Communication and persistence can make almost impossible assignments happen.

October 17, 2009

Some years ago, I got the project to set up a fish processing operation in Klemtu on the central coast of British Columbia. Some agreement had been made a couple of years earlier, as the whole project started with the set up of fish farms.

For the processing, we needed to not only equip the plant, but also train the staff of this small coastal community isolated on an island with no road connection to the mainland. Therefore, the logistics were quite adverse: an isolated island with about no choice of carriers except the one that had been appointed on a sea that is often dangerous to the point that barges do not even venture on it. The risk was that the fresh fish could be stuck and not be delivered on time. Of course, that would have been unacceptable for our customers, who were located thousands of km away.

When it came to the facilities, the local community was providing for the plant, meaning a very basic building with no specific equipment for salmon processing. In the plant’s yard we had to browse through a pile of old tables and pipes to figure out something. Since volumes were starting rather low, it would not have been sensible to buy automated processing equipment, because the cost per pound of fish would have been horrendous. Further, the isolation of the place would have made any call for a technician about useless, as it would have taken him a couple of days to be on the premises. All the work was to be manual.

The equipment was probably the easiest part, though. We needed to train the staff to modern food production and educate them about to all aspects of food safety and quality, as they had never been exposed to this. Everyone who has dealt with First Nations knows that they are dealing with a number of social issues and poor physical health and condition, unfortunately the result of past colonization and the destruction of their traditional society. As such, this exercise was a great way of merging two worlds and recreating a feeling of community between this village and the international food business including large retailers and food service companies in the US and Canada.

We developed the training program covering all theoretical aspects as well as the practical realities of fish processing. A few chosen crew members were sent to an experienced fish plant to get exposure to modern processing. We set up an exam to have an incentive for the potential employees to study our material. As it appeared the day of the exam, half of the students did not show up and someone explained to me that some felt uncomfortable with writing. Of course, this was an awkward situation and there was a chance of losing some of the workforce, which is not good when that workforce is already limited, and replacement not easy to find. I turned this around by giving only one collective grade. After all, I had repeated so many times that this would be teamwork, what better example could I find to illustrate that than giving the team the grade, instead of individual marks?

Considering how important it is to gut and cut the fish properly, I was more interested in the quality of the work than the productivity at first. Once they would master the technique, we could think of increasing the pace of the processing line. So, we started with the equivalent of half a truck the first day, and the second half for the following day. In a normal plant, a full truck was processed in five hours in those days. I was expecting that our first half load would be done in eight hours at most. The reality came out quite differently. After two hours, the staff got physically tired and I could notice that moment when all the shoulders started to drop. After eight hours, many of the workers went back home because they were tired. We finished the first production day in thirteen hours! The second day was even worse with some people not showing up at all, and it took 23 hours! The situation looked lost. However, my sense of persistence made me refuse to give up so quickly. I re-planned the next round of harvests to be only a third of a truck per processing day. This was the magical number, and from there, our staff was able to work within normal hours, and get more productive, while producing the proper quality. Within two weeks after this, they were able to process a full truck in 9 hours! What a turn-around! As production volumes were increasing, we were able to justify for the purchase of machines to help speeding up the operation and by then we were able to process fish as quickly as any other regular plant.

As time went by, some of the locals showed capacities to take charge of more and more things, and even the original agreement was clearly that management activities had to be carried out by non-locals, we created several positions that they could fill successfully.

Yet, beyond the business case, the most valuable experience for me had been to see activity coming back in a community plagued by 80% unemployment before this project started. Getting work did not only give them money, but it helped them become healthier, with many of the employees recovering from diabetes. The most important of all was a boosted self-esteem, as they found a new purpose in their lives.

They felt successful, happy and fulfilled again!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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Genchi genbutsu

October 16, 2009

This is an interesting article from Economist.com about the Japanese way of getting out of your office and about having a look at what is going on in the plant.

I like the part in which the author tries to compare the Japanese way and the American way. In my opinion, there is not much point in doing that. The best is to review what the strengths of both approaches are and build an even better system from there.

