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08292013_1st_Start planning now .jpgWhile looking toward the end of Q3 and the start of planning for 2014, wouldn’t it be nice to achieve year-end results with critical projects?  As many companies and leaders get lost in the holidays, it is an opportunity for those who stay focused on the key priorities. By no means should you forget the holidays and thanking your people for a good year; however, if you channel your efforts on the critical few, you could not only end the year on a positive note but also accelerate project results in time for year-end.


There are several keys to success in delivering project results; however, one simple yet secret weapon is follow-up.  The best plans are useless without follow through and follow-up. I've found it quite amazing the number of highly paid, intelligent leaders that do not value or do not make the time to follow-up. Why spend millions of dollars developing plans if you don’t plan to put in the work to make sure they occur?  So what are a few tips to ensure results occur?  1) Plan.  2) Prioritize.  3) Follow-up.

1.     Plan: First, develop a simple plan.  What needs to be done?  By who? When?  What support is required?  It doesn't have to be fancy or use the latest technology (a scrap piece of paper with action items will likely suffice). This will provide the structure for your follow-up.  In my experience across hundreds of projects in multiple industries and geographies, working a simple list is the 80/20 of success.

2.     Prioritize:  Prioritize your follow-up. It isn't necessary to follow-up on everything. If there is one common mistake in today’s new normal business environment, it is getting caught in an endless sea of tasks in a survival mode.  Instead of going down that rabbit hole, think about what’s most important.  What can have the largest impact on your project between now and the end of the year? Next, follow up on only those priority tasks; for example, the critical path or the A priorities.  If you follow up on only the tasks that are key, the people related to those tasks will intuitively realize the implied importance and prioritize accordingly.

Additionally, the more you are able to explain why the specific tasks are important, the more the people responsible for the tasks will understand and value them themselves. On the other hand, if you followed up on every task, it would just become a nuisance, and you'd likely be ignored.

3.     Follow-up:  Think function & not form. It doesn't matter whether you follow-up via email, phone, a fancy software or whatever. What matters is that you follow-up. You will achieve the best results if you change your follow-up style to the person you are following up with.

For example, if you are following up with someone who reads email voraciously but doesn't typically talk on the phone, send an urgent email. On the other hand, if you are following up with someone who enjoys talking with people (regardless of whether he/she has email), pick up the phone.

When you follow up, make sure to follow up in advance of the due date on critical tasks and critical path items. This gives the person an opportunity to remember and plan for the task. I've found that 99% of the people will complete the task with this type of follow-up, whereas, without the follow-up, I might receive a 50% completion ratio, mainly due to conflicting priorities and busy schedules.


It isn't complex, expensive or requires capital investment to follow-up, it just requires a bit of energy, yet, it yields significant results. Why not close out the year with your project team celebrating a significant “win”?



Additional Reading:


Project Failure: How to  Avoid Top Causes


  Best Laid Plans: Turning Strategy Into Action Throughout Your Organization

08272013_systems_pragmatist.jpgWould you select curtains to spice up a house with a rickety foundation? I certainly hope not! Instead, you would resolve your foundation issues before even thinking about nice-to-have's. So why do we spend countless hours picking out curtains and discussing color choices in businesses when our foundation isn't stable?


Based on my 20+ years of experience as both a former operations executive and as a global business consultant, I find that more than 50% of my clients prioritize curtains over the rickety foundation - at least for a while. The excitement of implementing the latest lean program or C system outweighs blocking and tackling in terms of excitement, career interest etc.; however, it fails miserably. On the other hand, those companies who thrive ensure they design and implement solid processes and systems before even discussing programs that will build upon the base.


Since business processes and systems can become quite complex and cost millions of dollars, it is critical to simplify the design to what's essential to your organization and focus on the core processes and related functionality that will support your business strategy and deliver bottom line results. This is where the Systems Pragmatist skill set comes into play - in essence, it cuts through the complexity to rapidly define, design and deliver the critical processes and system functionality required to elevate business performance.


Although we could discuss countless tips and techniques for designing and improving business processes and systems, there are a few core essential tenets: 1) Understand your objective. 2) Think design. 3) Execute & integrate with the culture.


1. Understand your objective: One of the worst mistakes my clients make is when they jump to solutions (process improvements, implementing the latest programs and selecting new technologies) before they understand the objective. As cool as the latest e-commerce functionality or S&OP results, it will become a complete waste of time and money if not aligned with the company's direction and objectives.


The best companies take a step back and review strategy - where are you going? Why? What drives your business? How does strategy translate to objectives? Is your #1 goal this year to drive sales growth or increase productivity? Of course, no executive would turn away either! However, if you must gain sales to be successful in the marketplace, you could become world class in terms of efficiency and still fail - with no customers. Determine your objectives and sync up with your processes and systems - make sure they are aligned upfront.


