Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Operational Improvement Frameworks

In today’s highly competitive market, the primary goal of any business is to continuously improve operations to meet market demands and provide value to the customers. To achieve this goal, management needs to think and act strategically. Their actions must be based on facts and focus on factors that create or add value and predict organizational and operational success. It is through knowing and understanding these facts that businesses can make informed decisions and initiate necessary improvements. We cannot improve what we cannot measure and more so, we cannot improve what we do not understand.

There are several methodologies that companies can implement to help drive operational and performance excellence to improve overall business results. Some of these methodologies include: Balanced Scorecard, Malcolm Baldrige Criteria, and Six Sigma. Each of these practices runs on data, provides success measures, and identifies specific goals. They all depend on factual information and reliable data to measure and analyze the quality of given processes to improve organizational and operational performance. Their scope of measuring performance goes beyond evaluating traditional quantity indicators such as financial or accounting-based productivity considerations. These tools are fact-based decision-making mechanisms that can aid organizations in performing analyses to appraise and control processes, and boost performance. They aim to streamline systematic series of actions and improve market position.

The Balanced Scorecard approach uses “a carefully selected set of quantifiable measures derived from an organization’s strategy” (Niven, 2006, p. 13). The goal of using the Balanced Scorecard is to translate strategies into action and metrics. “I see this tool as three things: communication tool, measurement system, and strategic management system” (Niven, 2006, p. 13). It explores a strategy using four perspectives: financial, internal, customer, and innovation and learning perspectives. When these perspectives are integrated, the Balanced Scorecard can provide a system to track, assess and capitalize on crucial success factors.

Companies or organizations use the Balanced Scorecard to address three significant challenges: fully measure organizational and operational performance, effectively monitor and extract the value of intangible assets, and successfully implement strategy. The weakness of the Balanced Scorecard is that it does not show relationships and dependencies between its four designed quadrants. An example would be making a change in one quadrant may degrade or upgrade performance in another quadrant. In order to bridge this gap, it is important to have a good understanding of how critical indicators are developed and what processes these indicators depend on.

The methodology that uses Malcolm Baldrige Criteria is “built on a set of core values and concepts” (George, n.d., para. 2). George noted that the Criteria for Performance Excellence booklet states, “the Criteria are designed to help provide organizations with an integrated approach to organizational performance management that results in delivery of ever-improving value to patients/customers/students improvement of overall organizational effectiveness and capabilities organizational and personal learning” (para. 1). It is known to assist organizations use a more focused and methodical approach to performance management. It can address governance and ethics-related concerns and take into account important decisions driving both short-term and long-term organizational sustainability. This approach defines a combined framework and a set of fundamental practices for a high-performance management system. However, it does not recommend starting points nor specific quality tools and techniques. To address this weakness, it would be ideal to utilize a systematic and process-oriented methodology such as Six Sigma.

Gygi, DeCarlo, and Williams (2005) described Six Sigma as the single most effective problem-solving methodology for improving business and organizational performance. It is a systematic and data-driven approach that addresses and solves process-related challenges to achieve bottom-line results. It can reveal the cost of poor quality in factual terms and provide direction as to how it can be improved or corrected.

The focal point of Six Sigma is on changing or improving results by focusing on inputs, modifying these inputs and controlling them. Properly applying Six Sigma tools can yield great results when implemented. Its weakness, however, is that it does not cover all the elements required to optimize organizational performance.

These methodologies can all be used individually as operational improvement tools but to address the weakness of each practice, a combination of systems would be the most effective solution. The success of any or a combination of these quality management tools highly depends on corporate buy-in and mindset. Equally important is the commitment to change management practices for improvement and engaging workforce and customers to ensure proper alignment of processes and resources.

“The most effective integrated management system would be one in which an organization uses the Baldrige Criteria as a method of establishing a “culture of excellence,” assessing performance, and prioritizing initiatives” (Grizzell, 2004, para. 10). It is highly recommended that either Six Sigma or Balanced Scorecard methods be used within the context of a Baldrige-based integrated culture of performance excellence. Combining the tool sets of Six Sigma or the Balance Scorecard methods with a framework for high performance management could assist companies as they drive to operational excellence.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dollars and Sense of Providing Value

In order to understand value in your organization, you need to develop a value chain.  This means methodically analyze your core and supporting activities and how everything is connected and where there’s a disconnect with your processes, resources, and the overall understanding of value as defined by the customer.  It’s not so much about what you think is of value to a customer but more of what the customers perceive is of value.  

