about.  Considering the handicapped workers adds several applicants to your labor pool.

When you view handicaps as a matter of capabilities and accommodations, everyone is handicapped.  Finding the right applicant is simply a matter of matching the job with the capabilities and the accommodations.  Considering the handicapped worker as another applicant is just good business.

Because after all,  we are all handicapped in some way.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Wolf Pack

THE WOLF
``Now is the Law of the Jungle---as old and true as the sky;
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk, the Law runneth forward and back---
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.''
Rudyard Kipling

This is an exert from "The Jungle Book".  The Jungle book was published in 1894 by British Poet Laurette Rudyard Kipling. The Jungle Book represented a strong moral code for society presented by Kipling. It presented Kipling's vision for how society and leaders should act with strong moral codes.

I received a plaque with the "Law of the Jungle" exert, years ago from my previous employer.  It dramatically impacted how I have tried to act as a leader and how I perceive the teams I have had the honor to lead.  I consider this as a "light bulb minute" in my career.  The impact of these few words helped shape my future.  Since that time, I have hung posters of wolves on the walls of my office and always had this exert framed by my desk.  I have proudly named the teams I have been associated with as "The Wolf Pack".

Why the profound impact and reaction to these words?  What meaning did I find in Kipling's words to shape my actions?

"The strength of the pack is the Wolf".  It's synergy.  Synergy is defined in Encarta as "combined effort being greater than the parts". The "Pack" or team is made up of several individuals all contributing toward the goal with unique skills. In a successful team, the combined effort is greater than the sum of the individuals contributions.  The wolf pack is much more than several individuals working alone.  It always amazes me what can be achieved by great team working together.  The strength of the company is the employees.  It's as simple as that.

"The strength of the wolf is the pack".  Companies are made up of several individuals.  Each has unique skills and talents they bring.  Without the support of the team, their individual efforts accomplish little.  A great production team is of little value without a great sales team bringing them orders to produce.  A top notch IT department contributes nothing without an organization needing their services. Individuals can't shine without the support of a great team.  In football, the greatest running backs accomplish little without a great line.  The strength of the employee is never realized without the support of the team.

Embracing this, as a manager, requires that you realize your success is completely dependant on the team.  When you accept that your success is dependant on the team, you realize that these are some of the most important people in your life.  You begin to truly appreciate their efforts and input.  With this realization your roles becomes more defined.  A manager role is to serve the team.  As a leader, your team is your customer.  You serve the team and the team in turn serves the organization.

My strength is the team.  My role is to support, train and provide them the tools they need to do their jobs.  My commitment to them is to create the best working environment I can. If Ebsco becomes the place they want to work, they will make Ebsco successful.  If Ebsco succeeds, we all succeed.

The strength of Ebsco is the employees, The strength Ebsco's employees is the Ebsco team.

Thank You Wolf Pack.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mentoring at Ebsco