2. Think design: Once we've identified where to focus our attention, we should do a deep dive on critical requirements. Everyone has 10,000 requirements when it comes to processes and systems yet no one can focus on everything at once - and successfully. Therefore, the secret to success is identifying your critical requirements - which specific processes and system functionality is integral to achieving your objectives? Which is unique to your industry? Which differentiate you from your competition? Those are your critical requirements.


I've found a differentiation in my clients who leverage processes and systems to a competitive advantage vs. the rest - they think about design in every element of the process. Are you thinking 4 steps ahead in the process? How will it affect your ERP system results? Have you built in flexibility? Agility? Speed? Certainly, in the new normal business environment, those who have access to critical data for rapid decision-making, who accelerate products to market and who deliver faster than the competition will win the business. Have you thought about how to design these capabilities into your processes and systems upfront?


3. Execute and integrate with culture: Last but not least, the best design in the world is useless if it's un-implementable! Software firms use the terminology of "build" and "run" to mean design a model or process trial and then roll out and utilize effectively. These can be good reminders to make sure you've dotted your i's and crossed your t's and that your process and system functionality work as expected.


An essential element of this phase is to integrate the business process improvements and system enhancements with the culture. Is it an after-thought or do folks think about it similarly to shipping orders (meaning it is part of their routine)? Embed the processes into the daily, weekly, and monthly routines. Consider potential roadblocks and bottlenecks upfront. Ask employees and supply chain partners for input and feedback. Test them out. Think through changes to related areas such as performance management systems.


I'd be surprised if you haven't heard a horror story associated with a system implementation. There are countless reasons for them: Not enough training. The system didn't do what we needed it to do. It wasn't set up to work for the way we do business. We didn't have enough time. It wasn't tested thoroughly. And the list goes on. For example, I'm often times brought in by clients to help resolve system snafus that typically result in horrendous customer service issues and down-the-line negative profit impacts. 80% of time, the client feels as though the lack of training is the issue. Although it is always part of the issue, I find that it is 20% of the issue; whereas, design and integration with the daily routine is the 80/20.


Designing and implementing business process improvements and leveraging system functionality to drive business results can require an investment of time and resources. However, you'll be left in the dust in your broken down Yugo if you don't prioritize this critical priority. Why not get ahead of the competition by not only creating a solid foundation but also designing it as a strategic advantage to deliver a significant return on investment?


Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic:

Leverage Your ERP System for Bottom Line Business Results

critical-priority_08222013.jpgI’ve lost count on how many times I’ve heard different Executives/ businesses lament over two polar opposites on the same day:  1) We have to cut back immediately (which typically begins with people) , 2)  We cannot find the appropriate talent to perform a critical role. How can this be?

Unemployment remains high; however, employers also struggle in finding the appropriate talent to fill key roles. According to a May 2009 survey conducted by Oracle, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 51% of the responding companies reported moderate to serious shortages of skilled production workers and 36% reported similar shortages of engineers and scientists. My guess is the numbers are even higher now!

Of course, I have a perspective on this paradox. First, according to Executive Recruiters, it is actually harder to find top talent during a recession because people are less likely to change jobs (and most roles are filled by the 90% employed workforce). Second, the types of skills required for the available jobs require a higher level of specialized technical training than what is typically available. Third, a significant portion of the workforce is considering retirement when laid off (the baby boomers), and there is significant knowledge tied up with them. Thus - our paradox. To potentially make matters worse, there are many top performers who are waiting for the job market to improve to jump ship to better opportunities or to companies who appreciate their skills.

Although a comprehensive effort is required to address this situation effectively so that your company or department is one of the few positioned for success, focusing on retaining top talent is undoubtedly a great place to start. And it’s likely that you are more at risk than you think – so what should you do? 1) Flip the typical situation upside down. 2) Address non-performers. 3) Ensure frequent communications.

1. Flip the typical situation upside down. Instead of focusing most of your energy on the issues and non-performers, focus the majority of your effort on your top talent. It sounds easy but is far from easy to implement. Yet this one simple rule can make all the difference in the world!

The idea is to focus your efforts on those who drive your department and/or company’s results. What roadblocks are they facing? Do they understand the company’s goals and priorities? How about the value they contribute to achieving these goals? And the value of their leadership? If not, you are missing a huge opportunity – in my experience working across multiple industries and globally, your top performers are the 80/20 of your results. When the situation is vital, who do you go to? Why wouldn’t you focus there?