In order to create value, you need to know your customers and understand their perception of “value” of the product or service you provide.  You also need to know how processes positively or negatively impact customer service, customer loyalty, customer retention, and customer satisfaction.

A customer’s idea of what represents value for money may well vary from one customer to another and can also shift through time, season, or even day to day.  At the most basic level, customers with tight budgets will think of value as getting more for their dollar.  Other customers may be prepared to pay more in order to receive a higher quality of service.  There are others who are willing to pay a higher price tag on the psychological value in being able to say that they are able to afford to be customers of high-status names even though in some cases, their products or services may not be any better than a lower-priced product or service company.  

As managers, you must be aware of the full range of influences on the customers’ assessment of value.  A key element in this understanding is the relationship between the service brand values as communicated to the customer and the potential variance or incongruence in terms of customer experience. 

Sustainable business makes dollars and sense.  Are you providing value that makes dollars and sense?  

Til next time….  be well and be blessed.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Service Design

Design is both an art and action of conceiving and producing a plan or drawing illustrating the thought process behind an action.  Regardless what it is you’re designing, be it a product or service, certain things involved such as:  goals, tasks, tools, actions, and results will always be different.  However, whether you’re designing a product or service, it requires planning, organizing, and set of processes.  These processes determine the quality of your products and/or services.  In order to improve products and/or services, processes need to be improved along with the design process itself.  This involves knowing and understanding what your company is about, your products and services, your customer base, and the value that you provide your customers.

Service offerings for example, requires key strategic design choices to be effective and to get the best return on investment.  They must be relevant to the market, provide value to the customer, and increase revenue.  In addition, there are also certain product characteristics (complexity, customization level, customer knowledge, capacity) and process characteristics (technology, tasks) including touch points (customer, employees, and system interaction) to take into account.  Each of these decisions affect the final outcome measured by performance metrics (customer satisfaction, customer retention, market and economic indicators).  

Success in this area is not simply about performing a good technical task or delivering on projects.  Success is also about making a wider contribution to the success of the organization.  When dealing with service-oriented functions, value is critical.  You need to provide customer value, deliver brand values, contribute to the bottom line and deliver organizational contribution.  

These internal and external components are very important aspects to take into consideration not only to design new services but also improving existing ones.  We cannot improve what we cannot measure and more so, we cannot improve what we do not understand.

Stay tuned for our next topic on “value”. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Building Your Brand

This is a follow-up post to my post, Branding the Product Called…. YOU.  Brand identity is your key to success.  In order to create and establish your own brand identity, you need to make time, have the passion, focus and dedication.  It’s a brand new world out there, folks!  Branding is no longer just about tech giants like Microsoft, Google, etc. or products like Sony, Dell, Apple, Nike, etc.  We’re talking about personal brand — YOU.  

There are people who try so hard to blend in, fit in, just be like everybody else and no matter what they do, they’re just “different” and somehow, just can’t be “just like everybody else”.  Well, sometimes, that’s just it — you’re different.  Don’t try so hard to fit in when you are meant to stand out.  Embrace it!    

Strong brands stand out.  Differentiation separates them from competition.  If you want to beat competition, just like the big companies, you, too can be different.  You, too can develop your own brand.  Are you ready to take on the challenge and be the Marketing Director of your own product called YOU?  :)

Here are some tips on how you can get started in building your own brand:

  • THINK and think hard about you, what you have to offer, your value, what’s special and unique about you and what sets you apart from competition.
  • Think about what message and/or image you want to convey.  What impression will it give others?  
  • Connect your answers.  Think about your answers and determine what “brand” it’s revealing to you or about you.  Be truthful.  Is that really “you”?  If it is and you found your strong suit that you can capitalize on, create your brand statement not only for your general audience but also your target market.
  • Once you create your brand identity or brand statement, develop a strategy to promote your brand —YOU.  
  • In all that you do, ensure to think about if it is helping to establish, maintain, support and protect your brand.
  • Be consistent in your message based on your words, actions, values, and image.  
  • Maintain and protect your reputation.  This is your brand.

