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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


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.

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