The importance of values in value chains

October 1, 2010

When it comes to looking for partnerships as part of a value chain, one area tends to be neglected. Usually, business people will develop their business plan properly, identify their market and their source of supplies, and make sure that the math is solid. Beyond the numbers, there is always the human factor that will play a role. Every company, therefore every partner in the chain has its own specific culture. This is important to realize, because when cultures, and values, do not match, the relationship will always bring some hardships at some point. This is not a simple problem to solve, and usually, only few potential partners share your values. It is also important to realize that the word “values” does not necessarily imply good ethics and honesty. After all, hyenas move in packs. Sometimes, the partner that can help grow your business the fastest might not be the right one for the long-term, but it might be the best choice for now. Depending on in which region of the world you do business, the sense of time, sometimes even of urgency, can vary a lot. For instance, North Americans tend to want to start business immediately, while the Japanese will take all the time they need to find out whom they do business with, and build enough of confidence in their potential partner before starting business. In the land of the rising sun, it can take several years before the first transaction takes place. What are the risks of a mismatch of values? It can have serious consequences, depending on how much of your business is engaged with the “wrong” partner. It can range from dissatisfaction about the profitability of your business, constant disagreements and tensions with your business partner, to your being ripped off. One thing is sure: there will never be complete trust and loyalty when values are not aligned. Several years ago, I developed a quantitative system to evaluate the value of a business partnership. It is rather simple in its design and very powerful in its implementation. It helps identify the strengths and the weakness of the business relationship, and it is an amazing to tool to use to address potentially damaging issues over time, and create clarity for future dealings. By realigning values, both business partners can develop a plan of action and look beyond the price negotiations alone.


CNN – TED Talk – Big bonuses do not mean big results

March 2, 2010

Really interesting presentation that makes you think on HR policies and performance.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/02/pink.motivation.bonuses/index.html?hpt=C2


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.


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 ten signs that people are happy at work

October 9, 2009

In no particular order, people who are happy at work show the following symptoms:

  • Happy at work!They are happy to go to work; they do not suffer from stress or fear about it.
  • They smile and laugh at work.
  • They greet and interact socially with their colleagues.
  • They are rarely on sick leave, only when it is serious.
  • They do not think of leaving their employer.
  • They talk positively about their work, their boss and their company.
  • They bring new ideas to their colleagues and boss.
  • They have little physical or mental need to take a vacation; they are not burnt out.
  • They do not gossip and they do not do office politics.
  • Last, but not least: they are happy in their personal lives, too.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Managing the emotional and the rational

September 28, 2009

NeuronsWe all know the feeling of having to deal with an emotionally loaded happening or decision, or when we need to communicate about something emotional for the other person(s).
The main problem is to be able to see the rational aspect of what we are dealing with in a moment when we have lost this ability to calmly analyze and put things in perspective. Our brain is reacting in the here and now and what leads us is to escape the situation as well as possible immediately. In this process, we rarely have the ability to think about the consequences of our behaviour.

Controlling one’s emotions
Although this is quite difficult for some people, the best way to start reacting is to not react, because your reaction can make others react back to you and there always is a risk of escalation. Before saying or doing anything, try to get as much information as you can by asking questions or even by keeping quiet. Generally, being silent is a great way of getting others to do the talking. Do not be afraid to ask for suggestions and listen before reacting on the answers.
Two emotions always can get you in more trouble than serve you: anger and fear. In both cases, the ideal way to deal with your emotions is to buy some time before reacting, in order to relieve the impulsivity and start to get a look at the larger picture. If possible, allow yourself a night of sleep before completing the process. It will calm you down; it will allow you to start thinking more rationally and put things back in perspective. It also allows you to develop your own plan on how to deal with the matter that happened to you.

Connecting with another person’s emotions
Although you are not dealing with your own emotions and you are in a position of thinking rationally, this situation is not any easier. The key here is to be able to literally get on the same wavelength as the other person. To do this properly, some empathy is obviously a great asset, but empathy alone is not enough. You need to assess the level of emotionality involved, and adjust your level of rationality accordingly. The best way to connect with the emotional person and to identify how intense the emotions are is to let the person vent and express what is causing the trouble. S/He will feel comfortable with this, because you create the conditions for it. Ask questions when necessary but do not make this an interrogation. Also, realize that, in an emotional interaction, verbal communication is a lot less effective than in a rational conversation. Therefore, your body language is quite important, which makes it even more important that you are sincerely willing to listen and connect. Since when it comes to non-verbal communication, the body follows the mind, any lack of sincerity on your part will probably be perceived.
Once you have connected, you will be a position to lead the conversation and, one step at a time, bring it back to increasingly more rational level. You will know that you have completed the process when the smiles come back and you reach an agreement on the next step.