In your career, be clear about your brand.  Execute and deliver based on this brand.  Continue to develop your skills, hone your abilities, take on new challenges.  As you move along, figure out how to differentiate yourself from all the other very smart people you’re working with.  Later on, figure out what it takes to create a distinctive role for yourself.  So long as you’re willing to invest in yourself, continue to learn, improve, enhance your skills, you, too have the opportunity to stand out and have a chance to have that brand worthy of remark.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Branding the Product Called You

Do you know what your most important asset is?  I found this question posted by Mike Muhney whom I’ve met online.  Mr. Muhney is the co-inventor of the ACT! software and has been recognized as a global visionary and powerful speaker worldwide.  As a motivational speaker, he covered subjects pertaining to effective business relationships such as improving the way companies do business, entrepreneurship, market creation, penetration and leadership, global expansion, and motivational speaking.

If you follow the link, you’ll find that people answered this question differently.  I can see how some identified their customers, their skills, education, people, etc. as their most important asset.  Personally, what I consider as my most valuable asset from a business and professional standpoint is my reputation of executing on decisions and delivering results.  This is what I’ve been known for and if I were a product, this is what my brand would communicate about who I am.  A strong and well-established brand can stand the test of time.  They have the capability to navigate and maneuver through tough times.  So, depending on your “brand”, you’ll have the opportunity to be well-known and carry a certain differentiation among others.  :)

The world of work has changed over the last few decades.  In the 50’s, people wore their corporate uniforms and their value was linked to their loyalty and longevity.  So long as they didn’t rock the boat or create any waves, they worked for that same company forever and retired with a pension.  Few decades later, things changed as we gained access to the internet.  This was the 80’s…  This expanded our reach as far as the world wide web can take us.  We were able to contribute more and with a more relaxed work environment, we were also able to wear the corporate uniform of casual attires.  This was no longer the era of being recognized by loyalty and longevity but more of our individuality.  Job security also declined a bit but not as much as we have in the 21st century, where things changed yet again.  In this day and age, we are pretty much judged everyday and our new corporate uniform is a suit of armor.  This armor plate IS your brand.  It will say a lot about your product.  

In our current economic climate, employable, qualified professionals should think beyond a knock-out resume and titles especially when it comes to job search or advancing their careers.  

Food for Thought:  Given the fierce competition, what makes you unique or better than a million others?  How are you different?  Did you also factor in the fact that commodities compete on price?  What is your brand?  How does your day to day support your brand?  In my opinion, saying you have the credentials and that you’re loyal, you do a great job and hard working, etc., etc. doesn’t cut it anymore.  Think about buying a car.  The tires are not extra value-added features.  They come with the car and therefore, an expected component.  :)    

 In this tough economy and highly competitive job market, can you really afford not to have a strategy, a brand for the product called, “You”?  

Interested to know the “how” of creating your brand?  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Business and Marketing Strategy

Earlier this month, we talked about the Key Elements to Basic Strengths but skipped the business and marketing strategy technobabble and saved it for another day which is today’s entry.  

Business strategy doesn’t mean very much without marketing strategy.  You can have a good business strategy for a product or service but without an effective marketing strategy, the business strategy won’t go very far.  The key to any successful strategy is the unique value proposition you execute on and actually deliver to the customers.  The thing is, there’s nothing more challenging and more dynamic than creating, supporting, and maintaining these unique value propositions.  

A company’s most important asset other than their people includes their relationship and reputation in the marketplace and their customer base.  But regardless of the strategy or manner in which a company tries to create a certain experience for their customers, to entice them, to simply deliver best in class type of service of great value, or a blend of any of these elements, the competitors are working on taking advantage of certain opportunities to pry these customers and take business opportunities away.  In order to prevent this or at least minimize the possibility is to successfully secure and expand new and existing relationships with your customers.  For example:  there’s been many times when companies that are rich in intellectual capital who have significantly under leveraged this important asset at the market and customer interfaces.  For the competitor, this opens up a wide-array of opportunities to tap into these customers and take the business.  

Few weeks back, I was talking to an executive and we discussed knowledge-based CRM where you design and build as an integral part of a business this intellectual capital or the knowledge, experiences, expertise, and processes and integrate them within your customers’ processes.  This is not only a proactive measure but also a way of partnering with your customers.  It is also known as first-mover advantage play, so get going! 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Opportunities You Might Be Interested In...