In business, the definition of the word Mentor is "a senior or experienced person in a company or organization who gives guidance and training to a junior colleague". In Greek mythology, the character Mentor was placed in charge of Odysseus' son.  Because of this father-like, teacher relationship the word was adopted in English to mean a trusted friend, counselor or teacher. Some great pop culture examples of mentors are;
   Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid
   Master Po in the series Kung Fu
   Chubs Peterson in Happy Gilmore
   Morpheus in the The Matrix
   Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings
   Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars
Each of these examples were trusted confidants and authorities to the Mentee.  The key to their relationship was;
   The Mentees success depends on how well they are taught
   The Mentors success depends on how well the Mentee learns.
A true mentor relationship is inter-dependent of each party.  Only when the mentee succeeds does the mentor find success.
Mentoring is growing as a part of our culture at Ebsco.  For our purposes we will use the following definition,
   Mentoring is a career development method whereby less experienced employees are matched
   with more experienced colleagues for guidance.
The mentors take on the roles of Counselor, Guide, Role Model, Supporter and Confidant.  They do not do the work for the mentee, solve the mentees problems or advise the mentee on personal matters.  Through this relationship the mentees develop competence and comfort in new areas quicker, are provided structured learning and develop problem solving skills.
It is essential that the mentors enter the relationship with the proper mind set.  Every mentee should be considered a "10".  When we make a decision as to ones potential, we will then go about proving that assumption correct.  When you make the assumption the mentees has "10" potential you will begin to see them as who they can become in the company. You will be quicker to give them the benefit of the doubt and focus on their strengths.  With this positive influence the mentee will give their best effort in order to please the mentor. Assuming the best in them, gets the best out of them.
For a mentor relationship to be successful their must be;
   Genuine interest from both parties
   Management support
   time to participate
   Confidentiality between both parties
   Commitment from everyone involved
   Clear 2-way communication
   Clear, mutually established goals
During the process the mentor most pay close attention to verbal and non verbal communication from the mentee.  At times the mentee will become frustrated and the progress must be slowed, allowing the mentee to catch up.  At other times the mentee will show signs of boredom and the mentor should speed the process up to keep the mentee engaged.
Our Team Lead position at Ebsco is a mentor role with a few additional responsibilities.  Our Team Leads focus is on developing the talents of their team members.  In addition we are assigning individual mentors to each new employee.  This provides an additional person vested in their success.  An additional resource for their learning.
Mentoring is not a common skill.  Everyone utilizes parts of mentoring in their life but few are acquainted with it as a process.  Realizing this Ebsco has begun formal training on our mentor program.  We have completed the first training session with the Team Leads and are completing a training module to share with our other mentors.  Adding responsibilities without training is one of the surest formulas for failure.  We are not going to fail.
We have committed ourselves to training at Ebsco and the Mentor program is a key to this effort.  In a successful mentoring program the mentor, the mentee and the company all win.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Teach a Man (or Woman) to Fish

Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.
Teach a man to fish: and you have fed him for a lifetime.
Let's put it another way
Teach a man how; he will complete the task. today
Teach a man why; he will complete many tasks and build a career.
How teaches the repetition of tasks to complete a function.  When you go beyond how, to why, you teach reasoning skills to go much farther.  Robots know "how" but lack the intelligence to reason.  Teaching why allows the individual the power of reason.  The power to solve problems and find new and innovative solutions.  Organizations that teach their employees why, increase their potential. 
Innovative companies are now going beyond what and why and attempt to unlock the full potential of their team.
Organizations are made up of several departments with distinct functions.  Traditionally, employees were trained in the tasks and functions of their department.  The best companies trained the whys behind the whats within an employee's department.  That's not enough in today's competitive environment.  Individual departments never operate alone. Each departments impacts and interacts with every other department in the organization. An effective training program goes beyond an individuals assigned department and teaches the functions and interactions of all other departments.  It teaches the process and defines the companies goals and vision.
That's the goals of Ebsco U.
Ebsco U is an ongoing comprehensive training program designed to reach beyond traditional training and create a team that understands the entire organization.  With knowledge beyond ones department comes true team work and progress. Ebsco U encompasses all Ebsco training.  Most areas will continue to expand and develop with time. The following are current elements of Ebsco U.
  • New Employee Orientation. Our new employee orientation consist of a full week.  Several team members play a role in the orientation. The program is designed to bring the new employee into the team instead of focusing on simply teaching job skills and rules. One of the keys to our orientation program is the assignment of mentors to each new employee.
  • Safety Training. No new or innovative topics here.  Most on the job injuries are from basic inattention. Our safety program focuses on basic safety topics. Repetition is the key to effective safety training.  It's employee driven from the safety team
  • Ebsco U The Coarse.  Ebsco U consists of several ongoing units and is attended by all employees.  It introduces all departments and their functions, the processes, machinery and the science of springs.  It provides detailed information on Human Resource topics.  Ebsco U has just begun but initial feedback looks promising.
  • Evaluation Process.  Ebsco has launched an innovative evaluation process that focuses on goal setting.  This is new to most employees.  Ebsco has addressed this with an orientation session to help employees get the most out of the process.
  • Team Leader Training.  The Team Leader position is new and unique to Ebsco.  Our monthly training session will supply our Team leads with guidance and tools to effectively perform in their new position.
  • Management Training. Effective management skills don't come with the position.  It is essential to continually develop ones skills.  Our ongoing management training program will address diverse topics focused on building management skills.
  • Mentor Training. With our new orientation program we will utilize mentors in each department. Our new mentor training will identify the experienced employees in each department and provide them with the tools to effectively mentor our newest team members.
  • Coiler Training.  Going beyond the usual on the job training, we will begin to conduct coiler training classes.  These sessions will be held when we are not running production to allow participants to focus on the material.  We are developing classes from basic skills to advanced techniques.  Our coiler training will have something to offer everyone.
Ebsco U will continue to evolved based on the input from our employees.  I am really excited to see the enthusiasm and commitment from all of our employees and management on training and developing our capabilities.
In our analogy a man was given a fish or taught to fish.  Ebsco is doing all of that and teaching agriculture and proper diet.  Effective training goes well beyond what one does today and tomorrow. Effective training looks at everything related to what you are doing and examines how they interact.
We have the best team, they deserve the best training.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