If you want to be an effective manager, you need to have a hands-on approach!


The importance of a cohesive team

August 10, 2009

Helping each other creates cohesion and successIn sports, everybody knows the importance of having a group of talented people who can play together harmoniously for the interest of the group. Not only must the team members be good at their specialty, but they also must have the understanding of the other players’ needs and skills, so that they can create for them opportunities to score. Moreover, everybody understands in sports the crucial role of the coach to create the proper interaction to achieve success. Terms as goals, help and support are common.

In business, having such cohesive teams, although always mentioned as very important, tends in many cases to be suboptimal. Many companies perform below what they should and could perform, simply because the interconnection and the fostering of the relationships are very often neglected. It almost looks like everyone sticks to their job description, on which by the way the nature of the interaction with colleagues is not even mentioned. Recruiting people and telling them what they have to do without telling them with whom and how to achieve the goals together will simply not deliver good results. When you take a look at reward systems, you will see that it generally never include collective goals, except the very general profit. Most of the time, bonuses are based on individual performance indicators that usually ignore the performance indicators of your direct colleagues.

Sport or business, the principles are the sameSo, how to achieve superior performance and build cohesive teams across departments? Actually, it is rather simple, at least in theory. Just copy what they do in sports. They draw charts about the strategy to reach the goal and beat the opponent. They review it together, and everybody gets to hear what their specific role is going to be. They will have to pay attention to what the adversary’s moves are and they will develop alternative strategies to deal with them. Everyone in the team knows their function, and most importantly, they know what their fellow team members will do for them and what they expect from them. Further, the coach is present on the sidelines and is very vocal giving instructions at once all the time as the game develops. Unfortunately, such a presence and such a hands-on support are often missing in business, because the coach is in a meeting.

Of course, running a business is not quite like playing the main event game, but they are simple ways to create that sense of support and quick reaction to changing situations and applying alternative plans. One of the most effective approaches to create cohesive teams in business is to develop the supplier-customer partnership at all levels of your organization (see our presentation about this subject). Everyone must know what the colleagues needs are and must communicate what their own needs are as well. This shortens discussions as there is clarity created beforehand and it enhances a sense of anticipation by all participants, as they will recognize what to supply their team members with in a timely manner. Last, but not least, creating and sustaining cohesive teams requires a strong hands-on leadership (read Presence: the prerequisite for leadership).

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The KISS that will improve your life

July 30, 2009

Most of us have heard about the KISS acronym. For some reason, it is usually described as “Keep It Simple, Stupid” which I have always found a bit derogative. I prefer to read it as “Keep It Short & Simple”.

Short and simple truly make life easy and, generally speaking, things that work the best in life are the simplest ones.

The advantage of simplicity is that the message is easier to understand by more people. When you explain something in simple terms, it will take you much less time to convince the other party of what you are telling them and they will be more prone to follow your instructions.

The advantage of keeping things short is that it saves you a lot of time that you would waste in long and probably complicated explanations that you would have to repeat before the other party gets the message properly. By being short, you also will increase the impact of your message. Remember that short is what slogans are made of, and that people tend to forget information quickly.

Hopefully, this was short and simple enough!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The Happy Boss