If you are interested in this subject, feel free to contact me.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Understanding what went right

August 12, 2009

We all know our reaction when things go wrong. We ask why. Why me? Why now? And more similar questions that tend to try to find out the reason behind the unfair treatment we perceive.
In business, when things go wrong, the same thing happens. Your boss asks you lots of questions to find out the reasons of the poor performance. During press conferences about company results, the CEO is always prepared to give all explanations about the cause of the problem. Typically, the causes of underperforming are generally found in challenging “market conditions”: the world economy, the value of the dollar, the price of oil, market oversupply (which by the way is created by the industry itself and is usually the result of overoptimistic planning), etc…

Finding out why it went right is as important as finding out why it went wrongBut what happens when things go right? Do we try to analyze the reasons things are going our way? Do we wonder why these good things happen to us and why now? Generally speaking, the answer is “no”. We simply take it for granted and we consider it the most normal thing in the world. Yet, there has to be reasons, just as valid as the ones we find for setbacks. To get back to the example of the CEO during the press conference, great results will rarely be attributed to the world economy, the value of the dollar, the price of oil or a market in short supply. Next time listen carefully: great results generally are the results of a great management team executing superbly a great strategy!

The main problem with our attitude towards good things happening is that we actually do not learn from them, or at least we learn very little. This is quite a different situation when things go bad. As we all know, there is nothing like learning from our mistakes to build experience.

So next time you deliver a better than expected performance, you certainly must enjoy it and give yourself a compliment about it, but do not forget to analyze why it did happen. Find out the reasons within yourself or your organization, but look for reasons in the conditions that played around you during that period. Carry out this analysis with the same thoroughness as when you analyze poor performance, and do not exclude any reason beforehand. Maybe the outcome will not boost your ego as much, but avoiding complacency will help you stay on your toes and avoid making mistakes. The benefit for you is that you will increase the odds of repeating your top performance on a much more consistent basis!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


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 simple truth about micromanagers

July 26, 2009

On such a beautiful warm and sunny day, all I will write is a little joke that came up to me while having a conversation about this topic recently: “Micromanagers are called that way because they are very small”.

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.


I want to hear laughter!

June 17, 2009

Here is the best anti-stress medicine I know: laughter. I have applied it in my professional life as well as in my personal life and it works superbly, and there is no negative side effects known to man.

Hahaha!I have spent a long part of my career in industries dealing with perishable products. Per definition, such products cannot be stored for very long and this makes the business dynamics quite intense, and often stressful, as “everything must go” and for a profit, mind you. Therefore, my assignment to them, next to (or I should say as part of) doing the job was to make me hear some laughter. It did not matter what the reason would be, as long as there would be fun. In that line of work, we were lucky to be able to find many reasons to laugh because we were dealing with colorful characters and we could easily find the funny absurdities of the business. The head office would involuntarily also provide for much material to us as well. If my staff would not laugh frequently enough to my liking, I would pop in and bring some craziness of my own to help them out.
The results were amazing. With a small team (comparatively to other units of the company or to competitors), we were able to deliver a performance second to none, we were able to solve more problems than the others were, and we were having fun. Even as we worked long hours, nobody burned out. On the contrary, success was constantly bring new and more energy to our team. Once again, the boring, unimaginative and bureaucratic HR department was wrong.
Managing is getting things done by your team. Therefore, you had better take good care of your people, and the best way to do that is to have them laugh on the job. It means that they are having fun, and when you are having fun at work, it does not feel like work. Good managers know what is right for their business. Have them laugh!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Why do great employees leave?