2. Address non-performers. One of the best incentives for a top performer (assuming they are paid within reason for the role based on the market) is addressing non-performers (at a minimum, not rewarding nonperformance – yes, surprisingly, it occurs all the time). Interesting and absolutely true. What better proof that performance is valued! And, for a top performer, what better way to validate that the company understands what’s required and is on track to succeed?

3. Ensure frequent communications. Although this sounds like suggesting motherhood and apple pie, it is often overlooked – and not nearly as easy as it sounds. My most successful clients are those who spend the majority of their time clarifying goals (and why they matter), explaining how each person can contribute to them, and providing continual feedback – positive, constructive, and always immediate.

I often hear push back on this process – “we are too busy with critical customers, projects etc.”; however, how will we ever resolve these topics without the focus of our top talent? Surely spending 5-30 minutes on your most valuable resource is doable!

If you are the one to retain top talent as the recovery spreads, you will not only have the opportunity to surpass your competition but you will likely attract other top talent – what could be better to position your department and /or company to be the market leader?

08202013_a_real_team_1.jpgIt's rare for significant results to be achieved by individuals in today's economy; teams have substantially greater success. What do good ones have in common?

1. One clear purpose - Typically, a team has one purpose since it's formed specifically for that purpose. However, is your purpose or reason for being clear? The best teams are crystal clear on where they are going and why.

2. One objective - A foundational element of a team is that there is an overarching objective -what do you expect to accomplish? If each person has a different objective, you don't have a team; you have a committee.

3. One measuring system - Can one person succeed while another fails? If so, you have a committee. Instead, a true team will succeed or fail together with common metrics.

4 Accountability - Your team should share accountability for achieving your objective. Who is responsible for which action items? The best teams are self-selecting - if someone isn't holding up their share, it is addressed (often the person improves with peer pressure or self-selects out).

5.  Rewards - Certainly, one of the best aspects of having a team is to celebrate success and to create a feeling that you are "in it together." Thus, it is critical to celebrate progress and success.


Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic: Teamwork Tips

pay_it_forward_08152013.jpgPay it Forward: What's Good for the Industry Is Good for Business


I often get asked where I find the time to write so many articles, present at industry meetings, and post noteworthy items on social media. I really am passionate about what I do, but it is more than that. It truly is a sense of giving back; as Kevin Spacey portrayed in the movie, Pay it Forward.


Our industry depends on the strongest links to continually make improvements and grow our expertise. By sharing our knowledge, we strengthen even the weakest links, to be more productive and thoughtful business partners.


I was recently interviewed for the Critical Mass for Business radio show and was able to share my unique business perspective, as well as how our industry needs to continue to evolve. The interview covered everything from how I got started and what I do, to the changes in our industry and how we’ve had to adapt.


I stay plugged into the latest trends and analyze how they impact supply chain, process improvement, and logistics, with an eagle eye on the bottom line. Remember that sharing your expertise and creating a dialog with peers is an essential component to our evolution. I encourage you to use the many social networking opportunities to make the conversation engaging and wide-reaching. I truly believe that what we give, we get back ten-fold . . . and I hope you continually look for ways to make our industry even better.


Add to your knowledge base with these other resources:


Leverage Social Networks to Drive Business Results

Profit Through People Newsletter

Lisa Anderson’s Recommended Reading

Lisa Anderson’s Blog


strongest-link.jpgIn today's new normal business environment where sales are no longer easy, talent is in short supply even amidst high unemployment levels, volatility is the new norm and customers want "more for less - and NOW," finding strategies to stand out from the crowd is no longer innovative; it's required to survive! Companies are turning to the supply chain to make that happen!

As much as any executive is interested in elevating business performance, the supply chain offers not only an answer to that need but a solution to the hot topic in today's information overloaded society - how to have an effect on time. Every one of my clients is interested in time - finding a way to get the most essential priorities accomplished each day, shortening lead times, making rapid, well-informed decisions, accelerating new product and service introductions etc. Thus, being known as The Strongest Link in Your Supply Chain is pivotal to success.

There are countless topics we could discuss as to how to become the strongest link in your supply chain; however, as time is of the essence, we'll limit it to a few critical steps: 1) Get your house in order. 2) Think culture. 3) Start small but on the "right" path.

1. Get your house in order: Now that you're interested in jumping on the supply chain bandwagon, you'll most likely be disappointed to hear the most important place to start is with "your house.” There's no point in thinking about elaborate supply chain concepts if they'll be of no avail. I repeatedly see that my clients who focus on internal excellence look as though they are lagging behind at first but always far surpass the ones who try to jump straight to the latest fad. Getting your house in order includes the following types of activities: understand and improve business processes, further leverage already-existing systems to improve service and efficiency, develop supply chain talent and teams, and resolve internal bottlenecks.