June 25, 2009

While there are many books written on employee satisfaction, not much seems to be told about what makes bosses happy in their jobs. Maybe people assume that bosses are happy because they are bosses, or maybe they assume that bosses do not need to be happy.
Nice job!Yet, a satisfied and happy boss is very important for an organization, because the boss’s personality and mood is quite contagious. You can be sure that a bitter boss means lots of bitterness and tension on the work floor. Therefore, a happy boss is an absolute necessity in order for a company to achieve superior performance.
To get a happy boss, just think in reverse of what I have just said, and think what could be so contagious coming from employees that will make him/her feel great.
What is it that the boss really wants? He/she wants to look like a great boss! This means that he/she can show superior results and that people who get in contact with the company will say good things about it and about him/her. This were it gets tricky, because lousy bosses will never create such a momentum among their employees. In fact, being happy is the sign of a talented boss. Therefore, it will all start with the person at the top.
This is a person who has the ability to be self-motivated and with a positive attitude towards life and work. He/she brings this to the workplace and communicates it to the employees. The boss’s competence shows already in the choice of the staff. He/she wants to be surrounded by quality people, and because of their abilities, the leader knows that they can be trusted and that all they need is clear and stimulating instructions. By delegating to good people, the happy boss is able to obtain better results faster and make the company grow faster and stronger. This dynamics of success feeds itself, as everyone can see the results. Customers are more prone to do business with this company, and talented people are interested to work there.
No wonder the boss is happy!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Presence: the prerequisite for leadership!

June 19, 2009

Many books have been written on leadership and you can find about anything you are looking for that explains what makes leaders be leaders.
For those who do not wish to spend time reading, a very simple quality can make a very strong impact on your group. It does not matter if this group is your employees, your family or any social group to which you belong. That quality is presence.

By being present, you send a very clear message: you are involved, you are part of your team, and you are ready to take action and responsibility. This gives a tremendous feeling of security to the members of the team who depend on you. They know that they are not left alone to deal with problems, while the “boss” stays out of the hot spot. This is quite important if you want your instructions to be followed. Rarely seeing the leader, or receiving instructions by emails or from a distance is not motivating, and makes many team members wonder what the respective roles actually are, all the more so when their level of reward is quite different from the leader’s. Such poor leadership very often goes together with a lack of positive feedback (usually such leaders are not shy on negative feedback, though), which is also perceived very poorly.

Napoleon at ArcoleA famous example of presence for a leader is the battle of the bridge of Arcola. Napoleon was still a young general and the battle against the Austrians was not going too well. The story is that Napoleon took the flag and led his troops marching on the bridge, dodging bullets. This reportedly boosted his army’s spirits; they followed him on the bridge for the direct confrontation with the enemy. The result was a strategic victory. Even though this story seems to have been embellished, as Napoleon might not have acted as heroically as the story states, it certainly has established his leadership position and it created a strong mystique about his persona.
Presence, and courage, made him bigger than life!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Empathy: the gentle way to get things done

June 4, 2009

Reaching outEmpathy is one of those qualities that is acknowledged as being important, but for which there is little training given. One reason probably is that empathy, like some other personality traits, one is born with it more than one can learn it. Yet, there are certain patterns that can be acquired and help people interact with their fellow men better.

What does make empathy so effective in interpersonal relationships?
Empathic people come over as more gentle and get their way more easily, because in the interaction, they take the other side’s point of view in the picture. This makes the other party more receptive to your arguments, as they have the feeling that the outcome is not a win-lose but a win-win situation. What empathy does is create a sense of mutual respect and mutual benefit. This is true as well in private life as at work.

How can someone learn to become more empathic?
This is not a simple process, as empathy is not a skill, but part of one’s personality. The starting point will always have to be the acknowledgement by the person that he/she needs to improve. To understand the impact they make by lacking empathy, they need to see how other people react to their behavior. A good way to do this is to have a video of how they interact with others. Another powerful way is to have them role-play with an instructor who will expose their behavior. Like many issues related to personality, nothing works as well as immediate feedback and correction. They also have to be able to ask themselves “what’s in it for the other party?”, as they soon will realize that they can achieve much more when their counterpart gets something out of the “deal”. Making a list of the needs and wants of both parties before going to a meeting or negotiation can be very useful, as at least the person has to put him/herself in their shoes.

How to deal with low-empathy people?
In my view, the best way is by using your empathy and figure out what their motives might be. It is also very important to be quite firm on what you want and to not give away anything without getting something in return. Assertiveness is also a powerful tool: tell them how they make you feel and what you think about that! However, the most powerful tool of them all is very likely to make them feel that they will lose more than gain by not changing. Low-empathy people do not like losing anything.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.