I’ve been very busy over the last week reaching out to people, connecting them with helpful information, possible job leads and other resources.  It’s amazing how much you’ll learn by getting involved.  Personally, I find it rewarding to be able to help out.  The last couple days, I met some people for coffee, some for lunch to just catch up and reach out.  Last night, I was at the PMI-SNC meeting and I’ve met some good people.  I even met someone I worked with years ago and another gentleman that I’ve only known online.  Before I start today’s post, I want to say “Hello” to my new connections — Bill, James, Adam, Tamyalew, and Verner.  Welcome to my corner on the web.  :)

Considering there’s been more and more job-related information I’m receiving, I might have to create a separate category for job seekers that will contain job postings, announcements, free services, unemployment info, etc.  This will also help me reduce my typing and yapping.  :)

Before I get into today’s post, just a friendly reminder and disclosure, I am NOT affiliated nor do I have direct connection nor compensated by any of these companies.  I’m simply volunteering my time and sharing information that I come across.  Please contact them directly for job opportunities you’re interested in.  Thank you.

In Las Vegas, NV:

In Southern California (San Diego, Oceanside, San Marcos, Carlsbad area):

Although there are tons of jobs posted online, I highly recommend building and growing your professional network and remain connected with your contacts.  Networking is key to your next opportunity.  Considering almost everybody under the sun that’s unemployed is going on the internet for job search, that really makes your chance of getting a job slim to zilch.  Majority of the jobs are filled internally .  The rest, through referrals.  There’s only a small percentage that get their foot in the door through job boards.  Here’s a study conducted by CareerXRoads.  You can increase your chances tremendously going for the unadvertised jobs by connecting with people.  

Build your profile on LinkedIn for professional networking.  Join social networks such as FaceBook.  Get onTwitter.  One other thing that I’m passionate about and highly recommend is volunteering.  Remember my post on giving first before receiving???  Well, here’s your chance.  Visit Volunteer Match for more info.  To take it a step further, be THE CHANGE America needs.  I’m a citizen co-sponsor of the Serve America Act. Don’t wait for change. Change starts with each and everyone of us.  Get involved.  Let’s make service central to citizenship and building a brighter future for our people and our children.  To become a citizen co-sponsor, click here.  To learn more about the Serve America Act, visit Be The Change Action online.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Update Your Image --- FREE!

This is a special post as I want to announce and promote Macy’s By Appointment Personal Shopping Service.  How many of you know about this service?  I’ve been shopping at Macy’s for years but it was only yesterday that I found out about it.  

I was in the middle of going through my mail and I received a catalog from Macy’s and at the very back cover, they had this tiny blurb about it.  This Macy’s By Appointment is their FREE shopping service.  It’s really simple and it’s not only for females but also applies to males as well.  Basically, all you need to do is allow Macy’s personal shoppers show you how this season’s hottest looks can work for you and/or help you get to that “look” that you’re going for.  Here in Vegas, this service is available at Macy’s at the Fashion Show Mall.

So, after I read that tiny blurb in tiny font, I decided to call to check it out.  I made my appointment and met with Arlene at the Fashion Show Mall at 11 this morning.  She helped me pick some great pieces that worked well with my body type, height, etc.  I’m very happy and pleased with this service.  Arlene did a great job.  I just wish that they advertise it more.  Seeing the sign, “Macy’s By Appointment” at the store doesn’t quite give it away.  In fact, it can be somewhat intimidating like as if it’s only for affluent people who have no time to shop.  I’m sure if more people knew about this service, more people can actually benefit from it especially now.  It would be great for job seekers who want/need to improve how they present themselves in a dress or suit or separates enhancing their appearance and overall image to boost confidence and increase personal power.

When I went, I was ready to try something new, something a bit different.  My mind was set with a thought of, “OUT with the old and IN with the new!”  My updates are more along the lines of business casual — separates that can be easily interchanged with other pieces to get a different “look”.  Some of them still have the conservative/classic look but coupled with a nice shell or a nice blouse, gives it that umph factor, losing the “boring, same-o, same-o” style.  It’s time to have that new character come out!  Not only does an updated look make you look better but also, feel better as it greatly helps boost confidence.  

Considering that there are a lot of us in search for a new job, attending networking events, mixers, etc., this is a perfect reason to make an appointment and meet with one of Macy’s personal shopper.  You’ll end up with a new and updated image.  I guarantee it!  How you present yourself is very important as it can certainly help maximize visual first impression in an interview or important meeting to project an overall image of confidence and success.  Your image communicates a message without you having to say a word.  Remember, we only get one “first impression”.  So, make it matter…  make it positive…  make it last.    