2. Think culture: Undoubtedly, the best strategies fail if culture doesn't support them. Thus, it makes sense to spend a few minutes to think about your culture - which set of beliefs governs behavior in your company? If you'd like to make the supply chain your strategic advantage, you must have a culture that values collaboration (and therefore people), visibility (and therefore embrace the sharing of information), and flexibility (and therefore be willing to invest in several areas such as cross-training, equipment etc.)

Although it might be hard to think of why you wouldn't support these concepts, when it boils down to the day-to-day, it can get harder. For example, if you have to choose between making your month end numbers and standing behind your new culture (which you believe will ensure the year's numbers even if you miss the month), which will you choose? Or, if you need to invest what could be a significant amount of money on implementing the right system for your business which will pay off in spades down-the-line but will likely not only cost precious money but also significant time immediately, what will you do?


3. Start small but on the "right" path: If there is one mistake in common among the majority of my clients, it's that they want to jump into the fire (latest idea or fad) without making sure it best aligns with the strategy and that they are prepared to succeed. False starts can create havoc to success!

Instead, start small but make sure it's on the correct path to achieve your supply chain vision - and then work it aggressively! For example, one item that often can be of value in becoming the strongest link in your supply chain is to think about sales and operations planning - in essence, balancing demand with supply across your organization and in alignment with your customers and suppliers. However, even S&OP backfires frequently when executives don't start small and figure out what will work in their organization.

For example, I've seen executives tied up in all sorts of S&OP meetings drowning in spreadsheets yet accomplishing nothing. Instead, what I've found to be successful is a "simplified S&OP" - start by getting the right people together to review key information (such as expectations for future sales and any obvious potential threats such as supply constraints) and develop action plans for improvement. Pen and paper (even on the back of a napkin as my former CEO used to say) can achieve wonders!


Your smart competition is already on the path toward leveraging the supply chain to deliver bottom line business results. What are you doing to outsmart them and become the strongest link in your supply chain?

08082013_Organization Essential to Strategic Focus#1.jpgOrganization is one of the key tenets required to be successful with an eagle eye strategic focus so that you can rapidly assess strategic priorities. I’ve yet to run across an organization with just the right amount of priorities – have you? Here are a few strategies to improve your organizational abilities:


1.       Keep lists - don't get caught up in the latest techno gadget on how to track your to-do list; instead, just make sure to keep a simple to-do list. If your list is long, put a star by the items required immediately. I find it to be simple yet invaluable.

2.       Keep a calendar - again, it doesn't matter whether it is a piece of paper or on a cell phone - each will work effectively or become a total waste, depending on how it's used. I prefer using a calendar on my phone; however, I’ve found it depends completely on the person as to what is most effective. The most important factor is to keep your calendar updated and accessible. Do NOT over-schedule your time - add time between appointments, for breaks, etc.

3.       Categorize - One way to organize is to find ways to categorize - develop categories and use them as it makes sense for grouping like-items together for quicker and more efficient decision making and follow-up. For example, consider storing your documents by the project, type, follow-up date etc. - choose a method that works for you.

4.       Make it visual - one of the concepts of lean is also critical for organization - making it visual. Contrary to popular theory, consider NOT putting all your papers away in files/ drawers. As soon as I put something away, it’s forgotten. Instead, prioritize and keep at least the upcoming, critical priorities with associated paperwork in clear sight. Track progress visually as well.

5.       The environment - yes, it is true that a clean and well lit environment is more conducive to success. There is no need to go overboard though - focus on your environment to the degree that you can find what you need when you need it. And, it might be surprising but good lighting can make a huge difference.

  Accountability - as usual for achieving success, create an environment of accountability.


How to Spot Trends

Posted by lisaanderson Aug 21, 2013

73013_how_to_spot_trends_1.jpgSince identifying trends is an important Eagle Eye skill - instrumental in finding opportunities to elevate performance - here are five ideas on how to spot trends:

1. Start with metrics - It is near impossible to spot trends if you don't review key metrics. What information is important to running your business or your functional area? Track progress.

2. Look for peaks & valleys- I find it interesting that we can review a huge amount of metric data and create endless Power Points and yet, we still miss trends. Reviewing a single point in time is largely useless. And getting lost in too much data is not helpful. Instead, put it in perspective: How does it relate to what has happened previously? Review the last several years, quarters, months or weeks side-by-side.

3. Take out outliers- I also seem to sit in endless meetings where we get bogged down in outliers and nonessential details. Instead, take a step back and look at what the big picture is telling you and ignore the outliers.