ISO in English

If you are in manufacturing you have heard of ISO.  For those who have heard of ISO, it's quit probable what you have heard is negative,  Redundant, excess paperwork, and a waist of time are common perceptions of ISO.  I am going to attempt to dispel these perceptions.
To understand ISO it is essential to establish it's history and purpose.
ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. ISO was founded in 1947 as an attempt to integrate several standards organizations worldwide.
Companies concerned with establishing standards for quality must insure the same standards are imposed on their raw material and component distributors. To accomplish this representatives were sent to the suppliers to audit processes and machinery and provide input for improvements.  Although somewhat costly this was reasonable since most related distributors were located in the same city. As transportation improved ,companies were able to select suppliers in other cities and states.  Quality audits visit became more difficult and less frequent. ISO became a useful alternative. When companies select distributors that subscribe to ISO they are accepting an outside organization, ISO to insure the quality they require.
The challenge for ISO was establishing standards that insure quality in diverse industries.  How do you establish one set of standards that would apply to assembling jet engines and manufacturing springs? ISO addressed this situation by establishing standards for the process not the product.
ISO requires companies to define all of their processes, in detail, establish their process for identifying customer requirements, establish their measurements of all outputs and follow specific procedures to identify and correct problems.  That is ISO in short, tell what you are going to do, make sure it happens correctly and fix it when it doesn't.  Sounds allot like continuous improvement.
So, if ISO is this simple, why all the bad publicity.  Consider this example,
You are president of the "Shoe Tying Company". Your customers are requiring that you become ISO certified. No problem.
First, define your process in writing.  You must write out the specific steps in tying shoe laces so a person with no knowledge can repeat the process.  EVERY STEP FOR EVERY SHOE FOR EVER CUSTOMER.  You take most steps for granted.  ISO requires you to document them in detail. 
Process Description for Shoe Tying
   Insure that both ends are of equal length
   Cross the two ends
   Loop the right end under the loop
   Pull both ends and tighten .....
Tighten?, How tight?  If you pull too far it will hurt and may break the laces, too loose and the shoes will not fit correctly. How do you define tight.  Tight might be considered completely different for a weight lifter in his prime and a young child,  This is the key to ISO.  Specific directions must be measurable and specific for each individual product.  This makes the task more difficult but allows you to define the quality you seek and determine if it is achieved when the operation is complete.
Now you know specifically how and what you expect the outcome to be.  ISO isn't done yet.
Your shoe tying company is going great.  You are tying the perfect shoe laces every time. Then after six months, a strings breaks.  This wasn't expected. It's a non conformity.  An NCR, Non conformity report is generated. ISO requires you to correct the problem.  A CAR, Corrective Action Report is filed.  You investigate to determine what caused this unexpected result (The Root Cause). After reviewing you find that the strings get worn and weaken after six months.  You change your procedure to replace laces after five months to eliminate this problem.  The new step in the procedure is documented.  You have improved your process.  Strings will not break in the future.  A different pair breaks a lace, another NCR. After checking it has only been three months since you changed the laces. Your new procedure, changes laces at five months before they are worn.  A CAR is started and your root cause investigation identifies these laces were not waxed like the previous ones.  Another corrective action.  You find that your customer specified un-waxed laces.  You change your procedures to replaced un-waxed laces at two months.  Now you are establishing yourself as truly the expert in your field through your continuous improvement program, ISO.
This is an oversimplification of ISO but it illustrates the benefits.  ISO is a continuous improvement program that allows you to recognize when things are not as you expected and make changes that will stay in place after initiated.  Each time you find a problem, you make your product better.  Problems are opportunities with ISO.
If ISO is so great, why are some people so reluctant to embrace it?  It takes discipline. It takes time.  For ISO to work you must be committed to continuous improvement and willing to invest the time to make it work.  The human memory is amazing.  It can store and process more information than any computer known to man.  The problem is the Mind sometimes has a mind of its own.  It becomes distracted and sometimes leaves out details.  If it's important enough to do it right, it's important enough to write it down.
Documentation is the driving force behind ISO.  People like to create and complete, they don't like documenting what they have already done.  For ISO to work it must be documented.
If a customers requires a company to become ISO certified, what insurance do they have that the supplier will follow through on the process?  Audits.  ISO requires documented internal and external audits.  To be ISO certified a company must hire a certified outside auditor annually.  The outside auditor will review the company's documentation and evaluate if they have appropriately followed the ISO process. Everything is verified.
Hopefully now, when someone brings up ISO you will know that this is a positive thing for your company.  You will know that ISO is more than a marketing tool for potential customers.  ISO is the framework for your company to continually get better at what it does, It allows the company to consistently provide the same level of quality, time after time.
I can assure you of one thing.  If your competitor embraces ISO and you do not.  Over time, their quality will surpass yours.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If a Tree Falls in the Forest....