I love Macy’s and enjoy the rewards.  You get quality pieces at reasonable price especially if you have star REWARDS.  Macy’s is a great place to shop.  They have great products and great service.  When I’m feeling blue and nowhere to be found, try Macy’s.  You’ll find me there.  :)  Retail therapy certainly helps get that “feel good” feeling.  With how things are going these days, we can all use some “feel good” experience.

For those of you who live in Vegas and are interested, feel free to contact Arlene at Macy’s West (Fashion Show Mall).  The number is 702.731.5111 ext. 4444.  Arlene will help you find and enjoy the new YOU!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Free Resume Printing - One Day Only!

Good news everyone!  Get your resumes ready and error-free then take them to your nearest FedEx for FREE PRINTING.  Read below for more details.

Yey to FedEx and THANK YOU!  :)  [People, please do not forget to say the two golden words to whoever will be helping you print your resumes.  Be nice and be patient as I'm sure there will be a lot of people and prepare for long lines.] 

FedEx Office locations around the country will offer job seekers a free printing session for resumes on March 10, the company said Thursday.

Citing the unemployment climb of the past six months, parent company FedEx Corp. is inviting clients to bring their resumes, on paper or in digital form, and print 25 black-and-white copies on the house on Tuesday.

“Printing resumes is one small way we can use our resources to help those who need it,” FedEx Office President and CEO Brian Philips said.

Source here

Related news here.

What Can I Do to Help?

These are some tough times we’re faced with.  In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed people increased by 851,000 to 12.5 million last month, increasing unemployment rate to 8.1 percent.  

We all know about the challenges of unemployment, housing, credit, and so on and so forth.  However, I do believe that as individuals, we can make a difference and united, coupled with the commitment to help others, we’ll thrive.  

Today, I’d like to encourage all my readers to ask yourself, “How can I help someone today?”  and act on it.  There’s no special requirement for this.  All it takes is a sincere, conscious effort and decision to lend a hand.  It’s simple yet powerful.  

I’ve been to social functions where you’ll hear people talk about “networking to get a job.”  Hmmm…  that may be your ultimate goal BUT again, can we not focus so much on personal gain as the first and foremost agenda?  When people are approached in a way that they’re being networked with, they cower.  It gives an implication that they’re being used, being put on the spot or being asked for contacts that they’re not comfortable providing.  A self-serving approach can make people feel uncertain if they even want to share any names or any other type of information with someone of this MO.   

There’s nothing wrong with networking to exchange information for professional or social purposes but it must be valued and properly maintained.  If you’re the one who is seeking information or relationships, instead of just thinking about what you can take out of the networking opportunity, think about what value you can add or offer and share it.  Change your ways a tad —  Give in order to receive [not receive in order to give]…  Instead of the “what can you do for me”, try “what can I do for you“.  Last but not least, if and when you do receive, also remember to give back.  Always think of long-term effects and not short-term rewards.  

Let’s make a greater impact in our society and in each other’s lives.  Reach out and see if there’s anything we can do to help.  So, whenever you’re in some type of a mixer, an event, or some type of gathering (online or offline) get involved and participate.  Think about how you can positively contribute.  

Now more than ever, we need to be supportive of one another and lean on each other.  This is our country…  our economy… and these are our people.  So with all that being said….  what can I do to help?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spreading the Word...

Spread the word.  Get involved.  You just might end up helping someone in need and meet new friends.  :)

If you live in SoCal or considering relocating to SoCal:

  • Job Search Workshop Oceanside Public Library April 4th10-12n call (760) 435-5586 for seats.  Host:  Robert Patterson, author of Five Steps to C.A.L.M.
  • Join OCJobTalk.  Helping Job Hunters Become Job Finders in Orange County. Need a job? Looking to hire? Want to make a referral? Need to vent? Do it at OCJobTalk.

Or if you live anywhere else…

  • Join JobAngels.  A grassroots movement to help get people back to work, one person at a time.  You can also join the JobAngels group on LinkedIn.  
  • “Who’s Hiring” Spreadsheet.  Check it out!  This great little spreadsheet published and updated via google docs posted by Rafe Needleman over on Cnet.com.  Thanks to Justin-Moore-Brown of OCJobTalk!
  • To those collecting unemployment needing unemployment extension.  Updates here

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Key Elements to Basic Strategic Strengths

To the few of you who follow my posts and sent me emails, thank you and my apologies for falling behind on my intended weekly entries.  My excuse???  Well, last week was my birthday week so I took the week off.  LOL!  :)

Moving on to today’s topic…

Business strategy is our selection of ideas and assets tomeet long-term business goals.  However, it won’t mean much without a marketing strategy, relationship with the marketplace and our customer base.