4. Update calculations- If you spot a trend change, make sure the calculation process wasn't changed. It's easy to get carried away with trends that do not exist if the baseline data or the calculation method changes.

5. Collaborate- When you spot a trend, ask related parties for their insights. Often, you can rapidly determine if it's an outlier or a trend by simply asking experts.

07302013_social_mediajpg.jpgIn today’s new normal, we are in a volatile and challenging business environment where customers are demanding more for less – and NOW! Thus, it is increasingly critical to stand out from the crowd. One of the best ways to differentiate your company is to utilize social media to increase revenue, profitability, and customer satisfaction.


Those manufacturers and distributors who are jumping on the social media train are surpassing their competition. Here are a few of the ways they are leveraging social media:


1.   To promote products – social media can help to generate excitement about new products and features. As influencers note interesting developments and offer incentives on Twitter and Facebook, the market follows.

2.   To find talent – nothing could be more important in today’s environment as high-skilled talent is hard to find yet vital to managing complex supply chain networks. LinkedIn is a great way to source top talent!


3.    To source supply – although the tried and true ways to sourcing suppliers still remain valid, social media can provide interesting new alternatives. Social media brings the global market to our fingertips and allows us to search and focus in on specific attributes and selection criteria at any hour of any day 24/7.

4.   Gain expertise – there are countless experts in a wide variety of subject matter leveraging social media as a Q&A tool. For example, one of my clients wanted to find out how to leverage their ERP system to drive business results in supply chain planning and was able to find numerous experts happy to share expertise on Linked In groups and blogs.

5.       Training/how-to – as customers are king in today’s new normal business environment, what could be better than providing 24/7 access to training tools and how-to videos on YouTube and other sites so customers can gain just-in-time access to what they need when they need it?

07252013_culture_change.jpgBetween 70-80%+ of culture change programs such as mergers and acquisitions fail to produce the results originally expected. Yet, there are still many private equity firms and companies aggressively searching to merge and/or acquire a business – and certainly companies embark on major change initiatives such as ERP implementations and reorganization plans every day. Why is the success rate so low? And, why can't 70-80%+ of the merger/acquisition leadership teams find a way to be part of the 20%?


I've had first-hand experience working with companies in various stages of mergers and acquisitions and other significant change projects, and the answers are incredibly simple yet hard to execute. First, most mergers/acquisitions do not fail in the strategy. The synergies might be compelling, the opportunities vast; however, the key lies in poor execution. So, how do we stand out in the crowd as part of the 20%?


People and execution

One of the key issues is that people tend to become numbers - have you heard one of the following, "We can save X labor dollars," "after consolidating Y function . . . ," "we need to implement Z program to offset our 10% attrition - whether customers and/or employees"? Stop! Instead, value people, as they will be the ones who determine whether you'll be one of the 20%.


First, make sure you:

1.       Listen - to your employees, your customers, your suppliers, etc.

2.       Involve them in the process - clarify the vision/end state and ask for involvement in defining the path to achieve the vision, encourage debate on the various alternatives and their benefits/costs to achieve a goal, ask for feedback and ideas, value their concerns and input and encourage brainstorming of solutions.

3.       Communicate frequently, and consistently  - do what you say you'll do - this does not require that you have all the answers or that you communicate items you are unable to communicate yet it even works with bad news. People will value your communication if they know it is genuine, if they can count on you to consistently keep them updated, to answer their questions and if they know you value them and will treat them fairly and respectfully. And, I found that doing what you say you'll do is much more challenging than it sounds, but it is #1 to success. The bottom line is that people are your #1 asset. Instead of focusing on equipment, labor and materials, first focus on people.


Next, execution is key. Execution must be a core component of your organization's culture. What does that mean? The best definition I've seen of culture is from Alan Weiss - "Culture is simply that set of beliefs that governs behavior." Thinking in terms of that definition, execution must be valued in your organization. Or, another way to say this is that the discipline of how your organization gets things done is more important than the "form" (who reports to who, how it looks, etc.). Of course, this takes us back to #1 - people. In addition, as Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan say in Execution, "People think of execution as the tactical side of the business. That's the first big mistake. Tactics are central to execution, but execution is not tactics. Execution is fundamental to strategy and has to shape it. No worthwhile strategy can be planned without taking into account the organization's ability to execute it."


I've found there to be several key ingredients in successful execution - people, leadership, clear communication of the vision/end state, communication of the why's and how's (For example: Why are we following this path? How will this help us in the marketplace?), communication/integration to each person's goals (including how they make a difference), tools/training required, follow-up, feedback . . . and repeat.


If the majority of your focus is on people and execution, you'll likely be one of the 20%.