You've heard the saying, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?"  I would like to propose the question slightly different, "If a company makes changes and doesn't tell everyone about it, did it really make a change?" It's a legitimate analogy.
Like a forest, made up of several trees, companies are made up of several people and departments. In the forest every individual tree impacts the entire forest, they share nutrients. create shadows and impact the environment they all share. Ebsco is made up of over seventy people and several departments forming an organization. By definition, an organization is a group of elements that contribute to the whole. In other words, several different departments interacting to complete one goal.
As I mentioned in my last blog, everyone at Ebsco is contributing ideas and concepts to move us to the World Class status we are pursuing. An idea is nothing more than a thought if its not implemented.  When an idea is implemented it creates change.  Like the forest, no individual or department at Ebsco stands alone. A change in any department will impact several other departments and individuals. So... If we make a change and don't tell everyone about it, did we really make a change? I can assure you things changed but did we make the change.
If we were in the forest when a tree falls, we would hear more than just the tree, the crack of the trunk, limbs snapping as they impact other trees, birds taking flight, brush and leaves rattling when the tree lands.  The tree falling would create several sounds.  It is the same in the organization.  A small change will ripple through the company. If we are iunformed about the change and understand why it happened, other departments and individuals can adjust and change in sync so we move the company in the right direction.  Change without communication is nothing more than a bunch of dead trees.
At Ebsco communication is constant. We have created several formal opportunities to share ideas and keep everyone in the loop. 
Daily announcements every morning.  Sometimes compared to the daily school lunch menu announced when we were in grade school. This gives us an opportunity to find out what events are happening that day, and celebrate personal achievements like individuals birthdays.
Department meetings each month. This is an opportunity to sit down, share ideas and talk about what is happening in each department and across the company that impacts everyone. 
Flyers posted around the shop. They're everywhere.  Who has a birthday or anniversary day with the company, upcoming events and training sessions to come.
Monthly full company luncheons.  These are fun events to share in our accomplishments.
Social media postings. The way we communicate change is also changing. Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking and Blogging.
Texting. When we had the recent blizzard, management prepared for the event. Everyone was informed ahead of time that they would receive text messages of any scheduling changes.  Cell phone numbers were gathered from all team members.  What wasn't considered was the time it would take to send over seventy text message. Many employees did not receive the message in time.  We now have a mass text message program that broadcast one text message to all employees, instantaneously.
Web page. http://www.ebscospring.com/ has a wealth of information for customers and employees.  On the web page we have links to our Facebook, Twitter and Blogger sites. 
Facebook. Our Facebook page has been very popular.  We are utilizing it to share stories about employees and the company.  We have photos and videos and try to keep it fun.
Twitter.  Ebsco is Tweeting.  Short notes every day on what's happening and when we post to our other social media sites.
Blogger.  You're reading it now.  We are posting weekly to our Blogger site.  It is our intention to utilize these blogs to offer greater insight into the whys behind the whats at Ebsco. 
Communication is obviously important.  Change that isn't communicated will result in random confusion. To successfully create change with a purpose requires great communication with everyone impacted.
Going back to our forest analogy, I think their is one more consideration for it to actually make a sound.
If we were in the forest when the tree fell but had never heard a tree fall or a branch break, did it make a sound.  Without an understanding of what we are hearing it is nothing more than noise. A sound without  some reference and understanding is simply a noise. In an organization, creating change without MEANINGFUL communication still isn't meaningful change. Training creates the reference necessary for true change to happen.  If you previously heard a limb snap you will begin to understand what is happening when you hear a tree fall. 
Our commitment to training allows each of us to understand the changes when they are communicated.  To communicate to someone that the process for FAI is changing means little until they understand what FAI stands for.  Learning that processes in other departments will change means nothing unless you have a basic knowledge of those processes. Communication does not occur without shared common knowledge.
At Ebsco, as most companies we have always trained our employees well in their departments and the skills they need to perform their jobs.  The key is to expand that training beyond their daily scope to other departments and processes across the company.  For employees to maximize the benefits from changes implemented outside of their scope they must understand the entire process. We have implemented Ebsco U to address this issue.
Ebsco U is designed to present all departments and processes to every employee.  We will teach the fundamentals of our product and process beyond the scope of the individuals daily job. With the knowledge gained from Ebsco U, employees will better  understand the information passed on to them and allow them apply their individual expertise for a better outcome.
Understanding how to communicate is another key to effective change.  It has little benefit to equip your employees with the knowledge to understand the changes if those who deliver the message are unclear.  Communication is a learned skill and something that requires training and practice.
One of the primary functions of our team leads is to communicate with the teams.  We have implemented monthly meetings for our team leads.  These meeting will focus on coaching, communication and sharing ideas.  We are developing formal training programs, within Ebsco U to address these issues to our team leads.  Communication is also the primary responsibility of our managers.  We have weekly management meetings and are developing training programs for them in Ebsco U.
So back to our original question. Does a falling tree in the woods make a sound if no one is there to hear it? Scientist define sound as vibrations transmitted capable of being detected.  My answer is if no one is there to hear it, it really doesn't matter and if they don't understand what they are hearing it's just noise.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

