Is your office lean?

We always hear about the ideas of LEAN and Six Sigma as ways to eliminate waste within your manufacturing processes, distribution channels and warehouse management. The basic principles of these concepts are to not do anything that is wasteful or does not add value to the organization. If that is the case, can we then apply these principles to the office environment? Of course we can.

The idea of only focusing on value-added activities is not a new one and you don't need to be a Blackbelt in Six Sigma to do it. Forget about the terms, because we get too hung up on labels and names, and focus on the outcome. The purpose and desired outcome is to do things faster, better, brighter. The focus is on looking at what you do and making it better, taking out wasted effort and time and enhancing the quality of the process.

Every company needs to review their operations and improve on them, but by calling it LEAN, we create a perception of manufacturing and the movement of goods. In fact, the principles can apply to resolving customer issues, product development, invoice payment and decision-making, amongst other things. Spend less time on the label and more time on affecting positive change.

Then the only label that matters is 'Successful,' and that is that we want to stick.

Canadian Olympic failure? I think not

I am sick and tired of hearing about how our Canadian athletes are having a disappointing Olympics because we have not won as many medals as was predicted. So what? Why can't we just enjoy the games and showing off our country?

The reason I am not a proponent of setting goals is, in the best case scenario you meet them, but in the worst case scenario, you miss them. That is what is happening right now to the Canadian Olympic team, they are missing the goals that they set for themselves. A high standard was set when the Canadian Olympic Committee said that we wanted to finish first in the number of total medals. Since that no longer looks achievable, we are making excuses why–the US has really stepped up their game, the Koreans are really fast, those Norwegians sure can ski. I understand that millions and millions of dollars was spent to 'Own the Podium' but not every plan works out. We can only control what we do, not others.

Contrary to most others, I applaud Canada for setting its sights high and putting resources behind those stretch goals. They said they wanted to be at the top and they did everything they could to get there. The fact that they may not is not a huge failure in my mind. They have seeded many young athletes that will be successful for years to come, they have rejuvenated an Olympic program that was floundering and they have shown that they are not afraid to shoot for the stars. I hope that even if this year's performance is disappointing, it does not dissuade the COC with continuing to move forward with its continued funding high expectations.

Would you rather we were under-promised so that they could over-deliver? With all of the money being spent, I do not want to hear that we will be in the middle of the pack, I wanted to hear exactly what was said, that we expect to be at the top, with the other elite countries in the world. If we do not end up there, at least you cannot fault us for trying.

The Power of the Decision-maker

I had a terrific experience with a new client this morning. We had met only once before to discuss the opportunities of working together. I had been referred to this company by a client of mine. Our first discussion was great and we talked about different ways that we could improve results and reduce risk.

We met again this morning and agreed to move forward. Our meeting this morning was such a pleasure–not just because it was a new client with an exciting project to work on, but also because of the way it happened. We started the meeting by catching up, then reviewing the proposals that I had submitted. Once it was clear that we were going to move forward on one of the proposals, we immediately began discussing a plan of action to get effective results quickly. When the meeting ended, we had a clear plan, a timeline and a signed agreement to move forward. The best part about this was that the whole meeting took less than 30 minutes.

Why do I tell you about this? Because it is a pleasure working with someone who knows what they want, but also recognizes that hiring an expert means clearing the path to let the expert do his or her work. We did not discuss roadblocks or approval flows or barriers to success. We talked about getting started immediately and that whatever support was required, would be there (including access to the CEO if needed). This is the way strategic projects should work. Decide on the desired outcomes and let the experts decide on how to achieve those outcomes, then clear the path so that success is expected, not hoped for.

Not only was it a great way to start the week, but it is a great way to start the relationship. Focus on the priorities, let the experts do their work and get effective results quickly. That is how organizations improve.

Too many sources of information

I was reading an article this morning in the Globe and Mail newspaper that there are a few companies in Canada that want to be able to publish real estate listings and charge a lower brokerage fee to gain business. Currently, the Canadian Real Estate Association's website is really the only source for all of the listings of new homes (http://www.mls.ca). This site also advertises for the use of real estate brokers as well as helping you find one. Is it a great site? As websites go, no. But it has a tonne of information, and more importantly, I know by going there I am going to see the listing of every single house that is up for sale in my area and others.