7232013_5_ways _to_improve_process.jpgProcess improvement has been around for centuries. I laugh as I see the fads come and go with different names and hoopla yet the fundamentals remain the same. What is process improvement if not just in time, lean, Toyota production system, TQM, demand driven MRP? ...and the list goes on. How do we stimulate ideas that will help our companies?


1. Ask - It's always prudent to start by asking your employees, peers and managers. It's an often overlooked secret to rapid cost savings and revenue generation ideas.


2. Read - Read the latest industry magazines, the newspaper, blogs, newsletters (of course Profit through People!) etc. You'll be surprised what ideas can apply to your situation.


3. Listen - Slightly different than asking is to listen. Instead of talking, listen to your colleagues with an ear towards interesting ideas. Asking clarifying questions during conversations can be revealing.


4. Network - There are countless industry, geography and topic-related events and groups. For example, my APICS (Association of Operations Management) chapter hosts events on manufacturing and distribution topic areas. Industry groups such as aerospace and defense have numerous events. Attend, ask, listen, network and learn.


5. Social media - There is also an overwhelming amount of information available on social media. Join a LinkedIn group and ask how to leverage your ERP system to become more efficient etc.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic: Implementing Processes

07182013_stand_out_from_the_crowd.jpgThere has never been a better time to create a customer service edge! Gone are the days of the last decade when we saw examples of 10% sales growth achieved solely by picking up the phone. Customers expect more for less – and NOW! Profitable growth is essential yet challenging to achieve in today’s volatile economy. And companies are left with fewer resources to deliver these high expectations since executives are slow to ramp up the hiring curve. Thus, we must work smarter, not harder and focus efforts on delighting our customers – if we plan to thrive in today’s new normal.


In my 20+ years of experience as both a former VP of Operations of a mid-market manufacturer and as a global business consultant and entrepreneur, I've found that those companies who leverage these types of hidden opportunities leapfrog the competition in times like these. In essence, while everyone else is working on 100 priorities at the same time surviving each day, one day at a time, what can you do to provide exceptional service and stand out in the crowd?

How do you create a customer service edge and delight customers? 1) Engage employees. 2) Involve your supply chain. 3) Provide tools & support.


1.         Engage Employees

Have you ever seen unhappy employees with happy customers? Me either! You have to start with your employees. Have you provided them with a compelling vision? Do they feel that they are involved with a company that is making a difference in some way? Do they know how they contribute to the vision? How do they add value? Are you providing feedback? Appreciating progress? Engaging them in key projects and ensuring they feel they are a core part of the team?


You’d be amazed as to how the most unlikely employee can contribute to creating a customer service edge if included in the process. In my experience, I’ve seen engineers close a sale, IT leaders create customer intimacy, and supply chain employees create a customer service edge. The common ingredient is engaged employees. How important is service to you?


2.         Involve your supply chain

Now that your employees are on board, you cannot afford to stop there. A customer service edge can only be created by involving your entire supply chain – after all, how will you shorten lead times and improve on time delivery if your customers consistently change their mind at the last minute and your suppliers provide an unreliable delivery lead time?


For example, in one company, we implemented a vendor managed inventory program with our #1 customer, and we went from unreliable service levels to winning the coveted supplier of the year award. We involved the entire supply chain in that we determined how to fulfill our customer’s distribution centers to ensure 98-99% service levels by becoming more intimately involved in the complete supply chain – utilizing our customer’s customers’ demand data, involving our carriers as partners to ensure delivery performance within shipping lanes, and partnering with suppliers through a collaborative forecasting process.


3.         Provide tools and support

Last but not least, the best strategies fail in execution; thus, what can we do to ensure we beat the odds and create a customer service edge? Focus on execution – blocking and tackling. Don’t just dictate a customer service priority. Explain its importance. Provide coaching. Support the process with systems. Build customer service into the performance management process. Celebrate success. With a clear strategy and the appropriate support, customer service will thrive.

In today’s new normal business environment, everyone is struggling to survive and grow by a few percentage points. Don’t follow the pack; instead, stand out from the crowd with a customer service edge, and leverage the opportunity to leapfrog the competition.

07162013_profit_through_people.jpgI have always believed that people are #1 to success. Without people, there is no business. I hear executives use these words; however, later they talk about people as costs. Which message do you think is taken away?

I have the opportunity to network with several top executive recruiters in my ProVisors groups, and there seems to be a new trend emerging - top talent is not only hard to find but it is ready to "make the move" to companies who appreciate them. Thus, have you thought about what your top talent is thinking?

What are you doing to retain your top talent? It isn't about the money. For as much conversation as goes on about money, it isn't a key motivator. Of course the lack of money is a problem (so I'm assuming you are paying within reasonable ranges in alignment with job requirements) but money alone will not keep your top talent.