May 21, 2009

That is a question that I have found on the LinkedIn group “Executive Suite”.
I love those questions, because there is an army of consultants and specialists and experts showing off all they know, and their comments are incredibly detailed.
But the reality is much simpler. Employees, especially the great ones, do not leave the company, they leave their boss.
High turnover, especially of great employees, is the best indicator of poor management!
Many companies use the “grandfather” principle, but in reality, when there is a problem between the “father” and the “grand child”, grandpa almost always backs daddy, while the departure of great employees should tell him that daddy is being naughty, and daddy should be reprimanded. But that rarely happens, and the grandfather principle is kind of a joke, really.
But one thing is sure: when great employees leave, the average quality of what is left decreases, and the company is heading towards the ground.
I have seen that just too many times, in color, 3D and Dolby stereo.
The good thing about it is that companies who appreciate talent always win in the end!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Management & Leadership lessons from my dog – Part II: Recruiting the Boss

May 14, 2009

This is the second article from my dog Slider. This time she shares her views on how to recruit a proper boss.

Dear readers,

At first, I thought that I would deal with recruiting the boss in a similar way as bosses recruit their employees: by asking for a resume.

Unfortunately, this appears rather useless very quickly, as all the candidates refer to the same great things about themselves. They have had experience with or owned dogs in the past and they can walk on two legs! For how impressive their skills and experience are, for a simple dog like me, this is not convincing, and that by a long shot. It does not tell me much about their qualities as bosses and from my experience, I am more stable on four legs than on two, so that particular skill might even be overrated; and I, too, can do some impressive tricks.

Leading is not a givenSo, let’s forget the resume, as it not giving me the right information and let’s try to see if a personality test would work better. In my doggy world, we establish who the leader of the pack is in a very simple and primal way: the more dominant one leads. Could it be any simpler than that? Although we need to take a slightly different approach with people, establishing a relationship dog-boss follow a rather similar process. We will accept you as the boss only if you are able to earn our respect. Look around and you will see all those dog owners who failed to get to that point: they simply do not have us under control. We run away, we pull in a different direction than the one they want us to go to, or we are aggressive. In short, we behave badly. Well, that is from the boss’s perspective. For us there is another truth: we behave that way because we have no boss. There is no one we respect enough to follow, so we set our own course. Does that sound familiar to you humans? Interesting, isn’t it? We do not have the ability to do politics; neither do we have any awareness of our pedigree. Therefore, respect is about all we have. Also, remember that you do not spell respect F-E-A-R. If you lead us by fear, we probably follow because we prefer to avoid the consequences, but we will not like you, we will not respect you, and when the time is right, we will turn against you; unless we just become dysfunctional and neurotic, as I have sometimes seen.

Of course, there are those who think that buying us is enough to make them our bosses. No, it just makes them our owners. We do not feel too much for hostile takeovers. The merger and acquisition process needs to happen in a firm and effective manner. Of course, some bosses deal with the problem by getting rid of the “difficult” ones among us, but they probably will experience a similar situation with our replacements anyway.

To conclude, I will sum up like this. In order to be our boss, you must demonstrate that you indeed have the ability to lead the pack, which you only will do effectively by earning our respect. Being a two-legged creature or repeating us that you are the boss is simply not enough. Once you have earned our loyalty, you will be amazed by how much you will get in return!

DSCN1492

Next time, I will return with Part III: Leading the Pack.

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the dog only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd, although they usually do.)

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The only true Mission Statement

May 12, 2009

Nowadays, about every company has a Mission Statement. It has become part of the business culture and it is included in every business plan.
In many offices, you can even see it framed near the reception desk.
And yet, those mission statements, for as sophisticated as they may be, do not matter that much. OK, I already hear some denial, and I probably am just nothing else than an iconoclast.
Just ask your staff to tell you what the official mission statement of your company is, and you very quickly will see my point. Most employees, and that includes senior executives, simply do not know it! The reasons for that are many. The employee joined the company recently, there is a poor communication from the top, there is lack of interest for it, and in most cases: the statement is too long and too complicated to memorize.
Here is another disappointment for those who worked hard at formulating those magic words: your customers do not know your Mission Statement, either. Why? Because they care about their business first. Moreover, they have seen your Mission Statement in many variations at your competitors’ places, too.
Too many mission statements just sound all too familiar. They are all about your company being the first choice supplier of top quality that cherishes the customers to whom they add value, etc, etc.
When companies differentiate themselves in the same way, they just go back to square one: making themselves commodities.
So what is the only true Mission Statement? The answer is “To make money”! It is true, it is simple to remember by your employees, and the way to do it is to do all the right things right.
Simple, isn’t it?

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.