Let’s skip the business and marketing strategy technobabble for now and save it for another entry. The key elements to management strategic strengths are excellence in execution and systematic relationships with anyone and everyone we deal with:  employees, peers, customers, suppliers, vendors, etc.

Below are few basic bullet points of advice for creating a winning strategy that are fundamentally sustainable:

  • Hire enthusiastic, positive people who are passionate about the job — ANY JOB.
  • Take time to meet new people that are knowledgeable, smart, and interesting to learn something new.
  • Go to lunch with other managers.  Get to know them and build relationships.
  • Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.
  • Delegate and give others the opportunity to grow and learn from the experience.
  • Promote people for going above and beyond NOT for what is expected of them to do or what they’re getting paid to do.
  • Hire qualified people who can EXECUTE and DELIVER on job requirements, no exceptions!
  • Don’t be afraid to consult with the right people so change is done in a sensible way that strengthens the business and supports company vision, mission, and values.
  • Practice and promote decency.
  • Commit to excellence.
  • Base performance reviews on measurable value and significant contributions.
  • Two golden words, “Thank You”.  These two simple words show recognition and appreciation that can go a long way.  To get you started, thank people for their time, their effort, their dedication, and their contributions.  It’s not hard.  Do it!
  • Smile.  People are more willing to work with you if you at least appear pleasant.  Besides, it takes less muscles to smile than it is to be a grouch.  :)

As basic and simple as these may seem, they make a BIG difference.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Get the Wrong Who and It will Cost You --- ALOT!

In a down and unpredictable economy, we cannot afford,“Ooooppps…  we hired the wrong guy…”  Sound hiring practices are paramount. The cost of unsuccessful hire can be extremely costly not only in terms of wages, benefits, and training, but also opportunity costs.  According to the Department of Labor, a wrong hire can cost 3 to 10x the annual salary of an employee.  If we base our numbers using the median income in America in 2007, that would be around $38K.  Therefore, a “costly mistake” of 3 to 10 times an employee’s annual salary would mean an average net loss of  approximately $115K-$380K to a company.  This may not appear as much for a big company as we’re only talking about a median income of a single contributor [but what if there's more than one "costly mistake"???].  Now, let’s consider the loss at higher-level positions such as hiring unqualified, B or C Player Managers, Directors, or worse, Executives.  These titles have a considerably higher salaries which also means higher risks of a bad hire.  In simpler terms, this can mean a painful price tag of up to $1.5M or more per year plus, wasted time and effort to the hiring company.  This statistic becomes even more shocking when we factor in the fact that the typical hiring success rate of managers is only 50%.  Wow!  

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great said, “The most important decisions that businesspeople make are not the what decisions but the who decisions.”  Having certain people in place can either make or break a business as this is where either good and right things happen or where the ugly and disaster starts. When filling a position, you’ll need the right person for the job.  One may have the knowledge on how to do the job but knowledge and the ability to execute on the job are not the same thing.  He or she must walk the talk but more so, it’s the walk that counts not the talk.

With the economy heading down steeply, times are tough.  Unfortunately, there are some people who would make engaging in political activities priority to create outcomes consistent with their own political agendas as they really have nothing else to offer.  But when you’re dealing with money and mean serious business, now is NOT the time for dirty politics nor political gains.   Now more than ever, we need to cut costs, be efficient, and ensure we have the right resources to not just stay afloat but to stay in business.  

In order to prevent this type of costly mistake, businesspeople need to be clear about what is required in a job, what the expected results are, and putting the right people in the right places.  Be selective.  Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with pricey hard costs and productivity loss paying people who deliver no value [that's IF they deliver at all] to the company.  Having the right people performing the WHAT will determine if you’ll succeed.   Do not hire a resume then later on discover that you hired the wrong guy.  Put in the time and effort and the due diligence in finding A Players which would require setting the bar higher.  

So, what is an A Player???  An A Player is defined as someone who has at least 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve.  However, this is just a piece of what’s required in ensuring you have the “right guy”.  Putting the “right people in the right places” doesn’t only mean qualified people who can execute and deliver but also someone who would make a good fit for the mission.  Depending on what the mission is, sometimes the individual has to also be a good match to work with the team and the environment of the team including a company’s culture.   