BABY STEPS.... ONE MILLION AT A TIME.

Everyone around Ebsco is probably tired of hearing me say "Baby Steps...One Million at a Time". I use the phrase often. It fits the changes taking place at Ebsco so well. 
Six months ago when Ms. Dooley, our CEO stated her vision, "Ebsco will be a world class manufacturer in five years", everyone knew that meant change.  Change of some degree is required in any organization; continuous improvement, new technology, new customer requirements.  But this is a completely different level of change.  "World Class" requires real cultural change in the organization and that's significant.
Change is a big topic in the business world and I did my research on change management. I downloaded articles and read books from the experts on change management. They all centered on getting "buy in" from the team on the changes and including them in the process.  Sounded like good advice...but as usual I took a different road.  Selling the team on the process requires management  initiates what will change and then allows the employees to be included on how it will occur.  It seems more logical to allow the "experts", the employees, to determine what needed changing.  We presented Ms. Dooley's vision to the employees and then turned them loose.  We asked them what was needed to make the journey, and did they ever respond.
The one thing I wasn't prepared for was the magnitude of ideas that pour in when you let an energized team loose.  They came from every angle and every department.  I find myself holding on for dear life on a very exciting ride.  I have to keep up.  Anything short would make them feel my commitment and excitement isn't there and I assure you it is.
My role has become coordinator for the changes. 
As "change coordinator" it is essential I take a major role in communications.  Every small change impacts several areas.  If new methods and processes are not communicated effectively to everyone involved, the changes may create new problems that weren't anticipated.  It takes EVERYONE working as a team to analyze how each change will impact their areas and make adjustments for success.
Another role of "change coordinator" is to balance enthusiasm and caution. Crawl, Walk, Run is a prudent philosophy. In today's society, it's sometimes difficult to exercise caution and keep up with the world's pace. It's easy to overlook those who advise caution when making dramatic strides.  They are often the ones never heard until it is too late.  It is important that I insure everyone's input is considered to make the journey a success. A good balance of enthusiasm and caution is the right recipe for change.
It would be much easier to focus on one department or process at a time on this journey.  The problem is that every decision touches every other area.  If it is truly a team effort; nothing stands isolated. We are systematically focusing on specific areas as we go through the process, but the domino effect touches everyone. It is a classic example of the Butterfly Effect.  One change sparks the ideas of a hundred others that all move us closer to our destination. Hence, BABY STEPS...ONE MILLION AT A TIME. 
"A million at a time". I sometimes feel like I am holding on by my fingernails, looking in four directions at once and ready to scream.  Sound familiar?  It's like a roller coaster. The same rush and excitement and yes , the same fun.  I purchased a five year ride ticket on this roller coaster but I assure you when it's over, I'm getting right back in line to ride again.
Baby Steps...A Million at a Time, the Ebsco thrill ride.