Do you notice when an employee puts in extra effort to achieve a key result?

  • Do you say thank you?
  • Do you appreciate ideas?
  • Do you ask what employees think will work or for potential pitfalls?
  • Do you spend all of your time with the problem employees and ignore your high-performing employees?
  • Do you ask about career path aspirations?
  • Do you offer training and tools?
  • Do you deal with difficult problems?
  • Are you willing to address the problem employee who is creating havoc?

Employees want to be able to count on you!

Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic: Employees: Your #1 Asset


4 Keys to VMI

Posted by lisaanderson Aug 7, 2013

07112013_keys_to_vmi.jpgBefore talking about the keys to achieving VMI (vendor managed inventory) success, the question is: what is VMI? VMI is a process where the supplier places purchase orders for their customers to agreed-upon metrics.


Why VMI?

I'm a supply chain and operations consultant and former executive, and have implemented VMI programs that have resulted in significant improvements in terms of the customer, cash and cost. For example, during my tenure at PaperPak, an adult incontinence manufacturing company, we achieved the following successes with our #1 customer:

Recognized by #1 customer as "supplier of the year"

Increased sales

Became "part of the customers' organization"

Doubled inventory turns

Improved customer service to 98%+

Reduced lead times and improved costs

While supporting customers on VMI through several business condition changes including a merger/acquisition, cash crisis, turnaround, and investment buyout and several VMI changes including software changes, process changes, and insource/outsource decisions, there were several up's and down's, successes and mistakes. Through these trials and tribulations, the keys to success emerged - the 4 P's - people, process, partnership and provider.

1.    The first key to success is people

The right people are your #1 asset. First, senior leadership makes or breaks any vendor managed inventory program. Senior leadership must provide commitment and support, have a high level understanding of the value that can be achieved through a VMI program and be able to explain the whys. Understanding and being able to explain the whys behind a VMI program is key so that implementers' individual goals are tied to the big picture/strategy and tools and support are provided. For example, since PaperPak had senior leadership support, the customer and bottom-line impacts were understood and valued, which resulted in the appropriate resources and funding allocations.

Second, the right VMI planner is critical. After putting the wrong person in the role, I quickly discovered the importance of finding the right person with the right skillsets for the VMI planner position. Our service levels suffered until we found a person with an analytical skillset. Ideally, the VMI planner will be analytical, enjoy the optimization game, self confident (because when you are optimizing among variables, it is similar to being at the center of a firing range), customer focused, has a passion for details and follow-up yet can see the bigger picture.

Lastly, there are other people integral to VMI success - the support functions such as customer service, planning, sales, and information services. To achieve success, it takes a team.

2.    The second key to success is partnerships

This is back to point #1 - the right people; however, this is in terms of the right people and partnerships with customers and suppliers. The definition of a partnership is simple - 'win-win'. To create a successful VMI program, it requires a close partnership with your customer. The ingredients for a successful partnership are trust, ability to find and create win-win ideas, collaboration on forecasts, goal setting and metrics scorecard reviews. The same holds true for your suppliers. View your customers and your suppliers as an extension of your company and supply chain. With a partnership, you should be able to turn 1 + 1 into 5, meaning your returns will be exponential over what you will achieve on your own.

3.    The third key to success is process

To ensure flawless execution and customer service, process is king. Rigorously following the traditional plan, do, check, act model can yield significant results. It has been shown that although the majority of people spend the majority of their time on the "do" of plan, do, check, act, the successful implementers spend a very small portion of time (10%) on "doing." Instead, it is plan (70%), do (10%), check (15%), and act (5%). As this implies, follow-up/ audit is also essential for success - it is how metrics review, best practices and continual improvement is built into the process.

4.    The fourth key to success is provider

The software tools and provider supports your people and process. For VMI, this can include EDI (electronic data interchange) and VMI software tools. After utilizing multiple software suppliers and discovering the keys to success through trials and tribulations, it is apparent that bells and whistles do not = success. Instead, what really matters are the following: a partnership approach, the right combination of functionality, flexibility and cost and forecast features. For example, PaperPak partnered with Prescient to achieve the results listed under "why VMI."

After these fundamentals are in place, you can drive additional efficiencies and customer intimacy through continuing to focus on the 4 P's. When linking the people and process elements, think about utilizing VMI as a business strategy and link strategy with execution. The benefits will continue to grow as the elements of VMI are implemented throughout the supply chain. As your VMI program grows, your results will grow - increased customer partnerships and intimacy, reduced costs and improved cash flow.