Below is an excerpt from a book that I read last year.  It is sooooo true that it stuck like glue.  :)

You are who you hire.  Hire C players and you will always lose to the competition.  Hire B players and you might do ok but you will never break out.  Hire A Players and life gets very interesting no matter what you’re pursuing.  Hiring “A PLayers” is not everything.  It is one of the most important skills to growing the value of a company.

In summary, most executives know what needs to be done but the greater challenge is finding the right people that will and can successfully execute on the job.  Astute companies arm themselves by learning and diligently implementing hiring best practices to ensure they have the right people in the right places.  Invest in the WHO behind the what and eliminate the costly oops.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Understanding the Voice of the Customer

I’ve always been a proponent of customer advocacy, promoting best practices, and applying proven methodologies and frameworks to meet business needs, deliver on customer requirements and manage their expectations.  However, before all of these can come into play, it is a MUST to understand the voice of the customer.

Understanding the voice of the customer requires fact-based foundation and knowing what to closely pay attention to as they express their needs and expectations based on their experiences on a product and/or service delivered to them.  As managers, we need to be able to translate these “customer voices” into actionable terms.  Once the translation is complete, it may also be necessary to review our company’s focus.  What do I mean by this?  Some companies focus on releasing products and are more concern about time to market but with the current state of our economy, we may need to change our “product-out” mentality to “market in” mentality and at the very least, keeping existing customers happy.

Fact-based foundation requires data gathering.  The collected factual data can be turned into useful information that can be used as a decision-making tool.  Sometimes, to beat the competition, we need to have that “edge” by understanding the voice of the customer and focusing on great service instead of just selling products and/or services.  In my opinion, it’s equally important to make service central to a business strategy especially for product companies.  This not only builds and strengthens customer relationship but can be extended to go beyond the initial sale.  Earn an excellent reputation not only for producing great products but also providing excellent service.

To boost revenue especially in our current economic climate,  targeting customer goals and understanding what they value is key. Get customers involved and allow them to influence every aspect of the business as this can serve as the core foundation of your organization’s success.  Think about it.  What is the point of having all the bells and whistles if it’s not what your customers want?  Right?  :)

We live in a very competitive market place and this alone should be more than enough for us to think about creative ways on how we can be flexible in accommodating or fulfilling customer requirements to the quality they expect and the time frame they need it by.  How do you do this?  Listen to your customers and build long-term relationship with them through partnership and commit to delivering excellence in every transaction or every opportunity to serve them.

Understanding the voice of the customer will help your business maintain the “edge” and focus required to make effective and sound business decisions and harness the power and commitment your company needs to weather turbulent times. Partnering with customers represents a company’s ability to anticipate what customer needs even prior to them requesting for it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quality Management - One Size Doesn't Fit All

Quality Management is a system of organizational structures, processes, responsibilities, policies, procedures and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that an organization is delivering products and/or services to specified standards in an efficient and effective manner.

There are several quality improvement frameworks and strategies.  I do not believe in “one size fits all” methodology.  In my opinion, the best approach is choosing industry best practices and applying them to the framework of a business.  Sometimes, it’s also necessary to borrow from other quality control techniques and integrate these best practices to provide solution for an organization that makes the most business sense.  In addition, it’s also important to know what the goals and motivations are in selecting a certain strategy.

Frameworks I’ve used includes (but not limited to):

Six Sigma – Started by Motorola is a way of reducing defects in the manufacturing process.  It is a quality management methodology using DMAIC problem-solving framework to measure quality, improve processes by increasing performance and decreasing process variation leading to defect reduction and improved product quality.  DMAIC is an acronym for Define opportunity, Measure performance, Analyze opportunity, Improve performance and Control performance.  [Tons of information available online on Six Sigma, feel free to search.]  :)

Six Sigma represents a statistical measurement of variation from a specific attribute or characteristic desired by the end-user and expressed over six exponential layers:

One Sigma = 690,000 defects per million
Two Sigma = 308,000 defects per million
Three Sigma = 66,800 defects per million
Four Sigma = 6,210 defects per million (relatively efficient)
Five Sigma = 230 defects per million (world class efficiency)
Six Sigma = 3.4 defects per million (perfection)

Most books on Six Sigma cite examples on how it’s applied in manufacturing.  However, Six Sigma is NOTonly used in manufacturing.  It’s actually a great tool for driving difficult process problems back to their root causes by applying process analysis and statistical analysis techniques.  I highly recommend it if you want to measure quality in numbers.  The statistical analysis can help detect anomalous variation.  Six Sigma may be very popular but it is not always the best framework to use.