With much of the information that we want to digest going digital, the fight for information on the web is going to be a huge one. Do you think there is such a thing as too many sources of information? I think there might be. Imagine a situation where you now have to go to three different websites to see all of the listings in your area, and then more competitors pop up, so the listings get spread over more websites. Is that easier for the customer? The next logical step is that some company comes in and realizes that there is value in aggregating the information to create one source of information. Interesting progression of events, yes? Start with one source, end with one source.

I am picking on the real estate industry in Canada, but it could be anything, shopping sites, finding a good contractor–whatever. The point being–at what point is too much? There is so much information that sometimes one does not know where to start. Fortunately for companies like Google, the more information sites out there, the more valuable a service like Google becomes. We all inherently want to take the shortest route possible to getting the information we need, so how will that play out in the future? It will be interesting to see.

Toyota: bad management or bad execution?

We have all read about the problems that Toyota is having with all of the recalls–sticky pedals, interfering computer systems– none of this is good for the world's largest car maker.

What is the reason for all of this happening, and why now? Was it a culmination of years of declining quality that all came to surface all at once? Did Toyota grow too fast? Have corporate principles changed?

There has been (and will continue to be) speculation about these questions and more. What this does tell us is to never rely on the past to guarantee future success. Toyota has been synonomous with quality and efficiency, having found a way to build high-quality cars for a reasonable price. They may now be losing that reputation. It will be interesting to see what happens. It has taken other car companies years to shake the reputation attached to them when they had a few bad years.

If the reports are true, that this is due to Toyota growing too fast and sacrificing their principles of quality, while at the same time trying to suppress stories of sticky pedals and other issues from customers, they have a large hill to climb to get their reputation (and customers) back.

It's a relationship business

How often do we hear the phrase 'it's a relationship business'? I hear it daily. Well, duh, what business isn't about relationships. When I say that it is a relationship business, I do not mean that it is about who you know (although that helps), it is about how you interact with the company and the people that you want to do business with, and gaining that necessary trust that allows you to move forward. You don't even need to like each other, you just need to trust each other.

I run my own small consulting practice and my business is 100% about relationships. It is about becoming a trusted advisor to my clients and helping them achieve results quickly, it is about providing tremendous value for potential clients and others without having them invest time or money with me, it is about building trusting relationships with people. Success comes from those relationships. Not being treated like a commodity opens up numerous doors of possibility on how businesses can be improved.

The trust to take a chance and move out of their comfort zone, the trust to listen to what I have to say, the trust that I have their best interests in mind, the trust that we can make things better together.

That is what I mean when I say it is all about relationships.

A true leader

A true leader is not someone who tries to be a leader, it is someone to whom leadership just comes naturally. You can improve leadership skills and provide tools to make people better leaders, but you cannot teach the inherent characteristic that makes people true leaders. Those people just come out and shine when the time is right.

When we think of leadership, we think of CEOs of large companies and heads of government. Those people are certainly leaders because of their position and obviously have the power to influence people. Would they be the people who would naturally take over when there is a crisis, not because of their position but because of their nature? Everyday situations make different people leaders and leadership is about the ability to inspire and organize people to reach a common objective. There are leaders out in every community that do not make millions of dollars and we will never hear about.

I saw General Rick Hillier (aka the General) speak last night. He is the former head of the Canadian Armed Forces. A leader by nature and by position. He never talked about his own leadership, but always praised the leadership abilities of those underneath him, telling specific stories of soldiers who were forced to lead under brutal circumstances. His stories were inspirational. He is a true leader without trying to be, he exerts all of the qualities of a great leader yet only wants to talk about his people. Very inspiring and something to emulate.

What kind of leader are you, the kind that takes charge of a situation or the kind that waits for someone else to do it? Do you inspire others to do better or are you looking to be inspired by someone else? There is no shame in either case, but there is a lot of value in being able to answer those questions about yourself.