Five Transportation Trends

I’ve recently spoken at and participated in a few transportation industry events, and was reminded of the importance of transportation trends to the supply chain, so I thought a recap of trends was in order:

The importance of systems: As supply chains become more complex, leveraging systems becomes more important to optimizing supply chain networks and minimizing transportation costs.oken at and participated in a few transportation industry events, and was reminded of the importance of transportation trends to the supply chain, so I thought a recap of trends was in order:

2. Consider supply chain disruptions: As supply chain disruptions become commonplace – natural disasters, weather, strikes, etc. – it has become essential to build flexibility and agility into supply chains.

3. Alternative fuels: Certainly fuel cost is significant in transportation; thus, selecting the optimal technology is key to success. UPS is expanding its liquefied natural gas vehicle strategy.

4. Logistics trending UP: The US Logistics market grew 6% in 2012, led by growth in domestic transportation management, according to a study by Armstrong & Associates Inc.

5. Panama Canal questions: The Panama Canal expansion (adding a 3rd lane) is scheduled to be completed in 2015 – will it affect the amount of freight going directly to the East Coast? There is much disagreement on this topic.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on this topic:
Ideas to Minimize Freight Costs in Today’s Economy


In my 20+ years of experience as an operations executive, a global supply chain consultant and a nonprofit trade association leader, I’ve found navigating culture change is a requirement for success – no matter the initiative. If your company isn’t merging cultures, embarking on a major change initiative such as an ERP implementation, or dramatically changing the business to ensure top notch customer service in today’s volatile new normal environment, you’ll probably be left in the dust. Thus, those who thrive in this chaotic business world learn to be proficient at culture change.


My clients who cover diverse industries (from aerospace to consumer products to healthcare products) unanimously find culture change to be one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. Successful culture change is not dictated. It isn’t a one-time event. And there’s no formula for success. Thus, a few strategies for success should come in handy: 1) Strategic clarity. 2) Give it a boost with enthusiasm. 3) You get what you measure. 3) Make it visible.


State the vision. Before going any further, it is essential to state the vision. Why are you undergoing culture change? How does it relate to where the company is headed? Why is it important to the executives? To each employee? Give your employees, customers and suppliers an opportunity to understand the vision – and to find out whether the new culture will be the type of place they’d enjoy working and collaborating. If so, they can become a champion. If not, it’s better if they get out early!


For example, one of my clients wanted to change the culture from a focus on purely revenue to one focused on customer service. They started by communicating the new vision and culture. It gave folks an opportunity to ask questions and debate upfront. In another client, we had to transform the culture from a robust, process-driven culture to a more innovative one that kept the essentials of the processes without the baggage. We communicated upfront about the expectations for the future so that folks could determine whether they fit in this new culture.


Give it a boost with enthusiasm.  Even the most exciting culture change will sound hum-drum if presented in a monotone and without enthusiasm. Assuming you wouldn’t be embarking on the challenging process of culture change if it wasn’t essential, don’t put obstacles in your way. Be enthusiastic! Find the positive. Show folks why they should be interested and excited for the new culture change.


For example, my customer service culture change client communicated the vision for a customer-centric culture with gusto. What could be more important than ensuring customers get what they need when they need it? And for the innovative culture, we emphasized how we could build upon the solid foundation they had built with a bit of innovation and talked about how they could have a larger effect on the future by combining the best of both approaches.


You get what you measure.  It matters little what you say if you hold folks accountable to a different set of metrics. Who wants to listen yet fail?! It’s easy to overlook this strategy yet it is vital to success. Find simple yet meaningful metrics that will measure what you’d like to occur with your culture change.


For example, in the customer service culture change client, we changed the metrics from revenue, revenue, revenue to a focus on on-time delivery with the caveat that older was worse in terms of the metric. Thus, if you shipped an order 1 day late, you received a higher score than if you shipped the order 30 days late. It spurred interest in the customer! And for the innovative culture, we didn’t track process efficiencies solely as it didn’t encourage risk-taking. Instead, we tracked new ideas for resolving issues and trials.


Make it visible. Last but not least, it’s essential to make the change visible. Give people an example of what the new culture change looks like. Find role models and make sure they are on board with the culture change. People will follow those they know, like and respect.


For example, in the customer service culture client, a respected executive made sure he was not only available to discuss the culture change but also was visible and easily accessible. He sat in the midst of everyone involved in the culture change. There was no open door policy as no door was required! And in the innovative culture example, we congratulated team members who tried new ideas to move the company forward – whether they failed or succeeded. The idea was to encourage innovation, which doesn’t occur without failure.

Few executives and companies achieve culture change smoothly and successfully. In the rare occasion of rapid success, each of these strategies was utilized. Follow these simple yet powerful strategies and success will follow.