Total Quality Management – Deming is one of my favorite quality leaders who contributed to the work of Juran and Cosby to what’s known as TQM.  TQM is more flexible and suitable to various types of organization.  Its primary focus is on continuous improvement and promoting “quality culture”.  It is applicable to any company that strives to provide customers with products and services that meet their needs and/or expectations.  “Quality Culture” means doing things right the first time and eliminating defects from all aspects of the company’s operations.  I personally like Deming’s 14 Points and also his PDCA cycle.

These are just a couple of many available strategies that can help assess and define a problem, identify goals and how to reach desired end-results to improve quality, processes, and productivity and add value to company performance.  In addition to these frameworks, tools, and techniques, it’s also very important to know and understand high-level planning, organizing, leading and controlling processes which every manager should know how to do by default.  :)

There is no perfect or “one size fits all” approach.  Every company should be well-rounded and be open to other available methodologies and best practices and not be focused on one single approach.  Assess various models and determine optimal solution to problems.  In many cases, it’s not a “one size fits all”.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Corporate Culture and Office Politics

I received a request to write about office politics.  Before we dive into that topic, let’s talk about corporate culture first.

Corporate culture is a set of behaviors, values, and codes that guide interaction between employees of a given company. Some examples of corporate culture are:  what people wear to work, the hours people work, type and size of cubicles and how information is shared. Corporate culture is often incorporated into company goals and mission statements and is the center point of how the company is operated and evolves.

Often times, corporate culture is undermined by “office politics”. Office politics is defined as counterproductive human factors present between coworkers, in an office environment. Some examples of office politics are: the boss’s friends get the available promotions, the office inner circle gets the first pick of the work schedule and office gossip controls people’s actions and views.

Office politics is a fact of life in every workplace. It is not a dirty word until you build political capital while compromising integrity or taking advantage of others, is when it becomes unethical. However, without the required political power and influence, it will be a challenge to reach your goals such as delivering on successful projects, interest in upward mobility or professional growth and advancement.

So, what is the reality in large corporations? I worked for a company that believes that their strength is their people.  With a diverse workforce and customer base, the approach is all-encompassing and that it’s free from discrimination, employees are valued, there’s equality, and all that happy stuff.

If I were to describe my experience of the culture that I was exposed to back then, there was less opportunities for females and minorities. Company policies don’t always apply to all employees and they are bent from time to time. “It’s highly political.”  [Oooooh....  I heard this before...]  :)

In addition, great value is placed on “perception”, a representation of what is perceived or conceptualized but not necessarily the truth or reality. Between politics and perception, work is lost and metrics skewed, if non-existent.

Rewards and upward mobility highly depends on who you know, how tight your relationship is with that person and not what you know. Successful business qualities such as intelligence, drive, high productivity or performance and quality standards don’t guarantee success nor promotion. Top producers are punished with more work without incentives or rewards. There’s no point in working hard and giving that 110% because when the yearly review season comes, the amount of percent raise available is shared among department staff. So, what’s the point? In order to succeed, you have to be a seasoned veteran to play the political game.

One other indicator that can gauge corporate culture is observing the Senior Management team and what they either pay attention to or what qualities they reward.  There are people in management that do notreward employees for coming up with new ideas and challenging old ways of doing things. Non-conformists are pushed out and status quo protected. Best practice is not applied and they don’t pay attention to employees’ well-being but rather focus on perception. In addition, employees do not participate in the direction of the company as some people in power make most decisions pulled out of a hat.

Corporate culture starts and shaped from the top. Top-level behaviors including their vision, goals and how they handle situations set the tone of corporate culture. For optimum performance, corporate leaders define, develop and change cultures. These set of values are expressed in various ways such as: mission statement, dress code, policies, mode of communication, corporate events, salary, bonuses, fringe benefits, work environment, employee interaction and core values. These factors have a significant role in employer-employee fit.

To optimize performance, leaders must define and create the necessary cultures, communicate and define culture through actions as culture is more caught than it is taught.

In my opinion, corporate culture is very important as it’s a driving force for an organization’s overall performance.  Equally important is for managers to set foundational values that will serve as guiding principles that will guide employee decisions, behaviors, and day to day operations.

How’s your culture?