Friday, April 1, 2011

EBSCO U is HERE!

We are launching the first class at Ebsco U on Monday and I am very excited!
Ebsco U is going to be a great benefit to our team at Ebsco.
The original intent of Ebsco U was a structured training program for all new employee.  It was to consist of four units, delivered in each quarter of the new employee's first year.  The program was to go beyond their specific job training, presenting them with information on all other departments, the machinery, the process and the science of springs. As we began the project we realized that our existing employees could benefit from this also.  We also decided to add H.R. content to each session.
Looking at content and topics we realized that this was something that could progress beyond an employee's first year.  We could develop this program as continuing education with unlimited topics.
Ebsco has always been good at training our staff at their jobs, you can see that in the quality and difficulty of the springs we produce.  Ebsco U will go beyond that.  This additional training, beyond the scope of their daily jobs will allow them to understand Ebsco better as a company.  This understanding will lead to greater team work and appreciation for the company.  It will also make them better at their jobs.  A more in depth understanding of all the process' will allow them to reach new levels in their abilities.
So Yes, I'm excited. 
I will presenting the concept of Ebsco U and then I will attend the classes my self.  We had input from some of our sharpest people on this program and I'm excited about what I can learn too.  Paul Lord, our Quality Manager will do the presentation on the process and machinery. He has a reputation as a spring savant.  He's has forgotten more than most people in the industry knows. What an opportunity to learn from him.  Liz Jeter our CFO and VP of Human Resources will present the HR portion.  She has twenty years of experience and again I'm excited about what I can learn.  Liz has developed a completely new employee evaluation process focused on goal setting.  We are just rolling this out and she is using this opportunity to explain it in more detail to everyone in our first unit. 
Unit one of Ebsco U will have been presented to everyone in the company by the end of April. We have already begun on session two and plans for three and four. I'm sure we will revise, edit and improve these units as we go but we are committed to delivering them to all current employees and making them part of the training of all new employees to come.   
Our first unit will focus on departments, machinery, tools, types of springs and the evaluation process.  Many of these topics came from my experience starting at Ebsco.  In my initial weeks with the company I walked through the shop and was constantly asking what this or that machine did and how it worked.  Spring making is very complex and we have several pieces of equipment.  It was intimidating not understanding what they actually did, how they worked and why that mattered in the production of the spring. The team was very patient with me and explained everything but wouldn't it be great to make that part of everyones training.  Some employees stay in the same department they were hired in and may not be as forward as myself asking those same questions.  Some are shy and or self conscience about asking.  I think it will be surprising how many do not know what all of the machinery in other departments do. Learning what other departments do, in greater detail will help us build a stronger team through appreciation of others skills and talents.  It will also allow us all to make better springs as we understand the entire process.
Looking at the concept of Ebsco U, I am reminded of the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. Maybe Ebsco U will be a part of what takes us to the next step.  We already make great springs but everything can improve.  Continual improvement is the life blood of any business, especially manufacturing.  There are allot of ways of approaching this.  I want our efforts to focus on our employees.  New machines and process' are great and must be a part but none of it matters without great employees.  We have them at Ebsco.  I want to focus my energy on making Ebsco a better place for them.

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